Today I’m delighted to revisit my Five on Friday interview with Doug Johnstone which was first posted in November 2018. It’s been brought up to date to reflect Doug’s latest publications.
Doug Johnstone has had thirteen novels published, most recently The Great Silence (Orenda). Several of his other novels have been award winners and bestsellers, and he’s had short stories in numerous anthologies and literary magazines. He’s taught creative writing and been writer in residence at various institutions, and he’s also an arts journalist and Royal Literary Fund Consultant Fellow. Doug is a musician with seven albums released in various bands, and he currently plays drums for the Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers, a band of crime writers. He’s also player-manager for the Scotland Writers Football Club and has a PhD in nuclear physics.
Over to Doug:
Which five pieces of music/songs would you include in the soundtrack to your life and why?
‘Stand and Deliver’ by Adam and the Ants – Adam Ant was my first crush, I was absolutely besotted with him at an early age. This seems like a golden age when pop stars were preposterous and glorious at the same time.
‘Ace of Spades’ by Motorhead – I loved this pretty much the same time as I loved Adam and the Ants, to me, the idea of only liking one genre of music is preposterous. I spent a long time as a metalhead and rock fan and that is totally coded into my DNBA.
‘My Curse’ by The Afghan Whigs – I was heavily into the grunge scene in the early 90s, and this lot were my favourite of all those bands. They were a cut above the other rock stuff, with a definite soul edge to their music, and this song could make a horse cry.
‘Spirit Ditch’ by Sparklehorse – I love all sorts of Americana or alt.country, and Sparklehorse were just a genius band from start to finish. The project of Mark Linkous, their first record is sublime, and this fragile and weird song is the epitome of what made them so great.
‘Roygbiv’ by Boards of Canada – This blew my mind when I heard it and opened my eyes to the world of electronica. This band are two Scottish brothers who make incredible soundscapes that sound both futuristic and retro at the same time. Perfect music to write to.
What five things (apart from family and friends) would you find it hard to live without.
Salty processed meat products.
Give five pieces of advice to your younger self?
Chill the fuck out.
Stick in at the piano lessons.
Stop falling in the Keptie Pond so much.
Drink less but take more drugs.
Tell us five things that most people don’t know about you
I met Kurt Cobain.
I used to have my nipple pierced.
I once touched Meryl Streep continuously for an hour.
I have a PhD in nuclear physics.
I scored the winner in an international football match against Italy.
Tell us five things you’d still like to do or achieve.
Drive across America.
Write a movie that actually gets made and isn’t shit.
Drive across Canada.
Live to see my kids as healthy and happy adults.
Drive across New Zealand.
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The Skelfs series
A Dark Matter (Book 1)
Meet the Skelfs: well-known Edinburgh family, proprietors of a long-established funeral-home business, and private investigators…
When patriarch Jim dies, it’s left to his wife Dorothy, daughter Jenny and granddaughter Hannah to take charge of both businesses, kicking off an unexpected series of events.
Dorothy discovers mysterious payments to another woman, suggesting that Jim wasn’t the husband she thought he was. Hannah’s best friend Mel has vanished from university, and the simple adultery case that Jenny takes on leads to something stranger and far darker than any of them could have imagined.
As the women struggle to come to terms with their grief, and the demands of the business threaten to overwhelm them, secrets from the past emerge, which change everything…
The Big Chill (Book 2)
Haunted by their past, the Skelf women are hoping for a quieter life. But running both a funeral directors’ and a private investigation business means trouble is never far away, and when a car crashes into the open grave at a funeral that matriarch Dorothy is conducting, she can’t help looking into the dead driver’s shadowy life.
While Dorothy uncovers a dark truth at the heart of Edinburgh society, her daughter Jenny and granddaughter Hannah have their own struggles. Jenny’s ex-husband Craig is making plans that could shatter the Skelf women’s lives, and the increasingly obsessive Hannah has formed a friendship with an elderly professor that is fast turning deadly.
But something even more sinister emerges when a drumming student of Dorothy’s disappears and suspicion falls on her parents. The Skelf women find themselves sucked into an unbearable darkness – but could the real threat be to themselves?
