We are delighted to present this exclusive feature, from writer / reviewer and Shots Magazine’s Spanish representative - John Parker, in conversation with John Connolly; so after many, many years reviewing his work, the two Johns’ finally met up.
From Spain -
Celsius 232 is a festival of literature, a festival of fantasy, horror and science-fiction. Fortunately, a lot of crime fiction can be found in these genres. Since 2012 when George R.R. Martin visited Avilés, the festival has grown in size and stature. This year, among many others, the festival was visited by the likes of Sarah Pinborough, Hanna Jameson and John Connolly. Shots correspondent in Spain, John Parker, happens to live in Avilés, the small town where the festival takes place. He was able to interview John Connolly on Friday, 19th of July.
John Parker: You are here promoting El Frio de la Muerte which over in the UK is known as A Game of Ghosts that we Parker fans all read a couple of years ago. How are the Spanish taking to this book? I believe you sold out in Gijon at the Semana Negra?
John Connolly: I did! That was quite lovely. I assume it’s going ok. I know that Tusquets haven’t thrown me out on the street yet. That’s the main thing! Tusquets have been an incredibly supportive publisher from the beginning and have found ways to publish books that aren’t part of the Parker series simply because they are important to me as a writer and my development as a writer so they’ve been wonderful. And it’s quite nice here in Spain. Genre is taken with a degree of seriousness, I think.
John Parker: The readers of SHOTS are probably a bit more up to date than over here in Spain. You and I have done a number of online interviews but you were very busy when THE WOMAN IN THE WOODS came out (laughs out loud). You travel an awful lot!!
John Connolly: I do! Yeah, I travel more than I would like to, to be perfectly honest. I’ve been trying to travel a little bit less but that hasn’t worked out this year, certainly.
John Parker: You have South Africa to come and Australia?
John Connolly: Yeah, Australia and the Far East and then probably the States in October. So yeah, I miss my dogs and my kids.
John Parker: Sorry to hear about the death of your dog…
John Connolly: ………Poor old Coco! Yes, my other half still breaks up in tears. She really misses him.
John Parker: Ok, moving on to THE WOMAN IN THE WOODS… one of the characters, Holly tells an invented fairy-tale to her son called “The woman in the Woods” which I think worked fantastically well. Can you comment on where this story came from? Its origins? Was it something you came up with yourself or was it based on some other fairy-tale?
John Connolly: No, no but I suppose I’ve spent so long fascinated by fairy-tales and they have become such a part of the novels. It’s not just, you know books like The Book of Lost Things or the stories in the Nocturnes collections but, you know, the Americans write perfectly good crime fiction by themselves. They don’t really need some Irish bloke coming in to write imitation crime fiction and I’ve kind of come to realise over the years that I do bring something slightly European to these novels and one of them is that fascination with fairy tales and folk tales. And so the woods in my novels are not really the Maine woods at all. They are, I realise, the woods of the fairy tales I read as a child. Because, you know, the Americans have a very practical view of the woods. You know, bad things can happen but only if you wander off the trail and you get a bit lost and you didn’t bring enough food and you forget to stay in one place so that the Rangers can find you. Whereas I am more fascinated by the metaphoric possibilities and the mythic possibilities of fairy tales so there are things like those elements in THE WOMAN IN THE WOODS that arise quite naturally in the context of what I am writing, I suppose, because of that fascination with that history from my childhood.
John Parker: Yes, I read very recently in your second collection of short stories NOCTURNES 2, the story called The Hollow King which was originally to do with the theme of Blood, Sweat and Tears which had a real fairy-tale feel to it. I loved it.
John Connolly: Yeah, yeah! I’ve never written a … I can’t write short crime short stories. I am unable to do it. For me, crime fiction works best in the long form and supernatural fiction works best in the short form.
John Parker: Yes, you have spoken about that before..
John Connolly: Yeah, so when Mark (Billingham) asked me to do that, I said that all I can offer you is something that is going to be a fairy story or a ghost story. And at that point I think I was revising The Book of Lost Things for the tenth anniversary and so I was thinking along those lines and… ( a loud crashing noise from outside interrupts us)… Blimey!!
John Parker: You recently announced that The Book of Lost Things is being made into an animated film.
John Connolly: There is a studio that seems very intent on doing it and I agreed to, well, I offered to write the script. I think they were quite surprised. I don’t think they had conceived of me doing it. It had been, as I understood it, in the past it had been through a couple of iterations that hadn’t worked. And when I met them, I thought, actually I kind of understand what you’re trying to do and I think I can probably do it. And so they were very open to that possibility.
John Parker: Speaking of the film genre, you had a story adapted into a film starring Kevin Costner. Over here it was called La Otra Hija or The Other Daughter whereas in English it was The New Daughter.
John Connolly: Yeah, The New Daughter after the story and with a whole lot of Spanish involvement.
John Parker: Yes, it was directed by Luis Berdejo. Were you happy enough with the adaptation?
