Carole Johnstone – Q&A

Probably the biggest inspiration for Mirrorland comes from my memories of my grandparents’ 200 year-old Georgian house in Leith, Edinburgh. My sister and I spent almost every holiday there growing up in the 80s and 90s. It was such an eccentric house, full of secrets and hidden surprises. From the very beginning, whenever I thought about writing Mirrorland, my grandparents’ house was the only house I ever saw. The floorplans that appear on the first pages of the UK edition of the book were pretty much exactly drawn from those memories.
Mirrorland is a gothic thriller set in Edinburgh, Scotland. It’s about estranged identical twin sisters, Cat and El. Cat lives in LA, while El lives in Edinburgh with her husband, Ross, in the big, creepy, old house where she and Cat grew up. At the beginning of the novel, Cat has to come back to Scotland because El goes missing in her sailing boat. And she discovers that El—or she believes, El—has set her a treasure hunt. Clues have been hidden all over the house for Cat to find, just like El used to do when they were kids. And these clues force Cat to confront her relationship with her sister, her relationship with her sister’s husband, and the very strange and frightening childhood that they both shared growing up in that house. In particular, the sinister and mysterious world of Mirrorland that the girls created underneath the house. Because it’s there that all the secrets of their childhoods, their lives, and what has actually happened to El are buried.
2. What inspired the book?
7. I like to end my Q&As with the same question so here we go. During all the Q&As and interviews you’ve done what question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?
That is so difficult! I guess it would be The Count of Monte Cristo. It’s been one of my favourite books since I was very young. It has all the elements that I adore as both a reader and writer—adventure and conflict; secrets and betrayal; a love triangle, a revenge plot—and it was definitely a big inspiration when writing Mirrorland. Also, it’s really long—the one book for the rest of your life pretty much has to be long!
The most dangerous stories are the ones we tell ourselves…
About the Book
3. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you?
Very boring stuff really: I love reading and watching movies. I love (and very much miss) long, lazy, and usually boozy restaurant lunches on the weekend.
About the Author
4. Is there anything about the process of publishing a book that surprised you?
Carole kindly answered a few of my questions.
Carole Johnstone is the author of Mirrorland, published by Borough Press in ebook on 1 April 2021 and hardback on 15th April 2021.
I adore the coast, and particularly islands; I always feel so much better when I’m by the sea! The Outer Hebrides are my favourite place to get away from it all. I temporarily moved to the Isle of Lewis and Harris when I was writing Mirrorland and while there got the idea for book no.2, which will be set on its Atlantic west coast. It’s such an inspirational and wonderful place.
Carole Johnstone’s award-winning short fiction has been reprinted in many annual ‘Best of ’ anthologies in the UK and US. She lives in Argyll & Bute, Scotland, with her husband. Mirrorland is her debut novel.
Plan, plan, plan—and some more plan! I’m always a pretty meticulous plotter, partially because that’s just the way I write, and mostly because my stories are often quite complex, with a lot of reveals and misdirection; a lot of seeds to be subtly planted. With Mirrorland, it wasn’t just a case of having to know the end before I started, I needed to plot it all out chapter by chapter and do all the relevant research to make sure it worked before I could even start. It’s not unusual for the planning stage to take almost as long as the writing of the first draft for me, but it always saves so much time in the long run.
You know that question that all writers are supposed to be asked all the time?: Where do you get your ideas from? I’ve never been asked that! I guess my answer would be from anywhere and everywhere! Most writers are unapologetic magpies. I have notebooks crammed with scribbled ideas. One of them is completely dedicated to Things I’ve Heard on the Bus.
5. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?
6. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?
No. 36 Westeryk Road: an imposing flat-stone house on the outskirts of Edinburgh. A place of curving shadows and crumbling grandeur. But it’s what lies under the house that is extraordinary – Mirrorland. A vivid make-believe world that twin sisters Cat and El created as children. A place of escape, but from what?
1. Tell us a little about Mirrorland.
So many things! I’ve loved gothic fiction all of my life: classic stories like Rebecca, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, The Haunting of Hill House, and more contemporary stories like Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects, Jane Harper’s Outback whodunnits, and Margaret Attwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale—I have a pretty broad definition of what a gothic story is.
Almost everything! But the biggest one for me is just how many people got behind Mirrorland way before publication. Not only the wonderful editors, marketers, and publicists at my publishers, who regularly go above and beyond, and are just such a delight to work with. But also the huge community of bloggers, book Twitter, bookstagrammers, booksellers, and reviewers, who have been so enthusiastic and supportive of Mirrorland. It has genuinely blown me away, and I couldn’t be more grateful to every single one of them. It’s a wonderful community.
I’ve also long been fascinated by identical twins; they have such a unique and interesting perspective; my mum is an identical twin and my husband is a fraternal twin, so I have insider knowledge!
Now in her thirties, Cat has turned her back on her past. But when she receives news that one sunny morning, El left harbour in her sailboat and never came back, she is forced to return to Westeryk Road; to re-enter a forgotten world of lies, betrayal and danger. Because El had a plan. She’s left behind a treasure hunt that will unearth long-buried secrets. And to discover the truth, Cat must first confront the reality of her childhood – a childhood that wasn’t nearly as idyllic as she remembers…

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