Following three women as they deal with the dead, help the living and find out who they are in the process, The Big Chill follows A Dark Matter, book one in the Skelfs series, which reboots the classic PI novel while asking the big existential questions, all with a big dose of pitch-black humour.
The Great Silence (Book 3)
Keeping on top of the family funeral directors’ and private-investigation businesses is no easy task for the Skelf women, and when matriarch Dorothy discovers a human foot while walking the dog, a perplexing case presents itself … with potentially deadly results.
Daughter Jenny and grand-daughter Hannah have their hands full too: The mysterious circumstances of a dying woman lead them into an unexpected family drama, Hannah’s new astrophysicist colleague claims he’s receiving messages from outer space, and the Skelfs’ teenaged lodger has yet another devastating experience.
Nothing is clear as the women are immersed ever deeper in their most challenging cases yet. But when the daughter of Jenny’s violent and fugitive ex-husband goes missing without trace and a wild animal is spotted roaming Edinburgh’s parks, real danger presents itself, and all three Skelfs are in peril.
Black Hearts (due 29th Sept 2022)
Death is just the beginning…
The Skelf women live in the shadow of death every day, running the family funeral directors and private investigator business in Edinburgh. But now their own grief interwines with that of their clients, as they are left reeling by shocking past events.
A fist-fight by an open grave leads Dorothy to investigate the possibility of a faked death, while a young woman’s obsession with Hannah threatens her relationship with Indy and puts them both in mortal danger. An elderly man claims he’s being abused by the ghost of his late wife, while ghosts of another kind come back to haunt Jenny from the grave … pushing her to breaking point.
As the Skelfs struggle with increasingly unnerving cases and chilling danger lurks close to home, it becomes clear that grief, in all its forms, can be deadly…
There are two sides to every family…
Seventeen-year-old Tyler lives in one of Edinburgh’s most deprived areas. Coerced into robbing rich people’s homes by his bullying older siblings, he’s also trying to care for his little sister and his drug-addict mum.
On a job, his brother Barry stabs a homeowner and leaves her for dead, but that’s just the beginning of their nightmare, because the woman is the wife of Edinburgh’s biggest crime lord, Deke Holt.
With the police and the Holts closing in, and his shattered family in devastating danger, Tyler meets posh girl Flick in another stranger’s house, and he thinks she may just be his salvation … unless he drags her down too.
In a reimagined contemporary Edinburgh, where 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 new volcanic island The Inch, to meet Tom, her lover and her boss, she finds his lifeless body, and makes the fatal decision to keep their affair, and her discovery, a secret.
Desperate to know how he died, but also terrified she’ll be exposed, Surtsey’s life quickly spirals into a nightmare when someone makes contact – someone who claims to know what she’s done…
Sitting in the departure lounge of Kirkwall Airport, Finn Sullivan just wants to get off Orkney. But then he meets the mysterious and dangerous Maddie Pierce, stepping in to save her from some unwanted attention, and his life is changed forever.
Set against the brutal, unforgiving landscape of Orkney, CRASH LAND is a psychological thriller steeped in guilt, shame, lust, deception and murder.
Struggling to come to terms with the suicide of her teenage son, Ellie lives in the shadows of the Forth Road Bridge, lingering on its footpaths and swimming in the waters below. One day she talks down another suicidal teenager, Sam, and sees for herself a shot at redemption, the chance to atone for her son’s death.
But even with the best intentions, she can’t foresee the situation she’s falling headlong into – a troubled family, with some very dark secrets of their own.
The Dead Beat
Meet Martha. It’s the first day of her new job as intern at Edinburgh’s The Standard. But all’s not well at the ailing newspaper, and Martha is carrying some serious baggage of her own.
Put straight onto the obituary page, she takes a call from a former employee who seems to commit suicide while on the phone, something which echoes with her own troubled past.
Setting in motion a frantic race around modern-day Edinburgh, The Dead Beat traces Martha’s desperate search for answers to the dark mystery of her parents’ past. Soundtracked by and interspersed with a series of gigs from the alternative music scene of her parents’ generation in the early ’90s, Doug Johnstone’s latest page-turner is a wild ride of a thriller, and a perfect follow-on to his #1 Kindle bestseller, Hit & Run.
