Skip to content

Welcome

DDjohnston2compressedD.D. Johnston is a novelist and short story writer. He lives in Cheltenham and works at the University of Gloucestershire, where he is a University Teaching Fellow and a senior lecturer in Creative Writing.

Cover for the Spanish Edition of Peace, Love & Petrol Bombs

Cover for the Spanish Edition of Peace, Love & Petrol Bombs

His first novel, Peace, Love, & Petrol Bombs, featured in The Sunday Herald’s Books of the Year for 2011, as a choice of Helen Fitzgerald. Popmatters wrote, “this genial, engaging, yet serious search for meaning in a commodified global culture deserves wide acclaim” (John L. Murphy). Peace, love, & Petrol Bombs has been recorded as an audio book for audible.com, and is published in Spanish as Paz, amor y cócteles molotov (Hoja de Lata, 2013; translated by Raquel Duato García).

Thrub coverHis second novel, The Deconstruction of Professor Thrub (Barbican Press, 2013) , made the judges’ longlist for the Goldsmith’s Prize and was a 2013 book of the year in The Morning Star, where it was described as “determinedly extraordinary”. The Warwick Review called it “an ambitious, erudite work with a profound interest in the world as we find it.”

Secret Baby Room coverHis third novel, The Secret Baby Room, is set for publication in July 2015. As far removed from Thrub as is imaginable, The Secret Baby Room is a page-turning mystery suspense thriller:

In the taut, suspenseful opening pages, Claire, just moving into her new house, looks up to see “the strangest thing. High up in the abandoned tower block that overshadowed their estate, a woman was bottle-feeding a baby.” The woman disappears, but the mystery haunts and deeply disturbs Claire. The tower is condemned, fenced off and surrounded with yellow-black warning signs, its entrances boarded “and clearly marked: DANGER”. Obsessed with breaking through into this forbidden zone, Claire fears that she is actually going mad, as she sits “staring at the concrete, as though the Secret Baby Room might somehow reappear…She suddenly saw how crazy it all was.”

As her own life falls apart, Claire risks everything in her quest. It’s an investigation that leads her not only towards the dark knowledge of past crimes but towards an understanding of the damaged lives of those around her.  Johnston offers us a wonderfully gripping read, but also a compassionate and moving story of people struggling to survive at the margins of a rapidly changing city. (CrimeCulture)

online writing tips logo white croppedD.D. Johnston also writes a bit of short fiction, and you can read one of his stories, ‘The Invitation’, online in issue six of the lampeter Review. An earlier version of the story was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize. In his spare time, he runs the writing advice website onlinewritingtips.com.

Links are also available to online interviews with the author, essays by the author, and – in a nod to social media culture – pointless lists of stuff the author likes. Thanks for reading and please see below for latest news, events, and ramblings, or follow him on Twitter.

The Secret Baby Room – Editors’ choice review on CrimeCulture

Crimeculture logo

I’m grateful to the team at CrimeCulture who have reviewed The Secret Baby Room as one of their Editors’ Choices for May 2015. The Secret Baby Room is reviewed alongside Christobel Kent’s The Crooked House, Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train, and Liane Moriarty’s, The Last Anniversary:

In the taut, suspenseful opening pages, Claire, just moving into her new house, looks up to see “the strangest thing. High up in the abandoned tower block that overshadowed their estate, a woman was bottle-feeding a baby.” The woman disappears, but the mystery haunts and deeply disturbs Claire. The tower is condemned, fenced off and surrounded with yellow-black warning signs, its entrances boarded “and clearly marked: DANGER”. Obsessed with breaking through into this forbidden zone, Claire fears that she is actually going mad, as she sits “staring at the concrete, as though the Secret Baby Room might somehow reappear…She suddenly saw how crazy it all was.” READ MORE...

Review of The Headscarf Revolutionaries by Brian Lavery

The Headscarf Revolutionaries coverHere’s my review for Libcom.org of Brian W. Lavery’s The Headscarf Revolutionaries, an account of a spontaneous campaign by fishermen’s wives in Hull, which following the 1968 triple-trawler disaster forced major changes to UK shipping laws:

There are times when history seems to erupt in chorus. Sometimes the cause of synchronicity is obvious, as in the World War that preceded uprisings and revolutions from Clydeside to Moscow, or the economic collapse that by 2011 had sparked revolts as diverse as the English riots and the Arab Spring. At other times, the connections are harder to explain: why was 1848 the year that modernity clashed with feudalism across much of Europe and Latin America? Why did 1649 witness the Ormee of Bordeaux and The Diggers’ colonies in England? Sometimes, it seems, there is simply something in the air.

