The latest interviewee for my crime fiction week is bestselling author John Connolly whose latest Charlie Parker thriller, The Wrath of Angels, was published earlier this month.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you came to be a crime writer?
I was a journalist for about five years but I think my heart was always with fiction, and journalism was simply a way to be paid to write. It was good practice, though: it taught me discipline, and the importance of research, and knocked most of the preciousness out of me – most, not all. And, like most writers, I wrote what I read, and the two genres I loved most were mystery and the supernatural, so my natural instinct was to blend the two. The mix didn’t always meet with the approval of the more conservative elements in the mystery genre, but I think they’ve mellowed a bit since then.
Tell us something about yourself that your readers probably don’t already know?
I think my readers already know more than they need to know about me, and what they don’t already know is best left undiscovered!
Can you tell us a little bit about your latest book?
Well, two books will be published on October 3rd of this year. One is The Creeps, the third of the Samuel Johnson books for younger readers, and the second is Conquest, a collaboration with my partner, Jennie Ridyard, aimed at older teenage readers. Conquest is my first science fiction novel, another genre that fascinates me. Oh, and I’m working on the next Charlie Parker novel for 2014. I have a title, but I think I’ll keep it to myself for a while.
Where do you get your ideas from for your stories?
I don’t know, to be honest. Writers never really have a shortage of ideas: they pop up all the time, usually seemingly from out of nowhere. Time is the real currency. I suspect - or hope – that I’ll always have more ideas than time to write them.
Percentage-wise, how much time do you spend researching and how much time do you spend writing?
Oh, writing takes up the most time, by a long shot. You can do all the research that you want, but a book will only be made better by writing and then rewriting.
Are there any writers that have influenced you as a writer?
Almost every good writer I’ve ever read, I should imagine, from poets like Donne and Cummings to mystery writers like Ross Macdonald and James Lee Burke. They’re all grist to the mill. On the other hand, there’s no percentage or benefit in reading bad writing, either as a writer or a reader. That’s just a waste of time…
How hard is it to keep coming up with different/alternative ways to kill someone off?
Hah! I don’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about it, to be honest. Mostly people get killed off in more or less similar ways in my books. It’s the people who do it that are interesting, and the people who are trying to survive. The method is largely by the by.
How do you relax/unwind after writing gruesome scenes?
Um, I can kind of tell the difference between fantasy and reality, so they don’t bother me very much, and my novels have become less gruesome anyway as time has gone on. No matter what writing you’re doing, it’s just a relief to finish. Generally it’s better to have written than to be writing.
Are you one of those writers who wake in the middle of the night with ideas for plots, new story etc.?Not particularly. Actually, I tend to get more ideas when I’m in the car driving, or as a passenger, or even when I’m at a concert listening to music or at the cinema watching a movie. There’s something about being distracted from writing that seems to nudge the subconscious into gear.
Have you ever had writer’s block?
I don’t think there is any one thing that can be termed writer’s block. Whatever trouble a writer runs into is probably different for every writer. I find writing hard a lot of the time, but I persevere. If I have long periods when I’m not writing, such as when I’m travelling for promotional purposes, I find it harder to return to it the longer I’m away. Like any craft, you have to work at it regularly and consistently.
If you weren’t a writer, what career path would you have chosen to follow?
I’d probably still be a journalist. At one point I had a hankering to be a vet, but I think I’d just read too many James Herriot books.
How long did it take you to get your first book published?
Well, it took about five years from the time I began writing it until its eventual publication. I think that’s pretty usual, or it used to be. Now the Internet is creating a mindset that craves immediate responses, and that has contributed to a fast track approach to putting books out there. That’s bad for the quality of writing. Time is the friend of good writing.
Do you have a set daily writing routine?
I tend to set myself a target for each day, and I nearly always meet it unless circumstances get in the way, but my routine varies. I’m not at my desk at the same time every day, but I’m usually at my desk for the same amount of time every day.
If you could write another style of genre, what would it be and why?
I’ve written mystery, horror, fantasy and, now, science fiction. I’m fortunate that my publishers have never tried to steer me in any particular direction, and have allowed me to grow as a writer by experimenting. Genre is just a way to explore the same themes from a different direction, though. It’s not really an end in itself.
If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring author, what would it be?
Don’t throw away your book after 20,000 words just because you have doubts about it. All writers have doubts, and they never go away. Writers are people who finish things.
Are there any crime fiction books that you wish you’d written?
No. There are mysteries that I love but they’d have been worse, or at least very different, if I’d written them, so what would be the point? I like them just the way you are.
When you’ve finished writing a book, do you treat yourself to a reward?
Maybe a nice dinner with my family, but no more than that. Usually I just start worrying immediately about the next one…