On this quiet Sunday morning why don't you put the kettle on, make your favourite breakfast and settle down for Sunday Brunch with Jaffareadstoo
I'm delighted to welcome, Carole Johnstone to Sunday Brunch
Welcome, Carole. What favourite food are you bringing to Sunday brunch?
I’m a terrible cook and a worse baker, so takeaway is my saviour. And I know this isn’t strictly Sunday brunch-like, but a plate of chicken and veggie pakora with yoghurt or chilli sauce will change your life forever, I promise.
Would you like a pot of English breakfast tea, a strong Americano, or a glass of Bucks Fizz?
If I’m driving, an Americano. But otherwise, I’d definitely prefer the Bucks Fizz, please!
Where shall we eat brunch – around the kitchen table, in the formal dining room, or outside on the patio?
Well, I live in Scotland, so outside on the patio is but a dream, but that would definitely be my first choice. I also love going to restaurants and dinner parties, with candles, music, ice buckets, the works, so formal dining room would be my second choice (no pressure obv).
Shall we have music playing in the background, and if so do you have a favourite piece of music?
One thing you should know about me is that I’m incapable of picking any favourites of anything. It’s all Sophie’s Choice to me, I can’t do it. Whenever I’m asked these questions, I just go with my most recent favourite because it makes me feel less conflicted about the whole traumatic thing.
I love trance and heavy metal – neither of which are particularly conducive to Sunday Brunch – so my third favourite, classical, is probably best. One of my favourite composers is Max Richter. His music is wonderful. He scores a lot of films, which is how I first came across him, but he’s also released so many fantastic solo albums. My latest discovery is: Recomposed by Max Richter: Vivaldi – The Four Seasons, which is so brilliant, it’s probably in danger of becoming one of those albums I listen to so much I end up having to lock it in a cupboard for ten years.
Which of your literary heroes (dead or alive) are joining us for Sunday Brunch today?
Agatha Christie, because she’s Agatha Christie. Her writing’s probably taught me more about plotting than anyone else’s has come close to doing. I’d also like to know what really happened when she went mysteriously missing for those ten days in December, 1926.
Toni Morrison, because Beloved left such an indelible mark on me as a young twenty-something. It’s Gothic and shocking and frightening and traumatic, and so moving, so, so important. All of her work is often hard to read, but always readable. I think she was one of the most pioneering and important American writers of her time.
And I think Stephen King just has to come. Even though I’d probably be too nervous and tongue-tied to actually eat.
I could go on. And on…
Which favourite book will you bring to Sunday Brunch?
You’re just being mean now. At the moment, I’m rereading (which is ridiculous considering my tbr pile) The Lost Man by Jane Harper. I love her thrillers, particularly those set in the Australian Outback. I love any book where the setting is somewhere new and atmospheric, and above all, gothic!
My favourite books of all time are The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas; And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, and Different Seasons by Stephen King. But as I can’t possibly be expected to pick between any of them, I’ve gone with the present-read cop out above.
When you are writing do you still find time to read for pleasure? And is there a book you would like to read but haven’t had time for …yet!
How long have you got? I’m serious. I have a ton of books still to read. So many. And I keep buying more. I’m really looking forward to reading Sarah Pinborough’s new thriller, Insomnia, which is out next month. But of those in my huge tbr pile, the one I’m probably looking forward to reading the most is Wish You Were Here by Jodi Picoult.
Where do you find the inspiration for your novels?
Everywhere is the shortest answer. I take notebooks everywhere I go just in case inspiration strikes. Writers are like magpies. I steal ideas from real life stories and documentaries, newspaper articles, the confessions of friends, overheard conversations on public transport – you name it; I’m pretty shameless. Although I would never, ever betray a confidence, or write something that was obviously about anyone in real life – unless historical!
I also draw on my own experiences quite significantly. The setting for Mirrorland – the big, creepy old house haunted by terrible secrets where twin sisters, Cat and El, grew up, was very heavily based on my grandparents’ Georgian house in Leith, Edinburgh. Even down to the strange space under the house where the sisters created the sinister world of Mirrorland itself!
And my next novel, The Blackhouse, was very much inspired by my time living in the Outer Hebrides a couple of years ago.
I suppose part of it is writing, at least partly, about what you know. But I think most of it is seeing inspiration in certain things or events or places, and being unable to let them go!
Have you a favourite place to settle down to write and do you find it easier to write in winter or summer?
I have a desk which I work at every day. It helps it feel like ‘right, I’m working, now’. I always need a view or else I feel too hemmed in and stuck. I know some writers find that distracting, but for me, views are good for thinking and plotting, and even inspiration. Luckily, I live on a farm, so I have pretty good ones!
