1. How did you get started writing And 2. What drew you to write a crime novel
I’ll answer these both together, because it’s the same response. I started writing because I wanted to try and show what life is really like for a uniformed cop, having been one myself. It was a chance to throw a light on the cameraderie, the humour and how the job can be sad and lonely and exhilerating & hugely satisying all at once. Because the books were about the police, folk instantly think ‘ thriller/crime’, but the books are much more about the people than what they do. To be honest, you could write a novel about any group of people who have any full-on, often dangerous jobs that impacts on their lives. It just so happens that mine are police officers. I was a uniformed cop; I never worked in CID and haven’t got a clue about post-mortems and forensics and criminal profiling! What I am interested in is people – how we define ourselves, how we protect and present ourselves to the world, and how we react to what life throws at us. I was also really interested to look at how you change & how people change towards you as soon as you don a uniform and become a ‘figure of authority’. Even coming from a police family myself, until I put on the uniform and walked through the street of Glasgow on show to all the word as a ‘polis’, it’s really hard to understand how it feels. So, in a nutshell, I guess the police books are all about that – when you’re in a job where the buck absolutely stops with you, when you’re very visible always, and where that visibility attracts strong responses and assumptions about who you are and what you believe.
3. Which writers past or present have influenced your style of writing
I’m not sure any have influenced my style as such, because I think that’s the one thing you need to hang onto in writing -your own voice. If you let it be influenced too much by other folk – whether it’s your agent, or your tutor, your writing buddy, your mum, other writers, whatever – it stops becoming your book, and then you have to question what it is, why you’re writing it, and who it is you’re writing it for. I absolutely think you have to set out to write the book you want to read, the one that nobody else can write or tell like you can – otherwise, for me, there wouldn;t be a strong enough incentive to write. What did definitely influence me is reading contemporary Scottish writers, folk like James Kelman & Janice Galloway, AL Kennedy & James Robertson – they are all influences in terms of where and what you can write about, how you can find inspiration in small, quiet things, and use language to dig deeper and deeper behind the surface to find another truth, that other perspective that’s always lurking there.
4. When you first started writing did you find it hard to get publisher interest.
Definitely. My difficulty was I’d written something which was an ‘awkward fit’ – a lot about the police, a lot about domesticity, a lot about motherhood, so much of the rejection feedback was ‘we love the writing, but we don’t know what shelf we’d sit this on, how we’d market it…’ Luckily, my agent at the time sent the Twilight Time (my first book) to Hodder, where the editor there loved the fact that the book was a bit different, a bit of an uneasy ride through policing – and they went on the buy four of them, which was great!
5.You started your writing career writing crime novels then took a break and tried something different .
I never saw it as a break , just what felt like a natural transition. The book I have out now is called ‘This Is Where I Am’ and is a story about a Somali refugee living in Glasgow, trying to make a new life – and the Glaswegian woman who befriends him. I don’t think there’s much difference with this book and my others, so hopefully, if you liked the first four, you’ll like the next two as well! They’re all about social issues, all (except for my newest one, out next year) set in Glasgow. Like I said, with my first four books, I was writing about people who just happened to be cops, but the thrust was always about lives behind closed doors, behind facades, behind the uniform – and my new book is a variation on that. Those faces you pass in the street everyday – whoare they? Where are they from? What do they go home to at night? I find all of that fascinating. I think everything I write is about identity – the acts we put on in front of folk, the roles we play in different situations.
6. There are many interesting characters in your Novels, do you have a particular favourite one
I think Abdi – the refugee in my fifth novel. He’s the furthest from me in terms of experience, gender, culture, everything, so was definitely the most challenging character to create and sustain.
7. Why did you choose to set your novels in Glasgow
Well, it’s the city I know best in the world, it’s where I grew up, where I went to uni, where I worked as a cop, so when I was aiming for an authentic edge when writing about the police, it would have been daft not to use my own experiences of walking the beat alone, in a deserted Glasgow at 5 am, of seeing the sun come up over Kelvingrove Park, or chasing neds down manky back lanes thinking, ‘man, what have I just stood in?’ as you’re running! But, more than that, it’s such a beautiful, atmospheric, warm and spiky city, and it’s a joy to view Glasgow as an outsider- everyone should try viewing their home as a tourist would! It really makes you see stuff you might otherwise have taken for granted. For example, in This Is Where I Am, the two characters meet in a different part of the city each month, as a way of helping to integrate Abdi, the refugee in my book. Thinking about where they might go, all the usual places you’d take visitors made me think: somewhere like Kelvingrove Museum. It’s imposing, stunning. But – if you didn’t know it was free & you didn’t know you were ‘allowed’ inside – would you even go up the steps? Again, it’s about digging behind first impressions and assumptions – which you can do with places as well as people.
