Yesterday I raved about the wonderful book After The Fire by Karen Campbell. Today Karen has been kind enough to do an interview with Savidge Reads all about both her books, what’s coming next and getting praise from Kate Atkinson…
You yourself were a police officer, what made you swap the law for the world of literature? Was the transition difficult? Do you think there are skills in police work that transfer to creating an intricate plot?
I’d done English Lit at uni before I joined the police, so I guess it wasn’t a huge transition. And every case you ever write in the police is a narrative of sorts – you have to make it coherent, convincing and believable. But it was really after I’d left the police, when I had my first daughter, that I began to try and capture some of the sights and sounds I’d experienced. Being a cop is a tremendous privilege – it opens the door to people, worlds and stories you might never meet otherwise. And I also wanted to show that cops are real people. They’re not drunks or sexist bigots or mad mavericks (!), but generally just decent folk trying to do a difficult job.
Had you always wanted to write?
Yes, even as a little girl, I was always writing my own books, illustrating them, stapling them into little pamphlets, bringing them into school. Once I’d left the police, I went back to uni and did a post graduate Masters in Creative writing, which really helped – not in terms of shaping my writing so much as just being in a community of writers.
Where did you get the initial ideas for the characters and stories of James, Cath and Anna for the books?
With my first book, ‘The Twilight Time’, the dynamic was very much between Cath and Anna, looking at the choices women make between career and motherhood, and how your sense of identity can change when you become a mother. The police was really a backdrop to that, although of course, the nature of Anna’s job means that she encounters crime & its effects on a daily basis. With the second novel, I wanted to write about someone’s life turning upside down because of a split-second decision, and I also wanted to examine policing and firearms – something that’s often in the news. So I made Jamie, Cath’s husband, the main pivot of the book. I wanted my protagonist to be a guy with a lot to loose!
It’s a very unusual set up between them all how have you managed to keep that realistic and also not make any character a victim or one ‘the bad person’.
My writing pretty much stems from characters rather than plot – if something doesn’t feel ‘right’, then I’d never shoehorn a character into an unconvincing situation. I’m not a fan of ‘black & white’ fiction – life is ambiguous and intriguing, and I like stories that reflect that. Often, people behave in ways we can never explain or expect – that was certainly something I learned in my time in the police!
After The Fire is a stand alone book and yet is in a way a follow up to The Twilight Time, is this going to be a series (please say yes) and was the second one difficult to write?
I’m glad you think you could read ‘After the Fire’ as a stand alone. It’s a very different book to ‘The Twilight Time’, which is more sinuous, I guess, with lots of different strands and themes. Because I already knew the characters and I had a very clear idea of where I wanted the ATF story to go, the second book actually came very quickly. I’ve just finished a third book about Anna, called ‘Fade to Grey’ and have started work on the fourth – I’ve always seen this as a quartet.
Well, I liked the biblical connotations it had, of the shocked stillness following an all-consuming disaster. But also, literally, ‘after firing’ – basically, it’s as if the old Jamie has burned away after the shooting incident, so it’s about what’s left in the ash, both for him & Cath. It’s also about how Anna behaves after the passion of ‘The Twilight Time’ has burned itself out. And the title also refers to another incident in the first book – which I won’t go into since you’re reading them in reverse!
Which authors do you love?
As well as the classics like Austen & the Brontes, I read mostly contemporary fiction – AL Kennedy, AS Byatt, Janice Galloway, Ali Smith, people like that.
Now not only is Savidge Reads a huge fan but one of my favourite authors Kate Atkinson has also raved about your work, how did that feel?
Just brilliant! I’ve always admired Kate’s work – from ‘Behind the Scenes’ onwards, and it was a real thrill to get a thumbs up from someone who combines literary prose with thrilling narrative to such great effect. I’ve never met Kate, but if our paths ever cross, I will definitely… I don’t know…go up and curtsey or something!
What is your writing routine?
I usually write when my girls are out and the house is quiet, so I tend to get up, run the girls to school, walk the dog, and then sit down at the computer. I break again at lunch to give our manic border collie his second walk of the day, but I actually find this helps the writing process – just the rhythm of walking and letting my mind go blank seems to unknot any blocks and let inspiration float in. I’ve had some funny looks occasionally, when I’ve been muttering over a bit of dialogue in what I think is an empty, wooded path – then someone coughs politely and overtakes me!
Which book, apart from any you have written, would you demand Savidge Reads and this blogs readers run out and buy right this instant?
I’ve just finished ‘The Given Day’ by Dennis Lehane, which I loved. It’s a historical story about the Boston Police strike, but it’s also about families, immigration, workers’ rights, black oppression – even baseball! It’s got everything: romance, drama and a real sense of place. I’ve never read any of Lehane’s work before, but what appealed, again, was this kind of cross-over, in that he writes about crime, the police and social issues but most of all, he just writes about people. I think genre labels can be limiting, and I’m all for not having them at all. For me, defining a book that has lots of different layers as a particular ‘type’, whether it be ‘crime’ or ‘historical’ or whatever, means the reader thinks they know what they’re getting before they even open the book. And where’s the pleasure in that?!