Monday, 24 December 2012

The Killing... of Daniel

Sarah Dobbs reading from 'Killing Daniel'. Below: Sarah, Debz and I.
I had a lovely time reading at the launch for Sarah Dobbs' novel 'Killing Daniel' in Salford earlier this month. I read from my story 'The Monolith' which features in Unthology 3 (a collection of stories from Unthank Books which also features a piece by Sarah). Fellow Unthologist Debz Hobbs-Wyatt also read her story 'The Theory of Circles'. Sarah then read a selection of excerpts from her book - a literary thriller - and kept the audience enchanted throughout. (You can read more about the launch at Sarah's blog here and Debz's blog here.) I wish Sarah the best of luck with the novel - go buy a copy and treat yourself to a cracking read.

In other news: I  was recently interviewed by Laura Besley over on her blog. Also, I'm just a bit happy about having been awarded a K. Blundell Trust Award from The Society of Authors for my novel-in-progress - a lovely surprise just before Christmas. Finally, here are links to those who took up the Next Big Thing challenge after I tagged them earlier this month: Gill Blow and Cassandra Parkin.
Happy Christmas!

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Salford reading

Sarah Dobbs has invited me along to read at the launch event for her book 'Killing Daniel' tonight (Thursday, December 13th) in Salford. Before Sarah reads from her novel, I will be reading from my story 'The Monolith', which features in Unthank Books latest anthology Unthology 3 (Sarah also has a story in the collection). Another Unthologist will also be reading at the event - Debz Hobbs-Wyatt with her story 'A Theory of Circles'. So do come along. The event takes place at the King's Arms, Salford, from 7.30pm. It would be lovely to see you there.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

On Kindle

The intro to the TLS review
My short story collection has been out for a year now - and, yes, it's flown by. It's been an interesting year. I've taken part in readings at literary festivals, been reviewed in the TLS (see right) and a number of other places, answered interview questions and tried to work on new writing (see my Next Big Thing answers below). And considering the anniversary, it's rather apt that my book is now available on Kindle (see Salt's special Christmas offer here for my collection and five other Scott Prize-winning books). So, if you haven't got hold of a copy - I understand it's being reprinted at the moment so physical stocks may be difficult to find - and you have a Kindle then you can download it now. Thanks to all those who've bought, read, reviewed and/or spoken to me about my book over the past 12 months - it's really nice to know you have, in the main, enjoyed it. Here's to whatever the next year brings!

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Next big thing

I've been tagged by Elizabeth Baines in a blog meme called The Next Big Thing. Read Elizabeth's post on this over at her excellent blog. I have to confess I've no idea what a meme is (and I'm happy to remain ignorant) but I'm very pleased to take part anyway! I therefore have to answer a series of questions on a recent or forthcoming book. I don't really like talking about current writing but, rather than chicken out and answer questions about the short story collection, I'm going to be brave - but very vague - and talk about my novel. Here are my answers:

Where did the idea come from for the book?
Possibly from watching too many science shows and documentaries.

What genre does your book fall under?

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
Paul Giamatti (who plays Miles in the film 'Sideways') seems to have a lot of soul and depth and there's a poignancy to his acting that is really endearing. I would like soulful actors - the more understated and low-key the better - so I wouldn't be overly bothered about who they are as long as they can make you feel something.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
I don't want to say too much but it is about the unearthing of a dark secret.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I would very much hope that I'd have an agent once it's finished.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
I've only just started it so I'm a long way off the first draft.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I think I inspired myself - and the science shows helped.

What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?
I will probably have to go on a field trip to do some research - I'm saying no more.

