Noah Barleywater Runs Away is a huge change from your last children's book, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. Was it a deliberate decision to go for something completely different, or did Noah's story just take on a life of its own?
I knew I didn’t want to take on a historical event of such global proportions as I did in THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PYJAMAS, but I also knew that I didn’t want to write about something trivial either. So the idea of a personal tragedy presented itself to me and I felt that to write the story through the medium of the fairytale would be both an original way to present the novel and also draw a line between this children’s book and the previous one.
Unlike Noah, had you achieved anything significant by the time you were 8 years old?
Not very much! Although I had probably read more than fourteen books cover to cover. And I had started writing stories of my own.
The story explores, amongst other things, the relationship between a father and his son. Was any part of the story influenced by your own personal experiences?
The story doesn’t come from my own personal experience, but when I was around the same age as Noah, one of the boys in my class went through something similar and so I witnessed his pain and unhappiness. Also the fact that he had to grow up rather more quickly than the rest of us did.
Noah Barleywater Runs Away is a lovely story with a fairytale element to it. Why did you choose to tell the tale that way?
A common theme of the fairytale is the idea of a child being abandoned in a forest – think Hansel and Gretel, Snow White – and I knew the novel was going to begin with a child, Noah, not being abandoned as such but running into a forest of his own free will. This allowed me to present twin worlds in the story: the real world outside the forest, from which Noah is running away, and the magical world of the forest itself. Knowing that I was going to allow my imagination to run wild in the part of the story made me think about creating a modern fairytale.
Do you have any hidden toy-making skills we should know about?
How has your life changed since The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas hit bestseller lists everywhere?
Every writer wants as many readers as possible and THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PYJAMAS introduced my books to an international audience for the first time and allowed my previous and subsequent novels to be published in dozens of languages, so that alone was a great thing for me. Other than that, the fact of writing a novel which has moved so many people is something that makes me proud.
Were you happy with the movie adaptation?
Yes, very happy. I was very involved with the process all the way through and I think Mark Herman, who directed the movie, did a brilliant job at conveying both Bruno’s innocence and the darkness of the story.
Would you ever revisit that period of history and write about WWII again?
Random question: have you read my favourite book, The Book Thief? (I have to ask, because The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas affected me in much the same way as that one did!)
Yes, I read The Book Thief shortly before I toured Australia during 2007 as I was doing several readings with Markus. I think it’s an incredibly powerful novel, approaching its subject in an original and inventive way. Its global success has been well deserved.
Do you already have plans for your next children's novel? If so, can you tell us anything about it?
Yes to the first part. No the second!
- John's official site: John Boyne.com
- UK publisher's site: David Fickling Books