SHE believes she writes better than she speaks and despite that and stage fright, psychological thriller author Paula Johnston is about to give a talk at her local library as part of Book Week Scotland.


Since self-publishing her debut novel The Lies She Told, Ms Johnston has seen her career take off. Fearful of being a one book wonder, she is now immersed in a new character for her second novel and has been signed by an agent.

Despite her new her found success, stepping out to an audience at Blantyre Library however, will still be a daunting prospect for her.

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“To be asked to take part in Book Week Scotland in the town where I went to high school is an honour. I’ll be reading a section from The Lies She Told. I love writing, but I hate public speaking,” Ms Johnston said. “I do get bad stage fright, but it is a case of putting on a mask to get through it and I almost become another person. I will be very anxious but I doubt that anyone will be able to tell.”

In less than a year Ms Johnston has self-published her first novel, become a full-time author and signed to an agency. She is now working on her second book which deals with several issues some of which she has experience of.

Her debut novel, The Lies She Told, is a psychological thriller loosely based on real life experiences of the online dating world, but Ms Johnston says she has elaborated somewhat on it for the novel.

HeraldScotland: A proud moment for Paula Johnston with her book in Waterstone'sA proud moment for Paula Johnston with her book in Waterstone's (Image: Paula Johnston)

However, her second book is more personal and feels more she is more vulnerable with it.

“I think my writing has changed slightly in the way that I am saying what I want to say rather than what I think people want to read,” Ms Johnston said. “I do feel vulnerable with this book. It is a totally different feeling as I am bearing my soul quite a bit.  To be able to talk about certain issues in the book means I have had experience of them and that is something I am happy to do. I don’t think mental health issues should be something we are ashamed to speak about.”

While the title remains a secret, her new character is Cassie Torrance and the book deals with important topics which as mental health, spirituality, emotional abuse in a relationship and women supporting women.

She added: “It follows Cassie who is struggling with her mental health. She is looking for a lifeline, sees an opportunity and decides to roll with it but doesn’t realise what she is getting herself into. She meets a man who she believes is going to help and dives in head first, but as with the first book there are twists.

“I also suffer with a mental illness and I find myself doing things that Cassie has done so it is a way of me getting things down on a page and speaking openly about depression, anxiety. It is about explaining how that feels so that a reader really understands that they are not alone in their thoughts. For Cassie it is a case that she is very unaware that she is struggling.

“I was also diagnosed with a stomach condition which left me not knowing how I was going to feel each day when I wake up and that has caused me a lot of extra stress. I worked full-time in managerial roles in retail and when I took unwell I didn’t know what my purpose was or what I was capable of. I was scared to take risks in new jobs until I knew what I could do, so I wanted to do something I enjoyed and I thought let’s try writing.”

HeraldScotland: Paula Johnston's debut thriller The Lies She ToldPaula Johnston's debut thriller The Lies She Told (Image: Paula Johnston)

Since her first novel came out the past year has been somewhat of a whirlwind.

She added: “The whole thing just doesn’t feel real. I’m not sure it has hit me that I am doing this and I have achieved it, but maybe I am too reserved and feel let’s not celebrate this too soon.

“I did feel the pressure and I was scared that it was going to be a one hit wonder, but for a self-published book it did so well. I still can’t believe how many people have read it, reviewed it, and spoken about it. I’ve sold around 10,000 copies which is amazing as I never even thought 10 people would have read it. And it was very surreal when I saw my book in high street book stores – that was the dream.

“I did wonder if people would like a second book. I started writing it and at that time I was messaged by a publishing house and asked me if I had any further work to show them. I was stunned as that is very rare for that to happen as I didn’t have an agent. I found an agent with Darley Anderson Literary Film and TV Agency and here we are.”

Ms Johnston had written the first few chapters when she got in touch with the agency and they were very interested.

“I spoke to them and there was no hesitation for me and I just knew it was right. My agent Jade encourages me and keeps me going. I always fantasised about my own book being in a library or a book store and now my novel is there among those of authors I have read. To know that you are a part of that it is really special to me.”

It was after becoming unwell in 2019 that Ms Johnston began to put pen to paper with the beginnings of a story she wanted to write and just months later in 2020, the country was plunged into lockdown. And she says writing was a saviour for her to have something to focus on at the time.

Writing was something that Ms Johnston wanted to do some a young age and would often be found with her nose in a book. It’s why she is supporting The Herald’s Christmas Appeal which is in partnership with the Scottish Book Trust to help make sure children and families visiting food banks this winter are gifted with a brand new book they may otherwise not receive.

“I read at home all the time and would get lost in a book. I think the appeal is a great thing,” she added.

Earlier this week it was revealed Booker prize winning author Douglas Stuart was adapting Shuggie Bain for a series which will appear on BBC, and adapting The Lies She Told is something Ms Johnston has already given some thought to.

“It has been discussed with my agency. A lot of people do tell me The Lies She Told needs to be a series and it is something I would watch. If the readers enjoy it then I think they would watch it, so who know what’s next.”