Happy Wednesday my lovelies. Today we have a Meet the Author post – a fab interview with Jonathan Whitelaw who talk to us about story telling, getting lost in Galloway forest and his new book The Man in the Dark which is due out on 26th September……
Tell us a bit about yourself:
I’m an author, journalist and broadcaster based in Glasgow, Scotland. After working on the frontline of Scottish politics after I graduated, I became a digital journalist. Subjects I’ve cover have ranged from breaking news, the arts, culture and sport to fashion, music and even radioactive waste – with everything in between. I’m also a regular reviewer and talking head on shows for the BBC and STV.
What inspired you to start writing?
I’ve always loved a good story – whether I’m being told it or the one describing the action. Stories have always fascinated me. I was encouraged from a very young age to read. In fact, my P1 teacher once told my mother – “Get him to read anything and everything. It can be The Beano – just get him to read!” – and that’s stuck with me pretty much ever since!
When I was younger I always used to come up with little stories for my action figures. If I was away from home or on holiday, I’d write them all down and then re-enact them when I got home. This is going to sound awful but I couldn’t WAIT to come home from holiday sometimes – even if we were in places like DisneyLand!
So it’s a lifetime habit of time. I enjoy writing, in all its forms, and I love good stories. And as long as people will have me and read what I have to tell, then I’ll keep doing it!
How many books have you written and published?
The Man in the Dark will be my third published novel. It’s a direct sequel to HellCorp, released in July 2019. My debut was Morbid Relations, which came out in 2015.
Which book, out of all the books you have written, is your favourite and why?
Oh that’s a tough question. Am I allowed to say all three? I know it’s a bit of a cheat. But that’s the thing about novels – you become very attached to them, their stories and their characters. It’s like choosing your favourite movie or album, they all have their own merits that make you like them.
Morbid Relations will always be special for me because it was my debut. But HellCorp has always felt like the start of me finding my voice as a writer. I love the characters in that novel and I’ve been hugely humbled by the reaction from readers and critics alike (near universally positive!).
And my latest book – The Man in the Dark – is a continuation of this. It’s the first time I’ve written a direct sequel to one of my books and that’s brought its own challenges – challenges that I’ve really enjoyed!
So yes, it’s hard to pick a stand-out favourite. Because there’s something special about all of them. Sorry!
How do you choose the names of your characters?
That’s an interesting one. For the HellCorp series, the main characters have all been named and, in The Devil’s case, shamed. What I did want when it came to God in my books was to give Her persona, a character of Her own. That’s why whenever She’s described, it’s She, as opposed to she.
As for the other characters, I always like to chose names that have some sort of narrative meaning. In HellCorp, the main Human character was Dr Jill Gideon. Gideon, of course, in the context of the Old Testament, was the general and prophet who had a huge victory despite long odds and being outnumbered. It seemed like the perfect name for the character, who has to battle her own adversity within the context of the book.
In the upcoming Man in the Dark – it’s a similar story. Readers are introduced to Detective Sergeant Laurie of the Met. She’s a hard working, no-nonsense policewoman who has to battle flagrant sexism and prejudice in her work with her family life – all while the world appears to be falling apart around her ears. She’s named after John Laurie, the Dad’s Army actor, who I always adored growing up. It seemed like a fitting tribute to one of my childhood loves and just seemed to fit for the character.
Which of your characters would you want to be stranded on an island with, and why?
Again, that’s a toughie!
I can safely say the last person I want to be stuck on an island with would be The Devil. Not because he would do something horrible to me – although he probably would – but more because he’s an insufferable know-it-all. I know that’s dreadful of me to say about my leading man but it’s true! There’s only so much you can listen to somebody who quite literally knows and has seen everything. But I suppose that’s the whole point of the Prince of Darkness – he’s not going to be very good company and you’re definitely getting punished one way or another.
I think if I had to choose, I would probably say DS Laurie from the new novel. She’s fiercely intelligent, quick witted, street smart and savvy and a really nice person to boot. I know that makes her sound almost as insufferable as The Devil, but she’s practical and can take care of herself. She’s a policewoman in 21st century Britain – I can’t think of anybody else who would be better equipped to be good company, keep us safe and, more importantly, get us rescued!
Who is your favourite author and which of their books is your favourite, and why?
These tough questions are really mounting up!
