Welcome to my stop on Clare Johnston’s From the Outside blog tour with Love Books Tours!
Many thanks to Kelly @ Love Books Group Tours for arranging the following interview with Clare Johnstone…..
For those who don’t know already, could you tell us about yourself and your book(s) please?
I’m Clare Johnston and I’m a journalist from Edinburgh. From the Outside is my second novel. The first, Polls Apart, was published in 2011.
Where did/do you get your ideas from?
Firstly I think of themes I want to write around. I love politics, but in particular I love the drama around it and the characters within the soap opera that is Westminster so that’s why I decided to write a political thriller in Polls Apart.
The inspiration for From the Outside came from my long-held belief that death is not the end. I’ve had several instances in my life where I felt I have connected with loved ones who have passed away, and that made we wonder whether they can influence our lives and decisions from beyond the grave in some way.
Are any of your characters based (however loosely) on anyone you know?
My characters often reflect people I know, have met or have observed in some way over the years. The two central characters in From the Outside, twins Harry and Ben Melville, are I guess reflections of myself. One is shy and lacks self-confidence, the other is outgoing, controlling and has a big ego. I think many of us can have that kind of dual side to our personality so that’s something I wanted to explore. We can be deeply flawed but it doesn’t necessarily make us bad people, particularly if we try to make amends. The strengths, humour, vulnerabilities and quirks of friends and family also tend to find their way into my work. Sometimes they recognise situations that we’ve been in together and it’s lovely when they text or call to tell me they spotted it.
How do you pick your characters’ names?
I think it’s a little like picking the names of children or pets. You have a sense of their personalities and what they look like and you try to pair that with names you think would suit them. Sometimes a character is just a real type and so you think of similar people you know and come up with a similar name (never the same name though, in case you offend them!).
Can you share your writing process with us, in a nutshell?
I start with a core idea; in Polls Apart it was about the leader of the opposition and his actress wife who separated during an election campaign and every move each made had an impact on the polls. To win the election he had to win his wife back. In From the Outside, the idea was to explore whether we can in death make amends for the wrongs we have committed in life. I chose to create a man with a complex, dual personality in Harry Melville, and his twin emerged almost immediately in my mind as his alter ego. Once I have my core idea and central characters I start writing. I might map out the next few chapters ahead as ideas come, but I don’t map out the entire novel – I feel my way. New characters emerge and grow with the story.
Who are your top 5 favourite authors?
Tough, because I read a lot and they can change. Ian McEwan is up there, as is Donna Tartt, Jodi Picoult tells a great story, and I’ve read and enjoyed a lot of Maggie O’Farrell’s work. I’m also going to say Irvine Welsh because his writing is electrifying and I’ve also had the pleasure of interviewing him and he’s an all-round good sort.
If you could meet any author, who would it be and what would you ask them?
I would love to meet Ian McEwan. I so admire him. It’s clear whenever you read one of his novels that he was right inside that story. He is able to create an atmosphere so vivid that you feel as though you are inside the story right with him. I’d actually like to do an interview with him, finding out which novels he’s most proud of, if he has any regrets, how he works, whether he is ever blinded by self doubt. So many of the most talented people I know are.
Were you a big reader as a child?
The short answer to that is yes. I enjoyed reading as a child and I also enjoyed writing stories, but I didn’t get any encouragement from teachers in school. I was hopeless at maths and science so I was written off and put into all the bottom sets. Then, I would say from around 12, I started to read a lot. I read newspapers, I read whatever I could lay my hands on and it transformed my writing abilities. The only As I got in school were for English and Modern Studies (political studies) – purely based on reading.
When did you start to write?
I was lost in my imagination as a child and did a lot of acting so I was always creating shows and comedy sketches. I really enjoyed creative writing in school in my teens and that was when I got the bug. I went into journalism (it was a bit of a no-brainer based on my skills) so in that sense I became a professional writer as soon as I left university. I started writing fiction around 11 years ago when my kids were very young and I had a bit of time in the evenings because they went to bed at 7 – which they don’t do now they are in their teens!
