like everybody, I have my own favorite writers. Some of them are
gracious enough to answer my questions, and I want to share these
with friends and visitors.
This month's interview is with John Connolly, an Irish mystery
writer. He gained world fame with his books Every Dead Thing,
Dark Hollow, The Killing Kind and The White Road, in which Charlie
Parker, an ex-policeman, is the main character. His newest book,
Bad Men will appear in June 2003. John is also the one who encouraged
me to try and get my own books published, and in the course of
the years he's become a pal.
1. When did you start writing?
I suppose that I've always been writing. I started quite young,
probably around five (that sounds horribly pretentious, I know, and
makes me seem like one of those little kids with thick eyeglasses that
can do complex mathematics by the age of three, but it really is the
case!). A schoolteacher encouraged me to write by giving me money for
little stories, so I guess I began a mercenary at about the same time.
I drifted into journalism in my teens, and pretty much gave up creative
writing until I began Every Dead Thing in my twenties.
2. How long did it take you to find the courage to present your first
book to a publisher?
I sent out a half-finished version of Every Dead Thing
to publishers after I'd been working on it for about two and a half
years. I had run out of money to do the research and had some vague
pipe dream that an incredibly generous - or foolish - publisher would
advance me enough money to finish it. That didn't happen. In fact, the
book was rejected by just about every publisher and most agents. Some
really hated it. I was fortunate though to find a sympathetic reader
in the man who eventually became my agent, Darley Anderson. He encouraged
me to finish it, and I did.
3. Did Every Dead Thing get a good reception at first?
Well, apart from all the rejections when it was incomplete,
I suppose the reception was quite positive. It's funny, but looking
back it seems that there were some critics - and readers - who really
liked it, and others who really hated it. I mean, the bad reviews were
among the worst I've ever read of any book. It took quite a kicking
in certain quarters. But the good reviews helped, particularly in the
US. It's a flawed book, but I like to think that it's flawed by its
ambition. I tried very hard to do something different, and it was worth
failing in the attempt. As Browning wrote, "A man's reach should
exceed his grasp." or what's a heaven for?
4. How do you handle criticism?
I take bad reviews to heart, and I don't tend to believe good
ones. I think that's something to do with my nature, but there are a
lot of writers who are always looking for the one person in the crowd
that isn't clapping. I tend to feel that I've fooled the good reviewers,
but that the bad reviews are written by critics that have figured out
what a complete fraud I am. In the end, the good ones are a little easier
to handle, but my instinct is not to believe any of them. That's probably
a good thing, as they don't influence my work in any way. James Lee
Burke once told me, during an interview, that a writer has to learn
to ignore both the applause and the catcalls and that seems to be me
to be a very sound piece of advice.
5. Why did you decide to leave Charlie Parker out of your up-coming
Well, he passes through the book at one point, but he's not
a central character. There were lots of reasons, I suppose. I wanted
to write something a little different with more of an emphasis on the
supernatural. I wanted to experiment with third person narrators. I
wanted to write a book that was, in some ways, more streamlined than
the Parker books. Finally, I wanted to recharge my batteries. I was
worried that if I went straight into writing another Parker book after
White Road then the book might be weak or tired. I needed to
take a step back from him for a while. The Parker books are quite hard
to write. They're very intense, very draining.
6. Do you think you will ever write other books with Bird?
I think the sixth book will probably mark a return to Parker.
I have a vague idea of the plot, which is as much as I ever have before
I start. I feel good about going back to him now, after the experience
of writing Bad Men. I'm looking forward to starting the next
7. Are there no plans yet to film one of your books?
I've always been reluctant to sell the rights, as it seems to
me that there have been no more than four or five successful adaptations
of mystery novels over the last ten years. Mystery novels are actually
very hard to adapt, as the most interesting aspects of the good ones
tend to lie in their introspection, which is one of the first things
to be lost in an adaptation. In fact, Every Dead Thing was
deliberately constructed so that it could not be filmed. I'm less uncomfortable
about letting Bad Men go, assuming anybody wants it. It's a
little more straightforward than the Parker books.
8. Suppose someone does want it, would you like to write the scenario
I don't think so. While it's hard to hand over something that
you've created to someone else to do with as he or she pleases, I'm
not sure that I want to spend time agonizing over a screenplay of one
of my books. The books take so long to write that I begin writing a
new novel in that time, instead of going over something that I've done
9. Do you work full-time as an author, or do you still have another
job on the side?
No, I'm pretty much a full-time author, in so far as anyone
who writes novels for a living can be described as "full time".
I don't spend the entire day at my desk, but I do spend most of my day
thinking about what I'm writing. I still do a little journalism for
The Irish Times, mainly features and interviews. I still get
pleasure out of that.
10. From the present array of mystery/detective writers, which is your
I think James Lee Burke is the finest prose stylist currently
writing, while Dennis Lehane is probably the most interesting of the
under-40s. I also admire George Pelecanos a lot. He's a committed writer,
with a social conscience. That's a rare thing.