Apart from visiting my close friend Katy, I can’t think of any other reason why I’d want to spend a Wednesday night, or any night for that matter in Clydebank. But I was lured there by free tickets to see Doug Johnstone, a writer, musician and journalist based in Edinburgh. Doug was appearing at Clydebank Library as part of Booked! West Dunbartonshire Festival of Words.
This great book festival is now in its 11th year and runs until 1st June so there’s still time to get catch other free events, making a trip to deepest Dunbartonshire well worthwhile.
Katy and I joined a crowd of fellow bookaholics to hear about Doug’s writing career and his fifth novel, Gone Again, which has just recently been published. Doug read out an extract from the novel and this blurb from Doug’s website gives you a flavour of the book.
‘It’s just to say that no-one has come to pick Nathan up from school, and we were wondering if there was a problem of some kind?’
As Mark Douglas photographs a pod of whales stranded in the waters off Edinburgh’s Portobello Beach, he is called by his son’s school: his wife, Lauren, hasn’t turned up to collect their son. Calm at first, Mark collects Nathan and takes him home but as the hours slowly crawl by he increasingly starts to worry.
With brilliantly controlled reveals, we learn some of the painful secrets of the couple’s shared past, not least that it isn’t the first time Lauren has disappeared. And as Mark struggles to care for his son and shield him from the truth of what’s going on, the police seem dangerously short of leads. That is, until a shocking discovery…
When Doug responded to the Q and A session he explained that the idea behind Gone Again was his reflection on asking himself ‘What if…’ which would trigger a whole series of events. He wondered what would happen if his own wife simply didn’t come home one night from work and how he would cope and react to such a traumatic situation. The chain of ‘What if…’ scenarios inspired him to write Gone Again and this provided the engine to drive the book’s plot forward.
Because I’d been out all day and then off to Katy’s for tea then Clydebank Library, I’d missed the live news that men had attempted to behead a soldier on a busy London street in Woolwich, one of the first terrorist murders on the British mainland since the 7/7 suicide bombings of 2005. To say that I was shocked and appalled by this attack would be an understatement and I was grateful that I went to bed without seeing the horrific footage of one of the attackers yielding a knife with bloodied hands and calmly talking to a witness. That image would have guaranteed a nightmare.
After catching up with the news the next morning, what struck me were the many combinations of ‘What if…’ scenarios that could have produced very different outcomes. ‘What if…’ the witnesses had turned on the attackers and had also been killed by the terrorists for intervening. ‘What if…’ the soldier had taken a different route back to the barracks, what if and so and on until my head was full of the emotional and political consequences from such a tragic event.
I wouldn’t be brave or clever enough to try and tell tales of terrorism in my own writing but Wednesday’s events and Doug’s comments about ‘What if…’ scenarios will stay with me for a long time. Like the split second decisions in the film, Sliding Doors, our lives can change forever in an instant and the drama involved is what makes me want to read a story like Gone Again and write my own ‘What if…’ story.
Does a series of ‘What if…’ scenarios help to drive your writing forward? Have you used real life events to inspire ideas for your writing?