John Boyne, author of The Terrible Thing That Happened To Barnaby Brocket and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, answers Six Sharp Questions

by |September 5, 2012

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

John Boyne

author of The Terrible Thing That Happened To Barnaby Brocket, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and more

Six Sharp Questions:


1. Congratulations, you have a new book. What is it about and what does it mean to you?

The Terrible Thing That Happened To Barnaby Brocket is the story of an Australian family who don’t like anyone who is different in any way. They hate people who stand out from the crowd and believe that everyone should conform to the norm. So when their third child Barnaby is born and he doesn’t obey the law of gravity and floats, they’re terribly embarrassed and seek ways to make him like everyone else. It’s a book for young readers that seeks to explain why it’s ok to be different and, in fact, why sometimes it’s better.

2. Times pass. Things change. What are the best and worst moments that you have experienced in the past year or so?

The best was probably my trip to the Galle Literary Festival in Sri Lanka in January. A country I had never visited before, I found it not only beautiful and friendly but it was one of the best organised festivals I’ve ever attended. And the audiences that came to the events were enormous! The worst moment of the last year was finding out that a young person, quite close to me, was very ill. Fortunately, that story seems to have had a happy resolution.

3. Do you have a favourite quote or passage you would be happy to share with us? It doesn’t need to be deep but it would be great if it meant something to you.

I’ve always liked this last paragraph from Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It:

Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.

I am haunted by waters.

4. Writers have often been described as being difficult to live with. Do you conform to the stereotype or defy it? Please tell us a little about the day to day of your writing life.

I am sweetness and light throughout the day. (Ok, maybe not all the time.) When I’m at home in Dublin I have a set routine: I wake at 5:40 and am in the gym by 6 am. I work out for an hour then come home and take my dog for a walk for another hour. After breakfast, I begin writing and work from about 9:30 until 3 pm. I do most of the cooking in our house and generally prepare the evening meal for when my partner comes home from work.

5. Some writer’s claim not to be influenced by the needs of the marketplace, while others seem obsessed by it. Would you please describe how the marketplace affects your writing (come on, tell the truth!).

It doesn’t affect my writing in the slightest. I give absolutely no thought to it whatsoever. I write the books that interest me, I write stories that I feel I have to write with characters who I know are already alive in my imagination. I write them, I give them to my publisher and whatever happens after that is completely out of my hands. Of course one would like a no.1 bestseller with every publication but that can’t happen. But as long as the books reach an audience and I’m proud of what I’ve written, that’s all that matters to me.

6. Unlikely Scenario: You’ve been charged with civilising twenty ill-educated adolescents but you may take only five books with you. What do you take and why?

A dictionary – because they might need to look up words.

Charles Dickens David Copperfield – because it’s my favourite novel.

Christos Tsiolkas The Slap– because it’s my favourite novel of the 21st century.

The Collected Stories of William Trevor – because he is one of the world’s greatest writers and every story will move, intrigue and delight the reader.

William Golding Lord of the Flies– so they can see what might happen if they don’t pay attention to me.

John, thank you for playing.

The Terrible Thing That Happened To Barnaby Brocket

There’s nothing unusual about the Brockets. Boring, respectable and fiercely proud of it, Alistair and Eleanor Brocket turn up their noses at anyone strange or different. But from the moment Barnaby Brocket comes into the world, it’s clear he’s anything but normal. To the horror and shame of his parents, Barnaby appears to defy the laws of gravity – and floats.

Little Barnaby is a lonely child – after all, it’s hard to make friends when you’re three feet in the air. Desperate to please his parents, he does his best to stop floating, but he just can’t do it. Then, one fateful day, Barnaby’s mother decides enough is enough. She never asked for a weird, abnormal, floating child. She’s sick and tired of the newspapers prying and the neighbours gossiping. Barnaby has to go . . .

Betrayed, frightened and alone, Barnaby floats into the path of a very special hot air balloon. And so begins a magical journey around the world; from South America to New York, Canada to Ireland, and even a trip into space, Barnaby meets a cast of truly extraordinary new friends and realises that nothing can make you happier than just being yourself.

A funny, inventive and warm-hearted story from the internationally bestselling author of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.

Click here to buy The Terrible Thing That Happened To Barnaby Brocket from Booktopia,
Australia’s No.1 Online Bookshop

No comments Share:

About the Contributor

While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. ​Now, as the Director of Books at, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, will be published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.

Follow John: Twitter Website


No comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *