Category Archives: Karen Campbell

Savidge Reads Grills… Karen Campbell

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.

Where did the title ‘After The Fire’ come from?
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?!

And on that note we come to the end. I would like to thank karen for taking the time out to do this and urge you all to read this series, I honestly thought this book was fantastic and will be running out to get ‘The Twilight Time’ this week despite my book ban!
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Filed under Karen Campbell, Savidge Reads Grills...

After The Fire – Karen Campbell

I do love a good crime book, I haven’t always in fact I think it’s a fairly recent thing bar my teenage obsession with Sherlock Holmes. A while back on this blog, after reading the first Scarpetta book by Patricia Cornwell, I mentioned that I would love to know of any other great thriller/crime series that you thought I should give a go. I have already tried and loved Susan Hill, Kate Atkinson, Stella Duffy and of course the proper old school favourites like Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie. Now I think that I have found a new author in this genre… Although technically Karen Campbell found me, and my blog, and asked very nicely if I would read her second novel After The Fire. She did also mention that, one of my favourite authors, Kate Atkinson had “really enjoyed the book” (Kate actually said “I loved this book”) and that, plus Karen’s lovely email, was the deal done.

After The Fire is all about recently convicted police officer Jamie Worth who, not long after having qualified as a firearms officer, shoots and kills a young girl who appears to have no gun on her. The press and indeed the police force are looking for blood and blame and soon enough Jamie is imprisoned for murder. What follows is not just a gripping and twisting tale of what happened that night and why, it is also a tale of how the people involved come to terms with what has gone on.

Jamie himself is a policeman in prison, which I don’t think is a perspective that I have read in a novel before, and this was an incredibly interesting storyline for me. Not only seeing how prisons run and the state of them but how someone who might have put some of his cell mates in jail deals with them when he is in there too. At the same time Jamie is coming to terms with his own guilt about what happened to the young girl Sarah and what will happen to his family and all the people he loves in the world outside the prison. Outside the prison we see how Jamie’s wife, who herself was once a cop until she had children, comes to terms with what her husband has done. Though she believes he did what he thought was best she still has to deal with the fact that her husband has killed a girl the same age as their daughter. It doesn’t help when Anna, the woman Jamie had an affair with, appears on the scene wanting to help Jamie and his family. This all makes for an engrossing domestic dynamic alongside the thrilling plot of what happened the night of the shooting.

I loved Karen Campbell’s writing style. It’s punchy, fast paced and most importantly real. I don’t know if this comes from the fact that Campbell was herself a police officer before she started writing which might have something to do with how direct the book is. There is, in what is a very dark book, some real wit (I laughed a fair few times) though which really reminded me of Kate Atkinson in her Broadie books and yet at the same time you really feel for all the characters even if they aren’t people you would like one bit in the real world. Most importantly for me though was that I could believe it all (this goes for all genre’s of books from crime to sci-fi and all in between) all the voices are real nothing is done simply for effect. There is also the history between the characters also makes for great ‘domestic drama’ as well as reading about a man living on his nerves and trying to stay alive in prison.

I only have one very small gripe with this book and that is that in reading After The Fire before reading Karen’s debut novel The Twilight Time I have inadvertently broken one of my cardinal rules… always read a series in the right order. The Twilight Time is technically a prequel to After The Fire and features some of the same characters. The fact that this book was so good, and stood firmly so well all by itself, has made all rule breaking forgiven. I do kind of wish that I had read The Twilight Time first as though at no point whatsoever do you feel you should know the characters back stories and also their history relating to one another you wish that you did know it all first. Though now of course I am incredibly excited about finding it out when I manage to get my mitts on The Twilight Time which I will be doing very, very soon.

Now this is a real cliché but I am going to say it anyway… it would be a crime not to read this book. I dont rave about books that often but this is one I will be I promise! I hope there will be more in this series as I was hooked from start to finish. Campbell is definitely an author to watch out for and I am very excited as she is doing an interview with me for the blog tomorrow, so make sure you pop by then!

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Filed under Books of 2009, Hodder & Stoughton, Karen Campbell, Review

The Latest Books To The Never Ending TBR Pile Are…

That sounds like a bit of an Oscar Nominations announcement doesn’t it? However I really like seeing the latest books that everyone in the blogosphere is getting and so I thought I would share with you what has been arriving and being purchased of late in The Savidge Reads Towers.

Naturally I have already been back to my new favourite local bookshop in the hunt for bargain books and not come out empty handed. I have managed to pick up two more Orange Prize winners (which I may intermingle with the shortlist as I read it) so I came away with Geraldine Brooks ‘March’ and Linda Grant’s ‘When I Lived In Modern Times’ the latter which, oddly as a prize winner, is quite hard to get hold of. I loved Geraldine Brooks ‘The Year of Wonders’ (which is all about how the plague ended up in a small Derbyshire village – just down the road from my Gran – and how they shut themselves off to save others) so will be interested in this book which is a retelling of the father of the ‘Little Women’, maybe I should read that first? I haven’t read any of Linda Grant before but know she was long listed for the Booker prize last year I think it was, so am intrigued by her and the story of “20-year-old Evelyn Sert who leaves post-war Soho after her mother’s death for a new life in Palestine”. I also bought Margery Allingham’s “The Tiger in the Smoke” as many book bloggers have mentioned this classic crime story and also it featured heavily in the wonderful, wonderful ‘The Earth Hums in B Flat” which I read a few weeks ago, as well as Chris Cleave’s ‘The Other Hand’ after Claire Kiss A Cloud was raving about him the other day. Please, please, please do not give any of the storyline away on this one if you comment as it’s meant to be one of those sorts of books!

Arriving from lovely publishers I have had one more of the Orange Short List books as Picador have sent me Ellen Feldman’s ‘Scottsboro’ which I think is the first one I am reading. I received Emily Listfield’s thriller ‘Best Intentions’ all the way from the USA so will be giving that a good read of that in the non to distant future. Atlantic Books sent me a biography (not a book genre I tend to go for but often find I like them more than I think I do) ‘The Life and Times of Harvey Milk, The Mayor of Castro Street’ by Randy Shilts which after the film ‘Milk’ is getting a big re-release in a few weeks. Finally, and possibly one that I have been most excited about, the lovely people at Capuchin Books have sent me ‘The Green Hat’ by Michael Arlen which sounds very, very me “Iris Storm, femme fatale, races around London and Europe in her yellow Hispano-Suiza surrounded by romantic intrigue, but beneath the glamour she is destined to be a tragic heroine.” They have also made me one of the ‘blogs we love’ which has thrilled me and I had no idea of until they contacted me. You can see their blog here.

Finally for two books that have actually been sent by the authors themselves. Karen Campbell has sent me a copy of her latest book ‘After The Fire’ which I have not long actually just finished reading and will be raving about very soon, Kate Atkinson is a fan so I knew I would be and I wasn’t wrong. Karen has a very interesting story as an author and I will be divulging more over the weekend! Rosy Thornton sent me a copy of her latest book ‘Crossed Wires’ which arrived yesterday and is all about “the story of Mina, a girl at a Sheffield call centre whose next customer in the queue is Peter, a Cambridge geography don who has crashed his car into a tree stump when swerving to avoid a cat. Despite their obvious differences, they’ve got a lot in common — both single, both parents, both looking for love. Could it be that they’ve just found it?” It’s also described as “an old-fashioned fairy tale” which sounds quite me. Phew with all that I better get reading…

Have you read any of these or any books by these authors do let me know! Also what’s the latest book that you bought?

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Chris Cleave, Ellen Feldman, Geraldine Brooks, Karen Campbell