The writer Neil Campbell

Friday 24th April 2020

Q1) The book most influential for you as a young person

This is a bit tricky because I didn’t read a novel until I was twenty three, I was too busy playing sport. I was twenty five or so when I first discovered Kerouac and Bukowski and Raymond Carver. Finding books I loved was a great moment. I’d say Cathedral, by Carver. It was the first literary book I read where I recognized the kind of lives the people were living. I also discovered short stories right there. It was the first literary book I ever read where I wasn’t looking at the page numbers all the time, just trying to get through it. Part of that was because they were short stories, you could get to the end of something in half an hour. And after a while I thought I knew enough about short stories to have a go at writing them. I also loved the possibilities of freedom suggested by On the Road. Also need to mention Cold Water by Gwendoline Riley, because reading that, with its Manchester setting, made me think I could probably have a go at writing a novel.

Q2) The book that gets you through hard times

I go back to On the Road in hard times. The lyricism and open heartedness of Kerouac’s prose always reminds me why I love literature. Also Steinbeck, for the comfort of the grandfatherly voice, the warmth of the humour. One of the non-fiction ones: Sea of Cortez or Travels with Charley, or the Russian one, where he just takes the piss out of his photographer mate the whole time. If I was really down, I’d re-read The Restraint of Beasts, the funniest novel ever written.

Q3) The book that most disappointed you

The Collected Stories of Joy Williams is the most recent I can think of. I wanted to love it but just didn’t know what she was going on about half the time. I just didn’t take to her voice, I guess, there seemed to be a lot of explaining going on. Maybe I’ll try it again in ten years if I can’t sell it on Ebay.

Q4) Name a book with either a brilliant opening or a brilliant ending

The first twenty pages of Bullet Park by John Cheever are pretty amazing, just that way he has of describing the suburbs. He was a poet of the suburbs and perhaps the greatest short story writer of all.

Q5) Your favourite character from a novel

It used to be Doc from Cannery Row. I even went to Cannery Row to have a look around. Because of that book it was a magical experience. Same trip I did my Sal Paradise pilgrimage. Now I’d probably say the Busconductor Hines. I actually missed him after the end of the novel. I even missed Sammy Samuels!

Q6) Next on your 'to read' pile is...

The End, by Knausgaard, which really will be the end for me and Karl Ove! I read all the others so feel obliged to read the last one. And then that Ducks, Newburyport. And I fucking hate long books! Also I’m catching up with the Rebel Inc Classics I didn’t read at the time. Great books, great introductions, great covers, the most inspiring covers in the history of literature. And re-reading all of James Kelman’s short stories. Just read that one, Pictures, at the start of The Burn, powerful stuff.

Q7) Your favourite poem

The Moose by Elizabeth Bishop. You’re just right there on the bus, and it’s like, well, pick your own metaphor. I would have loved to have a drink with Elizabeth Bishop.

Q8) The greatest book you've ever read

Dinosaurs on other Planets by Danielle McLoughlin strikes me as perhaps the greatest book of short stories I’ve read. You could tell after a few pages how good it was going to be. Inspiring stuff, and something to aspire to.

And I read The Executioner’s Song not long ago. I got to the end and thought, well, that was a fucking great book. Just the ambition of it. Sometimes with the old guys you have to forget all the bullshit that surrounds them and actually read their writing. A great book like that is an act of fucking heroism. ●

Neil Campbell's third novel Lanyards was published in September 2019. From Manchester, England, he has appeared three times in the annual anthology of Best British Short Stories (2012/2015/2016). He has published three novels, two collections of flash fiction, two collections of short stories, two poetry chapbooks and a poetry collection, as well as appearing in numerous magazines and anthologies.
t: @neilcambers


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