Meet an ALCS member: Catherine Johnson

08 September 2017

In this month’s member feature, we hear from Catherine Johnson, writer of YA fiction, as well as film and TV.

Who are you?

Catherine Johnson.

What do you write?

Novels and books for teens and YA, short stories for adults and young readers, TV, film and radio. I have also written for The Guardian. My last couple of books have been historical fiction: Blade and Bone, set in revolutionary Paris, and The Curious Tale of The Lady Caraboo, set in Regency England and based on a true story. I’m also chuffed to be in a brilliant new anthology from Stripes – A Change is Gonna Come, which features four brilliant debut YA writers.

I think social media has gone a long way to demystify agents and publishers. People can contact you and talk to you, and they’re mostly lovely.

Do you have a ‘day’ job?

I do some teaching for Curtis Brown Creative. But I have had lots of day jobs: mother, horse wrangler, bookshop assistant, professional knitter, usherette.

How useful do you find social media and/or blogging?

I wish I was better at it. I think all the cool kids are on Instagram and I am rubbish at pictures, I try so hard to be good! And I am afraid of my website. I know I haven’t updated for eons and it’s one of those things you wish you were on top of like accounts.

I used to blog with Mary Hoffman’s excellent joint blog The History Girls, which still is brilliant, but it’s hard to be new or interesting all the time. I am neither of those things, sadly.

How long have you been an ALCS member and how did you hear about us?

Oh, for years and years. I was first published in 1993 and I reckon it wasn’t long after that that I joined up. I think I heard via the Society of Authors. It’s hard to remember just how atomised all we writers were then. There was very little information sharing unless it was face to face. I think social media has gone a long way to demystify agents and publishers. People can contact you and talk to you, and they’re mostly lovely.

Writing freelance means one is constantly hoping ‘something will turn up’. I have been lucky that usually something does. And the ALCS income is a very welcome addition.

For what sort of uses of your work do you receive royalties from ALCS?

TV drama repeats (thank you), also radio plays. And from the books – sometimes they get used in schools, which is great. But I do hope the students who get to read any of my books in class don’t hate them. I had a massive problem with everything I read in school, just because it was school.

What is your most surprising source of ALCS income?

That’s a tricky one. I think I once wrote a short story for an adult anthology – a brilliant book IC3 The Penguin Book of Black Writing in Britain, which came out 17 (!) years ago. It was almost a forerunner of The Good Immigrant. That story turned up as teaching material for A Level English students!

How important are your ALCS payments to you as a writer?

They are useful – every bit of my income is useful. Writing freelance means one is constantly hoping “something will turn up”. I have been lucky that usually something does. And the ALCS income is a very welcome addition.

Are you aware of any potential threats to your ALCS income?

I think if I knew the future my head would explode. I’m terrified of the idea of doing my accounts four times a year. The other scary thing is that as with every other creative career there is less and less money all round and the opportunities for exploitation and working for nothing for exposure seem to multiply.

What does the future hold for you as a writer?

Lots, I hope! Being a writer is a bit like being a dairy farmer. If you’re not a super bestseller and you want to keep your head above water you have to diversify. So I have a couple of projects on the go… *taps nose secretly*.


Catherine Johnson’s most recent novel is Blade and Bone, published by Walker Books. It is the sequel to Sawbones, which won the Young Quills Award for historical fiction. Her YA novel The Curious Tale of The Lady Caraboo was shortlisted for the YA Book prize in 2016. She has also written for TV including Rough Crossings for BBC as well as Holby City. Her film work includes Bullet Boy, directed by Saul Dibb. Fresh Berries, a radio play for BBC Radio 3 was shortlisted for the Imison award and the Prix Italia.

She is a lifelong Londoner who lives in Hastings.


Picture © Lou Abercrombie