I’ve always been a huge fan of Iain Banks. I read The Crow Road when I was in school and it was such a wonderfully written piece of work that I try to go back and reread it every couple of years. Just to remind me of how good a writer he was and how important he remains to the UK literary scene. He died, of course, a good few years ago and he’s still sadly missed.
I’ve also rediscovered Joe Abercrombie in the last few months. He’s arguably one of, if not THE best contemporary fantasy writer the UK has produced in the past 20 years. And again I read a lot of his work in my late teens/early 20s. My parents were moving house recently and I was able to rediscover his First Law trilogy which has been a blast. I even got the chance to have a sneak-peek at his upcoming trilogy for work. A great honour and a professional ambition achieved all at once.
What is the first thing you can remember writing?
I distinctly remember writing a story in school about my summer holidays. I remember it vividly as we had to travel from Glasgow to Manchester to catch a flight. I couldn’t have been any older than about four or five so again P1. This woman turned around in a seat in front of us on a bus and asked me what my name was. I said it was Winston Zedmore, from the Ghostbusters. As if the embarrassment at the time wasn’t enough for my parents, I of course included this in the story when I went to school.
I had to read it out in front of the whole class. I think I got a round of applause, but maybe I’m imagining that. So yes, a very fond memory for probably all the wrong reasons.
In terms of “serious” writing – when I was 17 and in my final year of high school, I wrote a whopping 120,000 word fantasy epic that I was certain was going to be the next big thing. It was, without doubt, the worst mash-up of Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and Die Hard you could ever imagine. I was given lots of encouragement from my teachers though. Thankfully it’s been lost in several house moves and computer meltdowns since.
What other jobs have you done other than being an author?
When I was a student I worked in a kilt shop in Glasgow. It was great, every Saturday and Sunday I’d get to put on the full Highland dress wear and help people choose and buy theirs. There was a really cool student culture about the place and I made some very lovely friends when I worked there. Not to mention all the wonderful people from all over the world I got to meet on a regular basis. I’m quite convinced that I’m going to wind up in a pub in Outer Mongolia one day and behind the bar will be a picture of me posing with a tourist in my bright red McGregor tartan kilt.
More recently I’m a working, full-time journalist alongside being an author. Again, it’s great as I get to meet and speak with a whole host of interesting people from all walks of life. As I mentioned before I’ve covered a wide array of subjects that I won’t bore you with the details. The strangest was covering a three-day summit in Glasgow about toxic and nuclear waste. I was the only journalist that turned up to cover this conference that had some of the biggest and best scientific minds in the world attending. Again, I got to meet some fantastic and fascinating people that, if it wasn’t for journalism, I probably would never have gotten to speak with.
If you could get in a time machine and had one chance to travel, where would you go? (Backwards or forwards!)
The future has always fascinated me. There’s no coincidence that my favourite Back to the Future film is the second one. Although I’m aware now that it’s set in 2015 – four years in our past.
While I love history, particularly ancient history and mythology, I’ve always been intrigued to see where we as a species are heading to. I’ll give you an example. My wife and I sit down every Thursday and Friday night to watch the repeats of Top of the Pops on BBC 4. It’s become this weird little tradition in our house. While we were both born in 1986, we’ve watched the show progress through the years from the early 80s to 1988 at the moment.
I always try to put every episode in context to where we are now. I compare the technology, the culture, the politics, everything about that world with now. They really don’t compare. Tech is the obvious factor in all of this and even within my adult life it’s move on so quickly.
So yeah, if I had the chance, I’d go into the future to see what’s waiting for us. I’m a bit strange that way!
If you could have one conversation with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
This might sound a bit cliched but I’d really like to speak with my granddad. He passed away when I was six but I have such vivid memories of him, even to this day.
I grew up very close to my grandparents on my mother’s side. And my gran died a few years ago so I was lucky enough to share a lot of memories with her. I didn’t get that opportunity with my granddad, which is a bit of a shame.
So yes, I’d love to spend an afternoon with him, learn more about him, show him everything I’ve done in the interim period of my life and just shoot the breeze. That would be pretty cool.
What are your favourite things to do?
As strange as this is going to sound – I really love to write! That can be anything, from my fiction to my journalism. There isn’t a day that passes where I’m not hugely humbled and grateful for being in the position I’m in. Unfortunately there are a lot of people in this world who don’t get to do what they love every day, sometimes at all. And the fact I can always puts life into perspective for me. I don’t take it for granted and I try to do the very best I can on those fronts.
