Some critics don’t like his mixing of crime and the supernatural, but, as one of the world’s biggest-selling authors, John Connolly couldn’t care less. And now he is finding new genres to explore, as he tells declan burke
Something spooky this way comes. John Connolly made a name for himself as a writer who could skillfully blend crime fiction and the supernatural, and yet his most recent novels have seen the ghosts and demons exorcised to the point where his last offering, The Reapers, had no supernatural elements at all. However with The Lovers — Connolly’s tenth novel in as many years and described as “a visionary brand of neo-noir” — the demons are back with a vengeance. “Each book I write tends to be a reaction to the one that preceded it,” says Connolly. “As The Reapers had no supernatural elements, it seemed natural that The Lovers would spring the other way. But it’s also the case that the [Charlie] Parker novels are developing into a kind of saga, with a larger story running behind the individual novels. In the past, I’ve left it up to the reader to decide if the supernatural manifestations experienced by Parker are real or a product of his own psyche. In The Lovers, I decided it was time to come down on one side or the other. I know it will alienate some of the more conservative British and American critics who seem to have a big problem with writers who mix genres. Silly sods.”
As a writer who makes the New York Times best-sellers list on an annual basis, Connolly is insulated against what the critics have to say. Born in Dublin, the 41-year-old lives in Ranelagh, although he spends a considerable amount of time each year in the US, |meticulously researching his novels. Once employed as a gofer in Harrods, London, he spent five years working as a freelance |journalist, after graduating from Trinity College, where he read English, and DCU, where he obtained a masters in journalism.
Readers immediately took to his anti-hero detective Charlie Parker, from his debut novel Every Dead Thing published a decade ago and the character has featured in much of his work to date.
Connolly has also written a non-Parker thriller, Bad Men, and has moved outside the crime genre altogether with The Book of Lost Things. His popularity in part is due to his |punishing travel schedule, which takes him all over the world to meet his fans.
“I enjoy meeting readers and booksellers,” he says, “and |travel is one of the perks of what I do, but it can get a bit |tiring. For some reason I’m on the terrorist watch list in the US, despite having written to the Department of Homeland Security on a number of occasions pointing out that I am not, in fact, a terrorist. Since each day of a US tour involves a flight, usually at seven am, being targeted for extra |screening begins to tell on one’s patience. Also, the writer becomes an excuse for booksellers and fans to go out drinking, which is fun, but less fun for the writer’s liver.”
Travelling gives Connolly a wide perspective on his |hometown of Dublin, in all its sordid glory.
“Well, a cup of coffee is a bit cheaper than it was a year ago, and businesses seem a little more aware that they can no longer take customers for granted. The downsides are still the same: it’s a dirty city, and the more I travel the more I realise that we lack a degree of civic pride. I’m surprised at how rude we can be in those small ways that make city |living a bit harder. I mean, I can swear with the best of them, but I tend to keep it under control in front of women and children, and I’m conscious of how I behave when I’m not in my own house. Maybe I’m just getting old.”
A new direction of writing for children might keep him young, although the fact that, in his case, it involves Satanism and quantum physics could take its own toll.
“It’s called The Gates and it’s a book that I’d wanted to write for six or seven years, but I hadn’t figured out how to do it until last year. It’s about a boy named Samuel Johnson who, along with his |dachshund discovers that his neighbours are Satanists and are |trying to open the gates of Hell. It’s a book about science and Satanism, filled with odd little footnotes and, I’m proud to say, it has a stick-man drawing — created by myself — illustrating what |happens to someone who falls into a black hole. I had a great time writing it, but it remains to be seen how readers take to it. If The Book of Lost Things was a children’s book for adults, then The Gates is, I suppose, an adult book for children.”
Given that most of his novels are set in the US state of Maine, would Connolly ever think about setting a novel in Ireland?
“No, I don’t think so. I love living here, but writing about places other than home gives me a great deal of freedom. I suppose, in the beginning, I was reacting a little to what was expected of an Irish writer in terms of subject matter and setting, but now I just find it more interesting, and challenging, to write books set somewhere other than Ireland. If I wrote an Irish novel, I suspect that it wouldn’t be a very good one because my heart wouldn’t be in it.” HQ
The Lovers (Hodder & Stoughton, €11.99) is available now