Thriller writer never says die

SINGAPORE- In only 14 years, Irish writer John Connolly has gone from a frustrated journalist to a best-selling writer with 17 novels in genres from crime to science fiction and fantasy.

"Never underestimate the power of a chip on the shoulder, of wanting to prove people wrong," the 45-year-old says with a smile during a recent book tour to promote his newest novels.

Posing for photographs in a dark Clarke Quay stairwell reminiscent of the crime scenes in his eerie thrillers starring American detective Charlie Parker, he reveals that he accumulated 70 rejection letters before his first Parker novel, Every Dead Thing, was published by Hodder in the United Kingdom in 1999.

In January this year, international publisher Simon & Schuster published the 11th book in the series about a detective haunted by the loss of his wife and daughter, The Wrath Of Angels. Two novels for young adults, Conquest and The Creeps, were also released by Headline in September and Hodder & Stoughton in October.

Most readers know him through the best-selling Parker thrillers, which appear on international top 10 charts such as the New York Times bestseller list. In Singapore, his books have sold at least 33,000 copies in the last eight years, according to one distributor of his books, Pansing.

Some might say the United States is an odd choice of setting for a Dublin-born and bred writer. He now lives partly in Dublin and partly in Portland, where the Parker novels are set, but he maxed out his credit cards to travel and research his first book even before he sold it. Asked why he did so, Connolly replies: "There's a mythical quality American fiction has."

His favourites are Ed McBain's novels of the 87th Precinct of New York's police force and James Lee Burke's novels about New Orleans detective Dave Robicheaux.

He began devouring American crime fiction while completing his bachelor's degree in English at Trinity College, Dublin, because of a lecturer who loved the genre. In 1993, after he graduated with a master's in journalism at Dublin City University, he began Every Dead Thing.

He sent out three chapters to every publisher he could think of and received only rejection letters over four years, before publisher Hodder & Stoughton and London literary agent Darley Anderson encouraged him to complete the book.

To support himself during this time, he worked as a freelance journalist for The Irish Times newspaper for which he still writes columns and reviews.

The Parker novels meld thrills with a tinge of the surreal and have been favourably compared with the works of Stephen King. In the past five years, however, Connolly moved into writing of a lighter sort, in part to amuse his two stepsons, Cameron (now 22) and Alistair (16).

In October, Hodder & Stoughton brought out comic horror story The Creeps, which completes a trilogy of demon-hunting adventures initially written for Alistair. The first two books are The Gates (2009) and Hells Bells (2011).

A month before, Headline released Conquest, a novel about an alien teen on an Earth where humanity is enslaved. It is written by Connolly and his partner of 13 years, Jennifer Ridyard, a journalist and copywriter in her 40s. They met when she interviewed Connolly after the publication of Dark Hollow. He jokes that it was "the highest price I ever paid to sell a book".

On a more serious note, he says: "Whenever I write a book that's not a Parker book, my sales go down, my advance is a single figure fraction. But that question of who's my market shouldn't arise for a writer."

More important is getting ideas out there. So when he had the idea for a book about a teenage female alien while working on a new Parker novel, Wolf In Winter, to be published next April, he asked his partner for help.

The couple are turning Conquest into a series, though both admit that it was hard going at first. "It was very difficult. I'm very ruthless with my own books and I was very ruthless with hers," Connolly says.

He appears to be a writer who thrives on challenges. "Every book I've ever written I've wanted to abandon after 20,000 words. That's normal," he says. "Wasn't it Salman Rushdie who says: Writers are those who finish things?

"I've never abandoned anything. If they go through my drawers they won't find anything," he says, then adds: "Except rejection letters."

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