Today I’m delighted to welcome author Doug Johnstone to the CTG blog as part of his blog tour marking the launch of his new thriller THE JUMP.
And so, to the questions …
Your latest book – THE JUMP – is out this month, can you tell us a bit about it?
The book is all about Ellie, a woman in her forties who is struggling after the suicide of her teenage son six months ago. Her son jumped off the Forth Road Bridge near their house in South Queensferry, and the story opens with her finding another teenage boy on the bridge about to jump. She sees a chance at redemption for what she thinks are her failings as a mother, but in reality she gets sucked into a whole new nightmare that threatens everyone around her.
I’ve been skirting around the issue of suicide for a long time in my writing, and this book feels like a culmination of that obsession. I wanted to write about the loss and lack of resolution for those left behind by suicide, how there are no easy answers, but I wanted to embed that in a thriller storyline. Hopefully The Jump manages to pull that off, but I guess readers will have to decide for themselves. Although Ellie does some terrible things, I think she’s the most sympathetic central character I’ve had in a book, and hopefully, if I’ve done my job, the reader will care about what happens to her and those around her.
How did you get into writing thrillers – what was it about the genre that attracted you?
I kind of fell into it really. My first two books were less obviously thriller-ish, though they were marketed as crime books by the publisher. I’ve always read thrillers and crime, in fact, I never really thought about the distinction between any genres of book when I was reading and then also when I first started writing. All good books have conflict at their core, and more often than not that involves criminal activity.
I suppose I write domestic noir, if you want to define it, thrillers about ordinary people like you or me getting sucked into horrible, extraordinary, tragic situations. Hopefully the reader then wonders what they would do in a similar situation. I’ve always been interested in how ordinary folk act under extreme pressure – we all like to think we’d do the ‘right’ thing, but morality is never black and white, and I have a lot of sympathy for people doing wrong things in seemingly impossible circumstances. So that’s what I write about.
Can you tell us a bit about your writing process – do you plot everything out first or dive right in?
I’m somewhere in between. I like to be pretty organized before I begin the first draft, but I don’t have everything nailed down in terms of plot. I usually have a pretty clear idea about the opening few scenes, and the same goes for the final few chapters, but I deliberately leave a little bit of a grey area in the middle to get to where I’m going to. So much of the story depends on the characters and how they react to the crap you’re throwing at them, you have to leave a little wriggle room there. Plot ultimately stems from character, so if I need to change ideas about what happens because of the way the book is progressing, then I’m happy to do that.
What advice would you give a writer aspiring to publication?
It’s kind of banal advice, but just keep at it. Getting published can feel like a war of attrition sometimes, like you’re banging your head against a brick wall, but you just have to keep plugging away at it. Keep reading all the time, even the rubbish books teach you something and act as inspiration to write better. And keep writing all the time, you get better and better at it without even noticing sometimes.
It’s good to be clued up about the industry, but writers should never try to chase whatever they think the next big trend is going to be. For one thing, that bandwagon will be long gone before you can get on it, but more importantly, you’ll be writing something that isn’t true to yourself. Write the story you want to read, write it as well as you can, and eventually, hopefully, people will notice. Don’t be disheartened!
And, finally, what does the rest of 2015 have in store for you?
I’m currently re-drafting the next novel, a kind of femme fatale thing set in Orkney that starts with a plane crash and gets nastier. I’ve still got a fair bit to do on that, so that’ll take me to the autumn, then I usually spend a month or two working on new ideas before I settle down to the next book. I have a few kicking around at the back of my mind, but I try not to think about it while I’m still working on something. Apart from that, two of my books are optioned for film and television, so hopefully there will be some movement there, and I also work part-time at Queen Margaret University as a literary fellow. Plus I’m looking after my two young kids, so plenty to be getting on with!
Massive thanks to Doug Johnson for stopping by to chat about his latest book THE JUMP and tell us about his writing process.
THE JUMP is out now. Here’s the blurb: “You can do anything, if you have nothing left to lose. Struggling to come to terms with the suicide of her teenage son, Ellie lives in the shadows of the Forth Road Bridge, lingering on its footpaths and swimming in the waters below. One day she talks down another suicidal teenager, Sam, and sees for herself a shot at redemption, the chance to atone for her son’s death. But even with the best intentions, she can’t foresee the situation she’s falling headlong into – a troubled family, with some very dark secrets of its own.”
To find out more about Doug Johnstone and his books hop on over to his website at www.dougjohnstone.wordpress.com/novels/ and be sure to follow him on Twitter @doug_johnstone
To look at THE JUMP on Amazon click on the book cover below:
And be sure to check out these other fab stops on THE JUMP blog tour …