Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Guestpost: Good advice and why I don’t always take it by Michael Johnston

Good advice and why I don’t always take it
by Michael Johnston

     Like you, I’m sure, I have friends, relatives and acquaintances who seem to be listening attentively as I tell a colourful story about one of my many exciting experiences but, too late, I realise they are simply waiting and watching for me to draw breath, at which point they will pile in about their own even more colourful and very much more self-centred experiences and, somehow, no matter how closely I listen and watch, they never seem to need to draw breath or pause for dramatic effect.

     Well-meant advice from my talented and experienced father seemed to be rejected even faster than any publisher has ever rejected a manuscript. It simply made me want to do the opposite and then, a week later perhaps, I would find I was doing what he had advised, thinking it was my own idea, until the penny dropped, or my father said something that would send me off into a fit of sulks.

     However, if you get hold of a book which was published in 1934, is still in print and offers advice for beginning and sustaining any writing enterprise, you will never think about writing in the same way again. The book is Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande (1898-1948) which is still in print. Brande deals with two aspects of writing: the physical and the mental. Physically, she believes that it is only by making oneself write a certain number of words every day, ideally at the same time of day, that one becomes, like an athlete, tuned up to achieve the level of performance a serious writer needs. Accountants, remember, do not put off their work until inspiration strikes and neither should serious writers. Once you have become fit as a writer, then you need to develop your imagination in the same way as you have developed your writing muscles. This is not a review of Becoming a Writer but, if you’ll take my advice, now is the time to buy a copy and get started.

     Incidentally, while checking my facts about Dorothea, I found out that she also wrote Wake Up and Live, published in 1936, and which sold over two million copies. It was even made into a musical by Twentieth Century Fox. I know nothing about it but the title isn’t a bad bit of advice so I shall look it up when I’ve posted this blog.

     Another bit of advice was handed out by a speaker at the Writers’ Circle I took part in while living in Harrogate. Looking us in the eye, she said very matter-of-factly, “A writer is someone who writes”. Maybe it’s true that everybody has at least one novel in them but, thankfully for the rest of us, few of these ever get written because the hard work involved in writing a book puts most people off. I think this is simply another way of expressing what Dorothea Brande says in her book. Unless you find you are writing something every day, you are probably not a writer and might find it better to stick to your knitting, or whatever you find you really like to do. After all, we writers (I flatter myself) need readers and there are no barriers to entry to that honourable profession. And no writer worth his or her salt is not an avid reader!

     So, you write daily; you have a vivid imagination; you read until you fall asleep; what’s next? Choose your subject and, ignoring as far as possible, all other claims on your time, just get on with it: and I shall look out for the results in my bookshop. 
(Originally posted at: My Reading Table)

About the Book:

     Ambitious art historian Bill Maguire searches Paris for a subject for his doctoral thesis and follows up faint clues about once famous abstract painter Alexander Golden. He finds himself in Carmel listening to the death-bed confessions of Joe Rembrandt, an art forger on an industrial scale, and meets beautiful Anna Glover whose life seems somehow connected with the dying man.

     But when Anna’s lawyer boss completely debunks Rembrandt’s story, he decides it’s time to get out and write his thesis. Unable, however, to get out of his mind Joe’s assertion that he found where Golden disappeared to with his mistress and a cache of his never-before-seen canvases that could be worth millions, Bill searches around Arles for Golden’s farmhouse hideaway that probably never existed outside Rembrandt’s imagination.

     He finds Anna there before him and hears yet another version of Joe’s story. Together, they make the discovery that adds love, greed, insanity, academic dishonesty and very likely murder into the mix before leading to a completely unforeseen outcome.

About the Author:

     Michael Johnston was born in Leith in 1936 and grew up in the Scottish Borders. At school he was bookish and not keen on rugby. In 1950, he auditioned for the BBC and read a story on Children’s Hour. Leaving school he studied Textile Design but, in 1953, he also auditioned for the BBC Younger Generation programmes and for the next five years worked as an occasional freelance interviewer, presenter and question panel member.

     In 1955, he spent a summer working in France. He used his BBC experience to arrange an interview with Françoise Sagan, then a teenage French novelist, which was part of a radio documentary he recorded, wrote and presented. He went on to write several radio documentaries for the BBC including one about the relatively unknown romance between Lord Thomson, Secretary of State for Air in Ramsay MacDonald’s cabinet and the Rumanian novelist, Princess Marthe Bibesco, in which the actress Janet Suzman played the leading role.

     In 2001, he embarked on his too long postponed ‘career’ as a novelist and a programme of study with the Open University culminating in a first class BA (Honours) in Literature.

     In 2009, Michael was awarded an MA (with Distinction) in Modern and Contemporary Literature by Birkbeck College, University of London. His dissertation was on the impact of Margaret Thatcher on contemporary fiction.

     His latest novel Rembrandt Sings is available in print or on Kindle and has received excellent reviews. To find out more about Michael and his book visit his website at www.akanos.co.uk

Tour Schedule

Monday, February 18

Tuesday, February 19

First Chapter Reveal at Carol’s Notebook

Wednesday, February 20

Thursday, February 21

Guest blogging at My Reading Table

Monday, February 25

Interviewed at Confessions of a Reader

Tuesday, February 26

Guest blogging at The Paperback Pursuer

Monday, March 4

Guest blogging at Confessions of a Reader

Tuesday, March 5

First Chapter Review at Alive on the Shelves

Wednesday, March 6

Guest blogging at Bookingly Yours

Thursday, March 7

First Chapter Reveal at CelticLady’s Reviews

Friday, March 8

First Chapter Reveal at My Cozie Corner

Book reviewed at Bless Their Hearts Mom

Monday, March 11

Guest blogging at My Addiction and More

Tuesday, March 12

Book reviewed at My Addiction and More

Thursday, March 14

Friday, March 15

Book reviewed at The Self-Taught Cook


  1. Hello Allizabeth

    Having read Michael Johnston's book, Rembrandt Sings, myself, I'm sure your readers will enjoy the story's twists, turns and surprises! It really is a fabulous read.

    Thanks so much for hosting Michael and his book, as part of his Virtual Book Tour sponsored by VAforAuthors and Pump Up Your Book.


  2. Thanks for having me over last month. I enjoyed my visit and you are welcome to come by here any time. Regards, Michael Johnston