Monday, February 18, 2013

Author Interview: Rembrandt Sings by Michael Johnston

Michael Johnston was nice enough to be interviewed.

1. Who or what inspired you to become a writer?

I have always written but the major influences were two. First, Dorothea Brande whose book "Becoming a Writer" tells anybody who wants to write how much of a commitment it is but, if one's willing, tells you how to do it. The other is simpler. At a writers' group one time, a speaker said, very simply, "A writer is someone who writes."

2. How long did it take you to write Rembrandt Sings?

It has taken me something like 30 years, yes years, to write "Rembrandt Sings" because the man I met in Carmel told me the nugget of information that grew into the novel which then went through at least 14 drafts.

3. While writing how many times do you go back and rewrite a plot?

For me the plot is constantly being revised as the book is being written so, as I write and rewrite, the plot is mutating slowly into its final shape just before it goes to the printer!

4. You run into a bookstore, where do you go first?

When I go into a bookstore I head for literary fiction and try and work my way along the shelves. I seldom get out without buying something.

5. How many books in a month do you tend to read?

Most of the time I'm reading a book a week but when I am very actively writing that can fall off for a while. Fortunately, reading is a relaxation as well as an addiction.
6. In all the books you've read. Who is your most favorite character and why?

Over many years of reading, my most favourite character has changed but usually comes back to Henry Morcar in Phyllis Bentley's 1945 book "The Rise of Henry Morcar" because, given its about a designer and manager in wool textiles who has a complicated domestic life, I identify with him!

7. State 5 random facts about yourself.

I have witnessed three hydrogen bomb explosions (and I'm still here). As a teenager, I interviewed the teenage Francoise Sagan, author of Bonjour Tristesse, for a programme I made for the BBC's Younger Generation Programme. Between us, my wife and I have 7 children and 7 grandchildren. At the age of 7, my father taught me morse code. I'd like to learn to speak Catalan.

8. Your favorite Genre?

My favourite writing genre is literary fiction.

9. What are you currently reading?

Currently I'm reading the last of the three Frank Bascombe novels by the American writer Richard Ford. The last, and best, is called "The Lay of the Land".

10. What is the best book you've read?

The best book I've read has to be four books, The Alexandria Quartet, "Justine", "Balthazar", Mountolive" and "Clea" by Lawrence Durrell where we have the same events presented from the point of view of the four people involved. It's brilliant writing and often very funny.

11. Any new projects coming up?

When I have finished my novel about the Border woollen industry in the last century, I want to turn to a non-fiction project about a "mission" I took part in, back in 1957. Not quite "now it can be told" but getting that way.

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


  1. Hello Sue
    Thank you for hosting Michael Johnston's book, Rembrandt Sings, today as part of his Virtual Book Tour sponsored by VAforAuthors and Pump Up Your Book.

    Having read his book, myself, I'm sure your readers will enjoy the story's twists, turns and surprises!


  2. It really feels like coming out of my writing shell to see my interview, book description and biog on your website. Very many thanks for having me. Come over and see me anytime. Regards, Michael


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