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.
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.
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.
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?