Irish author John Boyne talks about his love of reading
John Boyne is probably best known for his book, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, published in 2006, and made into a movie in 2008.
It was his fifth book, and his first foray into children's literature.
He wrote the first draft in two days and the book has sold about five million copies worldwide.
The 41-year-old from Dublin has been an author in his heart from a very young age.
"I was a great reader as a kid and I always built around characters that I was reading," John says from Melbourne, where he is taking part in the Melbourne Writers Festival, before heading north for the Tropical Writers Festival.
"I felt in my heart I wanted to be a writer and actually it was a bit of a joke with my parents because I had told them I wanted to write novels by the age of 10."
That early love of reading has continued all through his life.
John estimates he reads about 100 novels a year.
"I don't watch TV and I travel a lot, so I have a lot of time to read," he says.
"It's really every spare moment."
"It's part of writing and it's very important when you are speaking at festivals to be able to talk about contemporary literature."
John's latest book for adults is The Absolutist, and is about a love affair set against the backdrop of World War I.
"What the idea came from was the idea of the conscientious objector," he says.
"I never read any novels about gay soldiers and I thought it would be interesting to create a background of war."
"The best historical fiction still resonates today."
The protagonist Tristan Sadler travels by train from London to Norwich to deliver letters to Marian, the sister of his dead friend, Will.
Will had declared himself a conscientious objector and was shot as a traitor on the battlefield in 1917.
To research for the novel, John travelled to London and read letters from soldiers to find the voice of his character.
He says research is very important and cutting corners will be noticed by readers.
"You have to concentrate on the research but once you know as much as you can personally, you have to put it aside and write," John says.
"There is a remorseful tone to the novel, a sense of regret and loss."
John certainly does not spare his readers any trauma in his choice of subject matter.
His most famous book, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, was set in World War II against a Nazi backdrop, exploring the innocence of Bruno, the young son of a commandant at a concentration camp, who befriends a Jewish boy on the other side of the camp fence.
John says he enjoys writing both adult and children's novels and he traverses quite seamlessly between the two.
"It's really good to go between the two," he says.
"I get great variety."
"Yesterday, for example, I had an adult audience, and today I am speaking in front of 400 kids."
He doesn't, however, work on a book in both genres at the same time and he is careful what he chooses to take further from the bare bones of his ideas.
"Ideas come out of thin air," John says.
"You have to be open when they come, and you might only have one good one that is worth two years working on."
He is a morning writer, doing his best work before lunchtime.
"I've always been an early riser," he says.
"I find it helps to write every day and you reach your goal eventually."
Place is not necessarily important except for the first draft of a book, which he likes to write in Dublin.
Edits and rewrites are for on the road and in hotel rooms.
John's latest book for children is The Terrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brocket.
Set in Sydney, it is a tale of adventure with a lesson to be learned along the way.
Barnaby is a little boy who defies gravity and can't seem to keep his feet on the ground.
Perpetually three metres in the air, he finds it very hard to make friends.
Eventually, ashamed of their strange son, his parents throw him out of their house, so Barnaby has to make his own way in life and around the world.
"In describing it, I would say it is about what it is to be different," John says.
"People can't accept difference, yet it is the most normal thing in the world to feel different," he says.
"I think for children and young adults, books need to have meaning."
"I'm not into vampire fiction - I think books should provoke and that's what I try to do."
>> The Absolutist, by John Boyne, Random House RRP $19.95
The Terrible thing that happened to Barnaby Brocket RRP $19.95
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Tales of war : Irish author John Boyne