Author Confessions: Doug Johnstone
Doug Johnstone is the author of six novels, most recently The Dead Beat (Faber & Faber). His work has been an Amazon Kindle #1 bestseller, a Fiction Uncovered winner and a Goldsboro Last Laugh nominee, as well as receiving praise from Ian Rankin, Irvine Welsh and Chris Brookmyre. He is also a journalist and musician, and is one of the co-founders of the Scotland Writers football team.
And here's what he had to say when faced with the fearsome Author Confessions questionnaire!
Which author or fictional character would you most like to party with?
Tyler Durden from Fight Club. I suspect that if I somehow managed to survive the night, I wouldn’t remember much of it. Probably just as well.
How do you arrange your bookshelf?
It’s a shambles. It started off in alphabetical order, but I keep buying books and getting review copies, so that I have far too many, then I just shove ‘em in anywhere. Every now and then I take a huge load down to the charity shop, then the order gets even more shambolic as more get added randomly. It’s usually just after I’ve given something away that I want to read it again, so have to go buy it again. And so it goes on.
Is there a book by someone else that you wish you’d written?
When I read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road I cried at the end, because it was so good I felt like giving up writing altogether
Oh my God, loads! Anything by Megan Abbott, Willy Vlautin or David Vann for a start. I remember reading Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club and thinking it was just the best idea for a book waiting to happen, and executed so well too. When I read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road I cried at the end, partly because I was so emotionally involved in the story but also, a bit, because it was so good I felt like giving up writing altogether.
What’s the strangest question you’ve been asked about your work?
I was asked at an event ‘What’s the most illegal thing you’ve ever done?’ I rambled on for a while about drugs, totally implicating myself, and with my parents in the audience! Then Alan Bissett, who was also on at the event dodged it totally, saying he’d once eaten four Weetabix at once.
When do you write best?
Always first thing in the morning for fiction. I get the kids to school, then settle down from 9am to around noon, hopefully bash out at least a thousand words. If I keep writing fiction in the afternoon, I tend to find that the energy in the prose drops, so I prefer to do it in sharp bursts. I do bits and bobs of journalism too, but I do that any old time, with the kids running around, with a beer in hand, whatever. But I tend to find that for fiction my mind is sharpest earlier in the day.
How do you react to bad reviews?
Folk are entitled to their opinions, and if I don’t agree, that’s just life, isn’t it?
I genuinely just shrug it off. I told that to a fellow author and he point blank refused to believe me, but it’s true. I mean, I’m not a maniac, I want everyone in the world to like my books, but I realise that’s not realistic. I think it’s something to do with having been a book reviewer before I was a published author, I can see it from both sides. I have a policy of reading every review, whether good or bad, just once, then I throw it up on my website so folk can see it, and I know where it is, though I never go back and re-read. Folk are entitled to their opinions, and if I don’t agree, that’s just life, isn’t it?
Drugs and alcohol: do they help with writing?
No chance! Nothing I’ve ever written under the influence has ever been anything other than total drivel. Hemingway famously said you should write drunk and edit sober, but for me it all has to be done sober. I occasionally get a good idea for a story when drunk, but I’m usually having too much fun to start writing it. If I remember it in the morning, that’s a bonus. Having said that, alcohol and drugs definitely help with nerves before doing a book event. They might not make you more coherent on stage, but you don’t care cos you’re mashed.
What would your dream job be if you weren’t an author?
Either an international footballer or the first man on Mars. I’m probably getting slightly long in the tooth for both those options these days, sadly. Plus I’m not good enough at football and I get dizzy just going on a roundabout. More realistically, I’d like to be able to do something properly useful, like be a furniture maker or gravedigger. People are always gonna need to sit down, right? And we’re all gonna die sometime. Never run out of work.
Do you ever mentally edit someone else’s work while you read?
All the time. So much so it’s actually a bit of a problem. I’m something of a compulsive self-editor, always looking to cut away, cut away until there are only the bare bones of the story left, the narrative boiled down to its essence. Almost everything I read feels overwritten to me when I’m in that kind of mood, which is ridiculous, I’m quite prepared to admit that, but I can’t help it.
If you could throw a book at a celebrity which book would you throw at whom?
I would throw something really heavy at Piers Morgan. Like a Hilary Mantel hardback edition, something that’s gonna draw blood. And I would throw it edge on.
You can listen to Doug Johnstone talking about his new book The Dead Beat on this edition of Book Talk: