Where do you get your ideas? John Boyne answers the question all authors hate


He wanted to challenge himself and try something different. And that’s what John Boyne has definitely done with his epic new novel, A Traveller at the Gates of Wisdom. It starts in AD 1 in Palestine and then spans 2 000 years, taking the reader on a journey from Mozambique to Ireland, Norway to Peru, Mexico to Afghanistan, before finally concluding at the space station in 2080.

You’ve got to wonder what sparked the idea for such an ambitious work. In this fun interview from 2018 we chatted to the much-loved Irish author about creativity and his writing process.

What would readers be surprised to know about your writing process?

 I do 10 to 12 drafts before I show it to anybody. I don’t like to get any early feedback at all. I try to get it into the best possible shape before sending it on to my editor and agent. I don’t show it to family or friends until it’s published.Where do you write? I can write anywhere.I have an office here in my home but because I travel a lot I’m perfectly happy writing on trains, planes and in hotel rooms.

Your novel, A Ladder to the Sky takes a look at the creative process and an author that struggles to come up with original ideas. I know it’s the question all writers hate but in light of this book, I’m going to take my chances and ask: “Where do you get your ideas?” 

It’s a mystery. It’s one of those questions writers don’t even want to know the answer to. You find them everywhere around you. I think the creative side of the brain is like a muscle – if you’re using it all the time you’re just open to ideas.

Have you ever struggled with writer’s block?

I haven’t. Generally I’ve been lucky. I just don’t give myself the luxury of having writer’s block. I’m very disciplined – I’m at my desk by 8.30 am and tend to work every single day, and I’m always working on a new book. I’m not one of those writers who see it as a chore. Even after all these years I love doing it. By the time I’m coming to the end of a book a new idea is already bubbling away in my mind that I’m getting excited about. So as soon as I finish a book, within a week or two I start on the next one. I don’t have another job so this is what I do every day.

Which book do you feel most proud of?

I think The Heart’s Invisible Furies. Readers really seemed to rate that one. I enjoyed the humour and also the epic nature of the book.

When you’re not writing what do you do to unwind? 

I play piano and guitar. I cook and play squash a lot – just regular stuff, I guess.

I hear you recently got a tattoo. 

I’ve actually got two. One is a tattoo relating to Kate Bush from her album Hounds of Love because I’m a big fan. The other [his latest] is, “We are all terminal cases” – which is the last line of The World According to Garp because I’m a big John Irving fan and he’s a great friend of mine.

Traveller at the Gates of Wisdom by John Boyne

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