Read Raw Ltd
Promoting Creative Writing in Scotland
I'm Karen Campbell, and I'm a Scottish writer, based in Glasgow. I graduated with Distinction from Glasgow University's Creative Writing Masters in 2003, and have since published two novels: The Twilight Time (Hodder 2008) and After the Fire (Hodder 2009) with my third book Shadowplay due out this May. Last year, I won Best New Scottish Writer at the inaugural Scottish Variety Awards. You can find out more about me at: www.karencampbell.co.uk
What first inspired you to write?
I've always written - even as a wee girl I was forever 'making books' (with bad felt-pen drawings and squint, stapled pages). I think it helps me try to make sense of the word - or, if you can't make sense of this world, you can create another one where you decide and direct everything. I studied English as a teenager at GlasgowUniversity, then I joined the police and had no time for reading or writing stuff much for the next five years. But once I'd left the police, the desire to write came back, and I ended up enrolling on the Creative Writing degree (again at Glasgow Uni) which was a brilliant way to get inspired, because you were in a community of other writers, which is always a great motivator. Writing can be very lonely, and it's good to have like-minded folk to bounce ideas off. And it seemed that the stories I had about the police were the ones that people were most interested in, so I started to focus on that, trying to show what life is really like for cops.
What inspires you now?
Lots of things - newspaper articles, stuff I hear on the news, the mood I'm in when I sit down at the computer. Or when I read a brilliant book, which has the power to transport you to another place or life, or move you in some way. I also think it's important for a writer to get inspiration from other forms of art - going to the theatre, or wandering round the ArtGalleries, or even going for a walk in the hills. When you're grafting away at a piece of writing, you can feel like your creative well's been depleted, and it's good to fill it up from lots of different sources.
What advice would you give to a new writer?
Keep going! Keep crafting your work and developing your ideas, because there's always room to get better and better. It works for practising the piano, so why not writing too? At first, I always saw my first draft as a finished masterpiece, but editing your work is a good discipline, it focuses you, cleaning up your thoughts as well as the page! I'd also say keep going in the sense that, unless you're incredibly lucky, or married to an indulgent publisher, it's likely that your work will get rejected - five, ten, fifteen, maybe twenty times. My advice would be that if you really believe in your writing, and you've polished it, edited it, perhaps got someone whose literary eye you value to look at it, then polished it again, then you should treat it like a business. Look at your market - who's publishing books similar to yours? Get a copy of The Writers' & Artists' Yearbook, which lists every UK agent & publisher, write a synopsis of your book and send that, the first three chapters and a covering letter out. I'd definitely recommend getting an agent first, as it's very hard to get publishers to look at unsolicited work. And finally - although I said look at the market - don't write for the market! Your voice should be unique if you want your story to stand out.
What are you writing
I'm working on my fourth book - deadline is this summer, so I'm getting to the sleepless night, it's all tangled-up-in-ma-heid stage as I approach the final furlong. I tend not to plot out my books in advance, I kind of throw lots of possibilities up in the air and see where they land - it's a bit like a bag of tangled knitting. Drawing these strands all together into a coherent pattern is why the final third or so is always so scary. Although I like books that end with some ambiguities - real life doesn't tie everything up in a bow, and I prefer stories that don't do that either. So I'm cool with some dropped stitches.
My fourth book is about a girl who's past has returned to haunt her - in the worst way possible. She's a cop, and I wanted to write about the temptation, when you're in a position of power, to twist and bend the truth in order to make it suit what you think is the greater good, and how that can come back to bite you.
What are you reading now?
I've just finished Emotionally Weird by Kate Atkinson - very funny and quite mad, with lots of snippets of novels and stories within a bigger novel. Clever and quirky, which I like. And before that, it was Kieron Smith, Boy, by James Kelman - an absolute masterclass in using language, and the patterns and rhythms of speech and life to insinuate the reader directly into a young boy's mind.
Who is your favorite literary character?
Couldn't think of a decent answer for this one!
What future projects do you have planned?
My second book, 'After the Fire' has just come out in out paperback, so I'm excited about that. It received good reviews when it came out in hardback, so I'm hoping it'll now reach a wider audience. It really asks the question: should the police be armed? It's a subject I find intriguing, as I'm an ex-police officer myself, and, while many countries routinely arm all their police officers, only about 3% of cops in Scotland volunteer to carry firearms. I think it's particularly timely as Strathclyde Police have recently decided to pilot tasers (previously viewed and deployed as 'firearm' type weaponry) so that they're available to a much larger proportion of beat cops, who do not have specific AFO training.
After the Fire looks at why someone whose role is essentially to protect life would choose to be armed, and also explores what happens when it all goes wrong. The book's been described as: 'A gripping thriller and a moving psychological study' by the Daily Express, and the Sunday Herald reckoned it was : 'Bigger than the sum of its parts, and transcending its thriller label, this is a canvas of human nature, of love and loss and heartbreak and how ordinary people recover after the fire' so that was very nice!
Another possible project is the fact that my first two novels have recently been optioned for TV development. I know it's a long shot between that and the big screen, but it's nice to dream, and it's a really good production company that's taken them on, with an excellent screenwriter behind it, so who knows?
What interests do you have outside of writing?
