CRIMINALLY GOOD: Doug Johnstone, author

1) So, who are you & what have you written?

I’m Doug Johnstone, a Scottish novelist, musician and journalist, amongst other things. I’ve had nine novels published, all standalone thrillers somewhere in the psychological thriller or domestic noir ballpark. My latest, Fault Lines, is published by the brilliant Orenda Books, and is something of a departure for me. It’s a piece of speculative fiction set in an alternate Edinburgh which is a major earthquake and volcano zone. There’s a new volcanic island in the Firth of Forth, and the city is plagued by regular tremors and worse. Into this comes Surtsey, a young female volcanologist who discovers the body of her dead lover on the island. He’s a married man so she flees to protect herself, but things quickly unravel. The book is a bit out there in some respects, but the response so far has been amazing, and I’m forever indebted to Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books for taking a punt on me and my mad story.

2) Why do you write crime fiction?

I wasn’t aware that I was writing crime fiction in the first instance, but since my third novel I’ve been writing fairly consistently in terms of style, I guess. All good fiction relies on conflict, right? And crime fiction is inherently full of conflict, so that’s always a good starting point. I’m especially interested in weird psychologies, in things like post-traumatic stress, depression, survivor guilt, and how all of that can put impossible pressure on normally right-minded individuals.

3) What informs your crime writing?

I basically like to write about ordinary people thrown into extraordinary situations. I’m not very interested in solving crimes, which might sound weird for a crime writer, but I’m more interested in throwing deeply flawed characters into morally grey situations, and seeing how they cope. I also love to write about the repercussions of crime or the effect it has on the victims or even the perpetrators. The ideas come from everywhere, the news, overheard conversations, personal experience, music, other culture, you name it. The themes are usually very dark – I write a lot about suicide, depression, grief, loss. There are a lot of mental health issues in my books, and a lot of self-medicating too. My characters are not always likeable, I guess, but I love them for all their flaws all the same.

4) What’s your usual writing routine?

I write fiction in the mornings when my brain is sharpest. I write in short, sharp bursts, partly because I have a terrible attention span, but also so that the prose has a lot of manic energy. I’m pretty regular, have a daily word count that I try to hit, but I don’t get too hung up if I don’t make it. The rest of the day is taken up with journalism, teaching, manuscript assessment, admin, emails, and at the moment I’m working on a TV adaptation of one of my novels, so I’m doing a lot of that too. I tend not to write in the evenings, as I have young kids and I’m usually wiped out by that point. Then it’s beer, guitar, TV and books.

5) Which crime book do you wish YOU’D written, and why?

So many, but I’ll plump for Double Indemnity by James M. Cain. It’s just the perfect fucked up thriller, and not much longer than a hundred pages. If you don’t know the story, it’s about a woman who plots with an insurance salesman to kill her husband. Despite every attention to detail, it all goes tits up. It’s a truly toxic central relationship, and there’s so much packed into the pages – perfect plotting, amazing description, snappy dialogue, full, weird characterisation – it’s honestly got the lot.

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