Author Spotlight: Jen Campbell talks The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night
Guys! I'm so excited to be hosting Jen Campbell on the blog today! Jen is an award-winning poet and short story writer. Her debut short story collection The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night is published by Two Roads, and her first children’s book Franklin’s Flying Bookshop is published by Thames & Hudson. She is also the Sunday Times bestselling author of the Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops series and The Bookshop Book.
And in case you didn't know, Jen runs a really great YouTube channel over at www.youtube.com/jenvcampbell where she discusses all things books!
Hi, Jen! Welcome and huge congrats on The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night. Can you tell us a little about these stories and what inspired the collection?
Thank you for the congratulations; it still seems a little surreal that these stories are now out in the world, and not just in my head. They are a collection of twelve tales, some of which are inspired by fairy tale (though they are not fairy tale retellings). Primarily, these are stories about characters who are obsessed with storytelling, and are using that to help them understand the world around them.
I think it’s really interesting that you worked as a bookseller for ten years. What did it teach you about the publishing industry?
Booksellers have direct access to readers, so we get to see what covers draw people in; what media outlets people get their book recommendations from (“I heard about this book on the radio, do you stock it?” Etc). It was also when I first starting being aware of new book releases, paying attention to book news etc. Being a bookseller requires an understanding of the publishing industry, so in order to be good at my job, I learned as much as I could.
What part of the writing process do you find most challenging and how do you tackle it?
It all seems quite challenging when you’re in the middle of it. The blank page probably remains most writers’ nemesis. It’s much easier to edit words in front of you than it is thin air. So it’s a case of forcing yourself to write regularly and being ok with the fact that some of that is going to be a bit crap. Then you mould it into something better. Once you’ve started a story and begin pulling it apart, rearranging it, dressing it… it all becomes clearer. It’s just a case of getting started in the first place.
While novels have hundreds of pages to explore the three-act structure, short stories are a different beast. What are your tips for crafting story arcs in this abbreviated space?
I love short stories because you can make something quite intense, or strange, or magical in a way that wouldn’t work in a longer form. I think a common mistake is to assume that a short story is a novel—but short—but, as you say, they’re different beasts entirely. I think the key with short stories is imagery and theme; I’m a big fan of the Easter egg. You can hide meanings in stories to hint at a larger story hiding behind the one that you’re telling. That way you can create layers without swamping the tale with unnecessary detail. If it’s of interest, I run short story workshops on structure. Details of those can be found here: www.jen-campbell.com/writing-workshops.
I love your YouTube channel! What made you want to take up vlogging, and do you have any advice for writers who may be thinking about starting their own channels?
I started my channel because I’d started working in an antiquarian bookshop and missed recommending new releases. Booktube was also something I enjoyed watching and I wanted to join in and be part of the conversation. You can do that in the comments, of course, but I felt the best way to chat was to make videos myself. I get a lot of writers asking me if they should start a Booktube channel to get a book deal… and my answer is no. Booktube and writing are different things to me. I know that I'm reaching an audience with my videos, and because I’m talking about books that might encourage my viewers to read what I’ve written, too, but that’s not why I do it. I make videos first and foremost as a reader (also I had four books published before I started my channel; my channel didn’t generate a book deal). If you have an agenda and you’re making videos, I think that shows. Don’t create a channel because you’re hoping it’s going to have a knock on effect somewhere else. Do it because you want to do it. (It’s a fun thing to do, jump aboard!)
What has been your most rewarding experience as an author so far?
This was certainly one of them (His Dark Materials is my favourite series of all time, so reading this article was a little bit special.).
What are you reading, or otherwise currently obsessed with?
I’m currently reading Winter by Ali Smith (all round fabulous person), Ghosts of the Tsunami by Richard Lloyd Parry and am a little bit obsessed with the history of changelings.
And finally, I’m a firm believer that every story teaches the writer something new, so what did The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night teach you?
Researching it taught me a lot about the bottom of the ocean, and the history of heart surgery. I also found that now I need to read everything out loud as I go. Not in a crowded room full of people, obviously. I don’t sit in cafes and monologue to myself, but I can notice the holes in sentences and can fix the rhythm of a paragraph much more easily if I read it aloud. Given that these stories are inspired by fairy tales—which were, traditionally, read aloud—it almost seems like a form of paying respect, as well as assisting with the writing process. There’s something satisfying about saying “Once upon a time…” out loud. Allowing the words to tumble out of my mouth and run far away.
Many thanks go out to Jen for taking the time to tell us about The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night, as well as talking about short story structure and sharing her advice on the reality of creating a Booktube channel. Be sure to add The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night to your Goodreads list, or (better yet!) order your copy RIGHT NOW from Amazon, or request it at your local indie.
Follow Jen on Twitter at @jenvcampbell, and definitely check out her YouTube Channel! For more information, see her full author website at jen-campbell.co.uk.
And, as always,