An author interview with D J Johnson, author of the popular book The Critical Path.
How long have you been writing for?
About 15 years, but with gaps. I’ve found it difficult to combine writing with a full-time job, though necessity means I’m having to get better at this.
What would you say is the most difficult part of writing a book?
For me, it’s very much about starting, or re-starting. Whether it’s a new day, a new chapter or a new section of the story, the difficult thing is getting the wheels turning. I find it much easier to keep going than to begin.
What genre do you generally write?
Some sort of contemporary fiction/psychological/wannabe literary mish-mash.
Do you have a favourite author and why?
There are loads, but let’s say (for today) Philip Roth, for his ability to write beautifully clean, clear prose while addressing huge, universal themes. Honorary mentions also go to Thomas Mann, Richard Yates and Dostoyevsky.
What is your book called and how did you choose this title?
The Critical Path. At the early stages of writing the book, I had a conversation with someone who explained the usage of a ‘Critical Path’ in the building of an office block – something he was engaged in. Simplistically, this is a method of planning that takes into account changes in circumstance and recommends the next action to be taken. My central character is very attached to the idea of planning his life, but an unexpected, brutal event calls this into question.
Travelling home on the Underground, Matt, a twenty-nine-year-old Londoner, is subjected to a brutal assault. As he struggles to come to terms with his ordeal, he is forced to examine the changing relationships with his partner Laura, his friends, family and Oliver, the benevolent stranger who took him to hospital. Chased by nightmarish memories and beset by doubts regarding identity, masculinity and how to live when long-cherished planning has failed and certainty vanished, he withdraws into paranoia, deceit and the need to ensure he is never a victim again. He questions the beliefs and politics that shaped him, their origins and whether they are still valid. Increasingly distant from the people around him and the compassionate individual he was, Matt realises that if he is to retain his humanity, he must forge a fresh outlook and a new way of living.
Has your book been published and how did you go about this?
It’s self-published as an e-book. I had help from a clever friend with the cover, then, having worked out how difficult it was for a non-techie to format, used the wonderful Jo Harrison. For the moment, it’s just available through Amazon.
Approximately how long did it take you to finish your book?
Around 3 years, but this was in a few separate chunks of time. This included several months of research.
What advice would you give aspiring authors?
Read a lot, write a lot, keep going. Also, try to work out what your goal is. Is it simply to write something good? Or do you want to be widely read? If it’s money you’re after, you should perhaps reconsider.
Do you use social media to promote your book, if yes then which social networks do you like the most?
I’m a novice, dabbling with Twitter and finding self-promotion a little tricky. Although it might seem contradictory for someone who has written a book, I find ‘look at me, look at me’ quite difficult. I’ve also joined a few forums and have found it useful and enjoyable to engage with readers.
Have you enrolled your book onto Amazon’s KDP Select and how have you found it?
Yes, I have. Although there’s a downside to the required exclusivity, I like the flexibility on pricing, royalties etc, the lending library and the all round ease of use.
If you had to do it all over again what would you do differently?
The main thing I’ve learned is that it is pretty much impossible to be too brutal when editing. At least as far as I’m concerned. Aside from that, well-known directives regarding ‘show not tell’ and not showing off can’t be repeated enough.
What books do you like to read in your spare time?
I tend to have 2 or 3 on the go at any one time. These will normally include some contemporary fiction, a classic (filling in gaps) and some non-fiction. The last of these is usually some sort of collected writings or a biography. I don’t read much at the lighter end of the spectrum, although I think I’d probably benefit from it.
What do you feel is the most important stage of writing a book?
Getting the raw material out, the initial splurge that makes the first draft, is obviously key, as without that you’re nowhere. But the honing, crafting, editing process is equally important. One without the other is pretty useless. Then there’s sleep; I find that I work out problems best when I don’t actively think about them. There’ve been countless times when I’ve woken up and thought, ‘Oh, that’s what I need to do.’
How did you go about designing the cover for your book?
I have a good friend who does a lot of work with graphic and other types of design. I talked with him about the themes of the book, the type of images I wanted to use and the tone I was after. He came back with 30 or so ideas, mainly stock images from people like Getty, and one of them jumped straight out. We tweaked it a little and then spent a couple of weeks haggling over fonts.
Are you writing or considering writing a follow-up to your book?
Yes, I’m working on another novel now and very much hoping it won’t take as long as the last one. It’s about lies.
Reviews of The Critical Path by members of my Review Group:
Late one night, on his way home after spending the evening with friends, Matt is savagely attacked on the tube. This accomplished first novel from D J Johnson chronicles Matt’s struggle to recover from the incident, to come to terms with it, and to deal with the many repercussions that stem from the violence.
I found this an absorbing and convincing read. Slow-paced and measured in its approach, it describes in great detail the thoughts going through Matt’s head and his initial breakdown is sympathetically and realistically portrayed. The author seems to have researched in some depth the effects of violent assault, and without applying any sort of trite cod psychology to his characters, offers the reader a believable and well-considered – and moving – portrayal of what actually happens when someone is turned into a victim through no fault of their own. I felt by the end that I had a greater understanding of the psychological impact of violent crime and a better understanding of why some people find it so hard to move on and put the incident behind them.
Structurally the book is very well composed, with Matt’s realisation that his future is in fact in his own hands coming almost exactly half way through, and thereafter it progresses steadily to the climax. The title seems both apt and intriguing – and needed a quick trip to Wikipedia to discover its relevance – and seemed to me to confirm that this is a well-thought out and considered novel and one that I wholeheartedly recommend.
At the time of writing this review it is a mere £1.02 for the e-book – less than a cup of coffee and much more nourishing! I only hope that a publisher will discover its merits and offer a publishing deal – D J Johnson deserves it, and the book merits a wider audience than it might get if only available as an e-book. I look forward to reading more of this author’s work.
I really enjoyed this first book by author Daryl Johnson.
An incredibly detailed account of the journey to recovery for Matt, a 29 year old Londoner who experiences an horrific attack on his way home from a birthday celebration. The story is so well told one could speculate that the author has first hand experience of such violence, such detail of Matt’s physical condition and his calculations about how he will deal with this feel excruciatingly real.
I normally read for about an hour per day, and mostly at bedtime. I have to say, I had many very late nights during the reading of this book as I didn’t want to put it down, and there was rarely a place where the story becomes less gripping in order for stopping to be easy.
I enjoyed his description of his Dad and their “relationship”, so very insightful it becomes obvious that Daryl has spent a lot of time observing human behaviour.
I hope this isn’t a one off, and that he can repeat this again and again, he will become an author who’s new releases I look out for.