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Scottish novelist D.D. Johnston writes books that are “Funny as all Hell” (The Sunday Herald), “determinedly extraordinary” (The Morning Star) and “unputtable-downable” (Northern Soul). His novels are characterised by their ambition, variety, and invention, but the consistent theme is his love for ordinary people, and his faith in the extraordinary things we can achieve together. He lives in Cheltenham, England, where he cares for his infant son.


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

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

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

Thrub cover

The Deconstruction of Professor Thrub (Barbican Press) was a 2013 book of the year in The Morning Star, where it was described as “determinedly extraordinary”.

Secret Baby Room cover

The Secret Baby Room, a page-turning mystery suspense thriller, was a 2015 book of the year in Northern Soul, where it was described as:

the unputtable-downable type of book, the one where you are loathe to finish, loathe to leave those characters behind, disappointed that reaching the last page means you have to leave their world and go back to your own.

He also writes a wee bit of short fiction. ‘The Invitation’ – available online here – was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize.

His final novel – Disnaeland – is expected summer 2022.

Whiteway Colony History Festival

Blair Johnston Freedom

With Richard Blair outside ‘Freedom’

This weekend I got to visit Whiteway Colony in the Cotswolds, which was founded in 1898 as a Tolstoyan commune. I had the pleasure of interviewing Richard Blair, son of George Orwell, who stayed at Whiteway as a child while his dad was ill with tuberculosis. He was looked after by the great Lillian Wolfe, and Richard and I are pictured here outside the house in which he stayed. You can listen to the interview here.

Johnston Blair McEwan

With Richard Blair & Ian McEwan

Then I had a chance to discuss my research for a non-fiction project on European history, and some of the amazing people who have lived at or visited Whiteway, including Prince Kropotkin, Captain Jack White, Kleber Claux, and Gandhi. It’s a fascinating corner of the world, and it was a treat to get to speak in the historic Colony Hall.

Speaking at Whiteway

Artmosphere podcast

ArtmosphereArtmosphere is a brilliant new audio project initiated by the very talented duo of Alex Daintith and Mary Pipikakis. They’re talking to creative people from across the UK to find out what makes them tick. I was lucky enough to get a chance to discuss my work and writing process for episode one. We covered bad reviews, writers’ block, creative vices, and lots more. Have a listen!

Aber Writing Festival, 21st -23rd April

I’m looking forward to kicking off the Abergavenny Writing Fest on Thursday night. You can get tickets for the opening night to see a cracking line-up: poet’s poet Paul Henry; highly esteemed playwright Charles Way; sports commentator and former Welsh rugby union player Eddie Butler; Journalist Patrick Hannay; and me – it’s a bargain at £7.50, and you can get yer tickets here. It’s at the King’s Arms Hotel in Abergavenny, Wales, starting at 7pm on Thursday 21st. There are loads of other interesting events scheduled throughout the festival – it’s a really eclectic and inventive programme – so if you’re based in the area, check out the full schedule here.Aber-writing-fest

The Secret Baby Room: Best reads of 2015

Print Huge thanks to Helen Nugent, the editor of Northern Soulwho has included The Secret Baby Room in her best reads of 2015. Helen writes:

My mum is 69-years-old and often falls asleep of an evening in front of the tele (…) so when I lent my mum The Secret Baby Room I was surprised to learn that she’d read the whole thing in one night.

The Secret Baby RoomBut The Secret Baby Room, Johnston’s third novel released back in the Summer, is that kind of book. It’s the unputtable-downable type of book, the one where you are loathe to finish, loathe to leave those characters behind, disappointed that reaching the last page means you have to leave their world and go back to your own.

(…) I suppose it’s best described as a ‘classy psychological thriller’ but, as we said in our review, ‘The Secret Baby Room’s political and cultural themes are woven into a driving narrative like dye in cloth’. Claire sums it up when she says: ‘welcome to suburbia: everyone has a secret’.

morning star logoI’m also especially grateful to Paul Simon at The Morning Star who has included The Secret Baby Room in his fiction picks from 2015. In 2013 he selected The Deconstruction of Professor Thrub, so I’m chuffed to feature again with such a different book. He writes:

DD Johnston’s The Secret Baby Room is a fine thriller set on a new Manchester estate being built on the remains of older, non-gentrified communities who have much to hide.

Johnston creates a vivid sense of place as the new buildings create uneasy intersections with the one remaining but condemned tower block, the old pre-war church house and various flyovers and pathways.