John Connolly: You know, one of the things about a short story is that you are giving someone the seeds to go and adapt it. You know, a novel is a work of contraction. If you are going to adapt it, you tend to have to excise an awful lot of material but the short stories work for expansion. So they essentially took this idea and went in the wrong direction with it. I was very flattered that they did it.
John Parker: Now, a question which you may not be able to answer but with the growth of platforms like Netflix and HBO and Disney taking over the world, now more than ever the possibility exists that we may yet see Charlie Parker on the small screen.
John Connolly: There is a script. I’ve read the script for the adaptation of the first novel. Or at least the first part of the first novel. And they have been working on this for two years. So, the company that has it is quite serious about it and is now shopping it around. And you are right. It has changed. Previously your options were that it was going to be a two-hour movie and even if it was a book you loved, two hours or two hours and ten minutes was about the limit on it. So they didn’t tend to be very satisfactory experiences and now you have ten or twelve hours potentially in which to explore a novel. And you know the model is something like the Bosch series which is essentially a book a series. The difficulty is that now there is so much stuff being made, so much content being thrown up on the wall that I am not sure that a lot of stuff gets time to develop as it would in the past, where the space is allowed for it to maybe have its little ups or downs at the beginning before it goes on … but, we shall see. I personally think they are quite difficult books to adapt so I don’t envy them the task.
John Parker: You said at the weekend at Semana Negra, “It’s difficult to be Catholic and completely rational”. (Laughter) Can you expand on that?
John Connolly: Yeah, well, it was that discussion about the combination of genres that I suppose I have been doing for a while and I had dinner with Otto Penzler, who I get on very well with, in New York about four or five months ago and Otto still seemed to take the view that you can create these combinations. You probably shouldn’t but you can do it but he still, after all these years, still didn’t quite approve of it. He’s from that school, you know, it’s that post-enlightenment belief in that human beings and the universe can be so understood by approaching the process of rationalism and yet people in the world are a lot stranger than that and, you know, I come from a Catholic background…
John Parker: You were brought up by the Christian Brothers as was I.
John Connolly: Yes, I was brought up by the Christian Brothers. I was an altar boy! So, I bring all of this baggage with me so I find it very difficult to accept that as the final position on human motivation, I suppose. So, you know, my novels, a bit like (James Lee) Burke who was a huge influence on me, are just suffused with Catholicism, you know, suffused with expiation and guilt. All crime fiction has redemption and possible redemption running through it but if you come from that Catholic or Christian background, that word redemption is weighted with a very different kind of baggage and we bring a different conception to it.
John Parker: OK. Going back to The Woman in the Woods and the character Pallida Mors who I think is quite a chilling creation…..did you come up with the idea for the character through readings of the Odes of Horace or were you listening to the death metal band Damned by the Pope?
John Connolly: I can’t say that I listened to the death metal band. It’s not one of my favourite genres. Yeah, you know, you’re always looking for… you always have an ear out, just as you have an eye out for shiny things; you have an ear for names and details that catch you. I came across Palida Mors and I thought, well, that’ll be good, it gets put in the little list of things that might prove useful and it eventually did.
John Parker: Your latest book, A Book of Bones is enormous!
John Connolly: It is enormous! Sorry!
John Parker: Well, I love these long books. I’m a big fan of novels like The Stand by Stephen King, Ghost Story by Peter Straub, The Ceremonies by T.E.D Kline and I thought the structure of this novel was beautiful. Let’s be honest, some critics didn’t like it but for me, the structure and the way it contains stories within stories was a pure delight.
John Connolly: You know it’s very much influenced and makes a lot of nods towards (Charles Dickens’) Bleak House which I think is the greatest novel in the English language. So, I’ve been reading a lot of 19th century fiction and what I liked was that space to create a world for people to lose themselves in it and to have all those narrative cul-de-sacs that don’t necessarily contribute hugely to the progression of the plot but have those little moments of pleasure. One of the things Dickens is great at doing, particularly in the more picaresque novels like The Pickwick Papers, is that he will have a character tell you a story just for the pleasure of telling you a story and I love that. And also it seems to reflect an element of the narrative which is that this book has been buried in other books and so you come across fragments of it in other volumes and so the idea that the reader would come across unmediated short stories… nobody says that now I’m going to tell you a short story, you get this fragment of the book and so I thought it was almost like a physical demonstration of a metaphor running through it.
John Parker: The Fractured Atlas…. It’s quite a thing NOW, I’d like to tell you something that some may find hard to believe but quite late on in the book when Parker is talking to Kevin Moon, the father of the first victim, I literally cried. I mean, I have daughters
John Connolly: Uh huh, sure, yeah, I have sons
John Parker: It was such a beautifully moving piece of writing and I thought you did it wonderfully I just wanted to mention it…
John Connolly: Thank you. It’s very nice of you to say so.
John Parker: So, I wonder where are we going to go with Charlie next? I understand you are going to do a prequel, for want of a better word?
