Author Q&A:
Neil Campbell

Lanyards (Salt, £9.99)

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The third part in Neil Campbell’s autobiographical Manchester trilogy, Lanyards follows a white working-class narrator as he bounces between menial jobs, pursues an unprofitable writing career and begins a new relationship. Campbell mixes observations on the changing city with personal reflections in a narrative that is at once ordinary and compelling. 

Would you describe Lanyards as autofiction and is it more autobiographical than your previous two novels?
Autobiographical fiction, yes. This one is perhaps slightly more autobiographical, but really it’s always a mixture of memory and imagination, or, as Steinbeck said, “cutting up reality to make it more real”.

Manchester seems to glorify its “northern grit” and the culture that came out of the white working classes, but is there still room for those people in a city that’s rapidly developing?
The northern grit thing is a bit of a cliché, if you ask me, and my books avoid those clichés. It’s not really how we see ourselves here either. Central Manchester, in many ways, is like everywhere else in the UK – rich bastards trying to ignore the poor. In other ways Manchester, by which I mean Manchester, not just the city centre, is much more multi-faceted. For example Manchester City play the beautiful game. There’s no grit there, just pure poetry.

There’s lots of sitting around drinking in the pub in Lanyards but the characters inhabiting them are just as likely to discuss poetry as they are football. Would you challenge the perceived notion that working-class males are reluctant to take up creative or artistic pursuits?
Absolutely, based on my own experience. If that’s a perceived notion, then it must come from the middle class. This kind of thing is also fundamental to the characters in the fiction of James Kelman, the great solitary voice of working-class fiction in the UK for the last 30 years. I work at a place called Sharston Books and we get working-class intellectuals in all the time. It will never happen, but Glasgow should put up a statue of James Kelman.

The writing style changes through the book – from long passages of dialogue to sections with many paragraph breaks and some with none. Are you still experimenting with your style or trying to avoid one? 
I don’t think that’s a question of style, more about avoiding the potential monotony of continuous pages of prose. The dialogue breaks things up. There’s a definite pared down style in these novels, based on capturing the voice of the narrator. The style of my work varies from story to story, poem to poem, novel to novel. In the fiction I’m primarily concerned with voice.

You reference Hunter Thompson, Allen Ginsberg, Patti Smith and Charles Bukowski in the book – writers who run the gamut of literary genres. Are these your influences and what do they have in common?  
They are all outsiders in one form or another, as is the narrator of these novels. Only Bukowski has been an influence on my work, principally in terms of structuring a novel based essentially on work experiences. See Factotum and Post Office. I’m more into Kerouac than Ginsberg. Patti Smith is a phenomenal writer though, and I love her memoirs. And Thompson is a great writer. Forget the myth – just revere the best of his sentences.

According to your protagonist at least, being a published writer rarely pays the bills today. What keeps you putting pen to paper?
My protagonist has the typical struggles of many, many writers, particularly those not with big publishers. One of the aims of these novels was to try to capture what life is actually like for some writers in contemporary Britain. I keep putting pen to paper because that’s just what I do, and I want to keep exploring new possibilities. I’d also like to attract a good agent to help my work reach more people. Cheers for your interest.

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