‘It’s just to say that no-one has come to pick Nathan up from school, and we were wondering if there was a problem of some kind?’
As Mark Douglas photographs a pod of whales stranded in the waters off Edinburgh’s Portobello Beach, he is called by his son’s school: his wife, Lauren, hasn’t turned up to collect their son. Calm at first, Mark collects Nathan and takes him home but as the hours slowly crawl by he increasingly starts to worry.
With brilliantly controlled reveals, we learn some of the painful secrets of the couple’s shared past, not least that it isn’t the first time Lauren has disappeared. And as Mark struggles to care for his son and shield him from the truth of what’s going on, the police seem dangerously short of leads. That is, until a shocking discovery…
Your best mate just fell off a cliff in mysterious circumstances and you were the last person to see him alive. What do you do?
Well, if you’re David Lindsay from Arbroath, you get the hell out of there and don’t return. Not for at least fifteen years. Until Nicola Cruickshank – yes, that Nicola, the girl you always fancied but never had the guts to approach – gets in touch and asks – no, demands – that you go back for a school reunion. To the place where it happened. The place you’ve been running from for fifteen years. Of course you go. Not to belatedly lay your mate to rest, but because you still fancy Nicola.
The thing is, if you are David Lindsay, then returning to Arbroath isn’t going to lay any ghosts to rest. And when someone else takes a dive off the cliffs – an act the locals have taken to calling ‘tombstoning’ – while David’s there, he has a choice: run away again, or finally find out why people keep dying around him . . .
A rollicking and hugely enjoyable contemporary novel describing the outrageous mid-winter tour around Scotland of a group of musicians called ‘The Ossians’. The band’s driving force is twenty-four-year-old lead singer, Connor – intelligent but self-destructive, pretentious but charismatic, gloriously opinionated and with an extraordinary ability to get beaten up.
The band is on the verge of signing a major record deal before setting off on a two-week tour of the cities and hinterland of Scotland, a tour expected to culminate triumphantly in a defining Glasgow gig. On their travels there is a seagull massacre, hapless drug deals, a mysterious stalker, a radioactive beach, a bomb-testing range, an epileptic fit, a town full of riotous Russian submariners, deadly snowstorms, epiphanies, regular beatings and random shootings.
Hit & Run
Driving home from a party with his girlfriend and brother, all of them drunk and high on stolen pills, Billy Blackmore accidentally hits someone in the night. In a panic, they all decide to drive off.
But the next day Billy wakes to find he has to cover the story for the local paper. It turns out the dead man was Edinburgh’s biggest crime lord and, as Billy struggles with what he’s done, he is sucked into a nightmare of guilt, retribution and violence.
Four friends, one weekend, gallons of whisky. What could go wrong?
Driven by amateur whisky-nut Adam, four late-thirties ex-university mates are heading to Islay – the remote Scottish island world famous for its single malts – with a wallet full of cash, a stash of coke and a serious thirst.
Over a weekend soaked in the finest cask strength spirit, they meet young divorcee Molly, who Adam has a soft spot for, her little sister Ash who has all sorts of problems and Molly’s ex-husband Joe, a control freak who also happens to be the local police. As events spiral out of control, they are all thrown into a nightmare that gets worse at every turn.
Bloody Scotland – various authors
In Bloody Scotland a selection of Scotland’s best crime writers use the sinister side of the country’s built heritage in stories that are by turns gripping, chilling and redemptive.
Stellar contributors Val McDermid, Chris Brookmyre, Denise Mina, Ann Cleeves, Louise Welsh, Lin Anderson, Doug Johnstone, Gordon Brown, Craig Robertson, E S Thomson, Sara Sheridan and Stuart MacBride explore the thrilling potential of Scotland’s iconic sites and structures. From murder in an ancient broch and a macabre tale of revenge among the furious clamour of an eighteenth century mill, to a dark psychological thriller set within the tourist throng of Edinburgh Castle and a rivalry turning fatal in the concrete galleries of an abandoned modernist ruin, this collection uncovers the intimate – and deadly – connections between people and places.
Prepare for a dangerous journey into the dark shadows of our nation’s buildings – where passion, fury, desire and death collide.