D.D. tells us that his creative journey with Disnaeland began in 2014, and was marred by writer’s block until the birth of his son in 2020. For this project, the symptoms of writer’s block were often external.

The idea of Disnaeland originally came from the early 2010s’ cultural fixation with the apocalypse and disaster fiction. The idea of writing an apocalypse that wasn’t so, well, apocalyptic was appealing to D.D. He wasn’t quite sure of how he’d execute it. He fixated on a paradox – we were so occupied with the apocalypse, yet we did not care to write fiction about stopping it, or creating something good from it.

And then, in 2020, the world had its own apocalypse of sorts. Mike tells us of a memory from February 2020. He was on a train, travelling through rain. Lands were flooding because of Storm Kiera and Storm Dennis, and people were all staring at their phones. The voice overhead told them all to report anything that looks suspicious. It occurred to D.D. that this scene would not be out of place in a dystopia novel. This reignited the spark for Disnaeland – it was not to be a book about building up to an apocalypse, it would be about surviving the one we’re already in.

His editor asked D.D. to write the book again, once it was done – something still wasn’t quite right. In the summer of 2020 his son was born, and that proved to be the final thing that shattered his writer’s block. There was a new urgency to Disnaeland, because the issues it explores wouldn’t only effect D.D., but also his son.

Ultimately, Mike’s journey to overcoming writer’s block was waiting for the right moment.

What if the end of the world is the best thing that’s never happened? Learn more about Disnaeland here and grab a copy here.

 

D.D. Johnston tells us about how he fleshed out his characters and gave them nuance in Disnaeland.

He admits that at first, his characters were mostly satirical. It was his editor that encouraged him to flesh them out. To create these characters, D.D. drew on aspects of himself – even the most heinous characters in Disnaeland are informed by parts of him.

He recalls that Gustave Flaubert, when asked who the eponymous character of Madame Bovary was based on, replied, ‘Madam Bovary is me!’ D.D. tells us it’s important to think sympathetically about unfortunate or unlikable characters.

There are several tools at an author’s disposal when it comes to creating characters. Using description and dialogue can convey personality.  Having your characters engage dynamically with the world around them is another vital step. If all D.D.’s characters responded to the apocalypse in the same way, they wouldn’t be rounded or fleshed out.

What if the end of the world is the best thing that’s never happened? Learn more about Disnaeland here and grab a copy here.

 

Disnaeland has taught D.D. Johnston that he’s unashamedly sentimental. This truth is at the heart of his not-so-wee novel.

He dwells on gentle moments, such as the last time his characters turn off an electric light. In short, Disnaeland taught him that he has a stubborn belief in the goodness and warmth of people.

Apocalypse fiction often presents people as cynical and savage. Through this lens, humans become barbaric without the confines of society. Your neighbours become your enemies, and they’ll kill you if they have to… or would they?

D.D. doesn’t deny our capacity of savagery and Disnaeland doesn’t shy from it either, but his novel does find an enormous capacity for kindness within people.

What if the end of the world is the best thing that’s never happened? Learn more about Disnaeland here and grab a copy here.

 

 

In this clip, D.D. Johnston explores the nature of writing in non-standard English, the way characters would actually speak.  a native of Edinburgh, he speaks about writing in a Scottish venacular, and its place in his novel Disnaeland.

Disnaeland is set in the fictional Scottish town of Dundule, but D.D. tells us this story is universal. It could be set in working class communities throughout the world. Ultimately, Disnaeland is a heartful message about humanity’s capacity for cooperation.

However, it  gains a unique power from its Scottish setting, and no better is this communicated than through the use of Scots dialect and accents. It’s very title, ‘disnae’ means ‘does not’. This world disnae work for the people, disnae bring them happiness or joy, and maybe disnae need to exist in this monstrous form.

D.D. tells us that unlike many regional dialects of the British Isles, Scots dialect has roots in a real written language, Scots. He could draw from standard spellings from this language to write Scottish vernacular. It’s a strong, beautiful language and D.D.’s thankful for the resources available to him.

What if the end of the world is the best thing that’s never happened? learn more about Disnaeland here

  1. D.D. Johnston’s Disnaeland is a rare beast of a novel: it takes the stuff of the apocalypse and makes you laugh. Dystopian stories, like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, lead readers into ever-darkening times. Disnaeland starts with the premise that life on earth is already pretty shitty: when the crisis comes, when the world’s power supplies cut off, what happens next? Here’s D.D.’s take: ‘The disaster in Disnaeland spurs the people of Dundule to grow and heal, find love and friendship, and briefly create something like Heaven on earth.’         So that’s our first pick of books from writers who find light in dark times. We asked D.D. Johnston to pick four others to which he feels close..
  2.  Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel. Although published back in 2014, this Canadian pandemic novel’s having a new lease of life with a TV version currently screening. It’s unusual – and similar to Disnaeland – in that it focuses on the decency and humanity of survivors of the apocalypse rather than on their barbarism (it’s also really quite good!).
  3. The Sunlight Pilgrims by Jenni Fagan. Again, this is a bit older (2016) but it’s a somewhat hopeful and tender (and fantastical) Scottish take on the edge of the world.
  4. How To Survive Everything (When There’s No One Left To Trust) by Ewan Morrison (2021). This is probably the closest – a Scottish novel narrated by a teenage girl whose survivalist dad is obsessed with a coming pandemic. Even features a gruesome amputation scene.
  5. I’d also mention Rebecca Solnit’s non-fiction A Paradise Built In Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise In Disaster (2010). It’s about how real-life disasters bring out the best in us: real-world public responses to disaster are characterised by “altruism, resourcefulness, and generosity”.

