Thursday, 15 October 2015

Author Spotlight - Caroline Johnston

Taking her seat under the spotlight today is ACW member Caroline Johnston. Welcome Caroline. 

Could you start by telling us a little bit about yourself?

I am: married to Innes; mum to Calum, Cameron & Cara (we only had the C chapter of the baby name book!); Author; Marketing & artist contact at; company secretary for Innes’ IT company; part of the committee for the Scottish Fellowship of Christian Writers; and as of January I’ll be back to helping out with a local Scripture Union group.
I live in Paisley, I love drinking tea (especially with friends), eating chocolate and running.

What has the writing journey looked like for you?    

So far I have self-published one novel: ‘What If?’, a young adult novel about 14 year old Rachel and the predicaments she gets herself into when she steps out of her comfort zone and considers: ‘What If I audition for the school play? and What If Jesus was one of my friends?’

Does Scotland feature in your books?

What If? is set in Scotland, as is my next novel Raincoats & Sunglasses.  What If? doesn’t mention a specific location, but Raincoats & Sunglasses does refer to Glasgow.

Does being Scottish influence your writing in any way?

My characters are Scottish, so I’m writing through the Scottish perspective of life (specifically the West of Scotland!).

What does a typical writing day look like for you?

With the fun of juggling so many things in life, I don’t have typical days!  I’ve been reading a lot of blogs and online training recently that talk of the importance of writing every day; sometimes this works, but most of the time it doesn’t.  I try and aim for one day a week where I do as much writing as I can while the kids are at school, but even then I’m not disciplined enough at ignoring everything else.  Where possible I do try to write little snippets here and there to keep things going. The note app on my smart phone is where most of my thoughts initially take written shape, usually this happens as I’m trying to get to sleep!

I know you spent some time in Canada this year. Would you like to set a book there and what would it be about?

Well, it just so happens that I am finishing off a short story based in Canada.  It’s about Rachel, the main character from What If?, and what she gets up to while on a family holiday.  I’m releasing it as a free short story on my website next week.

I love Canada!  It would be amazing to go over for an extended period of time, rent a holiday house in the Rockies, and write a book based there! I’m not sure what it would be about, but it would definitely feature amazing scenery and outdoor activities!

What’s your favourite Scottish food?

Not deep fried Mars bars!  I prefer my Mars bars raw.

Where is your favourite place to write?

I write in my study at home.  But when I’m in the real creative phases – character profiles, plot outlines, etc I love to be in a more creative setting, either my garden (in the summer) or sitting on my bed (in the winter) where I get to gaze out at gorgeous hillside scenery.  The great outdoors is definitely my creative place (probably why Canada is so good for me).

Pen or keyboard?

Both!  Keyboard for actual writing, but pen and pad for planning and editing – the advantage of pen is that I can be outside without the problem of sun glare on the computer screen.

How does your Christian Faith influence your writing?

I write stories featuring Christian characters, so faith very much influences my writing.  It’s really important to me that the characters are real; facing real struggles and relying on their faith and the people around them to see them through. 

You write books for Young Adults. How do you get into the mindset of a teenage character.

I used to be one!  I became a Christian when I was twelve, and I can vividly remember the big questions that were going round my head at that age, so I know that young adults have big questions, but are also distracted by day to day issues that completely absorb their every waking moment.  I loved high school, even though not all experiences were positive, and I’ve been involved with a lot of youth work at churches over the years. 

Can you give readers a short passage from your book so we can get a flavour of what it is about?

This is where Rachel first introduces us to David, one of the characters in What If? who she struggles to deal with:

“Thankfully Anna is in my Maths class, and, like me, does not enjoy the subject.  On our first day we decided to sit up at the back of the class, as if being further away from the teacher would lessen the need for understanding.  Two of our other friends, Margaret and Louise, had the exact same idea, and sat just in front of us.  For the first couple of weeks it actually made for a nice class set up, until our teacher, Mr Thomson, got fed up with us chattering all through his class and split us up.  So now instead of sitting next to Anna I'm sitting next to David.  I must confess that this new arrangement has not provided Mr Thomson with the peace he was hoping for.  Now instead of chatting with Anna, I argue with David.
            I should explain a few things about David.  He comes from one of the "nice" suburbs of town, and, like many of the teenagers from there, is rather full of his own importance, for no other reason than his postcode.  He's not exactly in the cool group.  But he is definitely in one of those upper social groupings.
            Unlike me, David is actually good at Maths and loves to tease me when he gets higher marks than me in class tests.  Now please don't get me wrong, our arguing is nothing to do with having a secret liking for each other.  At the age of fourteen there only seems to be two reactions to members of the opposite sex - you either have a crush on them, or just want to hit them.”

What are you working on at the moment?

I’ve got a few things on the go just now:
My short story ‘Rachel’s Summer Adventure’, set in Canada.
A children’s story ‘Dance of the Dolls’.
My first grown up novel ‘Raincoats & Sunglasses’.

Which kind of goes against a lot of teaching on writing that suggests you pick one age group/genre and stick with it.  Oh well!

Can you tell us a bit about it, without giving the game away of course?

‘Dance of the Dolls’: This is a joint project with a friend of mine, Tanya, who lives in Australia.  Tanya makes porcelain dolls and showcases them at art exhibitions.  She asked if I could write a story to go with the dolls.  She gave me total artist freedom with the project, her only requirements being that it be set in 17th century France, and one of the characters needed to have a rabbit’s head! 
I had a lot of fun putting this story together.  Tanya is producing gorgeous artwork to illustrate the books, once  she’s completed the artwork I’ll round off the story and hopefully ‘Dance Of The Dolls’ will be published in the next few months.  We have plans for a further two books together, again based on Tanya’s dolls.

‘Raincoats & Sunglasses’, still in a very early phase, is about three characters searching for love, joy & peace.  The characters know each other and their stories intertwine throughout the book. 
I might try writing in tea shops for this book…

What would be your three top tips for anyone who wants to write Young Adult Books

I’m actually only going to give you one tip, because I think this is really key:

Writing for young adults can feel challenging as we know we HAVE to be relevant.  Most of us writers are a few years beyond young adulthood, and so we worry that what we have to say won’t be relevant for this generation.  A real encouragement for me was having readers from ages 12 to 70 tell me they could identify with the What If? characters, that the book captured what it was like to be at high school, how they could remember thinking and experiencing similar things.  So even though each generation can seem so very different, at the end of the day we’ve all worked through the same thoughts/feelings/issues, the ‘internals’ are pretty much the same, it’s just the ‘externals’ that look different.

You can find out more about me and my writing at:


  1. I'm with you on the notes on my phone and writing on my bed - thought it was me being odd! I love reading these insights into members - when I did my family tree I found my grandad came from Paisley :)

    1. Thanks Tania, fun to hear back that you have the same writing places as me. And if you're ever up in Paisley to find out more about your grandad give me a shout ;-)

  2. Ha! I was just thinking the same about the "typical writing day" and the one day a week and notes on phone when I'm trying to go to sleep! (Oh, and I love Western Scotland and would love to visit Canada.) Good to hear your story.

    1. Thanks Ellie, again good to hear from other writers with similar experiences. Canada is amazing and I'd definitely recommend it - I've been as far east as Prince Edward Island (so I could go to Green Gables! one of my favourite book series) and as far west as Vancouver Island - and I've loved everywhere I've been there.