Friday 19 August 2011

Author Interview with Bert Johnston

Bert Johnston is an Author and Presbyterian minister who in his retirement has turned from the writing of sermons and articles on church life to the writing of fiction. He has just launched his second novel Sunrise in the Cloud Forest which explores the themes of ambition, trust and forgiveness.

Bert was one of the lovely people I met as a direct result of my Bagpipes & Bullshot launch on 1st April. He and his wife Betty were a great support on the day. I’m currently reading Bert’s new book Sunrise in the Cloud Forest on my Kindle. It’s such a great read, so I invited Bert to come over from Spanish Fort, Alabama, to tell us more about his writing.

Bert, can you tell us a little more about your book, Sunrise in the Cloud Forest?
Sunrise is primarily the story of Dr Matthew Landry, the founder and senior pastor of Harmony Temple in Mobile, Alabama and of Georgia Landry, his wife and co-pastor. Dr. Matt's great desire is to make the Temple the largest Protestant church along the Gulf Coast, but that goal and his marriage are threatened by the public confession of a woman who claims to be the pastor's lover. While a private investigator labours to prove the pastor's innocence, a wounded Georgia Landry flees to Costa Rica to carve out a new life for herself. But is Matt guilty or innocent? The couple's own sons, who are themselves divided in their religious loyalties, are divided on this question also. The future of a family, as well as the future of a great church, is at stake.

Tell us a little about yourself. How long have you been writing and was there any particular author or book that made you want to be a writer?
I have been writing ever since my fourth grade poetry was printed in the Wheeling (West Virginia) Intelligencer. In high school I edited my school’s weekly newspaper and aspired to be a journalist. My major life work has been that of a Presbyterian minister, and for many years, I was preoccupied with the writing of weekly sermons and church news letters. In retirement I wrote my memoirs, then my family history, and belatedly turned to fiction at the age of eighty when prodded by my oldest son to join him in National Novel Writing Month. My fiction writing has, so far, been only a five-year chapter in my multi-chapter life.

How much personal experience do you put into your novels and how much is research?
A lot of my personal experience as a young minister in rural Virginia found its way into Parson Campbell’s Breakthrough, my first novel. Sunrise in the Cloud Forest bears almost no trace of my personal experience, and required many hours of research, both online and off.

To plot or not to plot – as a writer how much of a planner are you?
In writing Parson Campbell’s Breakthrough, I began with a story line, let the story run away from me, and never looked back through its many turns, twists, and revisions. In writing Sunrise, I worked out a plot, a scene chart, a character time-line, and character profiles. There were, of course, changes and revisions, but only a dozen or so drafts this time, a number that reveals that even with planning I am a slow and picky writer. If I were to write another novel, I would plot and plan again as I did for Sunrise.

Do you have a favourite place to work?
Not just a favourite place, but almost my sole place: an easy chair with a computer on my lap, a dictionary at my right hand, and a revolving stash of books surrounding me.

Can you tell us what you are planning next or working on now ?
I have made a tentative beginning (a prologue) on The Canterbury Hall Tales, a contemporary take on Chaucer. These will not be travellers’ tales, but the stories of a half dozen or more people who like to spin yarns around their retirement centre dining table. I have no end in sight for this project. First, I must learn to write short stories, and then endeavour to translate them into Chaucer-style verse.

You can find out more about Bert on his website:

You can buy his books in either paperback or Kindle format from or

Parson Campbell's Breakthrough (2009)
Sunrise in the Cloud Forest (August 2011)