John Coyne (Ethiopia 1962-64) Interviewed

Long Ago And Far Away — Travel Through Time in John Coyne’s Latest Novel

by Alex Wolff
Pelham Weekly

Renowned Pelham author John Coyne’s latest novel “Long Ago and Far Away” draws on his life and experience to tell a tale of star crossed lovers, spanning several decades and traveling across four continents.

long-agoRevolving around the tragic 1973 death of a young woman in Ethiopia, Long Ago and Far Away uses a series of flashbacks in that country, Spain, New York, Washington and elsewhere to tell the story of Parker Bishop and Irish McCann, lovers who were driven apart by the death of their friend and the resulting trial which left questions as to whether the death was a murder or an accident.

Bishop and McCann reconnect in the present day and set out to confront the man who knows the truth about what

“I’m a big fan of generational novels and how people change over time,” said Mr. Coyne who has authored more than 25 nonfiction and fiction books including seven bestsellers.

While the book took Mr. Coyne more than four years to write (writing off and on), he said that this novel was different than some of the others he has published. He explained that he began to write the book about one of the characters, but then during the process of writing it, he shifted focus to another.

Another key difference for Mr. Coyne in Long Ago and Far Away is that he did not know until he finished writing what the ending would be.

“Usually I know what the ending is. This one I didn’t. I was sort of feeling my way,” he said. “I wanted to write a book and to take this guidebook (about Ethiopia) and turn it into a book that people would read. A lot of it surprised me and that’s very common. If you get the characters right they’ll surprise you, but the ending even surprised me. The advantage is that it should surprise the reader.”

Mr. Coyne, who has traveled extensively both as a writer and as a member of the Peace Corps, said that in “Long Ago and Far Away,” he aimed to recreate many of the settings he knows so well in an effort to bring the reader into the story.

“Ethiopia becomes a character,” said Mr. Coyne. “I describe it physically and talk about the people and the issues. I tell really inside information that people wouldn’t ordinarily know. As a writer, it makes it very easy if you know the location to set your characters in. It just makes you more comfortable.”

To tell the story and reconstruct the past, Mr. Coyne uses a combination of flashbacks and flash-forwards. In doing so, he had to be certain to use the correct details from each of the time periods in the various settings.

“I try to keep the reader unsure of what’s going to happen next and where they’re going to be in time. In each time period I also will use a historical fact so they see it and say, ‘Oh I remember that,’ which helps them nail it down,” he said.

Because of change within the regions, this meant consulting a guidebook from Ethiopia published decades ago to ensure the names of streets and leaders were correct. It also meant using the Internet to make sure he had the correct dates.

“Google is a godsend,” remarked Mr. Coyne. “You can find out anything. You can consult calendars and see when Thanksgiving was in 1973.”

Long Ago and Far Away is published by Peace Corps Writers and is available in both print and Kindle formats. Among Mr. Coyne’s works are The Legacy, Hobgoblin, The Piercing, and more recently The Caddie Who Won The Masters. For more information on John Coyne visit

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