BOOKS Q&A: Milly Johnson

Bestselling and award-winning author Milly Johnson tells us about the books that made her guffaw, caused her heart to soar, and more . . . 

Photograph of Milly Johnson, smiling

Milly Johnson is the author of 17 published novels, 4 short story ebooks, a book of poetry and a Quick Reads novella. She is also a poem and joke-writer, a newspaper columnist and a seasoned after dinner speaker. 

Name a book that . . .  


 . . . inspired you as a child

The Enchanted Wood by Enid Blyton. I loved her books, which my grandparents used to buy for me. Her books gave me a love of reading which has endured all my life. I fell into her world and it made me want to write books that other people could fall into. 

. . . inspires you now

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.  A book impossible to tire of. I have read it so many times and am reading it again in these strange times for its blissful familiarity.  It has everything in it:  a heroine to identify with, a perfectly imperfect hero, a love rival, revenge, a fabulous house, a splodge of the supernatural and a wonderful happy ending. 

. . . surprised you

Persuasion by Jane Austen. I wrote a sub-standard essay at sixth form for homework and my English teacher held me back and asked why that was.  I told her that Jane Austen was boring and she told me that I was ‘reading her all wrong’. She explained how Austen was taking the mick out of her characters and asked me to go away and read it again with the word ‘irony’ at the forefront of my brain. So I did - and I bless her for it. So much so that Persuasion sits on the first place podium with Jane Eyre for my all-time favourite book. It makes my heart soar. 

. . . makes you cry 

The Fifteen Streets by Catherine Cookson. My aunts used to bring me their read Catherine Cookson books down when they visited from Glasgow and I grew to love Dame Catherine’s sagas, but this one remains my favourite. It’s joyous and full of plot and lovely but I sobbed like a baby whilst reading it, and then sobbed tears of happiness at the end. 

. . . makes you laugh 

The Tent, The Bucket and Me by Emma Kennedy, which is an autobiographical account of the author’s family’s disastrous camping holidays in the 1970s. I didn’t just laugh at this book, I guffawed. I’ve since bought it for many of my friends as presents. 

. . . makes you think until your head hurts

1984 by George Orwell. The more I have read this book, the less far-fetched it seems and more portentous. I read it again fairly recently and it set my nerves on edge with fear.  I read it comparing what Orwell thought of a disastrous world to what we actually have now, and it was like a brain overload. 

. . . you’ve always meant to read but never quite got around to 

Dr Zhivago by Boris Pasternak.  I loved the film and I thought I’d love the book, bought it, dipped into it but found the writing a little dry for my taste.  

. . . you couldn’t finish 

I shan’t give the title because it would be unfair, but a recent much-feted literary recent novel landed in my lap and when I dived in, it was to find it employed no punctuation. A gimmick that didn’t work for me and got in the way of the reading of it.  It actually smacked of pretentious twaddle, an ‘aren’t I clever’ smugness and the quality just wasn’t enough to make me stick with it. Not for me. It went in the charity bin. 

. . . you recommend to others 

I recommend so many books to others, but a friend of mine has just written a book called Maybe One Day (Debbie Johnson) and I read it with her voice narrating in my head. I’m a little biased because she is a dear friend, but it’s the most beautiful book, ploughed with emotion and I was in bits at the beginning, the end and plenty of times in the middle. In-between laughing, I hasten to add.  I usually keep quiet about books I haven’t enjoyed and extol books I have enjoyed to everyone - and this is one of those books. 

. . . made you miss your bus/tram/train stop 

I was hurrying to get to the end of a chapter in this book because I didn’t want to put it down and almost missed the chance of getting off the train as by the time I got up, new passengers were surging on.  The Flight of Cornelia Blackwood by Susan Elliot-Wright.  What a beautiful, haunting book full of crow imagery and seeped with darkness. I thought it was a stunningly crafted masterpiece. 

Further reading:

Inspire members: borrow Milly Johnson titles in audio book for free. 

Milly's latest novel My One True North is out now in paperback.