If you could re-write the ending to any book what would it be and what would you change?
It’s a bit of a sell-out answer really, but I could never re-write the ending to anyone else’s book. There are those books that you race through because they’re such page turners and you can’t wait until the final twist at the end only to find it’s a bit of a damp squib – I guess they peaked too soon. A lot of books don’t give you closure (which personally I like) but each has been carefully crafted by the author so you have to take them as they come – and make up your own ultimate endings in your mind if you’re not satisfied with them!
Is there a book you wish you had written?
I thought We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver was off-the-scale good. It was so carefully considered, it posed so many questions. I thought about it long after I finished reading it.
If you wrote an autobiography, what would your title be?
That’s another fine mess I got myself into
If you could invite any fictional character for coffee who would it be and where would you take them?
I’m going to go for Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus because he lives near me so we could meet at the local Costa, and I could grill him on all those grisly murders and what’s going on in his personal life, though I think he’d thank me for the coffee and leave.
What are you working on right now?
I am half-way through a novel about sex-trafficking and why loneliness makes you vulnerable to bad choices, that I’m making very slow progress on.
Tell us about your last release?
My last release was Polls Apart, which although it had a political setting, was really about a relationship that was put under intense scrutiny. Life-held values and principles got lost in the race for public support. I liked the idea of going behind the scenes of a general election campaign and exploring the impact of a person’s every move being put under the microscope. Just a few ill-chosen words could blow your chances of becoming Prime Minister and that made for very fertile ground for a novel.
Do you have a new release due?
From the Outside will be published by Urbane Publications on July the 4th. It follows the aftermath of the death in a car crash of multimillionaire philanthropist Harry Melville and the impact it has on his twin brother, Ben and wife, Sarah. As we watch them struggle with grief and their guilt over their individual relationship issues with Harry, we begin to learn that he was not quite the golden boy he was portrayed as in the press. There are lots of twists and turns along the way, and a few laughs too hopefully. I’d never want a reader to be bored for a second so I keep up the pace, along with the suspense. There are also a lot of tender moments in there and it’s a chance to reflect on whether there may just be life after death.
What do you generally do to celebrate on publication day?
Last time I had a book launch at a local branch of Waterstones, and this time around – on July 4th – Blackwells are hosting a launch for From the Outside which I’m really looking forward to. I’ll be giving a bit of a talk to begin with, then taking questions before doing a signing.
Is there anything else you would like us to know?
Only that every time someone tells me they’ve read my work it makes my heart sing. It’s special to know you have that shared connection with a person who has entered your world for a few hours of their life and that you have been able to suspend them in time with you for a little while.
Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions, Clare 🙂
When internet millionaire and philanthropist Harry Melville dies in a car crash at the age of forty four, the lives of his wife, Sarah, and twin brother, Ben, are thrown into turmoil.
Harry seemed to have it all; a close-knit family and a happy marriage – along with all the trappings of wealth. Yet as he recalls his past from the afterlife, a story emerges of the unspoken and bitter jealousies between brothers and of an unhappy wife burdened by loneliness and guilt.
When Ben takes over the running of Harry’s charity foundation he begins to find purpose for the first time in years. But the arrival of a talented young artist brings a series of revelations that expose Harry’s complex and dual personality in full. As he learns his part in the suffering of those he left behind, is it too late for Harry to make amends?
A tale of regret and redemption in this world and the next. From the Outside looks at the futile rivalries that can destroy sibling relationships and the lost opportunity for happiness when ego is allowed to reign over emotion.
Clare Johnston is a journalist and content specialist, and a frequent contributor on radio and TV, having appeared on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, The Kaye Adams Programme and comedy satire show Breaking the News on BBC Radio Scotland, along with STV2’s Live at Five. She is a former editorial director of Press Association Scotland and commercial editor and columnist with the Daily Record. She is currently working with the DC Thomson media group and supports businesses with communication and content creation. Clare is based in Edinburgh.
happy reading 🙂