DOUG JOHNSTONE: THE JUMP IS ABOUT SUICIDE AND REDEMPTION
Posted by Ognian Georgiev
Our guest for today’s interview is the Scottish writer Doug Johnstone. His latest novel The Jump was released in the summer. The book received positive feedback not only in the United Kingdom, but also worldwide.
It’s a great pleasure to introduce to you at Land of Books Mr. Doug Johnstone.
– Doug, what is your book The Jump about?
– The Jump is about suicide and redemption. It’s set in the shadow of the Forth Road Bridge outside Edinburgh in Scotland. The main character Ellie is struggling since her teenage son killed himself, and the book begins with her finding another boy about to jump off the bridge. She talks him down and takes him home, but finds he has blood on him that isn’t his. This leads her down a terrifying path as she tries to protect the boy and keep her own sanity.
– How did you decide to write the story?
– I drive over the Forth Road Bridge a lot, and always wonder what I would do if I saw someone about to kill themselves by jumping off. So that was the starting point. I’ve been writing about suicide a lot recently, and I wanted to write a really true book about suicide that didn’t give any easy answers, that didn’t necessarily give the reader a proper resolution. At the same time, I wanted a thriller, page-turning plot, so The Jump was an attempt to square that circle.
– What was the biggest challenge during the write up process?
– It was really that attempt to write honestly about suicide, which is still something of a taboo subject, without being too sentimental or harsh or bleak, trying to find the right balance. I wanted to reader to be emotionally invested, but I didn’t want it to be too harrowing, so it felt like walking a tightrope at times.
– Tell us something more about your main characters Ellie and Sam? Are they close to someone from your real life?
– Not really, no, though like all my characters, I draw elements from people I know in the real world to put them together. Ellie is really the focus of the book, so it was important for me to really get inside her head. Her role as mother has gone since her son died, but I’m a parent, so I tried to imagine what it would be like, that terrible grief and loss, how on earth would I cope? Part of a writer’s job is to imagine what it’s like to be other people, hopefully I’ve done an OK job.
– How much time did you need to finish the story and to publish it?
– Since I signed with Faber & Faber I’ve managed a book every year, so that’s roughly how long the process takes at the moment. That breaks down to around two or three months research and thinking about it and taking notes. Then a first draft will take about three months. Redrafting will take another three months, maybe, then there’s my editor’s comments, copy editor, proofing, publication, so that just about adds up to one year in total.
– Gone Again is your most acknowledgeable book. Did you expect such a success?
– I really didn’t at all. It’s set in Portobello, a part of Edinburgh I live in that a lot of people might not know, so I didn’t know if it would be popular at all. But something in it seems to have taken off with readers, maybe the relationship between the main character and his six-year-old son as they search for the man’s missing wife. As a writer, you don’t ever expect a book to be successful, at least I never do!
– What the readers will find in your novel Hit and Run?
– Hit and Run is probably my purest ‘noir’ novel. It starts with ordinary people in a car accident and quickly descends into a nightmare. The main character gets sucked into a world of rival gangs and drugs and murder. It’s also set in Edinburgh’s Southside, again, another part of the city that tourists or occasional visitors might not know too well.
– Who are you?
I’m an ordinary Scottish person who writes books and music and journalism. I’m not interested in heroes and villains, but in the lives of ordinary people and how they react in extraordinary circumstances. I’m a husband and father too, and do a lot of the househusband stuff in looking after the kids. I’m very lucky to do several things that I love for a living.
– What are your writing habits?
– Once I get the kids to school, I head back home and write fiction in the morning. So that’s typically 9am until 12 noon or 1pm. That’s when my brain is ticking over, so it’s the most productive time. The rest of the day is filled with teaching duties, journalism, admin, all the stuff of life. And then once the kids are back from school it’s snacks and homework and playing and food on the table and all that.
– Are you satisfied by the sales of your books?
– Oh my, what a question! I guess so. Every writer wants as many people as possible to read their books, right? So I’d love to sell millions of copies of them all, but that’s not realistic. If people are reading them and getting something out of them, then that’s enough.
– What are you doing to promote your book by the best possible way?
– Promotion is a black art, really. I pretty much do all PR requests, interviews, Q&As like this, all that kind of stuff – very happy to do that sort of thing. I spend a bit of time blogging and on social media like Facebook and Twitter, so I guess I have a profile, but I try not to detract from the time to write, which is the main thing, after all.
– When we will see your next novel and would you unveil something more about it?
– I’ve no idea when you’ll see it, or even if you’ll ever see it! I’ve written something and submitted it to my publisher, but I’m waiting to hear back. Hopefully they’ll like it. It’s another standalone thriller, this time set in Orkney, and it starts with a plane crash.
– If you may ask yourself one question in the interview what it will be?
– Name five emotions that fuel your writing. A: Anger, love, sadness, disgust and bewilderment.
– How did you feel when you received praise from Irvine Welsh?
– It was amazing, really. So many authors have been so kind about my work, it’s very flattering. Irvine’s Trainspotting was a book that changed my life as an aspiring Scottish writer, so coming from him it really meant a lot to me.
– You are part of Scotland Writers Football Club. Would you tell how the team is going on and do you guys plot a complicated strategy for each of your matches like you are doing in your writings?
– We’re doing OK. In our last game we beat Italian Writers 2-1, I’m very proud of that because they’re a great team. But we’ve probably lost more games than we’ve won. It’s a great experience, going to other countries, playing football, learning about their literature and their lives and their football. I wish we were as organized on the pitch as we are in our books, that would be brilliant, but sadly we’re just sclaffers who try our best, really.