Executive Vice President of Publisher Relations and Content at Kobo, Pieter Swinkels introduces a “Kobo in Conversation” interview of Robert Harris about his latest book, Conclave. (As an interesting aside, Pieter was, at one time, Robert’s publisher in the Netherlands). Robert is interviewed by Toronto pop culture columnist, film journalist and television personality, Johanna Schneller.


Kobo Executive Pieter Swinkels introduces Johanna and Robert

In the interview Johanna and Robert discuss:

  • Brexit and how, though the public events surrounding Brexit are possible fodder for a forthcoming Robert Harris novel, he prefers to wait perhaps 10 or 20 years after such an event before writing about it, because after such time, you can more properly see the patterns a lot more easily when you’re not as involved in them
  • The research involved in writing about a papal conclave, the oldest, most secretive election in the world, starting with his request for permission to see the places that aren’t normally open to the public
  • The overwhelming majesty of the setting of the Sistine Chapel and the Apostolic Palace
  • The bunker-like setting that the cardinals are sequestered in and the similarities to an Agatha Christie cottage mystery setting (part of the inspiration for wanting to write about what happens in that “closed room” environment
  • The enormous power of the internet when it comes to researching a book such as this one, and how the entire process of gathering that research using tools such as Google Maps street view is hugely sped up
  • The writing routine that Robert Harris employs, starting with research
  • How this particular novel was written between January and July of this past year
  • Harris’s daily writing routine of starting sometime around 7 or 8 AM and then finishing at about half past noon, and his belief that one can do only about four hours or so of hard creative work
  • A reference to the Stephen King quote about the “boys in the basement” who are hard at work for a writer when the writer is not sitting at their writing desk
  • Harris’s strong belief in deadlines and how the fear and adrenaline helps him produce
  • A look into one of Harris’s earliest books, the non-fiction title Selling Hitler, an investigation of the “Hitler Diaries” scandal, which was published in 1986, and how it led to the author’s evolution into writing novels

Johanna Schneller and Robert Harris on stage for a Kobo in Conversation

Kobo Writing Life Director Mark Lefebvre then talks about something Robert Harris mentioned in the interview – the concept of the deadline and how he saw that fear and adrenaline as important elements in the creative process for him as a writer. Lefebvre talks about his own experience writing to deadline on his own non-fiction works and then considers the concept of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and that 30 day deadline to write a prescribed number of words (50,000). He talks about the critical nature of that imposed “deadline” and how it can help a writer actually sit down and get words written.


Kobo’s VP of PR & Communications, Tracy Nesdoly holds the over-sized book cover for Conclave while Robert Harris signs it



Robert Harris’s website

Johanna Schneller on Twitter

Robert Harris’s books on Kobo

NaNoWriMo (Kobo Writing Life is a proud sponsor)

Episodes of Kobo in Conversation on Zoomer Radio

Kobo in Conversation on YouTube


Robert Harris is the author of ten bestselling novels: Fatherland, Enigma, Archangel, Pompeii, Imperium, The Ghost, Lustrum, The Fear Index, An Officer and a Spy and Conclave.

Several of his books have been filmed, including The Ghost, which was directed by Roman Polanski. His work has been translated into thirty-seven languages. He lives in the village of Kintbury, West Berkshire, with his wife Gill Hornby.


If you enjoy this podcast and would like to automatically download episodes as they go live – even before the show notes are posted to the Kobo Writing Life website – subscribe to the RSS feed via your favourite pod-capturing platform (such as iTunes) using this link: RSS feed for Kobo Writing Life Podcast.