The Jump Blog Tour: CTG interviews Doug Johnstone about #TheJump

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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:

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And be sure to check out these other fab stops on THE JUMP blog tour …

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CTG Reviews: The Long Fall by Julia Crouch

The Long Fall cover image

The Long Fall cover image

What the blurb says: “Greece, 1980: You are a bright young woman with a brilliant future ahead of you. Then you do the worst possible thing a person could do to someone else: you are guilty of the greatest transgression. How do you go on to live a life?

Now: To the outside observer, Kate Barratt has it all: the wealthy husband who was once mistaken for George Clooney, the brilliant, feisty daughter, two homes in London and Cornwall, and understated designer wardrobe and a satisfying sideline as figurehead for a worthwhile charity. But all is not as comfortable as it seems, because Kate harbours a terrible secret that no-one in her current life knows anything about. A secret that hails back to a different time, when she was a skinny, dirty, punk-haired teenager who took too many drugs and nearly threw herself off an Athens hostel roof.

Then, one day, in Starbucks near Tottenham Court Road Tube Station, that secret appears out of the past to face her. Can Kate carry on with the life she has built for herself? Or does it mean that everything is completely, irrevocably, changed?”

It’s very hard to review this book within giving any spoilers, but I’ll do what I can!

Set across two points in time, and two countries, Julia Crouch artfully weaves the story of what happened to Emma – a young, naïve and curious teenage traveller on her first visit to Greece in 1980, with that of present day Kate – a wealthy wife and mother, and founder of international children’s charity ‘Martha’s Wish’.

Packed with suspense, each scene of the book reveals a little more of the horrific chain of events that Kate has tried her whole life to keep hidden, and the extreme lengths she has gone to in order to do so. Kate is a compelling character, so damaged by her past and the grief of losing her youngest daughter, yet desperate to atone for what happened and driven to make a difference through her charity work. When a person from her past tracks her down, Kate’s secret past collides with her present and threatens to destroy all she has worked for, and puts those she loves into the very danger she has sought her whole adult life to avoid.

This dark and chilling story of love, betrayal and guilt shows how one moment of violence can result in a chain reaction that continues across the decades. Highly atmospheric, with fabulously flawed and complex characters, and a super twisty plot, it’s a great read.

The Long Fall is domestic noir at its very best.

Highly recommended.

[Many thanks to Headline for my copy of The Long Fall]

CTG Interviews: Julia Crouch, author of The Long Fall

The Long Fall cover image

The Long Fall cover image

Today I’m delighted to welcome Julia Crouch to the CTG blog.

Famous for her darkly chilling novels of domestic noir, Julia’s latest book – The Long Fall – is published this week in paperback, eBook and as an audio download. 

So, to the questions …

Your latest book – The Long Fall – is out this week. Can you tell us a bit about it?

I started off wondering how someone could continue a life after being guilty of the worst possible transgression.

The story is set in two time frames – 1980 and 2013. The 1980 sections are the diary of 18 year old Emma who is backpacking solo through Europe in her year off. At the end of her journey, something awful happens. The 2013 part is about Kate, a wealthy, high profile charity campaigner, Hedge Fund Manager’s wife and mother to drama student Tilly. When someone turns up from Kate’s past, her superficially perfect life begins to disintegrate around her.

The book takes place in Greece and London, what was it about these particular places that inspired to you to pick them?

I have always loved Greece – I go there whenever I get the opportunity. My first proper visit was as a lone, backpacking eighteen year old. I kept a diary of what I got up to while I was there, and I have mercilessly raided the detail in it for The Long Fall. On the very edge of Europe, Greece is a country of contrasts – of ancient and modern, of East and West, of land and sea. I knew I wanted to set part of the story on an island – as distant, disconnected and isolated as possible – and my son Owen told me about Ikaria, which his Greek girlfriend Eva took him to a couple of years ago. It seemed perfect and, since the novel starts with a fall from a cliff, the idea of the island named after Icarus, the boy who fell when he flew too close to the sun, seemed too perfect to resist.