All that's left for me to do now is to pass the baton to five other writers so that they can answer the same questions - so may I introduce you to:

* Novelist and short story writer Ashley Stokes, whose short story collection 'The Syllabus of Errors' is forthcoming from Unthank Books;
* Fellow Scott Prize winner Cassandra Parkin, whose collection 'New World Fairy Tales' was chosen as one of New Writing North's Read Regional books for this year;
* My writing pal Gill Blow, who has just published a collection of short fiction called 'Split Seconds';
* Online writing chum Joel Willans, whose debut short story collection 'Spellbound' has just been published by Route (and must surely be in line for a cover of the year prize);
* And, finally, another online writing chum and fellow Willesden Herald shortlistee Adnan Mahmutović, whose collection 'How to Fare Well and Stay Fair' has just been published by Salt.

They will be posting their answers on Wednesday, December 12th so pop over and see them then to find out more about their recent or forthcoming work.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Interviewed by Roelof

Here's a new interview with me by Roelof Bakker, the founder of the press which recently ran the Negative Press London/Foyles Short Story Competition. My story 'Piano' won the competition and appears on the press's website here, so feel free to have a read of that if you haven't already. As well as running the press, Roelof is an artist-photographer so why not check out his own website here too? I really enjoyed having a look around at Roelof's work, in particular the 'Snow' video.

Friday, 9 November 2012

At the Dylan Thomas Festival

A picture in the green room at The Dylan Thomas Centre
It was great to read at The Dylan Thomas Festival in Swansea last Saturday (November 3rd) with fellow Edge Hill Prize shortlistees Rowena Macdonald and Zoe Lambert. After a lovely introduction from Dylan Thomas Centre Literature Officer Jo Furber, I was first up and read 'The Rings of Saturn', the last story in my collection. Rowena followed with sections from her story 'Brian, McMurphy and Sally Too' and Zoe came last with a reading of her story 'Down Duchy Road'. Instead of a formal q and a in the auditorium, it was nice to go into the bar with members of the audience and chat more informally - answering questions about our inspirations and backgrounds over a glass of wine or two. The three of us then had to dodge hailstones as we headed away from the centre and into the early evening. I kept an eye out for Mr and Mrs Pugh from 'Under Milk Wood' while I was there but sadly didn't see them. Perhaps next time, you never know...

Friday, 26 October 2012

Something nice

The cover of 'Still'

Something nice happened this week - I won a competition with my first ever piece of flash fiction.
I entered the Negative Press/Foyles short story competition for stories inspired by a photograph from artist-photographer Roelof Bakker's art project 'Still' (other photos and the stories inspired by them appear in a book called 'Still: Short Stories Inspired by Photographs of Vacated Spaces', which is available to buy now). Ten writers were shortlisted in the competition, including my good pal Gill Blow, and it was very nice to find out this week that I'd won. You can read the story and also see the photograph that inspired it on the Foyles website here. The competition was judged by Roelof Bakker, Foyles local marketing manager Lisa Bywater plus authors Nicholas Hogg and Evie Wyld (both of whom contributed to the 'Still' book). And Evie Wyld said some very nice things about the story too: ‘It was the voice that attracted me and Nicholas Hogg to this one. Her story is strong and understated at the same time.’
My piece, 'Piano', can be seen in the Foyles cafe gallery as part of a 'Still' exhibition until the end of November.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Unthology 3

Unthology 3, which features my story 'The Monolith', is now available here for pre-order on Amazon. The collection is described as 'lit up tales for dark times' and features work by writers David Rose, Philip Langeskov, Ashley Stokes, Sarah Dobbs, C. D. Rose and many more.

Here's a little more about it: 'Its eighteen stories describe sticky predicaments, testing choices and reluctant confessions: a publisher surveys the changing literary scene while losing an age-old mob war; a man finds himself trapped by his own perfectionism in a forbidding meat-processing factory; a strange black monolith appears in a back garden somewhere in the north of England.'

