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Q&A  •  19 April 2024


John Boyne on the role of the elements in his books

Irish author John Boyne discusses the role of the elements in his new books, and the inspiration for his new book Earth.

Why did you decide to tie in stories of human nature and morality with the elements?

It started with the idea for the first novella, Water. I wanted to write a short book, a quiet book, exploring a woman’s trauma as she considers her own role in her husband’s crimes. This led me to deciding to set the story on a small island off the west coast of Ireland. As I was writing it, themes of water kept appearing and re-appearing throughout the narrative and I liked the idea of connecting her emotions to the tides.


Why did you choose to focus on the elements?

Originally, I had no plans to write four books but I was very pleased with how Water had turned out and it occurred to me that water is one of the four elements – the others being earth, fire, and air – and that I could use these to tell stories connected to them. Each one uses its particular element in parallel to the main character’s work or emotions. It seemed like a challenging and interesting idea to me.


Where did the inspiration for Earth come from?

There have been many cases of footballers charged with rape or sexual assault, some of whom have been convicted, some of whom have been acquitted. There’s a toxic atmosphere at times in team sports, particularly male team sports, which makes some of the players feel they are untouchable and can simply do what they want without facing any consequences. Football academies in particular, who work with children from a very young age, can focus too much on a child’s sporting prowess while ignoring his emotional development.


Has the process of writing Water and Earth shifted the way you see the world?

All my books do in some way. The running theme of the four novellas is sexual abuse but seen from four different perspectives. In Water, it’s the enabler. In Earth, it’s a man who is complicit in a crime. In Fire, it’s a perpetrator. And in Air, it’s a victim. I’ve written before on this subject and find it quite cathartic to do so, particularly as I was forced to seriously think about what leads people to commit these crimes.

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From internationally bestselling author John Boyne, an inescapably gritty story about one young man whose direction in life takes a vastly different turn than what he expected.
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