Trapped in the Library with AJ Campbell

<this is part fiction, part literary blog where I am trapped in an enormous, dangerous library with neverending stacks and aisles and being chased by growling monsters, reading some of the books and talking to whoever else is trapped in there with me, looking for the way home. This week we have AJ Campbell and her new book, Sigil of The Wyrm>

I was running. Running fast, all through the stacks. It was chasing me. Not sure what it was, but it was gaining fast. Large, and growling. Where the hell was I? And why was I being chased by a terrifying beast from another dimension?

Then I remembered. The library. Sometimes amnesia is the only thing that keeps us sane.
I used to be elsewhere, now I am here. The library. At least, it seems to be a library. Rows upon rows upon stacks upon stacks of books. Every single aisle looks just about identical, and they never seem to end. I swear they move behind me when I am not looking. No memory of how I got here. Maybe if I can remember that, I can find my way home. That’s all I want, you know, to get home. Been here weeks. Or months. Or years. Not sure anymore, and not sure that it matters.

That would be bad enough, stopping and sleeping among all the books and foraging for food that might once have been edible. But I am not alone here. There are ravaging creatures, looking to make a meal of anything foolish enough to cross their path. Every new aisle seems to contain new dangers. Tread carefully or you will be dead within ten minutes.

There are other humans too, people just as trapped as I am and looking for a way out. Saw one of them last night, a writer going by the name of AJ Campbell.  Tall woman, long dark hair. Pointing a crossbow at me and not afraid to pull the trigger. After a long bout of mutual mistrust we determined neither were there to eat the other’s soul. We set up a campfire made from old party political manifestos and shared some ration packs I had scavenged as we discussed life, home and how to get out of the library. Sooner or later, over some shots of almost decent whisky, conversation turned to writing and her new book, sigil of the wyrm…

‘You get to keep two books in the whole world, what are they?’

Gaah! That’s like asking me which two of my vital organs I’d most like to keep… That is genuinely unanswerable. The book I keep telling people is my favourite, when I absolutely have to, is Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, but there are too many close seconds to choose – The Scarlet Pimpernel, the entire works of Tamora Pierce, Dragonsbane and Dragonsearch by Patricia C. Wrede, The Chronicles of Narnia, Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next books, The Other Boleyn Girl by Phillipa Gregory, Soulless by Gail Carriger…

‘Do you write start to finish or do you fix on a strong idea then work backwards when it turns out to be chapter six?’

I tend to write in “scenes” – smaller than a chapter. I’ll have an overall idea of where the story’s going – either a list of bullet pointed chapter outlines, or something as vague as “the characters start at A and somehow they need to end up at B” – and then I’ll fill things in as I go. The first draft of Sigil of the Wyrm was written in order much like the latter, but I often write out of sequence and then have to shuffle all the bits back together so they make logical sense.

‘Ever had somebody wildly misunderstand the point of one of your stories?’

I wrote a play called Into the Wardrobe while I was at university that was supposed to be a pastiche of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, but which one of the actors thought was a commentary on coming out… In the main I tend to welcome alternative interpretations of my work, but that one came a bit out of left field.

‘Any ideas how to stop the ravenous beasts?’

Feed them. Train them. Make them your own…

‘Do you find characters or ideas pop into your head first?’

Characters. Always characters. People, situations, dialogue, fantastical creatures and objects; those are the bits I find come easiest. Plot is the hardest bit of a book to write, in my experience.

‘What is your preferred writing genre?’

Fantasy. With a side order of mystery and adventure. Someday I’d like to write a historical novel, but even then I think that elements of the fantastical are going to worm their way in.

‘Who is your favorite author? Who has most influenced your work’

Jointly, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. I have always loved Pratchett’s humour, irreverence and humanity; he was an absolute genius for putting real people into a fantasy world. And I started writing Sigil of the Wyrm just after reading Gaiman’s Neverwhere: I wanted to do for the North East what he had done for London.

‘When did you know you wanted to be a writer?’

I honestly don’t know. There was never a lightbulb moment that I can remember, I think I’ve always wanted to write, ever since I understood where books came from. I still have, somewhere, a “book” I wrote when I was about 5, which was basically a list of woodland animals who all went on a picnic. It’s nice to look back and see how far you’ve come…

‘Given unlimited resources, what would be your ideal writing environment?’

A warm, shady spot outdoors with an unlimited supply of whichever beverage I’m in the mood for. No internet – unless I need to fact-check something in a hurry – no mobile phone, and no time pressures.

‘Where do you actually write? Do you write on a schedule?’

I do a lot of writing in cafes, pubs, libraries, parks – out and about generally. Anywhere I can set up with a pad and a pencil. Then all the drafts get typed up later when I’m back home.
I don’t write to a schedule – I know I should, but I don’t – not until the editing stage. At which point I have proper deadlines and other people who will poke me if I don’t make them.
She went one way, I went the other. There were monsters to fight. She gave me a copy of her book and loaded the crossbow. I wished her good luck, and went off on my way.

Going to read her book when I stop for the night. Assuming the monsters don’t devour me, next time I write I will give you a review..

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when she escapes from the library, AJ Campbell will be visiting the following places:

Tuesday, Sep. 1
Lucy Ayrton, Performance Poet
T.N. Payne, Author
Wednesday, Sep. 2
Richard A. Usher, Media Creative
Alex McGilvery’s World
Thursday, Sep. 3
Scott E. Tarbet, Author
Are You Afraid of the Dark
Friday, Sep. 4
OMega W
Danielle E. Shipley
The Author Visits
Saturday, Sep. 5
R. M. Ridley
Didi Lawson, Author
Musings, Amusings, and Bemusings