Away from writing I’m a big sports fan. I love football. My team is Everton, given my family’s connections with Liverpool, and I try to play at least once a week. I’m also active within the Scottish Writers team and, by the time this goes out, should have played for them against the England writers team at the Bloody Scotland festival.
I’m also a big music fan and have been very slowly recreating my teenage music collection in vinyl. I also love the cinema, TV and radio. Anything media, I’m all over it.
And last, but by no means least, I love to read. Fiction, non-fiction, you name it. I can’t get enough. There’s a reason so many great writers have always said that in order to be good at what you do you have to have that thirst for knowledge. And it’s so true.
What is the strangest thing that has ever happened to you?
I once got lost in the Galloway Forest, in the middle of the night.
As a bit of context, my wife and I were travelling home from Northern Ireland. We were staying in Edinburgh at the time so we got the ferry from Belfast to Cairnryan as we always did. It was a late journey in the middle of winter so we weren’t expecting to be home until around 10pm.
When we got off the boat we were met with diversion signs saying the main road up through Ayrshire to Glasgow was closed off. No biggie right? We followed the diversion signs until they stopped. We pulled over and realised we must have missed one somewhere as our Sat Nav was now showing us to be in the middle of the MASSIVE Galloway Forest in Dumfries and Galloway. By this point it’s around 11.30pm and the dead of night. No street lights, nothing, just a single lane road winding its way through this huge expanse of a forest.
We kept going and the further and further we went on, the less signal we had on our phones. Eventually, we emrged from the forest – around two hours later. We had no signal, had no idea where we were and where we were going. All we could do was keep going on this little road as it carved its way through the night.
We are, of course, completely panicking at this point. It’s in the very early hours of the morning, we’re hungry, tired and frightened. And this road keeps going on and on and on, with no sign of civilisation anywhere.
Eventually, it’s starts to get light. We haven’t topped 30mph all night. Fuel is getting low and we’re both now completely convinced we’ll be stuck in the middle of nowhere with no way of being rescued. Until – salvation!
We see a sign for a motorway we both vaguely recognise. We manage to get on it, stop off for some fuel and a much-needed toilet break and get back to Edinburgh around 7am the following morning.
Out of all the strangeness, I remember there being some really lovely scenery when the light slowly returned. Although I don’t think I’ll risk going back anytime soon.
If you could give your younger writing self any advice what would it be?
It’s the advice I always give to anybody that asks me for any (the fools!). And my younger writing self would be no different.
Seriously, just write. You can have the greatest idea in your head, the perfect characters, the most water-tight plot, everything. But if it’s still in your head and not on the page, nobody is going to be able to read it. And I love reading a good story. So don’t keep it locked away forever.
A lot of people ask me where and when I find the time to do my writing. The simple answer is I make the time. If you’re serious about writing then you’ll find a way. Writing is no different to any other profession. It takes work, time, effort, practice and dedication. And the more you do it, the better you become.
So just write. The simplest plans are the best ones – because they don’t have complicated ins and outs to go wrong. Just write.
Name one book you think everyone should read?!
The Man in the Dark by Jonathan Whitelaw. In fact, everything by that author – he’s the real deal! 🙂
I would always, 100% recommend Roald Dahls’ Boy. It’s the first part of his autobiography and is, quite simply, hilarious. Dahl is by far one of my favoruite authors, not because he was a genius, but because he had this wonderful universal way of entertaining adults and children in equal measure. And for me he’s never in better form than in Boy.
Touching, endearing, honest and funny, it’s really got everything. He writes candidly about tragedy and triumphs in equal measure. And it’s a wonderful little time capsule of a world that doesn’t exist anymore. I’ll always recommend it for anybody wanting something for their kids to read. And for adults who have already maybe read it, it’s great to revisit as a grown-up. If you don’t laugh at a rat being put in a sweetie jar then there’s something wrong with you!
And finally, tell us about your most recent book and where we can find it?
The Man in the Dark is available from all good bookshops – Waterstones, Foyles, Blackwells etc.
Where to find Jonathan online: Twitter
Thanks so much for this really brilliant interview Jonathan! Getting lost in the forest sounds SPOOKY…..it sounded like some sort of horror movie! Roald Dahl is a fabulous author, I completely agree and now I need to read Boy!
Thanks again for this! Any questions/comments for Jonathan, then give him a shout!
Have a wonderful evening!