It feels like I’ve been building up to writing The Jump for a long time. Without ever making a conscious decision about it, it seems like I’ve been writing about suicide ever since I first got published. I recently found an old flash fiction story that appeared in a newspaper in 2006, and it was about a suicide victim washing up on a beach. More recently I’ve written other short stories dealing with the same subject matter, and my last novel, The Dead Beat, circled suicide without ever really gazing straight at it.
The Jump is my headlights-on-full-beam suicide novel. But there is a major problem with writing about suicide within a crime or thriller novel context. Crime writing almost always requires some form of resolution. It can be ambiguous, sure, but you have to throw the reader a bone of closure after all you’ve taken them through. But the thing about suicide in the real world is that you very often don’t get any resolution or closure at all. It just leaves behind a gaping hole where a person used to be.
So I wanted to write a book that somehow managed to wrestle those two extremes into a crime thriller. The Jump is set in South Queensferry, just outside Edinburgh, in the shadow of the Forth Road Bridge. It’s a suicide hotspot on the east coast of Scotland, but that’s not particularly well known because of reporting restrictions for journalists. It’s generally frowned upon to publicize suicides, in order to avoid copycat deaths. Twenty people a year throw themselves off the bridge, and it’s been there for fifty years. That’s a thousand people. Virtually none of them survive. Hitting the water at that speed is like hitting concrete.
I did a lot of research into suicide methods, trends and hotspots when I was planning The Jump. It wasn’t pleasant, but it felt like something I had to do, and I feel like that obsession has transferred over into the narrative. The Jump revolves around Ellie, a woman in her forties whose son has recently killed himself by jumping off the Forth bridge. When she finds another teenage boy about to do the same, she manages to talk him down off the edge. But rather than offering any resolution or redemption, that event opens an almighty can of worms, and Ellie and her family get sucked into a nightmare of violence and destruction.
Along the way she meets with conspiracy theories and police corruption, murder and cover-ups, but pervading it all is Ellie’s original sense of loss, the overwhelming grief of losing a child. With that in mind, it’s not exactly a happy book, but I make no apologies for that. Hopefully, though, it is uplifting in its own twisted way as well. At least that was the idea. Whether or not it has been successful is up to the reader.
The Jump by Doug Johnstone is out now, £12.99 (Faber & Faber)