Doug Johnstone is a thriller author who has been praised by the likes of Ian Rankin and Irvine Welsh. He has written seven books including Gone Again, which is available in the U.S. He is also a freelance journalist, a songwriter and musician, and has a PhD in nuclear physics. He lives in Edinburgh, Scotland.
That’s a really interesting question. What helps and what doesn’t, when it comes to grief? Everyone approaches grief differently, so it’s hard for others to say what’s “good” or “bad”. In Ellie’s case, I feel that the physical exercise, the swimming and running, does help to a degree – there’s certainly scientific evidence that these physical activities can help with mental health. As for the pilgrimage up to the bridge, that’s a trickier moral question. I wanted it to not be clear whether it was helping as well – so that the reader gets sucked into her plight more. The stuff about Ellie checking her dead son’s Facebook page is something I’ve seen in real life – a relative of mine still does that with her dead daughter. It’s heartbreaking, but is it any different from visiting someone’s grave and talking to them? In the end it comes down to the individual – if they feel it helps them, then it does.
For Ben: Ben took up his own way of coping, what was it about it that was soothing to him, for the purpose of placing blame elsewhere? But then he also agreed that it was nutty, so why what exactly did he get out of his rituals?
I think it is naturally soothing to think that there is some order in the universe. If terrible things happen, and there’s no purpose, no one to blame, that can be really hard to take. If you have faith of some religious type then that can fill that void. But if you don’t, what do you replace it with? In Ben’s case, conspiracy theories are a way of placing order on the chaotic nature of the universe. If someone else is to blame, then it can’t be you to blame, can it? And I think these delusions or rituals can still work, even if you acknowledge that they’re not based in fact. It’s kind of a placebo effect – even when people know about the placebo, it can still make a difference in their lives. Isn’t that the weirdest thing?
For Ellie & Ben: I enjoyed the ending for the two. Without giving away spoilers, how do you think this will affect them positively? Do you think their lives will be healthier now?
Who knows! I hope so, and I think so, but I deliberately left that open ended. Ultimately, you never “get over” the death of a child, ever. It’s not even a question of getting over it, it’s more like learning to live with it, learning to see meaning in life afterwards, and finding a way forward that doesn’t involved your own annihilation. Through the course of The Jump, there has hopefully been some journey for Ellie and Ben, albeit a rather unconventional one (no spoilers!), and I hope that experience has made them realise that they can still be useful in the world, even if they always have to carry the awful burden of their son’s death with them.
For Doug: The events that transpired were hefty, how did it affect you in a positive manner, spoiler free of course.
I’m not sure that this book did affect me positively at all. There’s a common idea that writing is catharsis, and to an extent it is. The inspiration for The Jump was personal, relatives of mine have committed suicide, and I initially wrote the book to try to deal with some of those issues. But was it cathartic in the end? I don’t know. I really don’t. In real life there is no such thing as closure in these circumstances, and that’s something I wanted to tackle in this book. I mean the characters in The Jump are in a better place at the end than they are at the beginning, but they have to go through some terrible stuff to get there. Sometimes I feel like I can take something positive from their experience, other times I just feel, I dunno, despondent about it all. Depends on the day and my mood. Sorry for not being cheerier!
Thank you Doug for taking the time to answer some of my questions. Please be sure to check out Doug Johnstone’s novel The Jump.