Welcome to another edition of Wednesday Writing Warriors! Today I have crime author T.G. Campbell.
TSW: Tell us a bit about yourself. How did you get into writing?
Campbell: I’m the middle child of five and, as we were growing up, it wasn’t uncommon for my siblings and me to watch a crime drama on television with my mother. We would all discuss, and try to figure out, the mystery unfolding on screen. As I grew older, and I’d exhausted the young adult’s section in the local library, my mother introduced me to Agatha Christie’s books. I was hooked from the very first word.
It was Christie’s books, and the many years spent watching police and crime dramas on television, which birthed a dream in me to become a police officer. Unfortunately, due to various reasons, I was unable to realize this ambition. Rather than dwell on something I couldn’t change though, I decided to turn it into something positive. If I couldn’t be a police officer I’d write about one instead.
My first attempt at writing was actually a series of (short) scripts for a crime drama called the Sunsdale Murders. It featured a broody, female Detective Chief Inspector, called Colette Campbell, at its center. Needless to say, these scrips have never seen the light of day since!
My best friend, Jenny, always had words of encouragement for me whenever I’d produce a new ‘Sunsdale’ script for her to read, however. I wanted to repay her for this unconditional support by writing something especially for her. I also wanted to challenge myself to write a mystery like one of Agatha Christie’s. I therefore borrowed Writing Crime Fiction by H.R.F Keating from my local library, studied the mechanics of the classic detective story which were outlined within, and wrote Death of a Kindred. It was only forty pages long—and featured detectives with ludicrous names—but it was, nonetheless, a complete murder mystery. I presented it to my best friend for her sixteenth birthday—much to her delight—and discovered a newfound addiction for writing mysteries. My friend and I are still best friends to this day and, yes, she still has her copy of Death of a Kindred.
TSW: In which genre do you classify your writing?
Campbell: Primarily crime fiction. My current works are all set in London in 1896 though, which gives me a compulsion to provide as much of an accurate portrayal of the clothes, real-life-places, technologies, etc., as possible. I want to transport my readers back to the era in addition to challenging them with the puzzle of a good murder mystery. As a result, my writing may also be classed as Victoriana, crime-historical fiction, and historical fiction.
TSW: What books/short stories/novellas/poetry have you published, or what projects are you working on?
Campbell: Currently, I have two published books featuring the Bow Street Society: The Case of The Curious Client and The Case of The Lonesome Lushington. They are volumes one and two, respectively, in a long series I have planned.
There are also three short stories, currently published in eBook format only, which also feature the Bow Street Society. These stories form a sub-series of mini mysteries, designed to be read on the go, called the Bow Street Society Casebook. The aforementioned stories are, in order: The Case of The Shrinking Shopkeeper, The Case of The Winchester Wife, and The Case of The Perilous Pet.
I’m currently working on the third book in the main series—to be published in 2018—and a Bow Street Society Casebook short story collection. The collection will include the published stories above in addition to two, previously unseen, stories. There will also be a ‘notes from the author’ section, explaining the inspiration behind the collection, the real-life historical context of the plots & places, and my reasoning behind the mysteries’ creation. This bonus feature also appears in The Case of The Curious Client’s second edition, and will feature in the forthcoming second edition of The Case of The Lonesome Lushington.
Aside from my fiction writing, I also write a regular, monthly feature for Fresh Lifestyle Magazine. I was invited to write for the online magazine after The Case of The Curious Client won the magazine’s Book Award in April 2017. My feature has covered a wide variety of topics since it begin in May, including the tradition of street food in the Victorian era, Victorian era haircare techniques, and interviews with fellow authors John Bainbridge and Richard Jones. John writes Victorian era-set thrillers, while Richard has written numerous books about the paranormal and conducts regular historical tours and ghost walks around London.
Using some of the material from my extensive research, for my Bow Street Society books, I also wrote a list for Listverse entitled Top 10 Little Known Facts about Victorian Era Scotland Yard.
TSW: What is your favorite writing resource, be it a book, website, program…?
Campbell: The Queen’s London: A Pictorial and Descriptive Record of the streets, buildings, parks and scenery of the great metropolis in the fifty-ninth year of the reign of Her Majesty Queen Victoria by Cassell & Company Limited. It is a vast volume containing photographs of Victorian era London, along with descriptions to accompany each image. The reason why this is my favorite writing resource is because it was published in 1896—the very year my books and short stories are set! This was pure coincidence, but this source has been invaluable when forming a picture of a real-life place for the reader—specifically a picture which is true to the Victorian era incarnation of that place.
I found this source on Lee Jackson’s Victorian Dictionary website. The website itself is a veritable mine of literary and journalistic sources, from the Victorian era, about London.
TSW: Are you a plotter or pantser?
Campbell: I am, without a shadow of a doubt, a plotter. The crime fiction I write follows the classic “clue-puzzle” blueprint of the crime fiction golden age of the 1930s/1940s. Agatha Christie was the Queen of this type of crime fiction. It places as much emphasis on the puzzle, i.e. the mystery, as that which is placed on character development, setting, dialogue etc. It’s very important to me that my readers are able to follow the various clue trails and, in doing so, have the opportunity to solve the mystery. Rather than constantly dupe my readers into believing false information and/or leading them to a false solution, I strive to give my readers enough information so they may make an educated guess by the time they reach the “big reveal”. When the readers’ suspicions are proven right, the reader may be given a tremendous sense of satisfaction and enjoyment from that satisfaction. For me, this is what classic “clue-puzzle” mysteries (or cozy mysteries, as they’re referred to today) are all about.
