With the startling twists of Gone Girl and the haunting emotional power of Room, Mirrorland is a thrilling work of psychological suspense about twin sisters, the man they both love, and the dark childhood they can’t leave behind. We spoke with author Carole Johnstone about the inspirations for Mirrorland, her favorite audiobooks, and more!
“Mirrorland is a modern day gothic where every page brings a new surprise. A surprise which will have you wondering what is real and what isn’t in this unusual, scary and surprisingly atmospheric novel which touches on horrible abuse, a mother’s desperate efforts to save her children, love, betrayal and above all else the bonds between sisters–especially twins.”Nancy, Fiction Addiction
Please tell us a little bit about what inspired you to write this book and how this story took shape for you.
So many inspirations! I think a writer’s debut novel is always bound to be full of themes and obsessions that they’ve been thinking about for a long time. For years, I was always jotting down ideas for a novel about estranged twin sisters, a decades’ long love triangle, a mysterious and disturbing house, and a huge and terrifying secret. But I didn’t have anything resembling a detailed plot until I remembered something that had happened to me as a kid in my grandparents’ house in Leith, Edinburgh.
It was a big 200-year-old Georgian house and hugely eccentric—many of the elements of 36 Westeryk Road and even Mirrorland itself were lifted pretty much wholesale from my memories, and, in most cases, only slightly changed or embellished. At the very back of their house, there was a dark, cold, and forgotten room, and at its end was a vast wooden cupboard that was one of my favourite hiding places. I remember that there was a full-sized locked door in the back of that cupboard; I was a big fan of The Chronicles of Narnia and was always absolutely certain that one day that door would be unlocked and off I’d go to have a wonderful adventure.
Years later, when I mentioned the door to my mum, she told me that no such door had ever existed. And this was really the spark for Mirrorland: I became obsessed with how memories, particularly childhood memories, are made and all the ways in which they can be completely false. How fantasy becomes almost a form of magic. Because that imagination, that credulity, has the power to protect a child, even to save her life. Or shape what it will become.
I also have a lot of love for crime stories that are full of clues and misdirection and shocking reveals. I’ve been a huge Agatha Christie fan all of my life, and in the past I’ve also been commissioned to write Sherlock Holmes stories. I’ve always, always wanted to write a novel-length twisty whodunnit with big gothic undertones! The most satisfying thing for me as a writer is if I manage to completely change a reader’s mind about an event or a person, so that what they believed at the beginning of a book is entirely changed by the time they reach its end.
Twins were another inspiration, particularly Mirror Twins, who have identical but symmetrically opposed physical features and sometimes behaviours, and frequently report experiences of extrasensory perception. They’re such a fascinating subject to write about, and of course, as a plot device the possibilities are endless. From a personal point of view, my mum is actually an identical twin, and my husband is a fraternal twin, so I have some insider knowledge!
Also, did I mention, I love love triangles? So there was no way I wasn’t having one!
As to how the story took shape, I plotted it out to within an inch of its life before I even thought about writing it. I’ve been writing short stories for many, many years, but a novel—particularly one with lots of twists and turns, secrets and surprises—is a very different beast. I wanted so much to do the idea justice, so I plotted and researched for at least three months before I sat down to write Mirrorland. The first draft probably took as long again, and was then redrafted at least three more times before it was anywhere close to being ready for anyone else to read.
In two sentences or less, what’s something that might surprise Libro.fm listeners about your audiobook?
The audiobook is narrated by the Scottish actor, Katie Leung (who played Cho Chang in the Harry Potter movies). She’s actually from a town just a few miles from my own home town, so our accents are pretty much exactly the same!
Have you listened to your own audiobook? What struck you about the narration?
I love it. What struck me is that Katie is so much better at reading Mirrorland than I am! I do love listening to stories that are narrated by their authors, but I think actors can elevate an audiobook in so many different ways. I love how Katie is able to change how she speaks in different characters—it’s subtle but so effective.
Are you an audiobook listener? If so, what are some of your favorite audiobooks?
I do love to listen to audiobooks, generally while I’m doing a job I don’t want to be doing, so that they serve as a lovely distraction! I have so many favourites; these are just the first three that I thought of:
I read and loved the book, and the audiobook is wonderfully atmospheric.
One of my absolute favourite audiobooks of all time is Nightmares and Dreamscapes by Stephen King. It has such an amazing cast of narrators, including King himself—and, of course, the stories are just terrific.
I’m a lifelong fan of Agatha Christie (and Richard E. Grant!), and this audiobook is fantastic.
This is cheating a little, because I haven’t listened to it yet, but A Brief History of Seven Killings by the brilliant Marlon James is going to be my next listen. I completely adored the book and all of the patois, and can’t wait to hear how it’s narrated.
What have independent bookstores and/or booksellers meant to you personally and professionally?
So much. I love indie bookshops in the same way I loved libraries growing up. They’re just such warm, interesting, and welcoming places. Booksellers always take the time to listen to what you like before recommending so many wonderful books that you may never otherwise have known about. It sounds so cheesy, but as both a writer and reader, I’ve never felt more at home anywhere as I do in an indie bookshop!
Anything else to share with us?
Just to say such a huge thank you to Libro.fm and to any readers and listeners of Mirrorland. I hope so much that people enjoy it. I write stories to entertain people—it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.
Header photo by © Julie Broadfoot