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Gutter Bookshop owner Bob Johnston: ‘Lots of gay men can’t dance and have no sense of fashion, myself included’

The children’s author on losing his father, turning 50 and his favourite book of all time

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Bob Johnston and his dog, Sasha, who passed away last year and was the inspiration behind the dog featured in his new children's book, Our Big Day. Picture: Bob Johnston

Bob Johnston and his dog, Sasha, who passed away last year and was the inspiration behind the dog featured in his new children's book, Our Big Day. Picture: Bob Johnston

Bob Johnston and his dog, Sasha, who passed away last year and was the inspiration behind the dog featured in his new children's book, Our Big Day. Picture: Bob Johnston

Owner of Dublin’s Gutter Bookshop Bob Johnston has worked in the book industry for 30 years. The shop is a previous winner of the British Book Awards Independent Bookshop of the Year title. He lives beside the sea with his artist husband Leon McAleenan, their dog Jessie and cat Molly.

What’s your earliest memory?

The time Mum let us bring our pet rabbit, Pipkin, into the lounge to play and he ate the stereo speaker wires. I was about five.

When and where were you happiest?

I’m always happiest when I’m lost in a book. Reading has always been my way of relaxing and escaping the world.  

What is your biggest fear? 

 That I may have hurt other people through lack of consideration or thought.

What’s your least, and your most, attractive trait?

Least is a lack of patience with others. Most is my determination to never give up.

What trait do you deplore most in others?

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A lack of consideration for others.

What’s the first thing you’d do if you were Taoiseach?

Build social housing. Everyone deserves to have a roof over their heads.

What’s your biggest insecurity?

That I’m not a good person, even though I try.

Who would you most like to go for a pint with?

My best mate, Mark. We grew up together and have shared a lifetime of experiences. We’ll both be turning 50 this summer, so we’re all spending a week together in the Outer Hebrides. I can’t wait.

Which fictional character do you most identify with?

Piglet from Winnie-the-Pooh.

Favourite book of all time?

Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler.

What is your most treasured possession?

Our little cottage. It’s also the most expensive thing I’ve ever owned, and the bank still owns most of it.

What’s your guiltiest pleasure?

Gingernut biscuits. Lots of them.

What was the inspiration for your first book?

The story was inspired by our wedding. I met my husband, Leon, in 2001, and after the historic Irish marriage equality referendum in 2015, we were finally able to get married in August 2016. Our beloved dog, Sasha (pictured), passed away last year, but lives on as the inspiration for the dog, Bear, in Our Big Day.

When did you last cry, and why?

I cry all the time, at least once a week. I heard Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes by Paul Simon on the radio and it reminded me of my dad, who played that album constantly back in the 1980s. Dad died suddenly from liver cancer six years ago and I still miss him all the time.

Who would play you in a film of your life?

Paul Rudd.

Is there life after death?

No. Life is more than enough.

What’s the last TV show you binge-watched?

I am slowly working my way through Buffy the Vampire Slayer on Disney+.

What’s your favourite word?

Bed.

What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

That you’re gay and that’s okay.

If you could have a super power, what would it be?

To be a morning person. I’m in awe of anyone who can willingly get out of bed in the morning.

Next book to be read?

I am reading Gladys Mitchell’s classic crime series, The Mrs Bradley Mysteries. There are about 66 books and I’ve read 24.

What’s your most embarrassing moment?

I still cringe at the time I saw author and playwright Alan Bennett getting out of a taxi in London and said, “Oh, hello!” like he was an old friend, and he just looked at me in a quizzical fashion.

What’s the worst job you’ve ever done?

I worked in pottery factories in Stoke-on-Trent, and one job entailed standing by a hot kiln for eight hours a day continuously loading small, ceramic pegs into wooden boards. It’s how I imagine hell to be.

Tell us a secret...

Lots of gay men can’t dance and have no sense of fashion, myself included.

What song would you like played at your funeral?

Smalltown Boy by Bronski Beat. And I want everyone to dance to it.

Our Big Day by Bob Johnston and illustrated by Michael Emberley is available from O’Brien Press, €12.99


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