I therefore have to plan out the mystery for each book/short story I write in order to ensure the reader can follow the trails. It also helps me organize characters’ alibis, red herrings, and the detectives’ journey from problem to solution. For me, the crime scene is the departure point for the reader and detectives alike. From there, I guide them both along various paths in the garden, i.e. the mystery. These paths may converge and separate at various points along the way but, ultimately, they will all flow into one path which leads both the characters and detectives to their final destination—the solution.
TSW: Can you give us a glimpse into your writing routine?
Campbell: I rarely write an entire first draft before I start the next stage of self-editing my work. I used to write an entire first draft and then start to edit it into a second draft but I, honestly, found it too difficult. With the many twists and turns a mystery story may take, I found I couldn’t hold the entire draft within my head while editing it. When I started writing The Case of The Curious Client, I decided to make things easier on myself. I wrote each chapter within its own Microsoft Word file. Within each file I’d write the various sections (or scenes), following my master plan.
After writing the first draft of a scene I would leave it, go away from my computer, think about the scene’s various elements, e.g. character developments, dialogue, descriptions, clues etc., and iron out any inconsistences in my head. When I returned to the computer, I would make the necessary changes. I would keep doing this until I was satisfied it was complete enough for me to move on. A lot of my ‘writing’ is actually done away from the computer and within my own imagination. Even though it sometimes feels like I’m watching a scene from a television program on repeat.
After all the chapters are complete, I put them together and take a day to do a full read through from start to finish. After this, it goes to my Beta Readers, followed by my editor. More editing and tweaking always follows, right up to the point where I hit ‘publish’.
I know a lot of other writers may frown upon my methodology when it comes to my initial drafting but it’s the method that works best for me. Due to the fact I write my chapters in separate files, I don’t keep a running tally of my word count. Actually, I have no idea of what my final word count will be/is until I put all the chapters together into a manuscript. I find keeping track of a word count as restrictive as trying to hold an entire first draft in my head!
TSW: What do you find to be the hardest part about writing?
Campbell: The technical side—that is, formatting. I’m very fortunate to have found an excellent editor in Susan Soares though. She’s taught me a great deal about this side of the process. I think I find the technical side the most difficult because everyone has their own opinion on what it should look like. Style manuals, articles, blogs, vlogs, even Facebook writing groups all have rules on how a page should be laid out and the whole show vs tell debate.
While I do agree quality should always be paramount —and that there is a minimum standard of quality all authors should strive for—I’m reluctant to automatically bow to the ‘rules’ of others simply because “everyone else does it”. Popularity doesn’t always equal quality. I therefore analyze the advice/rules I’m being given and decide if they make sense and/or are something I’ve seen done in traditionally published works. 9 times out of 10 I roll with the advice/rules. The rest of the time, I go with my instincts.
TSW: What does success look like to you?
Campbell: Someone who is so engrossed by my writing they feel the suspense and intrigue, smell the scents of Victorian London’s streets, know each character intimately, and feel a desperate emptiness when they finish reading my book/short story. Even if just one person experiences this while reading my work, I would’ve achieved success.
TSW: Are there any writers who inspire you?
Campbell: Agatha Christie —of course! I’ve also recently discovered the books of John Bainbridge. His Victorian era thrillers, about an avenger called William Quest, keep me on the edge of my seat from start to finish. John’s works don’t get the widespread readership they deserve, which is a shame. I’d recommend the William Quest books to anyone who enjoys action, intrigue, and adventure—even if history and the British Victorian era aren’t their usual go-to topics for their reading material.
TSW: What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned on your journey as a writer?
Campbell: Negative—even brutality harsh—feedback/reviews can be just as important, if not more important, than positive ones. They have the power to guide a writer back onto the right path by helping them identify what’s not working in their writing. Sometimes, pride can blind us to reality. Putting aside our pride and accepting we were wrong—despite our best intentions and hard work—can be the hardest thing to do, especially when you’re an independent writer. If you achieve this though, it can be very enlightening and very rewarding. It will also make you a stronger person and a better writer in the long run. Remember, failure is only an option if you choose it to be.
About T.G. Campbell:
T.G. (Tahnee Georgina) Campbell is the creator of the Bow Street Society—a fictional group of amateur detectives operating in Victorian London in 1896. Each of its civilian members has been enlisted for their unique skills or exceptional knowledge in a particular field, e.g. illusions, architecture, art etc. The Society feature in several published books and short stories. T.G. Campbell also writes a monthly feature for Fresh Lifestyle Magazine, covering a variety of topics from Victorian haircare to street food. She has published Top 10 Little Known Facts about Victorian Era Scotland Yard on Listverse. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature from the University of Winchester (Jane Austen is buried in that town’s cathedral). She’s previously worked for a charity supporting witnesses attending criminal court, and a project assisting current and ex-offenders into paid work or training. She enjoys doing extensive research for her writing, including visiting museums and locations in and around London on a regular basis. She currently lives in a city just outside London with her canary, Tweeps, and an extensive collection of souvenir cups.
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