‘You have to be obsessed with the subject matter for the duration of writing any story, otherwise how can you expect the reader to invest in it?’
Today I welcome Doug Johnstone to my blog with a guest post entitled ‘On Writing Weird Books’.
Doug’s latest novel Fault Lines has just been published with Orenda Books and ‘is set in an alternate Edinburgh which is a major earthquake and volcano zone.’
I’ll hand you over to Doug now. I hope you enjoy!
On Writing Weird Books
by Doug Johnstone
I’m not at all sure how I came to write a novel all about volcanoes and earthquakes, but I have notes in a folder going all the way back to 2009 about it, so it’s obviously been something that was preying on my mind for a long time.
Just to summarise, my ninth novel, Fault Lines, published by Orenda Books, is set in an alternate Edinburgh which is a major earthquake and volcano zone. There is a new island in the Firth of Forth called the Inch, and the main character Surtsey is a young volcanologist who gets up to her neck in trouble when she discovers her lover dead on the island.
I remember very briefly outlining the concept to my agent before I started writing it. He just nodded and said, ‘yeah, great’. I discovered after I’d finished it that he had presumed I was joking. But he also loved the finished manuscript, saying: ‘Have you gone all Margaret Atwood on me, Doug?’ Which, of course, I took to be the highest compliment.
But I suppose, on the surface, it is possibly a book that could be considered weird. It’s partly a whodunit, with a murder to solve. It’s partly a psychological thriller, because of what Surtsey has to go through. It’s partly a meditation on grief and loss. It’s partly speculative fiction full of geology and earth science, and it’s partly a disaster movie in the making, without wishing to give the ending away.
But to me, when I was writing it, it seemed like the most natural and obvious story in the world. The book I’m writing always does seem like that, even when it’s about whisky or plane crashes or suicide or indie music or volcanoes or whatever else I’ve written about over the years. And I think that’s the way it has to be for a writer to really convince the reader. You have to be obsessed with the subject matter for the duration of writing any story, otherwise how can you expect the reader to invest in it?
Part of me used to wish that I could write more mainstream books, novels that might linger around the bestseller charts for months and get turned into blockbuster movies. But in reality, I could no more write those kind of books than I could play football for Scotland. I don’t have the required skill set, instead, I have these oddball ideas that seem completely normal to me, then I go off and write about them.
Fault Lines has been nine years in the making, if those early notes are to be believed. But sometimes it just takes that long for those strange ideas to stew away in your mind, eventually to float up to the surface of your consciousness and become a story other people might believe in. Hopefully, for those readers, it’s been worth the wait.
About The Book:
In a reimagined contemporary Edinburgh, in which a tectonic fault has opened up to produce a new volcano in the Firth of Forth, and where tremors are an everyday occurrence, volcanologist Surtsey makes a shocking discovery.
On a clandestine trip to The Inch – the new volcanic island – to meet Tom, her lover and her boss, she finds his lifeless body.
Surtsey’s life quickly spirals into a nightmare when someone makes contact – someone who claims to know what she’s done…
Purchase Link ~ Fault Lines
Doug Johnstone is an author, journalist and musician based in Edinburgh. He’s had eight novels published, most recently Crash Land. His previous novel, The Jump, was a finalist for the McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Novel of the Year.
Doug is also a Royal Literary Fund Consultant Fellow.
He’s worked as an RLF Fellow at Queen Margaret University, taught creative writing at Strathclyde University and been Writer in Residence at Strathclyde University and William Purves Funeral Directors. He mentors and assesses manuscripts for The Literary Consultancy and regularly tutors at Moniack Mhor writing retreat.
Doug has released seven albums in various bands, reviews books for the Big Issue, is player-manager for Scotland Writers Football Club and has a PhD in nuclear physics.
Website ~ https://dougjohnstone.com/
Twitter ~ @doug_johnstone