The implicit social observations mirror this sense of change being imposed on communities by the bullying rich and their client law-enforcers who worry more about protecting the establishment’s reputation than taking the concerns of citizens seriously.

Wishing you all a booze-soaked Hogmanay and a happy and healthy 2016 🙂

D.D. Johnston event at Suffolk Anthology bookstore in Cheltenham, Tuesday 17th November

Cheltenham people, this Tuesday, come join me at Suffolk Anthology, our lovely new independent bookstore, for some laughs and writing advice. Situated in the leafy Suffolks/Montpellier area, Suffolk Anthology sells great books and great coffee. But if you’re still looking for a reason to visit, why not head up this Tuesday for my talk on the long process of writing my new novel, The Secret Baby Room, and everything I’ve learned along the way. The talk is at 7:30 on Tuesday 17th November at 17 Suffolk Parade. Tickets cost £3 (which covers a glass of wine or two) and can be reserved from the shop by phoning 01242 361 362 or emailing More information follows below. Hope to see you there!

dd johnston talk logo

In 2004, when he’d never have done anything as pretentious as call himself by his initials, D.D. Johnston realised it was his destiny to write. The fact he knew nothing about literature and had never demonstrated any facility with written language was unimportant; only in writing could he adequately express how alone he felt in this cruel world. He produced an eighteen-volume magnum opus of bad love poetry, a grand Künstlerroman, which he imagined was the 21st century’s answer to The Sorrows of Young Werther. But it wasn’t. It was crap.

Then, one day, he saw something that changed the direction of his literary oeuvre.  He was living in Manchester, where, because he was unemployed and had no money, he used to wander the city. One day he saw a woman cradling a baby in a boarded up council housing block. Why would anyone take a baby into a boarded up council housing block that was primed for demolition?

So he began to work on the plot of a crime thriller, The Secret Baby Room, which was finally published in 2015. The struggle to complete and publish his novel was painful but life-changing – it lasted slightly longer than the Trojan War. Along the way he published two other novels: Peace, Love, & Petrol Bombs was a Sunday Herald book of the year in 2011 and has been translated into Spanish as Paz, amor y cócteles Molotov; The Deconstruction of Professor Thrub was a Morning Star book of the year in 2013 and was longlisted for the Goldsmith’s Prize. Today he is a Dr of literature, a senior lecturer in Creative Writing, and the founder of Along the way he’s learned a thousand things about writing, and he’s now ready to share everything he wishes he’d known in 2004, so that nobody need ever again take a decade to finish a book.

The secret Baby Room: A review of some reviews and other media

Cover design for The Secret Baby Room, by Rawshock DesignThe secret Baby Room has been in the world for almost two months now, so here’s a wee round up of its reception. First off, here’s a piece I wrote for Northern Soul describing the book’s origins, and here’s an article on the book and my life in Cheltenham that was published in the weekend supplement of the Gloucestershire Echo. There’s also my interview with BBC Manchester, complete with amusing technical problems.

As regards the reviews, Crime Culture kicked things off, writing: “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.”

Writing for Northern Soul, Brian Lavery was generous in his praise: “In this fine novel, Johnston is an examiner and a questioner, rather than a polemicist. The result is a mix of thriller, satire, and cultural examination, seamlessly contained in a thumping good story with a great denouement.”

The Morning Star liked it so so but felt “it just doesn’t quite manage to convince as a complete offering.” Reviewer Paul Simon wrote: Johnston is too adept a storyteller to fall into agitprop-style prose and he almost incidentally reveals a fragmenting society dominated by despair and exploitation yet also the resourcefulness and courage of working-class citizens who survive where others would surely crack.”

Reviewing for Crime Review, Linda Wilson enjoyed it somewhat reluctantly, admitting that “I found myself almost as caught up with Claire’s obsession as she was.”

Meanwhile, Tory Crime writer N.J. Cooper really disliked it; writing for Book Oxygen, she even described one of the characters as “a fake-tanned slapper.” Ouch!

I’d also draw your attention towards this review by Martin Randall, which is particularly eloquent and thoughtful. It’s also very generous to the book, but Martin is a friend and colleague so he kind of had to be!

Launching The Secret Baby Room: BBC Radio Manchester tomorrow

Barbican press summer partyOn 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.

BBC ManchesterThe 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!

And if you like what you hear, remember you can get the book from Amazon and Waterstones, or – if you still have such a thing – you can order it via your local bookstore.

The Secret Baby Room, still available on Netgalley

Cover design for The Secret Baby Room, by Rawshock DesignMy 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.

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 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