Why I Write: Doug Johnstone

I write because I’m fucking angry. At least, that was a big part of it when I started to write, and it probably still is. I was angry about all sorts of things, but I was specifically angry about never seeing the world I saw all around me depicted in the fiction I was reading.

I grew up in Arbroath, a small town on the northeast coast of Scotland, famous for smoked fish and an Abbey. At school I had a piss-poor English teacher who barely gave us anything to read that had been written after 1900. The Scottish literature I read out of school all seemed to be about Glasgow. To me growing up, the big city was Dundee, and Glasgow might as well have been on fucking Mars.

Great writers, I now realise, like Alasdair Gray and James Kelman, but they didn’t speak to me about my life, my generation, my friends and enemies.

So I wrote about my life. Of course it was all shit at the start, but I kept writing and kept reading and kept writing and gradually it got marginally less shite. And I started to read other books that spoke to me more directly. Iain Banks, Irvine Welsh, Alan Warner – people who understood my part of the world, the Scottish small town mentality, the drugs, the desolation, all of it.

I kind of hated those fuckers for writing my experience so well, and that just made me more angry. Well, kind of. But it also showed me that maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t pissing my own words up against a wall, that there might be some worth in what I was doing. So I kept writing. Still shit, but getting less shit every day.

Years later when I was working as a journalist, I interviewed Iain Banks. His big literary hero was Alasdair Gray, and he said something to the effect that it wasn’t enough to love your literary heroes, you had to hate them as well. You had to write what you wrote to prove you were better than those old bastards, to show that you had something new and important to say. I knew what he meant.

Of course, I don’t hate all those old bastards, I just thought I did for a while. And maybe I’m not quite as angry as I used to be back then. But when I sit down to write now, I still want to describe the world I see around me in the most honest way possible, and that’s why I write.

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Doug Johnstone is a writer, musician and journalist based in Edinburgh. His sixth novel, The Dead Beat, was published by Faber and Faber in May 2014. Gone Again (2013) was an Amazon bestseller and Hit & Run (2012) and was an Amazon #1 as well as being selected as a prestigious Fiction Uncovered winner. Smokeheads (2011) was nominated for the Crimefest Last Laugh Award. His work has received praise from the likes of Irvine Welsh, Ian Rankin, William McIlvanney, Megan Abbott and Christopher Brookmyre.

He is also a singer, musician and songwriter in several bands, has a degree in physics, a PhD in nuclear physics and a diploma in journalism, and worked for four years designing radars. He grew up in Arbroath and lives in Portobello, Edinburgh with his wife and two children.

Doug’s seventh novel, The Jump, is published this week by Faber. Buy it here (it’s very very good).

Find out more here, or say hi to him on Twitter.

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  1. Pingback: THE JUMP Press Round Up, Part One | doug johnstone

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