Friday, 21 September 2012

An interview and other news

Rachel Connor
I'm interviewed by writer (and wonderful cook) Rachel Connor over here today as part of her 'Literary Sisters' series. I know Rachel from when I attended an Arvon course at Lumb Bank a couple of years ago (where she works) and she welcomed us all with the most delicious cakes. Being a huge cake fan, friendship was inevitable really. Anyway, have a read and leave a comment to be in with a chance of winning a copy of my book too. While you're there have a look at the other 'Literary Sisters' (writers past and present) and why not buy a copy of Rachel's novel 'Sisterwives'? I really enjoyed it - it's an intriguing insight into the lives of two women who live in an isolated religious community and are married to the same man. There's some beautiful language in the book and I found it be quite a page-turner as I wanted to know how the difficulties the women faced were going to unfold. It would be worth keeping Rachel on your radar too, if she isn't already, as she is set to have afternoon play on Radio 4 in the future. Very exciting indeed.

In other news: I'm holding a short story workshop in Hebden Bridge on Sunday, October 14 as part of the Writers' Roadshow during the Calderdale Readers' and Writers' Festival (Rachel is also holding an event as part of the festival). You can find out more here and book a place.

Also, I'm going to be reading with fellow Edge Hill Prize shortlistees Zoe Lambert and Rowena Macdonald at The Dylan Thomas Festival in Swansea on Saturday, November 3 - details here.

Finally, I have a story in the forthcoming Unthology 3 from Unthank Books (due out November) and I'm very excited to be alongside writers David Rose, Philip Langeskov and Sarah Dobbs in that. (Sarah's novel 'Killing Daniel' is also out from Unthank soon.)

Friday, 24 August 2012

‘Up here, we're fierce friends with the sea’ – an interview with Jen Campbell, author of ‘The Hungry Ghost Festival’

Today I'm talking to Jen Campbell, the author of the bestselling 'Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops' and also, now, 'The Hungry Ghost Festival' – her first collection of poetry, which has just been published by The Rialto.

AJ: Hi Jen, thanks for talking to me. Congratulations on The Hungry Ghost Festival, which I found to be a really engaging and poignant collection of poems. Can you tell us a little bit about how the collection came about and how long you worked on it for?

JC: Thanks, Andrea! I think the poems span over two years, when you look at them from start to finish. I didn’t deliberately set out to write a collection about the north-east, and my childhood, but I began to notice that the poetry I was writing tended to fall into one of two categories: one of those was a nostalgic/north-east/childhood/sea-memory type, and the other concerned freak shows, deformity and identity. The latter’s a longer collection I’m working on at the moment.

‘The Hungry Ghost Festival’ is not about what actually happened when I was younger; it's often not even about real places. It's about misremembered and strange things. It's about girls praying to The Angel of the North. It's about the idea of a mermaid born in the river Tyne. It's about another girl who's bullied for being a 'real-life mermaid.' It's about Chinese lanterns, teenagers at the beach, and a family who run a sacred farm. It's about lots of things.

AJ: ‘The Hungry Ghost Festival’ is a Chinese festival which is held on a night where it is believed the boundaries break down between the living and the dead (and the dead visit the earth looking for food and entertainment). In your collection you explore a similar idea with the past and the present, but in your hands memories of childhood and childhood events become magical, almost fairytale-like, and we even see fragments of fairytales and children’s rhymes appearing in some poems. In ‘When We Found The Tide’, we think of the owl and the pussycat with the line ‘That this water is the sea and the lawn our pea-green boat’. And in ‘Gambit’ you mention ‘trailing breadcrumbs’. Can you talk a little more about fairytale and folklore as inspirations in your work?

JC: I hold my hands up; I am enthralled by fairy tales, especially the sordid pasts most of them seem to have. I find it fascinating that we’re brought up with them when a lot of them have extremely dark connotations. I suppose that’s also part of it; we accept fairy tales when we’re younger; we accept Disney’s version of events. I’ll never forget the first time I read Peter Pan myself and realised that the Disney film is really not what Barrie had in mind. I’m talking about Hook being ‘obsessed’ with Wendy; I’m talking about Tink stumbling home from orgies (yes, orgies). I don’t remember that in the animated film, ha! So, yes, I suppose I associate fairy tales with growing up, and looking back and seeing things slightly differently, which is what this collection is all about, too. Mermaids and selkies feature in this collection a few times; growing up by the sea meant I was especially interested in folklore associated with water.