I've got two teenage daughters, so they take up a lot of my time, plus we have a Border Collie who needs loads of exercise. But I find that breaking off for a walk two or three times in your writing day is actually a very good way of stepping back from the page and unknotting any problems, or thinking about how you're going to approach certain scenes
Any last words of wisdom?
Lots of people want to write, but are daunted by the scale of producing a novel. I would say, start slow & small. Just give your self a word limit of say 500 - 800 words a day. Do that for a week then you may find you have a chapter, a short story, or at least some interesting ideas & phrases that you can go on to use. Then do it for another week, then another and see where it takes you.
The Twilight Time (Hodder 2008)
Anna Cameron is a new Sergeant in the Flexi Unit. On her first day in the new job she discovers she'll be working with her ex, Jamie, now married and with a child. In at the deep end emotionally after many years without him, she's also plunged headlong into the underworld of Glasgow's notorious Drag - the haunt of working girls, drug dealers and sad, seedy men. Someone is carving up the faces of local prostitutes, an old man has been brutally killed and racist violence is on the rise; Anna must deal with all this alongside tensions and backstabbing within her own team. Atmospheric, affecting and beautifully-written, "The Twilight Time" is a stunning debut from a remarkably talented new crime writer.
After the Fire (Hodder 2009)
Someone is dead because of Jamie. Yesterday they were alive. When we woke up yesterday and argued about how many pairs of shoes I could take, that person was alive, making coffee maybe. Scratching her arm or yawning in the mirror...
Newly qualified as a firearms officer, Jamie Worth is called to a domestic disturbance. Events get out of hand, and he shoots and kills a teenaged girl who appears to have been unarmed. Already wracked with guilt, he is horrified when, with the media baying for blood, he is accused of murder. How can a cop survive in prison, when he suddenly finds himself on the wrong side of the law? And how can his wife Cath and ex-lover Anna come to terms with what has happened?
From the author of THE TWILIGHT TIME, AFTER THE FIRE is a chilling glimpse of the flipside of life as a law enforcer, written in 'stiletto-sharp prose' (The Herald) by one of the most exciting new voices in crime fiction.
Shadowplay (Hodder May 2010)
You are a police officer. This is what you do. You speak for the dead, and the desperate living. When Anna Cameron is promoted to Chief Inspector and moved to a new division, it should be a turning point for her. But if she thought having a female boss would make things easier, she'd reckoned without the fearsome 'JC' Hamilton. Then her mother goes into a coma in a foreign country and an old woman disappears from a Glasgow care home under suspicious circumstances, and Anna's career and personal life both threaten to implode. The gang-related murder of a young Asian boy and an assault on one of her officers only serve to turn the screws tighter - can Anna be both a good cop and a good person?
This short story Shiva was published in Mslexia magazine a few years ago
Fastasfastasfastas can. Swing out right, cut in. BRAKE. Migraine blue lights your neighbour's face. Ears hurting, fingers thicken. Geta grip geta GRIP. Can't get a grip. Circle slides across your palms, rancid butter of melting sweat. It's just down here.
Heart slows, brain shifting from reaction to action. She's in here. You bring her out, for the ambulance is on strike and you're all she's got. You sit with her, because you're the woman and your neighbour's only got three kids and you've none, but you're the woman. And you cannae drive, so your neighbour says, so he drives fastasfastasfastas can, you in the back holding her hand, bracing to stop from falling on the foldy-up stretcher. It'll be all right, but she's not listening and you bang on the grille because this is not fast enough. You get her there, head is crowning. Hair damp, so’s your face. Won't let go till they tell her it's a girl. Stretches to claim the bloodied bundle. On her breast and they're a circle of purring cats and she's gone inside where they know what they're doing and you go back. Slowly. To the station for your piece.
First, you wash your face and give yourself a great big smile. Cards, curry, back out. Place is jumping. I'll drive, you say, though you hate it, the panic when you don't know where you're going. Trying to remember which way's east and what Code 9 means and did he mean it, that thing he said at breakfast. But tonight, you're all chuffed and glowing. A harbinger of life. Invincible.
Fancy some chips? Your neighbour's a pig.
Stations to assist. Fastasfastaasfastas can. Can't catch me I'm the
car-thief-man. Green Golf. East in Argyle St. Four white males. You see it. Shit – you must be west. It's okit'sok. He's telling you block them in, but the street's too wide, they'll just swerve, you say. Bloody block them in, so you spin on the wheel, riding like it's alive and you're arcing in front and they see you and they'll stop and they swerve and they spin.
And they strike.
On a bin or a post and it skids the length of your veins which are bloodless. Sparks from the skidding, green scraped to silver. Bodies tumble and flee. Bail out, yells your neighbour. Stations to assist. Three males west. You get out, run, yank the crumpled door. His neck is angled, so. Sharper than it should be, head glossed blackish-red. You shout for an ambulance, but the ambulance is on strike and you're all he's got, but you have to stay for the Traffic. Your neighbour sits you in the van, gets you tea too sweet and you don't take sugar. He knows that. The sergeant says you must go too, so they take you, sit you in a cubicle and a nurse comes in and says, Oh hello again. Great job you did there. I think they're going to call her after you.
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