8. With the amalgamation of the Scottish Police Force last year, how will it change your future Novels
– I’ll just leave this one out if that’s ok, as I’m not writing about the police any more?
9. What kind of research have you have to undertake for your Novels
For the first book The Twilight Time – no research at all really. Although I’d never write about a real life incident or an incident or real people I was involved with as a cop, because it would just feel wrong (and also, it’s not fiction if you copy real life!) – all the feelings and the kind of things that happen, the humour, the police jargon etc, that’s all real. But, with each police book I wrote, I tried to push myself further and further away from what I knew. For example in After the Fire, I write about what happens when a police firearms incident goes wrong. I’ve never been a firearms cop, never even held a gun. So all of that required a huge amount of research. With my new book, I spent time speaking to refugees and people that work with asylum seekers, to try to build up a picture that went beyond what I might imagine it must feel like to be a refugee. The book I’m currently working on (which will be my 7th) is going to involve the biggest amount of research I’ve ever done, as it’s set in Italy during the Second World War. I have a ton of history books I’m reading at the moment. (And a research trip to Italy looming – tough work, but someone’s got to do it!)
10. Are the characters in your books based on any real life No, definitely not. Not worth the risk!
11. Since you have started writing have any well known authors given you any advice
Before I got published, I did a two year Creative Writing Masters at Glasgow University, so I was very fortunate in that we had tutors and lecturers like Alistair Grey, James Kelman, Liz Lochhead who’d all comment on our work – plus give advice on what works for them. But the best thing about doing the course was meeting other writers like me – folk starting out, who all wanted to talk about writing and ideas, set up editorial groups, compile anthologies etc, so it was a really supportive, creative atmosphere. I definitely think you need the company of other writers, whether it’s a writing group, an online group, whatever.
12. Do you see any of your characters personality in yourself and vice versa I don’t , but other folk do. What’s even stranger is that people you know often think they see themselves in your characters, when you’ve never even thought about them when writing (at least, not consciously!)
13. If you can, would you give us a sneaky peak into any future novels you have planned.
Yes, I’ve got a new book out next March called ‘Rise’. It’s about a couple moving to a small village to try to fix their marriage, and about a cuckoo in thier nest – girl who ends up working as their au pair – who’s running from a dodgy past, which threatens to catch up on her. Set in a remote corner of Argyll, it’s timeline is right now, where, in Scotland, the whole country is gearing up to the Independence referendum, and each one of us are being asked to think more deeply about who we are and what we want. It’s about love and faith and forgiveness – and about which version of ‘you’ you choose to be. I’m really excited about it coming out – this will be the first time I’ve been published in the USA. Plus I really love the cover: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Rise-Karen-Campbell/dp/1408857928/ref=sr_1_1? s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1407159969&sr=1-1&keywords=rise+by+karen+campbell
I’m just starting work on the next one, the one set in Italy in WW2, so I can’t say much more about that at the moment, as it’s all still in my head and embryonic notes…
14. Out of all the Novels you have written do you gave a favourite one that stands out to you
Of the police ones, I think After the Fire, as it’s such a topical subject – what kind of police force do we want, should the police be armed, does that make us safer or is it more dangerous? These questions never get resolved in society, and we often shy away from them, and don’t want to think about the individual police officers who have tomake that split-second decision to fire or not – then live with the consequences for the rest of their lives.
15. As a well known writer do you have words of advice you can share (have taken crime out, so it’s more relevant for all the books)
I’d say, don’t write for ‘the market’ – write the kind of book you like to read, maybe the kind of book you’ve always wanted to read, but never quite found before. Don’t worry about genre or marketing -that’s up to the publishers. Worry about creating compelling characters, people that have real hopes and dreams and fears and adversaries, then the narrative will flow from that.
1. The Twilight Time (2008)
2. After The Fire (2009)
3. Shadowplay (2010)
4. Proof of Life (2011)
This Is Where I Am (2013)
Amazon Author Page