This much I know: John Boyne, Writer

A writer with a first draft is like a sculptor with a block of stone: the story is inside.

The most important thing is to get to the end of the first draft, even if it is a complete mess. I never go back and start editing until I have completed a first draft.

I am very disciplined about my work. I don’t write only when the mood hits me.

I go to the gym at 6am four to five times a week — the chemicals released when I’m exercising seem to help me to work — and I’m at my desk by 8am.

My earliest memory of reading is going to the Carnegie library in Dundrum on Wednesday afternoons. I’d sit in the children’s section looking at picture books.

Reading and writing have always been completely connected for me. I wrote hundreds of short stories at a very young age.

Music is a big part of my life, I play guitar and piano and am learning the ukulele.

Having your work published for the first time is a very important moment for any writer. I had my first story published in the New Irish Writing Pages of the Sunday Tribune when I was studying English in TCD. Having my work endorsed by someone I didn’t know gave it an added legitimacy.

I don’t come from a family of writers. My parents had traditional jobs with regular salaries. When I said I wanted to be a writer they were not concerned as they could see me upstairs in my room, writing, and knew it was something in which I was actively engaged, rather than a fanciful dream.

After TCD, I studied creative writing at the University of East Anglia. The benefit of courses like that is that they provide a forum in which work can be shared. It was a tough, emotionally draining year and I learnt as much from reading and analysing other people’s work as from having to share my own.

Writing is a difficult profession as your work is constantly being publicly reviewed. I think most writers feel misunderstood and, if you get a bad review, you can always rely on your best friend to call and tell you about it.

I’m not religious at all and I don’t believe in fate. I do believe in making your own destiny.

I dread the idea of a forthcoming referendum on gay marriage, not because I don’t believe in marriage equality — I do — but because I will be unable to stomach the voices of bigots around the country, speaking on radio and television programmes, disguising their homophobia and deep-set prejudices in concern for what they will call the sanctity of traditional marriage and the importance of the traditional family. I can’t think of any other time when the country was asked whether or not all people should be treated equally in the eyes of the law and fundamentally, that is the question which will be put before the nation. I would prefer we simply agreed that we should, and that we passed legislation to ensure this and then we could all get on with our lives.

I worked in Waterstones bookshop for seven years before I got published.

My first two books were not particularly successful and my publisher dropped me. That was a very difficult time for me as I’d spent all those years getting published and felt I was going to have to start all over again, only this time with a black mark against my name.

I fought my way through it, determined to write the best book I could, having learnt that the next time round I was going to have to become a salesman for my own books and do things unrelated to writing in order to promote them.

Having a successful book like The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas changed everything as it allowed me the freedom to write for the rest of my life.

John Boyne’s latest book Stay Where You Are, Then Leave is published by Doubleday and is in all bookshops now.


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