Cult Q & A: Jonathan Whitelaw

Jonathan Whitelaw tells us about his new book, the devilishly good sequel to Hellcorp.

Jonathan Whitelaw is an author, journalist and broadcaster. His new book, The Man in the Dark, the thrilling sequel to the bestselling HellCorp is published this week by Urbane Publications. Here’s what it’s all about…

The Devil’s back – and he’s STILL not had a holiday. There’s another mystery to solve – a woman kidnapped by terrorists and the world trying to find her. While he hates doing God’s bidding, The Devil can’t resist trying to put one over on Him. But nothing is EVER that simple. While the Devil helps the London cops crack the case, there’s trouble in the Underworld. And two of humanity’s greatest backstabbers – Brutus and Cassius – are sharpening their knives with an eye on stealing his crown. It’s a race against time to find the girl, be the bad guy and maybe stop the apocalypse.

Tell us a little about yourself and your background?

I’m an author, journalist and broadcaster. After working on the frontline of Scottish politics, I moved into journalism. Subjects I’ve covered have varied from breaking news, the arts, culture and sport to fashion, music and even radioactive waste – with everything in between. I’m also a regular reviewer and talking head on shows for the BBC and STV. My new book is The Man in the Dark – a sequel to the bestselling HellCorp. My debut novel was the critically acclaimed Morbid Relations.

Who did you want to be when you grew up?

It was less of a person and more of a thing. I really, REALLY, always wanted to be a Ghostbuster. I remember watching the Real Ghostbusters cartoon at maybe the age of 2 or 3 and I was absolutely hooked. So it was the original movie, the sequel (which isn’t as bad as all that) and all the toys, lunchboxes, the works. I always remember the montage scene in the first film when they’re on the rise and going out to calls all over New York and thinking – yeah that’s for me! The irony is, of course, that I’m a big cowardly custard.

So yes, I think I always wanted to be and still do, want to be a Ghostbuster.

What has your journey as a writer been like? When did you decide to become a writer?

I don’t think there was a single moment where I decided it was what I wanted to do. I always used to write stories, even when I was in primary school. It was usually for my action figures and Lego etc – scribbling out little scenarios and then acting them out.

Then in secondary school I continued to write. I wrote my first novel-length piece when I was 17 before continuing at uni. I kept working on a couple of ideas until my first book – Morbid Relations – was picked up and came out in 2015. And from then on in I’ve not really looked back.

Tell us a little about your latest book. What’s it about?

The Man in the Dark is the follow-up to last year’s HellCorp. And it once again sees The Devil investigating a mystery. While last year it was the death of a man who took 40 years to die, this time it’s a woman who’s been kidnapped by an international terror cell. But while Old Nick is saving the day – Brutus and Cassius (yes THAT Brutus and Cassius) are plotting to overthrow him in the Underworld.

Which famous person, living or dead would you like to meet and why?

This is a tricky one. There are so many, living AND dead.

But I’ve always fancied picking the brains of the late, much missed Iain Banks.

He was such a fantastic writer, so very talented across multiple genres. For my money – Espedair Street remains one of the very best coming of age novels of all time.

Being a writer and a journalist I’ve had the privilege of meeting a lot of fantastic, brilliant, talented and generally nice egg writers and people – which is great.

But I would sorely have liked to have met Mr Banks. A brilliant talent and a wonderful person by all accounts.

What do you consider to be the single greatest piece of television ever?

I’ve got two answers for this – which I know is cheating as it’s meant to be SINGLE. But hear me out.

The single greatest MOMENT of TV still remains THAT famous scene of Del Boy Trotter falling through the bar. I know it’s an obvious choice and one that’s loved by so many people.

For me though, it’s such an immaculate, clever, perfectly pitched moment of comedy that it really was lightning captured in a bottle. And something that, while it’s totally slapstick in nature, is so very funny for so many reasons.

Whereas the single greatest greatest piece of television – as a whole – has to be Only Connect. I mean, what a show. There’s everything in there. It’s not just a quiz, it’s a quest – one to find out just how clever you are (or not in my case) taken through the trials and trivialities of quite literally everything under the sun. Marvellous stuff.

Monty Python: is it funny?

Yes and no.

I’ve always found it incredibly funny and clever as a whole. But it’s not all my taste.

I love the movies – even The Meaning of Life which has its critics and quite rightly too. The TV show I can take or leave in huge chunks.

What was the last film that you watched?

I recently rewatched Bohemian Rhapsody – the Freddie Mercury biopic.

Big, bombastic and just a great big fun night out at the movies when my wife and I went to see it in the cinema.

And it’s not changed now it’s on home release. I’ve always been a bit skeptical when it comes to the Oscars as I’ve always found it as a bit of an old boys’ club when it comes to picking winners. But the Academy did a good job when Rami Malek got his Best Actor. He was spot-on with his performance. And while the timeline is all shot to bits for the band etc, it’s still a sweet, satisfying and enjoyable romp for one of the greatest musicians and performers of all time.


