John Boyne – Bringing It All Back Home – 24th August 2015.
If there’s one thing you can say about John Boyne, it’s the he doesn’t fear dark subject matter. Even if you only know his most famous work The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, it’s a fact you could take a stab at. But here, he’s talking about A History of Loneliness, about priests in Ireland.
“When I thought of priests, I thought of the idea of loneliness,” explains John. During the interview process he undertook, “it came up time and time again.” He decided to come at the book from that perspective.
An alternative title was Complicity, but it was already the title of a book. “Complicity is the real subject of the Catholic church. Even though the vast majority don’t do it,” he continues, alluding to the abuse prevalent in the church, “the vast majority know it’s going on. The villain turns their head away and doesn’t speak out when they should speak out. Everyone was complicit.”
Moving on to several facets of priesthood, like the rules against marrying, John notes, “They are frightened of one thing: women.” It’s why they won’t let them be involved, and were against women priests. Letting them in could be the start of fixing the problems of the church, but refusing to let someone marry, or let others be involved, is terribly off. “We’re all better when we can love and are loved.”
“I mean, I don’t want to tell Pope Francis how do to his job…” he laughs.
There’s a lot of deep and dark discussion on the mentality and lives of people involved in the murky side of the church, and how beatings as punishment were considered a norm, but he’s sought to represent that, no frills. “I never try to get a reader to like or dislike anybody,” he notes – his characters are flawed, difficult to read, they’re the same as humans, capable of both great kindness and terrible acts. “Fictional characters should be complicated.”
As a final thought on the church, he notes, “[I think, after the recent referendum, the church thought] ‘we need to take a look at ourselves’. The church was started to help people, not to dictate their lives.”
Audience questions soon turn to his wider work, writing for both adults and children. “I’m very interested in war and its impact on childhood,” explains John. “I’m quick to get the adults out. I like giving children the independence in books, to let them solve the mystery without an adult coming along to help.”
He notes that he doesn’t change his vocabulary between his adult and children’s books. If they don’t understand something, he urges them to look them up and expand their knowledge of words. “I don’t think you should talk down to children in books. Everyone told me that children don’t read any more. It couldn’t be further from the truth.”