 

A fresh review of Kate Horsley’s Frankenstein sequel The Monster’s Wife. Many thanks to Jonathan Squirrell, an MA student on the creative writing strand at the University of Hull.

An excess of grease stalls Ronald Frobisher’s career. The fictional writer in David Lodge’s Small World is visiting a plate glass university when an oily academic applies cutting edge early-eighties technology to reveal that the most recurrent word in the author’s lexicon is ‘grease’: “the grease stained cuff, the greasy jam butty, his greasy smile.” Frobisher, on receiving this news, finds that “every time I wanted an adjective, greasy would spring into my mind”. Not so much writer’s block as impenetrable clogging ensues.
Hopefully Kate Horsley proves less sensitive than her imaginary counterpart when I suggest The Monster’s Wife drips not with grease, but with bodily fluids.
Blood, sweat and tears are not the half of it (although there are plenty of all three) this is a novel saturated with spit, piss, vomit and bile. If that sounds disgusting, it’s probably meant to be. This is after all, at its off-kilter beating heart, a horror story.
The splatter of human by-product is noticeable from the start, building to a crescendo during a laudanum-soaked nightmare where ‘sweat’, ‘retching’, ’spittle’ and ‘vomited’ pool together in a sticky single paragraph. If the tide ebbs thereafter, the theme never fully evaporates. ‘Tears’, ‘spitting’ and ‘sweat’ still permeate the final pages.

Kate Horsley

The Orkney Island setting is introduced in just such style, surrounded by a sea that “Spewed freezing water”, “Retching to rid itself” of “disgusting things”, soaking the natives “pished through” – natives pished on grog, using pish as an expletive and even pishing on each other. An advert from Welcome to Scotland this is not.
And yet, Scottishness is worn on the novel’s sleeve. There are crofts, Kirk and burn, for farms, church and stream; and on the mainland a parting is prefaced with the lament “I’m greeting like a bairn. I cannae stand to leave you”. Irvine Welsh may be resting easy, but just as the overflow of bile highlights the visceral nature of Horsley’s work, so too the language roots us with the characters in their home. And it is this which provides the contrast to the true source of the horror – the outsider.
It is no spoiler to name him –the book does so on its very first page – Frankenstein. For The Monster’s Wife is one of those books that seeks to read between the lines of classic fiction and show us the story from another vantage. Clearly re-workings and retellings are in vogue at the cinema (exhibit A: 2015’s Victor Frankenstein) and in literature: Horsley herself notes in her interview with the Barbican Press that she is part of “the zeitgeist”, and references the Doctor Moreau inspired The Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepherd as an example. Perhaps the fashion will spread further and engulf the arts. I for one would like to see a painting which explains what Munch’s screamer is so upset about.
Or would I? Part of the attraction of art may be that it stimulates our imagination, perhaps no art more so than literature. Understandable then that writers (who are of course readers themselves) should be inspired to fire out of somebody else’s canon. But reading can be an intimate process, and a personal one. Such works have as much chance or jarring as of succeeding.
Frankensteinophiles have had to become used to, perhaps even immune to, vast quantities of re-imaginings. On top of a dozen or so books there have been comics, radio adaptations, a myriad of television appearances, and perhaps fifty cinematic monsters – without counting the parodies. Horsley herself was inspired by the recent stage version from Danny Boyle:
“It was a mesmerizing production and the first time I’d seen the monster portrayed as vulnerable and damaged rather than ploddingly violent, as he is in some of the (albeit wonderful) early twentieth-century creature-feature interpretations.”
Horsley’s vision gives us the tale as seen through the eyes of Oona, an orphaned and isolated island girl, led into the macabre world of madman and monster when she is brought to Frankenstein as his maid. She comes to the role through May, her sole confidant on the island. The two have an inseparable history, with Oona resentful of any sign of their growing apart through adolescence. Loneliness has left her with a propensity for intense connections, and her links with May are binding beyond metaphor, but soon her feelings are being aroused by others too, and her passionate loyalty tugged in new directions.
Vulnerable, spiky, courageous Oona may be a loner in her world, but she’ll defy you not to be sucked in, to become a part of her. She might not be our narrator, but the prose follows in her dogged steps. We live with her, breathe with her, share the faltering of her heart condition, and hope she will not fall under the monster’s spell.
Who is the monster? That would be telling. The duality of Frankenstein, which in popular culture has come to mean the creature almost more so than the creator, is fully explored; but there are others too: abusive men, and that very twenty-first century boogie man, the paedophile.

Jonathan Squirrell

More than anything however, this is a book where words carry a sting. Just as Oona feels an image can prickle her flesh “like one of Granny’s brushwood hidings” so the language rubs us raw. Yes, there are deft touches – describing a character in a Frankenstein spin-off as a “man of parts” brings a wry smile, the description of “a bolt of pain shot through her neck” does too, albeit accompanied by a wince.
Horsley might secretly enjoy the wince. Perhaps that is what all the retching, vomit and bile are meant to induce. Even so, fingers (and any other spare body parts) crossed she never succumbs to Frobisher’s fate – it would be a loss if this writer were ever blocked.
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