Karen Campbell – 3rd October, 2012



We had a treat this week when Karen Campbell came to speak to us and read from some of her novels. Karen had always loved writing, which led her to a degree in English, but after graduating she found she wanted a change, so joined the police.
Working shifts, she had little time to write, but when she left the force, she completed a creative writing course under tutors like James Kelman and Janice Galloway. On the course, her first inclination was to write about being a new mother, but her tutors suggested she might like to produce something about her life in the police force. Since she had never seen novels centred around the uniformed branch of the service, she addressed this in her first book, which was published as The Twilight Time. Three other crime novels followed in this series, which tracked the development of some characters over a 10-12 year period, and incorporated changes in police procedures and social attitudes.
Deciding to finish this theme after four books, Karen looked at another area of life with her new novel, This Is Where I Am, which is due to come out next spring. We heard an excerpt from this, a novel that deals with a different type of social issue, this time about a Somali asylum seeker adapting to life in Scotland.
Karen’s books contain Scottish words and phraseology that reflect the way her characters speak, and during her talk she emphasised the need to keep your own voice, rather than toning things down just to make a book more widely acceptable. In a novel the writer should be able to bring out the meaning of specific terms without describing every colloquialism.
After tea, Karen answered varied questions, from the process of finding an agent to questions about when and where she writes, and how she feels about receiving criticism. Regarding criticism, Karen believes there is a three-way relationship between the writer, the reader and the book. The reaction of readers can depend on what is happening in their own lives at the time, so some will be more in tune with the writer’s aims than others. Not liking a book does not mean the book is bad.
Reassuring for us all!
It was a wonderful evening listening to a speaker who really knows her stuff.
Jennifer West

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