Boyne’s novel, A Ladder to the Sky (Hogarth, Nov.), follows the devious machinations of Maurice Swift, a novelist unafraid to lie, cheat, and steal his way to fame.
Maurice Swift has many characteristics of a sociopath, but he’s not impervious to guilt. What was your process for creating such a disturbing, complex character?
I always try to have a character who has some sort of redeeming quality. We’re all complicated as people: we’re not completely perfect or completely guiltless. I felt that even though Maurice does some terrible things in the first two thirds of the book, I wanted to have moments later on where we see different sides of him when we hear from his own voice. I like the idea of the reader getting to the end of the book and not being fully sure where they stand on a character.
How do you come up with plots for your novels?
I prefer to just start with an idea, character, or theme and I just start writing and let the story take me where it takes me. Generally, that seems to work okay for me. Sometimes I do go down a wrong road, but generally I get back to where I should be. I find it more exciting to write like that.
Why did you decide to use Gore Vidal as a narrator for one of the interludes?
I wanted to have one person who saw through Maurice and was not taken in by his charm and manipulation. I’ve always been a big fan of Gore Vidal’s work, and I just thought it would be fun to use him as someone who’s smart and witty. I had read some of his work and watched a whole bunch of documentaries when writing that section. Because if I was going to speak in his voice, I really had to raise my game and try to make him as absolutely sharp as I could make him.
There’s delightful and very funny commentary on writers’ egos and insecurities in this novel. Was it refreshing to write so pointedly about the literary world?
It was. I’ve been publishing for almost 20 years now, and I’ve seen writers at all stages of their careers. There are those who are more sensitive to criticism, shall we say, but then again you sometimes do meet people who just behave obnoxiously. I was trying to get some of my own experiences over the years into the story; I hadn’t written a novel about writers before, so it was fun to do that.