An interview with John Connolly, whose new novel, The Gates, will be published by Atria.
PW: The protagonist of The Gates is an 11-year-old boy. After the major success of your crime novels, what prompted you to write for the younger set?
JC: I think there’s a pattern to my work now, which involves alternating the Parker novels with something a little different, always written out of contract. It’s a way of keeping myself, and my books, fresh, I hope. I’d wanted to write The Gates for a long time, but hadn’t been able to find the “MacGuffin,” the little plot detail that would provide the catalyst for what was to come. Eventually, I found it in quantum physics—an unexpected source. Then again, I consciously wanted to avoid magic, which seems to be the current fallback mode for fiction aimed at younger readers.
PW: What kinds of alterations in your “grown-up” style did you need to make for The Gates, and how difficult was that gear-switching?
JC: Hardly any, and it wasn’t difficult at all. Perhaps the writing is a little less involved, but that’s about it. I hated being patronized as a young reader, and I moved from children’s books to adult novels before I was into my teens. That wasn’t uncommon then, though, as what we now term the ‘young adult’ market didn’t really exist then in the same way that it does now, so I suppose I don’t think of writing for children as being terribly different from writing for adults. If anything, I’m more honest in writing for younger readers, because they won’t put up with any nonsense at all, and they’re smarter than a lot of adults, writers or non-writers, give them credit for. You can’t be cynical or sentimental; you have to treat younger readers with the intelligence and respect that they deserve.
PW: With Satan and Hell figuring prominently in the new book, were you concerned that younger readers might be frightened?
JC: Not at all. It goes back to The Book of Lost Things, which I think was a book about childhood for adults, and one that very consciously rejected the sanitizing of old fairy tales, which dilutes their message. Younger readers understand that the world can be a little difficult and even frightening at times, but stories can give them the confidence to deal with the problems that life will throw at them by encouraging them to have confidence in their own abilities, their innate sense of right and wrong, and their belief in justice. Kids rather like getting that little frisson of excitement that comes from deep involvement in a book, as long as they ultimately feel that they’re safe, and that right will triumph in the end.
PW: What’s next? Will you return to your “grown-up” Charlie Parker novels, or stick with the younger crowd?
JC: I’m going back to Parker for The Whisperers, and then I’ll do something different again. It may be a sequel to The Gates, as I really enjoyed writing it, and would love to return to that world. But I’ve also long had a hankering to write a historical novel about food. It depends upon which story shouts loudest, I suppose.