Monday 11 July 2016

Truly Scrumptious Joanna Campbell

In 2015, Joanna's story, Upshots, was announced the winner of the London Short Story Prize. It was after we saw this announcement that myself, Lindsay and Carol, all thought Joanna would be perfect as the judge for the Greenacre Writers/FLF short story competition. There followed a hilarious searching of google maps to find out where she lived, and if it was near, enough, to Finchley. Google maps told me Joanna’s home town was near Woking, so not too far then. The reality was somewhat further, much further away! Anyway lucky for us, Joanna agreed to travel to Finchley, with a little bit of help from her husband.

The delightful and friendly Joanna Campbell, was our judge for the FLF & Greenacre Writers short story competition.

James Woolf, 2nd Prize, reading his short story
You can read the winning stories here.

Joanna started off by announcing the first, second and third prizes for the competition. James Woolf who won second prize attended the festival and read his short story, The Wondwossi Hotel.

She also gave a presentation about her writing career, her experiences of living in Germany, which sowed the seeds for her novel and her thoughts about the power of the short story.

'Nothing can be empty of meaning or irrelevant in a short story. It may not always need a plot, but it must have a point.'

Joanna discussed a variety of research methods, which included purchasing communist chocolate bars (all in the interests of thorough research of course), and the stretching of the imagination beyond the usual limits of knowledge and experience. When talking about character she said:

'Often the characters have little to gain, but everything to lose. Any topic, any revelation, any shock or shedding of skin, is fair game for a short story. It’s a raw, intense moment, so make the reader gasp, panic, laugh, weep.'

She cleverly likened the short story to fish:

'Where a novel is a shoal on a mission, the short story is a single fish, close to the surface of the sea. Its appearance is fleeting, a bright flash before it vanishes into deep water. But for that moment, its delicate scales, its streamlined shape, are clearly defined. It doesn’t make waves and it passes in silence, but we have no doubt we have seen it.'

There were some wonderful references to famous writers including:

'According to Frank O'Connor, in a novel the crisis is the destination, the plausible outcome of all the foregoing action. In short fiction, the crisis is the story.'

She spoke about editing:

By the time you have written a story—honed it, then added a word, deleted it, then put it back in (twenty times over), polished the thing, put it away, taken it out, printed it, read it aloud, paced the room declaring it the worst bilge ever to grace a perfectly good piece of paper—you have strayed a long, long way from your own self. And you have done this not to escape from life, but to make it more fathomable, more bearable. You have created other, imperfect people who struggle from minute to minute.

And the whole thing:

'You have made a world detached from you, a world which stands alone, able to exist in isolation. And therefore, although you have made fiction, you have also made truth.'

Joanna spoke about how shyness meant she would lock herself away, perfect for writers to get on with the important stuff of writing but not always so good for the writer. It was good to be reminded that characters must be allowed to take the lead:

Joanna was pleased to meet up with Antonia Honeywell
'Too much confidence can be risky for writers. You must allow yourself to get things wrong. You make progress by recognising mistakes. Your characters should be allowed to take you by surprise and yell, ‘you’re barking up the wrong tree here’.'

And continuing to talk about writing confidence said:

'Perhaps writers possess a different kind of confidence. Not the outward kind, but something entrenched inside, borne perhaps from experience, from childhood, from suffering. The East German novelist, Christa Wolf, talked of how “a deep pain or a deep concentration lights up the landscape within.”'

Joanna read from her collection of short stories, When Planets Slip Their Tracks and an extract from her novel, Tying Down the Lion. We were delighted a few days later to discover that When Planets Slip Their Tracks had been shortlisted for The Rubery Book Award.)

Tying Down the Lion, Joanna's debut novel, is published by Brick Lane and was long-listed for The Guardian's Not the Booker prize 2015. When Planets Slip Their Tracks, published by Ink Tears, is Joanna's collection of prize-winning stories.
Her prizewinning stories have been published in many magazines, Mslexia, The Lampeter Review and The New Writer. She has been shortlisted many times for the Bridport Prize, the Fish Prize and the Flannery O'Connor Award. In 2013 she came second in the William Trevor/Elizabeth Bowen International Short Story Competition and won the local prize in the Bath Short Story Award. She has been published in many anthologies, has a novel published and a short story collection which we will hear more about later. It was our great honour to welcome Joanna Campbell and give her our thanks for being our judge and such an excellent speaker. We shan't forget this lovely day.

Follow Joanna on Twitter: @PygmyProse


Joanna said...

Thank you so much, Rosie, for this lovely post. I will treasure all your kind words and all my superb memories of a wonderful day. It was a huge pleasure to meet you all and take part in such a great occasion and congratulations again to all the talented writers on the competition shortlist. It was an honour to be invited to judge. xxx

Lindsay said...

A lovely post that sums up Joanna's session extremely well.

Rosie Canning said...

Thank you.

Rosie Canning said...

Oh what a lovely day was had by us all. And now a wonderful memory.