Monday 26 May 2008

An Interview - Aifric Campbell

Aifric Campbell is the author of “The Semantics of Murder”, a novel inspired by an unsolved murder in Los Angeles in 1971 and which has been widely reviewed in the Irish press. Please visit

Q1. What are you writing at the minute?

A novel I never expected to write! It’s a ghostly tale of unresolved loss partly inspired by the story of a bunch of Canadian soldiers who lived in my house during WW2 and were killed at Dieppe. Last year I was 50,000 words into another book when this new voice just appeared and was so distracting that eventually I had to sit down and write the story to get it out of my head. This has never happened to me before – I am normally highly structured - so I knew there were only two possibilities: either I was losing my mind or this would be a good book. Let’s hope it’s the latter! I’ll soon find out because the first draft is nearly finished.

In August, I’ll be returning to the abandoned novel which is set in the global financial markets in the 1980s when greed was good. A sort of female version of “Bonfire of the Vanities” but set in London and Hong Kong. This is partly autobiographical as I used to be an investment banker.

Q2. Can you give us an idea of Aifric Campbell’s typical up-to-the-armpits-in-ideas-and-time writing day?

Up by 6am – it’s a hangover from my time working the markets and anyway I’m a lousy sleeper. If I’m not lecturing I prefer to write in the morning and edit in the afternoon. Anything I write after 8pm is usually garbage. I take my son to school & walk the dogs (one arthritic lab and one crazy puppy) out on Ashdown Forest which is now the biggest public space in the South East of England (but think heathland rather than trees). At the moment the dogs are helping me with research so we wander around bomb craters and war memorials and spent a fair amount of time in a graveyard close by. I work on a Mac and back up obsessively onto flash ever since I had my previous one stolen in Spain last year. I always edit on the page. Sometimes I work in the London Library or the British Library. I love working on trains – in the carriages where mobiles are not allowed. Now and again – especially when I’m at the beginning or close to the end of a novel, I go to West Cork for 24/7 writing benders: no phone, no email, no TV and no humans. Just walk the beaches and write.

And I read. I have long reading lists (in fact I have all sorts of lists…

Q3. What do you do when you’re not writing?

Think about writing. Feel guilty that I’m not writing… I get pretty cranky if I’m not writing for more than a few days. So it’s better for everyone if I never stop for very long. Thus the notebook comes on hols. I read a lot. Watch my son play football – a LOT. I love movies and get to the theatre as much as I can. We lived in London for a long time so the countryside here can feel very isolating in winter. I lecture most terms. I go to body combat classes which my son finds highly amusing because I don’t actually hit anyone. See friends. Talk (a lot). Drink (probably a lot). Avoid housework…

Q4. Any advice for a greenhorn trying to break into the crime fiction scene?

The same as for the writer of any kind of fiction: Always be reading. Always be writing. Don’t give up the day job! Getting published is often a very long haul. Writers don’t often speak about how much and how long they’ve written for before they got their first deal. “The Semantics of Murder” was the 3rd novel I’d written but the first to get published. I can see now that it was also by the far the best of the 3! I think you have to be prepared to cut your teeth like that, work hard and be strong in the face of rejection. When I first came to London in the 80s I applied for 40 different jobs and got called to only 2 interviews. So I learnt how to be bloody minded – you have to believe in yourself when no one else does. Become a good and dispassionate editor of your own work. Learn to CUT. Most books are far too long. Target your publisher or agent carefully. Find out who or what is on their lists.

Q5. Which crime writer(s) have impressed you this year?

Benjamin Black (I am a big fan of Banville and enjoyed this new departure), Fred Vargas, Tana French and I am about to start Borderlands.

Q6. What are you reading right now?

Excluding military research for my novel, the following mixture is pretty typical: Per Petterson “Out Stealing Horses” Helen Schulman “A Day at the Beach” Steg Larsson (I lived in Sweden for some years) Just about to start Kevin Myers “Watching the Door”. Just finished Joshua Ferris “When We Came to the End” – nice to read a book that makes you laugh for a change! I keep 2 poetry books by my bed - TS Eliot and Dante’s Divine Comedy that I sometimes read late at night.

Q7. Plans for the future?

More lists! Finish the ghost book. Start book 3. Learn the rules of rugby. Teach the puppy to stop chasing deer. Overcome my fear of deep water.

Q8. With regards to your writing career to date, would you do anything differently?

No. It worked for me.

Q9. Anything you want to say that I haven’t asked you about?

I’ll bow out and say thanks now. After all, you have to type this in!

Thank you, Aifric Campbell!


Michael Stone said...

Wow, is Ms Campbell the most dedicated writer ever? Perhaps she's typical of many successful authors. She makes me feel ashamed of my own modest output and aspirations.

And I've always admired writers who can switch genres/subject matter between books.

Fascinating stuff.

Gerard Brennan said...

Hey ho, Mike

Impressive, isn't it? And more than a little intimidating.

The net result is very good, though. The Semantics of Murder is proof of that.


Anonymous said...

IS AIFRIC A HOAX????????????