The opening of 1968 was such a time. The Prague Spring coincided with the Civil Rights movement in the US, the anti-Vietnam War riot in Grosvenor Square, the March events in Poland, the occupation at Nanterre, and eventually the May Days in Paris. And to this list we can add the uprising of the Headscarf Revolutionaries, which has now been brilliantly documented in a new book by Brian Lavery… READ MORE

Hates, heartbreak, and high-rise housing

PrintHaving no interest in the election has given me time to write a couple of new features. First up, a piece for Northern Soul, the magazine of events and culture in Northern England. It’s the story of how I demoralised Manchester’s Redbricks community with tales of heartbreak and bad poetry, and how I eventually came to write The Secret Baby Room:

Only one person will ever really break your heart. It’s probably something you should try to get out of the way early in life – like measles or chicken pox.

In 2004 I was 24 and my French girlfriend told me she was having it off with the branch secretary of the anarcho-syndicalist union. Previous break-ups had caused me to experience a level of sadness that at the time had seemed worthy of the term ‘heartbreak’, but at 24 I cried for longer than it is physically possible to cry. I cried until I was exhausted and hungry and completely emptied by a vortex of grief in excess of anything that evolution had anticipated. There was, I eventually decided, only one thing to do: from the furnace of my anguish I would forge the new century’s first great novel. CONTINUE READING

Second up, a piece for You’re Booked on my pet hates in crime fiction:

1. The relentlessly peeved detective

The relentlessly peeved detective is peeved with everyone and everything. He (and overwhelmingly he still is a he) doesn’t like his bosses and doesn’t like his colleagues. He doesn’t like children (which is why he’s never had any), and he especially doesn’t like his ex-wife (the bitch). He dislikes police procedures. He dislikes social workers. He dislikes delicatessens and vegetarians and art cinema. He even dislikes the things he chooses to do in every chapter. CONTINUE READING

YOURE-BOOKED-WEB-BANNER

The Secret Baby Room – the first review

Cover design for The Secret Baby Room, by Rawshock DesignThanks to Paul Simon for his frank and insightful review of The Secret Baby Room in The Morning StarSimon has been a supporter of my first two novels and he’s kind enough to praise my versatility, but it also takes a particularly versatile critic to be able to tackle three such different books, taking each one on its merit. As always, his thoughts are interesting and well worth a read.

DD JOHNSTON, one of this country’s most principled socialist novelists, is also one of the most versatile and talented around.

His back catalogue includes the harsh realism of Peace, Love & Petrol Bombs and the vaulting cleverness of The Deconstruction of Professor Thrub yet his latest book is as different to those two as they are to each other.

Publication date announced for The Secret Baby Room

My new novel, The Secret Baby Room, is set to appear in July; six months to wait for it, and then you’ll read it in a single sitting. (If you don’t, I’ll give you a year of writing advice videos completely free.)

Cover design for The Secret Baby Room, by Rawshock Design

Cover design for The Secret Baby Room, by Rawshock Design

As far removed from Thrub as is imaginable, The Secret Baby Room is a page-turning mystery suspense thriller. Crime fiction authority Lee Horsley describes it as ‘a tense and compelling psychological thriller':

Claire Wilson’s investigation leads her not only towards the dark knowledge of past crimes but towards an understanding of the damaged lives of those around her. Johnston offers us a wonderfully gripping read, but also a compassionate and moving story of people struggling to survive at the margins of a rapidly changing city. — Lee Horsley, author of The Noir Thriller

I’m delighted to be able to share the brilliant cover produced by Jason Anscomb at Rawshock Design. The Secret Baby Room is one of several new books slated for publication by Barbican Press, the indy press that keeps making waves. Recent books include Kate Horsley’s The Monster’s Wife, which was shortlisted for Scottish First Book of the Year. And their new list includes Brian Lavery’s The Headscarf Revolutionaries, which former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott predicts could become the next Made in Dagenham; Hana Sklenkova’s translation of Martin Vopenka’s The Fifth Dimension (a modern Czech classic that includes meditations on the ideas of Kip Thorne, as made famous by Interstellar); and much more. Visit Barbican’s website for information on forthcoming titles, and remember to pre-order your copy of The Secret Baby Roomorder it now and it will arrive, as a surprise, one sunny day in July.

