Behind the Sentences with... Niamh Campbell
Niamh Campbell is shortlisted for her story, Love Many
Where do you work? Describe your space, what it looks and feels like, and what you like about it, and why it’s a conducive place to write...
I used to work between my office and cafes; since lockdown, I write in bed. It’s not ideal. I wrote my first novel in the parlour of the house I was then renting, surrounded by broken furniture, with a space heater and the Vipassana catchphrase – work patiently and persistently and you are bound to be successful! – written on a piece of paper and stuck to the wall. There was a deep, ancient smell of mould, which still permeates all paperwork from that era of my life.
What is your writing routine? Are you a morning or evening person, do you have any rituals associated with your writing? What happens if your routine isn’t adhered to?
I work in the very early am. I like to feel as though I am the only person awake. I write on an empty stomach too – eating breaks the spell, so it is pointless trying to write after 11am.
Do you have any writer “habits” – bad or otherwise? Any common words that you notice you used in every paragraph, or typos you make, specific pens or notebooks, or do you have to have a snack at the same time every day, for example?
I drink a lot of ‘terrible’ (not my words) instant coffee. I will make two mugs, one cooled slightly with cold water, one hot. I drink the first while the second cools, then drink the second, then make two more.
I type, but if I’m writing longhand, I use cheap fountain pens and use unlined artist’s sketchbooks. I knew a writer who did this, and I so looked up to them I began to copy the habit. Fountain pens give gravitas to a situation, deserved or not.
As for bad habits, I have known for a long time that my usage of semicolons is out of control; I just don’t know how to stop.
If you could develop one amazing habit (a kind of writer super-power) what would it be?
If I could have a superpower, it would be focus. Since life went online, my focus has been depleted horribly. I used to be able to pay sustained attention to genuinely boring things, but now I struggle to read a book. It’s tragic and decadent and a real shame.
What happens when you stop writing? Away from the page, what do you do to relax; or what happens if you have writers’ block? Do you have any tricks to escape it? How do you reward yourself or celebrate after the completion of a story or manuscript, or on publication day?
When I’m not writing – if I don’t have to do another ‘day’ job – I like to walk. I live by the Phoenix Park, so I go for long walks there, as well as on the coast and in the city. My favourite place to walk is Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin, which is always interesting: last time I visited I found the grave of a Victorian murder victim and that of James Joyce’s parents by accident. I grew up close to a graveyard and I consider them relaxing places to walk in, partly because I’m nosy, and they don’t frighten me at all.
I don’t think I reward myself, formally, for finishing anything, but there is a certain relish to be taken in PDF-ing a draft, as if there is no going back, as if it’s beginning its journey towards autonomy in the world by acting like you didn’t even write it at all.