I'd like to welcome Antony Johnston to the blog. I first met Antony at a get-together to celebrate 30 years of the CWA northern chapter, and discovered that among many other accomplishments, he is the author of Atomic Blonde, filmed with Charlize Theron. Quite something. To celebrate publication of his new book, The Tempus Project, he's kindly written a guest post which I find quite fascinating. Over to Antony...
Monday, 25 May 2020
Antony Johnston guest post - A Mysterious Love
'First of all, I’d like to thank Martin for offering me space on his blog, despite the fact we write very different books… on the surface, at least. But one thing unites us, and indeed almost all crime and thriller writers, and to be honest it took me some time to realise it about myself.
Writers are often blind to our own work. We spend so long fretting over details of plot, words, and continuity that it becomes difficult to step back and look at a story from the perspective of someone reading it for the first time. Throughout my career I’ve written many different genres, in many different media, and for the first ten years or so when asked I told people I wrote ‘adventure stories’. I love a good turn of phrase or thought-provoking situation as much as anyone, but my work is always primarily intended to entertain and excite, and I’m happy to occasionally sacrifice realism on the altar of derring-do.
But some years ago, now with a hefty body of work to my name, an interviewer asked me, ‘Why do you always write mysteries?’ My first instinct was to answer that I don’t, that only a few specific stories were about crime, while many of the others were… oh.
As I looked over my library shelf, where I keep a single copy of everything I’ve written, I realised he was right. That what united all these books, graphic novels, scripts, and even videogames I’d written were the mysteries locked within their hearts.
That led me to consider the stories I loved reading and watching, the books, comics, and movies I’d grown up reading, the works that had stuck with me through the years and to which I returned more often than any other. The Famous Five and Three Investigators books of my childhood, the Sandman and Sherlock Holmes stories of my youth, the Atticus Kodiak and Vurt novels of my adulthood.
Not all of these are crime, any many can definitely be classed as adventures. But more importantly, they’re all mysteries. Even without a corpse and a detective, a story can revolve around a question that must be answered to make a satisfying finish. William Gibson’s classic Neuromancer is essentially a sci-fi heist, but centred on the mystery of what shadowy figure hired the crew, and why. Cherie Priest’s The Family Plot is a ghost story, but at its core is the mystery of the spirit’s malevolent motives. Neither book could end without answering its central question. My shelves are filled with hundreds of such stories.
Then there’s my own work. Over the years I’ve written sci-fi, westerns, horror, fantasy, manga — and, yes, crime and thriller books. Almost every one is centred around an overriding question the protagonist/s are compelled to answer despite the obstacles in their way.
So why do I always write mysteries? The answer, I realised at last, was deceptively simple. I’m a firm believer in writing stories I’d like to read myself… and nothing keeps me turning the pages faster than not knowing something, trying to solve a puzzle before the protagonist, with the promise that all will eventually be revealed. For me there’s no greater praise than a reader telling me they gasped when a villain was unmasked, or they remained baffled (but compelled!) until the final resolution. That’s how I feel when I read a great mystery, and I know the satisfaction it brings me as a reader, so to hear it about my own work is wonderful.
Unlike Martin, I’m no historian. I’ll leave him to ponder why mysteries are so compelling to readers, where the modern form began, and to trace its roots as only he can. For me, it’s enough to have gained the self-awareness that to truly enjoy a book — both as reader and author — its heart must beat with a mystery to be solved. I’ll keep writing them if you all keep reading them.'
Antony Johnston is the creator of Atomic Blonde and The Exphoria Code, and hosts the podcast Writing And Breathing. His new Brigitte Sharp thriller The Tempus Project is mysteriously published on May 25.
Read more at https://antonyjohnston.com/