The Week That Was…Meeting John Boyne

The week began with sunshine, a funeral and a blown exhaust.  It ended with a visit to A & E with my daughter, queried meningitis which thankfully turned out to be an infection accompanied with photophobia.  In the midst of all this,  Bry and I managed to squeeze in a visit to the Belfast Book Festival to hear John Boyne speak about his latest novel, This House is Haunted, as well as revisiting previous work and hinting at future projects.

I must confess this was my first author signing, apart from going to see Robert Muchamore with my son.  I booked the tickets on impulse informing Bry closer to the date.  His reaction was a bit along the lines of why would anyone want to go and hear some guy reading from a book…the philistine!

The setting was intimate with cabaret style seating, complete with little round tables, candles and low lighting.  I almost expected the reading to be accompanied by subdued piano playing although one of those old cinema organs would have been more apt, given the Gothic tone of This House is Haunted.

Spot the Bry!

After reading a section from the novel, John was interviewed by Hugh Odling Smee with some questions from the audience at the end followed by book signing.   No, I didn’t take notes….although I did notice one lady scribbling away but she must have been able to see in the dark.  Anyway, from my middle aged brain, I can pluck the following key points.

  1. John does research for his books by reading copious amounts of fiction from the chosen period in order to attain the right voices for his characters.  Dickens is one of his favourite authors so how better to start the novel than with,  “I blame Charles Dickens for the death of my father”.
  2. He has experienced the presence of not one but a pubful of ghosts whilst stone cold sober.
  3. He has a particular fondness for John Irving as a writer.
  4. He always wanted to write a ghost story and he always knew it would be called This House is Haunted…spooky..
  5. Speaking of titles, he is happy about all the titles of his previous books with the exception of Mutiny on the Bounty which he wanted to call Bligh and I.  He could barely bring himself to speak the MOTB title aloud…
  6. Stay Where You Are And Then Leave, the title of his next children’s novel (to be published this Autumn), came from when he spent time in Christchurch, New Zealand and noticed these somewhat paradoxical instructions in a What to Do In Case of Earthquake leaflet.
  7. As a child he was obsessed with books about orphans who usually had a dreadful time at boarding schools.  He hastened to add that his childhood was quite normal and his parents paid little heed to his frequent requests to be sent to boarding school.
  8. His next adult novel will be set in Ireland.  One might be forgiven for thinking that he was hellbent on writing books set anywhere other than Ireland but he felt the time was right now.  In a strange way he found it harder to get the “voice” of his characters in this Irish novel.  I understand that as you are perhaps too close  to the subject plus  there is the added burden of the tradition of excellent Irish writing.

This last point made me think of Maggie O’Farrell’s recent comments about the Michael Flatley effect of Irish Writers.  I don’t think this has stopped John Boyne from writing a novel set in Ireland, more that each project has to happen at the right time and place for him….an eminently sensible plan.

I decided to take the opportunity to buy a copy of This House is Haunted and get it signed, simultaneously kicking myself from not bringing along a wheelbarrow load of books including Barnaby Brockett, Striped Pyjamas, Crippen, The House of Special Purpose etc etc.  Not knowing the etiquette for book signings, perhaps  that wouldn’t have been such a good idea.

So, an eventful week and new resolutions to attend more book events.  I might even have converted Bry…ever the optimist!

Meeting John Boyne



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  1. Ellie says:

    Glad there was something to look forward to in your week. Sounds like you are going through the wars. Hope your daughter is feeling better now.

    Most authors really don’t mind you takign along older books to be signed, they love seeing that you’re an existing fan!

  2. admin says:

    She’s much better now, Ellie, still off her food and rather pale but the fever has broken thank goodness. We were able to make a quick visit to the Belfast Book Festival Family Fun Day today despite the rain and we accumulated a few books…the best medicine! :-)

  3. Marie says:

    It looks like a nice evening! I’m going to my first real bookish event this weekend – the NewBooks magazine readers’ day – and like you, am not entirely sure of the etiquette to observe. I think I’ll bring a couple of books along in my bag for Ben Aaronovitch and Sadie Jones to sign and see what happens. They can stay hidden in my bag if nobody else has taken older books along! Glad to hear your daughter is on the mend. Hope this next week is less eventful!

  4. Teresa says:

    Ooh, lucky you, Marie. If it didn’t involve a return flight and car hire plus an overnight stay…I’d be there like a shot! Have a fab time. I gather there will be a few RISI folk there. :-)

  5. Nikki-ann says:

    I love book events, but we don’t get that many here. It arounds as if you had a good time though :)

  6. This looks and sounds lovely Treez, I’m so glad you were able to go. I think he is a fab author too, great that you got to meet him, and love the photos. x

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