I had to go and research the island – an arduous task for a Grecophile such as myself – and found to my delight that it was perfect – wind-buffetted with enormous, looming black and grey cliffs, deserted perfect beaches, a jungly interior and a world untouched as yet (touch wood) by mass tourism. Setting is as important to me as my characters and plot, so it was really, really exciting to find Ikaria. I spent a week there, driving a tiny Chevy Matiz over almost impassable mountain roads, exploring mountain villages and isolated bays.

I wanted the contrast of Kate’s world to the Greek scenes to be very stark. A couple of years ago I did a photoshoot for a magazine and they had hired a gorgeous house in a converted school in Battersea. It’s vast – all enormous high ceilings, white walls and wooden floors. The people who own it live in it – although they were away for the day of the shoot – and there’s a big photograph canvas of the family on the kitchen wall. They are beautiful. The impression is one of a perfect life.

I was just beginning to think about The Long Fall at the time, and it seemed to me that this would be the perfect building for Kate to inhabit – gated, turretted luxury. So I’m afraid I ‘stole’ it!

As a trailblazer of the hugely popular Domestic Noir, how would you describe the characteristics of the sub-genre?

Domestic Noir doesn’t necessarily mean a home setting, but it’s often in there somewhere. it’s about the things people do to each other in the name of love. It’s about the levels at which we can deceive ourselves and others, and how we manage to live with our secrets. It can include police and murders, but that’s certainly not essential. The mystery lies in the why – rather than the whodunnit. Because it is rooted in messy old life and relationships, it doesn’t always provide the neat ending of more traditional crime fiction.

Could you tell us a little about your writing process, do you dive right in, or plan the story out first?

Usually, I just dive in and start a story, researching as I go along. I keep writing until I reach the end, even if I know things have to change quite radically in the earlier stages of the novel to support my new discoveries. This I call draft zero, because no one ever sees it except me. Then I go back and rewrite the entire thing, building a firmer structure for the plot, excising loads of guff and putting in hopefully more focussed material. For me, this is the most exciting way to write, because every day you discover something new about your characters and story.

However, it can be difficult to fit this style of working into a publishing schedule. The Long Fall is the first book of a new contract I signed with my publishers Headline, and to secure that I had to put together a pretty clear outline of the story, long before I started. The plot I came up with was quite detailed and so clear that it changed very little in the writing – so I knew what each scene had to do, where the characters had to go. I didn’t know exactly how I was going to structure it, though, so there was still quite a bit of head scratching at the end of draft zero. It is probably a quicker way to finish a novel, but I have to say I have reverted to my old approach for the novel I am currently working on (working title, rather imaginatively, novel #5) and, while it is scarier, I find it more exciting writing, as E L Doctorow put it, “…like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

What advice would you give to new writers aspiring to publication?

Write the best novel you possibly can, then edit it and make it better. Don’t be in a hurry to submit. Do your homework finding an agent – do they represent authors you like? Do they deal with your genre? See what they say on Twitter. Follow submission guidelines slavishly – they all have different rules, so you will have to work around them, which is a good thing. Be patient. Be polite. Be prepared for rejection, but also be prepared to work on editing suggestions from agents. If you are rejected, there will be a good reason. Try to work out what it is.

If you want to self-publish, pay someone to edit your novel, and try to forget that you are paying so that you listen to their edits. Pay someone to typeset it and design the cover. Learn the business. You have to be aware that you are going into business not only as a writer but also as a publisher. It’s a lot of work.

And lastly, what does the rest of 2014 have in store for you?

Novel #5 will take up the next five months, and we’re beginning to plan Dark & Stormy Brighton 2015 (the crime festival I launched this year with Emlyn Rees and Ray Leek). I’m putting together proposals for three more novels – a process I really enjoy. And something might be happening in Hollywood, although that’s all I’m allowed to say right now. Other than that, I’m promoting The Long Fall all over the shop: I’ll be at Harrogate, Bloody Scotland and Edinburgh Book Festival, as well as many other libraries, bookshops and festivals around the country. Good job I love writing on trains!

Sounds like 2014 is shaping up to be a very busy year!

A huge thank you to Julia Crouch for dropping by and chatting about The Long Fall and her writing process. To find out more about Julia and her books pop on over to http://juliacrouch.co.uk/

 

And watch this space for our review of The Long Fall – coming soon.