Can writing be taught? Of course it can!

New writing advice site launching Jan 2015

New writing advice site launching Jan 2015

Several times a year, someone starts a debate about whether Creative Writing can be taught. It’s not clear why – after all, those who oppose the teaching of writing are ankle-deep in the ocean, yelling at the tide to retreat – but the recurring debate has been on my mind for some weeks, ever since the Guardian featured me and my experimental novel, The Deconstruction of Professor Thrub. The Guardian didn’t, you see, run a double-page spread in the Review section, allowing the usual luminaries to inform us that Thrub is the best thing to have happened to British literature since Tristram Shandy. No, I was in the Education section, displayed as an example of an author who has benefitted from – and who now delivers – formal education in the craft of writing. And while the Review double-page spread would have been nice, I’m more than happy to be associated with the teaching of Creative Writing.

The case against Creative Writing has two fronts. On one flank there stand those who claim that writing can’t be taught. Nobody doubts that music can be taught – we don’t read column after column questioning the existence of conservatoires. Nobody doubts that art can be taught – we don’t need a tri-annual debate on the value of the Royal College of Art. But writing, apparently, is a skill that defies instruction. This curious distinction may owe its roots to the ancients – to the distinction Plato made between poets (who brought new worlds into being) and painters (who merely imitated) – and certainly it’s inspired by the romantic myth of the creative genius, but, I suspect, it’s sustained by the self-images of certain writers who would like to see themselves as something more special than products of a good education (whether that education be formal or autodidactic). Why else do teachers such as Will Self and Hanif Kureishi draw salaries teaching writing while simultaneously condemning the teaching of writing as a waste of time?

On the other flank, there are those who allege that the emergence of Creative Writing has a negative impact on the diversity of our literary culture. In demographic terms, Creative Writing can only help increase diversity: in the last thirty-five years, every British-born winner of the Booker Prize has been white, and all but three of them were educated at Oxford, Cambridge, or LSE. But what of the argument that Creative Writing courses teach authors to produce ‘McPoems’ and ‘McStories’ – work that is formulaic and uniform? Well, the current generation of major American novelists have almost all had some university-level training as writers. And if we’re honest, we’ll admit that American fiction is miles ahead of what’s currently being published in the UK.

logo transparent long

I’ve been teaching writing for five years now, and I love it. I hate our market-Stalinist universities with their awful combination of neo-liberal ideology and centralised bureaucracy, but I love working with the students and helping them to develop their writing. Hanif Kureishi thinks 99% of his students have no talent and are wasting their time; my thinking is closer to that of Gordon Lish (who must know a thing or two about developing writing), who said, “I see the notion of talent as quite irrelevant. I see instead perseverance, application, industry, assiduity, will, will, will, desire, desire, desire.”

In 2015, assisted by my colleagues Lucy Tyler and Tyler Keevil, I’ll be launching online writing tips.com. The idea is to take some of our best tips for developing writing, make them into short videos, and share them with the world – for free. Like the sound of it? We’ll be on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube, and WordPress, and your early support won’t be forgotten.

Until then, enjoy the last days of 2014, have a brilliant Hogmanay, and here’s to a happy and healthy 2015.

The Secret Baby Room – a new novel by D.D. Johnston

You think you’re ready for children. Your husband says he’s ready for children. The only problem is your new neighbourhood, where children disappear.

Coming soon (we hope!)… The Secret Baby Room is a suspense thriller from D.D. Johnston.

Claire Wilson was in the spare room of her new home, unpacking a box marked ‘miscellaneous,’ when she glanced up and saw the strangest thing. High up in the abandoned tower block that overshadowed their estate, a woman was bottle-feeding a baby.

Why would anyone take a baby into a derelict tower block? And why is her next-door neighbour so determined to delay the block’s demolition? In a Manchester neighbourhood plagued by unexplained tragedies, Claire’s only allies are an eccentric white witch, a wild-child party girl, and a husband with too many secrets. In ten days’ time, the tower block will be reduced to rubble and dust. Do you look the other way or do you dare to push open the door?

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 545 other followers