Writer John Connolly chats to Brendan about his new book The Land of Lost Things and the songs that changed his world. Listen back above.
Strands of stories like Wuthering Heights, where spirits find their way into the real world, and fantasy and reality are hard to separate - these themes are also reflected in John Connolly’s latest book The Land of Lost Things. It’s hardly surprising, then, that the Kate Bush song of the same name was the writer’s first musical choice when he sat down for a chat about the book with Brendan O’Connor. John chose five of his all-time favourite songs to play during the show, and he shared the personal stories tied to his choice of music.
The Land of Lost Things is the much anticipated sequel to Connolly’s 2006 The Book of Lost Things. It’s the story of a single mother, Ceres, whose daughter is alive but unresponsive following a car accident, and the experience almost breaks Ceres as a human being. She processes what's happened by revisiting the stories of her childhood: tales that are at once comforting and frightening; as Connolly explains:
"This book uses folklore and fairy tales. They have a very particular potency. They stay with us, because they speak to something very primitive within us and very essential. And so they are almost like triggers, they touch on something."
Connolly believes that nostalgia has a value beyond the comforting familiarity of, say, a favourite sitcom or a piece of music; it can be life-saving; and he compares it to the support provided by a rock-climber’s hooks on a dangerous cliff face:
"Those things that we love from the past become very important when we’re in times of trouble; because they are like pitons in the rock face of our experience. We can go back and we can fall back on these things and they give us a sense of continuity and connectedness."
The character Ceres has reached a terrifying point in her life; and the only way she can move forward is by looking back Connolly says:
"She retreats into a world that is real. That responds to all of her pain, that responds to her past, to the things she loves, the things that frighten her and she begins to think again about this relationship she has with her child. And It’s composed as well of the books she read, the stories she knew from childhood."
The book is very personal to Connolly and reflects his current life stage which, he says, is shot through with the normal, middle-aged anxieties about adult children and ageing parents:
"I am at a stage and I think it’s probably familiar to a lot of middle-aged people – where you’re on a constant low level hum of worry."
Putting The Land of Lost Things in the genre box labelled 'fantasy’ isn’t all that important to Connolly – he says that genre is just "a writer’s tool". In this case, it’s a way of expressing how childhood stories can become a lifelong source of meaning:
"You are the sum of the things that you’ve read, the things that frighten you, the things that you love. So it uses fantasy, but it tries to use it in a slightly odd way, to explore these realities of being middle-aged."
Long-time fans will be happy to know that there is another Charlie Parker novel just around the corner. John’s next publication after The Land of Lost Things is the next instalment of the Parker series, and it’s already with his publisher, he says. That book is due to appear in the first half of 2024. Connolly says that changing it up as a writer - from time to time - keeps his ideas fresh:
"What happens when I do something like The Land of Lost Things is that it kind of recharges my batteries a little bit and when I come back to the Parker books, I’m completely refreshed and I know exactly what I’ve got to do. I’ve kind of got this balance between the two after all these years."
Offering a great experience to the reader is important to Connolly – he says after 25 years, he’s determined not to disappoint:
"The worst thing you can do is steal a reader’s time. Money we can have, if you’re struggling for money, you can go to a library or pick up a second hand book; but wasting a reader’s time is sinful, I think."
Listen back to the full interview with John Connolly above. And for more great interviews like this, check out the Brendan O’Connor show page here.
The Land of Lost Things is out now in Ireland and will be available elsewhere from the 7th of September 2023; published by Hodder & Stoughton.
John’s show ABC to XTC is on Saturdays at 5pm on RTÉ Gold and on the RTÉ Radio App.