On Saturday I had a brilliant time reading from my new novel, The Secret Baby Room, in bright London sunshine at the Barbican Press summer party. It was lovely to renew acquaintances and make new friends, so thanks to everyone who was there. Among the many great people I met was Hana Sklenkova, whose translation of Martin Vopenka’s The Fifth Dimension is out this Autumn. I managed to snag a copy and so far it’s brilliant – a novel that will blow your mind.
The Secret Baby Room has less to teach you about physics and the universe, but it does know a thing or two about solitude, and it certainly has a mystery at its core. It’s out tomorrow, July 2nd, and I’ll be marking the launch by discussing the book and its setting with Mike Sweeney on BBC Radio Manchester. So, friends in the North West, listen in about 10am!
My new novel is out on 2nd July, but if you’re a registered reviewer and you don’t want to wait that long, there’s still time to access it for free via Netgalley. All reviews are gratefully received, even those that say something like ‘It was kind of okay, I guess.’ If you haven’t already seen it, some background to the novel is available here, and here are pre-reviews from The Morning Star and Crimeculture.
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...
Here’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
Having 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
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.)
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 Room: order it now and it will arrive, as a surprise, one sunny day in July.