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At the end of the day, I never know how many words I’ve written: An Interview with Joanna Campbell

Welcome to the first in a series of interviews with this year's National Flash Fiction Day anthology editors and micro fiction competition judges! This week, Diane Simmons talks with one of this year's anthology editors, Joanna Campbell, about her writing routine, her favourite book, and how she's hoping writers will respond to this year's anthology theme...

Diane: I know that as well as being a prolific writer, you are also an enthusiastic reader. Do you find that what you are reading affects your writing style? If so, does it mean that you perhaps read less than you used to do?

Joanna: Reading inspires me to work harder at refining my own style. I focus on how an author has achieved that perfect sentence, that realistic piece of dialogue, that breath-taking segment of description. If I do manage to discover where the magic lies, I will try to add that technique to my own work. I am a completely self-taught writer and everything I have learnt has emanated from reading.

Diane: As well as being a successful flash writer, you have published a short story collection, When Planets Slipped Their Tracks, and a novel, Tying Down the Lion. Do you have a favourite form?

Joanna: I don’t have a particular favourite because I love writing solely for its own sake. It’s the characters who appeal to me, whether they warrant a full-length novel, a novella, short story or a flash. Once I know who I’m writing about, the character lets me know which form they need. For example, I have abandoned many attempts at novels because the characters eventually made it plain they were more suited to a short story. On the other hand, Tying Down The Lion is a novel resulting from a short story which didn’t offer the reader a satisfactory ending, as if the characters were demanding more. However, although I can’t choose a favourite form, my novella-in-flash—A Safer Way To Fall—was the one which brought the most fulfilment. This is because of the thrilling moment when I realised that many of my flash fiction pieces revealed a strong, linking thread. It was an amazing discovery and my heart still beats faster to recall it now.

Diane: Can you tell us a little about your writing routine?

Joanna: I get up very early in the morning, between 4.30 and 5, and I might begin to write straightaway, but often I’m busy thinking or reading. There is also a lot of staring into space and a cup of coffee left to turn cold, but it feels productive. A little later on, I take my daughter to the station, then do a few jobs around the house and check emails. After that I write throughout the day until late afternoon. My husband usually works at home and we break for lunch together, but only for about fifteen minutes because we’re mentally still at our desks. At the end of the day, I never know how many words I’ve written. I just hope to finish with a sense of having made some progress, less in terms of quantity as quality.

Diane: Is there a book or story from your childhood that makes your heart leap a little when you think about it?

Joanna: Definitely, yes. The Prevailing Wind by Joan Lingard is the book which made me long to be a writer. I took it out of the library in 1973 and never returned it. I sometimes wonder how much the fine would be. It was a dreadful thing to do, but I simply couldn’t part with it. I still have it and always will. The smell of its yellowed pages, packed with old wafts of my father’s cigarette smoke, takes me back to that first daydream of writing my own book one day. It’s a novel about family dynamics, how people can so easily misunderstand one another, and the way hidden emotions can damage those you love and send your life—and theirs—off the tracks. It is set in Edinburgh, the beautiful city becoming a character in its own right. I have re-read it countless times and eventually treated myself to a second copy signed by the author. (I didn’t steal that one.)

Diane: This year’s theme for the anthology is ‘Doors’. Is there anything in particular that you’re looking for in a submission?

Joanna: I am excited to see the different and original ways in which the theme of ‘Doors’ is interpreted. Doors can signify all kinds of possibilities. None of us live without them. It’s vital to have a key to your own private haven, to block out the world and be yourself in a way that never happens in public. However, sometimes it’s equally vital to open your door and let other people into your life. Or to step outside, close the door behind you and re-enter the world. A closed door can represent both a trap and a refuge. Obstruction or admission. And think of how the crunch of footsteps on a path followed by a knock on your door can stir an entire gamut of emotions from relief to curiosity to fear. Who do you allow in and who do you keep out? I’m looking forward to finding out how our writers weave layers of emotional significance into this theme.

Joanna Campbell

 

Joanna Campbell is a full-time writer from the Cotswolds. Her short stories have been published in numerous literary journals, including Mslexia, The New Writer, Writers’ Forum, where she won the monthly competition four times, and The Yellow Room, as well as in anthologies from, among others, Salt Publishing, Cinnamon Press, The Exeter Story Prize, Rubery Book Award, Stroud Short Stories, Spilling Ink, Earlyworks Press, Unbound Press, Retreat West, The Bridport Prize and two volumes of The Bristol Short Story Award.

 

SUBMISSIONS ARE NOW OPEN for this year's National Flash Fiction Day Anthology and Micro Fiction Competition. Submissions close on 15th March 2019. For more information, please visit our Anthology and Competition pages.  

We are also trying to secure funding to offer free entries to disadvantaged and marginalised writers. If you would like to help us do this by donating entries, please contact us at nationalflashfictionday@gmail.com.

 

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