Friday 11 October 2019

Interview with Neil Campbell

 Neil Campbell is from Manchester. He has appeared three times in Best British Short Stories. He has two collections of short fiction published Broken Doll and Pictures From Hopper. His debut novel, Skyhooks was the first in his Manchester Trilogy and has been followed by Zero Hours and Lanyards in 2019.  
 Q: How do you know when the writing is going well?

NC: When I am totally immersed in it and oblivious to the word count it feels like it is going well. Sometimes, working in cold flats, I only realised I was freezing cold once the writing was done. I think Hemingway said being cold and hungry is good for a writer. But that's bollocks.

Q: What was the inspiration for your Manchester trilogy?

NC: The inspiration for the first book, Skyhooks, was the autobiography by the footballer Paul Lake called I'm Not Really Here. The trilogy was more generally inspired by autobiographical fiction: Jack Kerouac, Charles Bukowski, John Fante, and more recently Karl Ove Knausgard. I wanted to write novels in a Manchester voice, keeping those novels as clear as possible from literary techniques and devices. Novels my mate Scoie would enjoy reading. Above all I wanted to avoid doing any research. That way I could be certain that the novels were written from inside and remained true to me. I'm aware of the counter argument, and the other routes open to me as a novelist, some of which I will continue to explore. But novels rooted more obviously in lived experience remain my favourite.

Q: Did you have any difficulty in getting the first book of the trilogy published?

NC: No. I sent it to Salt Publishing, the same people who had published my short stories in the collections Broken Doll and Pictures from Hopper. Although that was ten-years after I'd first written a novel. In those ten-years I only wrote short stories. Then I wrote a trilogy of novellas that I ended up putting together as a novel. So, getting it published was easy, but writing it was a little convoluted.

Q: How do you bring your stories to a close?

NC: I want to leave the reader thinking about the story beyond its end. For that reason, I much prefer open endings. Great stories merit repeated readings and for me there's no point in re-reading a story that gives you the answers at the end. That's not to say you can't have a neat ending. This morning I read a story by Wendy Erskine. It starts with people being locked out of their homes for not paying the rent and ends with the protagonist locking her jailbird mother out.

Q: Between the first book of the trilogy and this latest book, Lanyards, have you changed your way of writing? 

NC: I always try to find the right voice for each novel and short story. The syntax gets slightly more complex as the trilogy progresses, but only slightly. Generally, I take more time over things now. I was in too much of a rush to move on before. But I've always got things on the go: novels, short stories, flash fiction, poems. Writer's block is an academic construct. 

Q: How would you define "the writer's life?"  

NC: Sacrificing financial well being via other routes in order to give it your best shot / looking from the outside in.      

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