John Connolly in Conversation with TheReadingRoom

John ConnollyJohn Connolly’s first novel, Every Dead Thing, was published in 1999 and introduced the character of Charlie Parker, a former policeman hunting the killer of his wife and daughter. The thirteenth in the series, The Wolf in Winter, will be released in September (US) and is available now in Australia and the UK. John will be a panelist at The Sydney Writers’ Festival event Violence, Lust, Revenge and a Touch of Poetry, sponsored by TheReadingRoom. We spoke with John a few days before the panel.

Michael Robotham is chairing your Sunday session at Sydney Writers’ Festival and he says you’ve been on panels together many times before. Do you ever have a feeling of ‘This guy again!’ when you encounter other writers at festivals, or does familiarity make for a more enjoyable panel? It rather depends upon “that guy” (or gal).  Actually, in about 99 per cent of cases it’s quite lovely to do a panel with someone you know, as you have an idea of where they’re coming from, and how they act and react.  It can be very difficult – for participants and audience – to negotiate a panel on which everyone is meeting for the first time.  I’ve been on panels where writers have hijacked them for their own ends (either to sell their product, or make some strange political or personal point completely unconnected to anything), behaved abominably, or sometimes refused to say very much at all, which is dreadful.  Mind you, one of my fellow Irish writers had the oddest panel experience I’ve ever heard of, where he sat on a panel in a non-English-speaking country with someone who insisted on answering questions in the native tongue, despite not being able to speak it.  Surrealism ahoy! You have a novel for young adults and one for adults out this year (plus one co-written for young adults), and this is a pace you’ve been keeping for a while. How do you fit in travel for promotion and festivals when you have such a lot of words to produce each year? I don’t really do quite as much promotion as I used to – or at least I’ve somehow convinced myself that I don’t.  When I began writing, I found it difficult to work away from the office in my house.  (I suspect I was probably just a bit precious, to be honest.)  Now I’ve become very good at snatching an hour or two most days, regardless of where I am, and getting some work done.  Funnily enough, I don’t feel very prolific – and my agent prefers the word “fecund”, as I think he associates being prolific with simply throwing stuff out there before it’s fully finished, which I stress is not – not! – the case.  I’m just at a stage where I have ideas, time, energy, and a readership that’s largely prepared to follow what I do, and there may come a time when one or more of those factors is not in play.  I suppose I’m just enjoying writing. How do you ‘change gears’, so to speak, when writing for such different readers – and, with Conquest, in a different genre altogether? I don’t view younger and older readers very differently.  It’s just that one group is still more in the process of formation than another, and so the writer has to approach certain subjects more carefully, and not assume knowledge where it doesn’t exist.  Most writers, though, have only a couple of subjects to which they return over and over, and childhood and adolescence is one of mine.  Because it’s such a formative time, it colours adulthood, and I find that fascinating, so it recurs in my short stories, quite often in the Parker books, and is at the heart of the Samuel stories, and The Book of Lost Things, and Conquest.  In that sense, changing genre or tone is just a way of looking at the same subject from a different angle. Clearly you have a love of storytelling – when and how did this start? Very young – shortly after I began reading.  I was fortunate to have a lovely teacher named Mrs Foley who would pay me to write little Tarzan stories: 5p per story, enough to buy two bags of popcorn and two Fu Manchew (sic) chewing gums.  I was only six, so this was a big deal – not just because of the popcorn, but because she encouraged me.   She’s still alive, too.  I met her when RTE, our national broadcaster, was doing a program about my books, and it was nice to be able to tell her how important she’d been in setting me on the path to becoming a writer. What books have you read lately that you’ve absolutely loved? I’ve started keeping a list in a notebook of the books that I’ve read, as I could never remember what I’d been reading, and was curious to see how many books I might get through in a given year.  I’m not doing badly so far: I think I’ve exceeded twenty, so I’m looking good for a book a week.  I enjoyed Eminent Hipsters, the essay collection-cum-memoir by Donald Fagen of Steely Dan, mainly because he plays the old curmudgeon to the hilt.  I also continue to be in awe of James Lee Burke, who is the greatest living crime writer, and whose novel Creole Belle reminded me of how high he has set the bar. And Field of Prey, the latest by John Sandford – who excels at pace –  passed a mostly pleasant flight, although there was a degree of sexual violence to it, particularly at the end, that made me uneasy.  I also thought there was a lot to admire in The Undertaking, Audrey Magee’s novel of a marriage of convenience during WW II. Your Charlie Parker fans would want to know how many stories you think are left – or will you let Charlie tell you that? I love writing about him, and I like viewing the world through his eyes.  He’s become a kind of prism for me, refracting experience, and I would miss that if he wasn’t around.  The books, though, are moving towards a kind of conclusion.  Readers want answers, I guess.  It’s fun doling out those answers at my own pace, though…