What book/s are you reading at present?

I’ve just finished Joe Abercrombie’s A Little Hatred – it’s the start of a new trilogy in the hugely popular First Law trilogy. I remain a massive fan of that series of books – I remember reading the second in the trilogy (Before They Are Hanged) on a beach in Santa Monica. And while it was at the height of summer – I was completely chilled by the events and imagery of Abercrombie’s work.

So as you can imagine, I was delighted when I was asked to chair the Glasgow leg of his launch tour for the book. They say never meet your heroes – and when you’ve got heroes like Joe’s in his books that’s easy to see why. But he was an absolute scream!

What film could you watch every day?

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Bar none, the single greatest movie that’s ever been made. There’s nothing I don’t love about that film. Again, lightning in a bottle, the stars aligning, quite literally, in front and behind the camera to make something very, very special.

I also have fond memories of being at Blockbuster Video and getting my dad to rent it every time we went in for about a year. He said “I could have bought you a copy by now and it would have been cheaper” – to which I always said “yeah but it’s not the same”. Good times.

Which record would you recommend and lend to a friend?

Funnily enough, this came up in conversation the other day there. And to my surprise, I was given a bit of an odd look. The record is Carole King’s Tapestry. For a bit of context – I’m a big rock and metal fan. I always have been, always will be. So to pick the bitter-sweet folk rock stylings of one of music’s most underrated performers as my go-to recommendation is a little… odd.

But it’s just a fantastic album. Every song on there is a stone-cold hit. Released in 1971 it also feels so of its time, it’s got that rich, warm glow of southern California that just oozes from your speakers. Give it a listen.

Which book would you save if your house was on fire?

I suppose I should say my own shouldn’t I? If you don’t want to risk the ouch, ouch burny-ness of a house fire for your work then it’s pretty uncouth.

However, I’m also acutely aware of how much that makes me sound like a complete arse-biscuit. So I’m going to say a beautifully bound hard-back edition of the Batman/Judge Dredd comics from the 1990s/2000s. I’m a big geek for both those characters and their crossovers are rare but perfectly well-formed. Again can’t recommend enough.

This was the first gift my wife ever bought me when we were first going out. So it’s both dear to me in content and sentimentality.

What’s your definition of what makes something cult?

This is a tricky one too. I wasn’t expecting this to be so hard!

I think anything that has a significant popularity, a dedicated following and a devoted fanbase but flies under the radar of the wider, popular culture. The strange thing is, we live in times where what 20-years ago a TV show or movie or book that would have been reserved to cult status – it’s now making a splash in wider circles.

Would anybody reading The Infinity Gauntlet comics in the early ’90s ever imagine that it would go on to form the backbone for the highest grossing movie of all time? Probably not. Yet here we are.

What are you working on at the minute? Do you have any upcoming projects?

I always have a number of projects on the go. I’ve got an ideas book that’s bursting with little thoughts and ideas for new novels, more HellCorp work and other bits and bobs. But to quote Jack Nicholson’s Joker – so much to do in so little time.

I have also just submitted a manuscript for the third HellCorp novel which is being considered by my publisher. And looking off into the distant future, the possibility of a fourth book in the series too. Very exciting stuff.

What’s the best bit of advice anyone has given you?

You can’t edit a blank page. Seriously, I really don’t think I’d get anything done if I hadn’t been given this bit of advice. It was an old university lecturer who passed on this information and it’s something I’ve used, quite literally, every day since.

One of the tricky parts about writing is that you have to write. And no author is able to spin out top notch work regularly. That’s why it’s important to just write.

What do you do to chill out?

I like to play football. I’ve been lucky to turn out for the Scottish Writers’ team and I normally play every week. I also like to make time for music, the theatre and the cinema when and where I can. As a full-time journalist along with my writing, I can normally combine a lot of this with work and play. Which is nice!

What would you like to be your epitaph?

Here lies Jonathan Whitelaw… and why not? (I’m also a huge Spinal Tap fan)

Is there anything unique about yourself that you would like your readers to know?

I can whistle in tune… apparently.

And while that’s clearly not a unique quality to have. If you’d heard me singing then you’d realise it’s quite an accomplishment!

We are at a bar, what are you drinking?

If you’re buying, I’ll take a pint of Guinness. Sometimes you just can’t beat a classic.

If it’s my round – we’re having tap water.

How can readers discover more about you and you work?

You can find me on tweeting my random thoughts, musings and book plugs on Twitter: @JDWhitelaw13 and on Facebook too:

And you can get my books from Waterstones, Foyles, Blackwell’s, Amazon – all good bookshops and a few bad ones too!

‘The Man in the Dark’ by Jonathan Whitelaw is out 26 September by Urbane Publications.

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