Today Scottish thriller writer Doug Johnstone writes about the Inspiration Behind The Jump, his latest crime novel. This is day #3 of his U.S. Blogtour. See the schedule below. Thanks, Doug, for this post for Mystery Fanfare.
Doug Johnstone's seventh novel, The Jump, was published by Faber & Faber in August 2015 and is now available in the U.S.. 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. Before that Doug published two novels with Penguin, Tombstoning (2006) and The Ossians (2008). He is a freelance journalist, a songwriter and musician, a footballer, and has a PhD in nuclear physics. He lives in Edinburgh, Scotland.
The Inspiration Behind The Jump
The question that writers get asked the most is “where do you get your ideas from?” The late, great Scottish author Iain Banks used to joke that there was a website, www.ideasforwriters.com, that automatically generated them for us all. If only that were true.
It’s a question that’s very hard to answer, despite the ubiquity of it. Writers are scared to examine the process of inspiration too closely, in case it vanishes in a puff of smoke, in case that inspiration dries up under the microscope.
The simple answer, I suppose, is “everywhere,” but that doesn’t seem very satisfactory. There are a million different stories out there all the time waiting to be told, and I think that a large part of the writer’s job is to be tuned into that mess, to gradually sort out the interesting from the bland, the worthwhile from the mundane. To always be on the alert for stories, to always be thinking ‘what if…’
And that’s certainly the case for my latest novel, The Jump. I live in Edinburgh in Scotland, but I have family up the east coast in Dundee. I travel between the two cities a lot, and that involves driving over the Forth Road Bridge, a smaller, silver version of the Golden Gate Bridge. One day I was driving over and suddenly thought, what would I do if I saw someone about to jump from the bridge?
And that was the tiny kernel of an idea that eventually became The Jump. That initial ‘what if’ moment, if nurtured, grows and grows, as you continually think how an ordinary person would react in those circumstances, then what would happen next, then again, what next, and so on. You do research, you flesh out characters, you work out plot, but all the time, that ‘what if’ instinct is working away in the background.
Of course, there are infinite ways any such story could go, and your job as an author is to make it interesting, both for you and your readers, to make it surprising, moving, conflicted, morally ambiguous, intense, satisfying on some level. But all of that comes, hopefully, later, as you get stuck in.
It’s perhaps no surprise that I was thinking about someone jumping off the bridge when I drove across that day. I’ve been writing a bit about suicide for a while in my fiction. A few short stories, a short film script, and I skirted with the idea in my previous novel, The Dead Beat. I have had personal experience of suicide within my family, and that has undoubtedly left a mark.
One of the features of crime fiction is that, usually at least, you have to provide some kind of resolution for the reader. Most times, the crime gets solved at the end, characters move on. But the devastating thing about suicide in the real world is that often people just don’t get that resolution, that closure. I wanted to square that circle. Perhaps stupidly, I wanted to solve that paradox, to write an honest, genuine book about suicide that didn’t provide any easy answers, but that also satisfied the reader as an effective thriller. And so The Jump was born. Whether I succeeded or not, I’ll let my readers decide. I will say this, though. Of my seven novels published, it’s the one I’m happiest with, the one I think gets closest to achieving what I wanted it to at the outset. I hope you like it.