John Connolly: Yes, people call it a prequel and I don’t really think of it in those terms but I’ve been saying in a lot of these Spanish interviews that every book has to be an experiment. And every book has to try something new and I had an idea for a book that simply didn’t work in the context of the series as it stands. And also, it seemed nice that A Book of Bones marks the full stop and an end of a sequence of six novels that kind of intertwine and come full circle. And it seemed almost like a palate cleanser as it was so different and it gives everybody a chance to draw breath, and I live in fear of becoming Season 8 of The X-Files. You have to be so tied up with the mythology of what’s gone before to enjoy the books that the idea of giving people something that doesn’t have any of this baggage, that has no supernatural elements and has a very different philosophy to it was appealing to me.
Kind of what happens to me is that halfway through the writing of one book, you get that spark of the next book and it’s just a spark, it’s nothing more than that. Once that spark happens, I am committed to it. It doesn’t become a very conscious thing of, “Well, now I’m going to sit down and write a prequel”. This is just the appropriate thing to do, the right thing to do and I’ve learnt to go along with it by this stage.
John Parker: Right. Remind us of the title.
John Connolly: The Dirty South
John Parker: Well, we had better start finishing off….
John Connolly: No, no, it’s quite all right. It’s a pleasure.
John Parker: Some years ago, Ali Karim interviewed you and asked you what you were reading and you were reading “Under The Dome” by Stephen King. What are you reading now? Any recommendations?
John Connolly: I’ve just finished a novella “To Be Taught, If Fortunate” by American SF writer, Becky Chambers which is out in August. It’s just extraordinary. I just think as a writer she is extraordinarily gifted and extraordinarily humane and I just love her books. Now I’m about to start Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray” which I’ve never read.
John Parker: I must mention your radio show From ABC to XTC which I was listening to earlier today.
…….Laughter……I’ve got Living By Numbers stuck in my head
John Connolly: That’s a great song! It’s fantastic! New Musik!
John Parker: It’s just stuck there, lodged in my head, It just won’t go away.
John Connolly:……Yeah, yeah, yeah (laughs)….
John Parker: It’s like an earworm, yeah? But are you listening to anything new? Or are you still listening to older stuff? I listen to a lot of 60s, 70s and 80s stuff.
John Connolly: I suppose because of the show, I do listen to an awful lot of older stuff and I have become very conscious, as with my reading, of the gaps in my knowledge. There is just so much new stuff. You go to a book store on a Thursday in England and the shelves… the whole table’s just changed again. And part of me thinks, I haven’t even read all the old books I’m supposed to have read yet, hence ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’. So, most of my listening now is older music. I don’t know enough about classical music, I don´t know enough about jazz… With the radio show what I found is that even though I grew up in that era, all the stuff missed me. I lived in Dublin. We had a couple of pirate radio stations but even then they were pretty mainstream. I didn’t really listen to John Peel. I was probably a little bit young at that stage for it and so an awful lot of peculiar little cul-de sacs of indie music passed me by so I’m engaged in a kind of process of deep excavation of the 80s.
John Parker: The last thing I read of yours was the essay “I Live Here” which is at the end of Night Music: Nocturnes Volume 2; I loved it and I thought why can’t John do his own “Danse Macabre” like Stephen King ?........Laughter......You talk about anecdotes. I mean there are a lot of anecdotes about your feelings on Herbert Van Thal, on Doctor Who, Jekyll and Hyde and I am convinced there is a whole new audience waiting to read this book. Would it interest you to do that?
John Connolly: I suppose I wrote Horror Express for kind of the same reasons, to explore that idea of nostalgia and those formative influences on me when I was a teenager particularly so , yeah Horror Express came but . you know the problem with Horror Express, it was supposed to be 15 or 20,000 words long but 42,000 words later and six months of research, I suddenly thought, my God, this has got a little bit out of hand. So down the line, very possibly but I still think Danse Macabre may be the final word. I think it’s such a lovely book.
John Parker: Oh yeah, I love it.
John Connolly: Yeah, it really is. It was a pleasure to read.
John Parker: Ok, John, that’s all we’ve got time for
John Connolly: Well, thank you. It was my pleasure. It was really great to put a face on you after all these years.
John Parker: Well, yes, indeed …at last, at last… Thank you very much.
John Connolly: You are welcome. And why did you end up in Avilés ….?
John Parker: It’s a long story….laughing……
And the two Johns' head to the bar……
Shots Magazine pass thanks to Tusquets, John Connolly’s Spanish publisher and the organisers of the festival, particularly Jorge Iván Argiz who made Celsius 232 happen.
And to Shots reviewer and our Spanish representative John Parker, who is a Graduate-qualified English/Spanish Teacher, owner and director of CHAT ENGLISH, an English Language Centre in Avilés on the north coast of Spain John is a voracious reader, and has loved horror fiction for many, many years.
Remember to book your seat for this year’s inaugural Capital Crime Convention, to be hosted in London 26 – 28TH September as John Connolly is one of the guests at the event – more information HERE
A listing of John’s book reviews and features at Shots Magazine is available HERE and a final thanks to Kerry Hood and the team at John’s British Publisher Hodder and Stoughton, because they are a fine group of people, and we miss Kerry so much.
Photos (c) 2019 John Parker, Ali Karim, Ayo Ontade and Hodder & Stoughton