AJ: The collection has a strong sense of place, being set, on the whole, in the Newcastle area. There is the Angel of the North, of course, and the speech (‘bairn’) and, for example, in ‘Written in my 1999 Diary: Newcastle Futures’, there are the lines: ‘Wind farms/of hands which turn but don’t make bread’ (a beautiful image by the way). Can you talk about the importance of place in your work?

JC: I find it easier to talk about places and things I’m now distanced from. I think most of us find that, perhaps because the feelings associated with those things have had time to settle. Whenever I’ve tried to write about something happening now, something I perhaps haven’t come to terms with yet, it all gets a bit angst-y and, well, it’s not very good. All my family still live in the north-east, so I do go back and visit often, and I feel a strong connection with the place. I never used to like the Angel of the North (we called it ‘Old Rusty’), but my relationship with it has changed somewhat, mainly because I feel like it’s now a symbol that welcomes me home.

AJ: Water is very present in the collection – the sea, mermaids, fish, starfish, seagulls. Do you feel you have a strong connection to the sea, especially with regard to childhood?

JC: I went swimming a lot when I was younger, but I don’t think that’s why I feel such a strong connection with the sea and water. I used to walk along the coast, as a teenager, and write about it. One of my first published poems, when I was thirteen, was about a love affair between the sea, and the shore. I have a lot of respect for it; the power that the sea has, and I love the way that you can walk along the same bit of coast and it’s never the same to look at. I also, bizarrely, feel some connection with it because I have ectrodactyly. That’s ‘Lobster Claw Syndrome’ by it’s rather coarse nickname.

AJ: The language in the collection is beautiful – unusual and striking. For example, in ‘Angel Metal’ you say winter scarves over faces ‘catch our breath/like cloth balloons’, or in ‘Like a Fish Out’ there’s ‘sun light-bulbing on a netball pitch’. Have you always loved being inventive with language?

JC: Yes. As far as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be a writer (apart from a very brief period when I was seven and I was utterly convinced I wanted to be a lollipop lady). Because of the afore mentioned ectrodactyly, I spent a lot of time in hospital when I was younger and devoured book after book. I was told I wasn’t going to be able to physically write, so I stubbornly disagreed and vowed to write more than anybody else. That’s how I fell in love with words: practise, lots of reading, and stubbornness.

AJ: I found some of the poems to be quite moving. In ‘The Angel’, which relates to the Angel of the North, the final lines really caught my attention: ‘Her arms reach out to touch the sky./I think she does not touch it.’ When I read this I felt a sense of sadness, of things being unattainable, of dreams not being reached. Is this poignancy something you’re aware of in your work?

JC: I’m glad you found the poems moving. As for my awareness of unattainable things, I’m not aware of dreams not being reached, but definitely of a sense of loss. However, whilst the collection is about the riverside and rumours in the hills, and falling in love with someone you're not supposed to be found with; it's also about whatever you, and other readers, want it to be about. Poems are like birds; you’ve got to let them fly.

AJ: Thanks for talking to me and good luck with the collection.

JC: Thank you!

* Jen Campbell, 25, grew up in the north east of England, and graduated from Edinburgh University with an MA in English Literature. She now lives in London where she runs an antiquarian bookshop. Her first book, ‘Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops', was a Sunday Times bestseller, and her first poetry collection, ‘The Hungry Ghost Festival’ is published by The Rialto.
* To watch Jen read a poem from her collection, click here. Follow her on Twitter, go to her blog, buy 'The Hungry Ghost Festival' (or here for a signed copy), or click here for more on 'Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops'.