I find it way easier to write in the winter. I can just hunker down and get on with it. The summer is too distracting, I’d rather be doing other things. And working outside doesn’t have the same positive effect on me as views do – too many midges and mad Scottish weather.
When writing to a deadline are you easily distracted and if so how do you bring back focus on your writing?
I’m less easily distracted once I’m going, than I am before I start. I’m a terrible procrastinator when it comes to rapidly approaching deadlines. I don’t know if it’s like that thing you sometimes get when you stand too close to the edge of a cliff, that impulse to hurl yourself off, but the closer I get to a deadline, the harder it is to force myself to actually sit down and do the work! But once I get there, I’m pretty good at knuckling down. I’m more of a marathon writer and editor than a sprinter: I can do far more in say, 10 straight hours, than I could in the same spread over two or more days.
Give us four essential items that a writer needs?
Well, speaking only for myself:
Coffee. The stronger the better.
Good hardware. I saved up forever to buy a MacBook because other writers raved about them, and they were right, I love it. And some good quality portable hard drives for back-up; protects you from the heart-stopping horror of losing your work, even if you routinely back up to cloud storage. I back up Everything about half a dozen different ways.
Music. I can’t work in absolute silence. Music is brilliant at transforming my moods, my emotions in seconds, and I exploit that mercilessly when I’m writing. It helps get me in the right zone, the right headspace for whatever scene I’m writing. In fact some pieces of music remain forever associated in my mind with certain stories I’ve written. I only ever listen to classical music, lyrics are too distracting. And I choose movie soundtracks more often than not – they’re composed to create a mood, an emotion, and to describe a story, so they’re a perfect accompaniment to writing.
Silence. Well, apart from the music. I’ve always been very envious of writers who can write on the bus or in a coffee shop. Not me. This is going to sound so wanky, but the way I write is like diving: I kind of have to go down slowly to adjust to the change in pressure, so often the first few hours are pretty unproductive. But once I’m at the right depth, I can work and work and work. I’m literally somewhere else. If someone interrupts me even just to ask me a question, I’m yanked up out of there so fast I’m often good for nothing for hours after. I’ve tried to train myself out of it, but even if I’m wearing headphones, the slightest new external noise will put me off my stride instantly, and there doesn’t seem to be anything I can do about that.
What can you tell us about your latest novel or your current work in progress?
My next book – which should be out in the summer from Harper Collins – is called The Blackhouse.
It’s a very unusual murder-mystery, set on a fictional satellite island off the west coast of the Isle of Lewis and Harris in the Outer Hebrides. In the present day, a young woman called Maggie goes to the island to investigate the supposed murder of a young man called Robert 25 years before. And in 1993, Robert arrives on the island to start a new life, but lives there for just twelve tumultuous months before he meets an untimely and violent death.
The unusual part I can’t tell you about as it would be a huge spoiler, but it’s to do with the very shocking reason why Maggie has come to the island to find out what happened to Robert. There’s a big reveal in chapter two that explains everything!
The Isle of Lewis & Harris is my favourite place in the whole world. I’d live there tomorrow if I could. I was lucky enough to be able to live on the west coast of both Lewis and Harris for a little over nine months while I was writing Mirrorland, and it was while I was there that I got the idea for The Blackhouse.
Cat lives in Los Angeles, far away from 36 Westeryk Road, the imposing gothic house in Edinburgh where she and her estranged twin sister, El, grew up. As girls, they invented Mirrorland, a dark, imaginary place under the pantry stairs full of pirates, witches, and clowns. These days Cat rarely thinks about their childhood home, or the fact that El now lives there with her husband Ross.
But when El mysteriously disappears after going out on her sailboat, Cat is forced to return to 36 Westeryk Road, which has scarcely changed in twenty years. The grand old house is still full of shadowy corners, and at every turn Cat finds herself stumbling on long-held secrets and terrifying ghosts from the past. Because someone—El?—has left Cat clues in almost every room: a treasure hunt that leads right back to Mirrorland, where she knows the truth lies crouched and waiting...
A twisty, dark, and brilliantly crafted thriller about love and betrayal, redemption and revenge, Mirrorland is a propulsive, page-turning debut about the power of imagination and the price of freedom.
More about Carole
Carole Johnstone grew up in Lanarkshire, Scotland, and in her twenties, relocated to Essex to work in oncology. She has been writing as long as she can remember, and is an award-winning short story writer.
She now writes full-time, and lives with her husband in an old farmhouse outside Glasgow, though her heart belongs to the sea and the wild islands of the Outer Hebrides. Mirrorland is her first novel, and The Blackhouse her second.
Carole, where can we follow you on social media?
Facebook : @CaroleJohnstoneWriter
Carole, thank you for sharing Sunday Brunch with us today. It's been great fun
Follow us on Twitter @jaffareadstoo #SundayBrunchwithJaffareadstoo