May 16, 2016

John Boyne at AWF 2016: The narrative of history

Chelsea from Central City Library is a huge reader of YA fiction and her mission for AWF 2016 was to see John Boyne and Michael Grant. Here's number one accomplished:

As way of introduction to this stand-out event which had quickly sold out its smaller venue and been relocated to the ASB Theatre, Guy Somerset read out some harsh criticisms of Boyne, that he is full of himself, and is a 'knob'. This drew laughter, as this smiling, youthful, bald-headed man in his jeans and t-shirt appeared to be quite the opposite of a knob, and indeed spent the next hour proving that criticism wrong.

The Irish accent is undoubtedly the most musically beautiful to listen to, which endears you to Boyne even more. He began by introducing his new collection of short stories, Beneath the Earth. Boyne joked that he had amassed enough good will with his publisher after ten years to be allowed to publish it as short story collections are notoriously risky. His short stories revolve around the unifying themes of betrayal and isolation. Those familiar with his work will know that he does such emotions well and with authenticity.

Somerset asked Boyne a few brief questions about his earlier novels which pleased long-term fans such as myself, and hopefully interested others in reading them. Boyne was not afraid to be himself, switching between talking seriously about which emotions drive his writing to joking about his dislike for Hugh Grant films.

Somerset then moved on to the main feature, Boyne’s 2015 novel A History of Loneliness, set in his native Ireland. Boyne explained that in many small countries, such as Ireland and New Zealand, authors are expected to write about their own countries, in a way we don’t expect from American authors. Boyne refused to, however, until he had a story he felt strongly about, and that came in the form of a novel about child abuse in the Catholic Church. Growing up in the Catholic Church and school system, Boyne comes from a place of knowledge and emotion, and he is not afraid to mention the abuse that he suffered and the resulting impact it had on his life. Because of this, he found that this story just flowed out of him.

Boyne read aloud two extracts from the book, his accent bringing the characters to life. Well adept at reading aloud, he looked up constantly and remained in eye contact with the crowd. The first extract was funny with black humour, the second was extremely sad and shocking, leaving the whole theatre silent. Boyne explained that he wasn’t trying to bring down the church, but rather bring light to this problem, and open a conversation on how it can be stopped. He interviewed many priests for this book, and found that they all suffered from loneliness, going home to empty houses. He wonders if this loneliness lends itself to being perverted into abuse.

He then briefly touched on his books for young people, the most famous being The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. Fans will be pleased to hear that a tenth anniversary edition is to be published in November, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers. Many of these novels are set in wartime, as he likes to explore what role children play in war. Characters from ‘The Boy…’ have cameos in his new YA book The Boy at the Top of the Mountain, a quirk he also likes to do with his adult novels.

Finally came question time, the most poignant of them coming from a young woman who, with a trembling voice, admitted that she had been abused as a child. She asked for advice from Boyne on how to deal with her feelings and form relationships. He replied that if you can admit that in front of all these people than you are stronger than you think. Don’t allow those who have hurt you in the past to still have power over you. A sentiment that we can all do with remembering.

-- Chelsea

Ditulis Oleh : Karen Craig // 23:00


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