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the unbearable urge to write.

Monday, 9 November 2015

From short story to novel with Joanna Campbell

LitPig is tickled pink to welcome his special guest, novelist and short storywriter, Joanna Campbell to the blog today. Firstly, CONGRATULATIONS to Joanna for winning the 2015 London Short Award last week - a terrific achievement. Read more here ...
He's been a pig fan of Joanna's writing for many years and is delighted that she's here today to talk about her obsession with the characters of a short story evolved into her debut novel Tying Down the Lion.

Joanna Campbell:
When I tried to write new stories after finishing the two-thousand word tale, A Temporary Uprooting, I discovered that, for several reasons, I had failed to seal the membrane over the Bishop family.

Firstly, having created and followed the Bishops to the point of departure for a momentous journey t a city featuring one of the most brutal fortified barriers on earth, I left them at the edge of the action. Roy's hands in his beloved driving-gloves were gripping the steering wheel, but I had not allowed him to engage gear. I was unable to shake off the image of the family who had stalled at the very outset of their quest.

Also, although it achieved a short-listing and a commendation in competitions, when A Temporary Uprooting was rejected for magazine publication, I questioned further its suitability for a workable piece of short fiction.
In addition, although I had not intended to blend fictional and real people, I had to accept that two of the Bishops were riddled with elements of my late father and brother. Although I feared my emotional attachment might encumber the writing process, I could not miss the chance of embarking on a final adventure with my family. As Bridget Bishop discovers, some steps in our lives need to be retraced.
I developed the story into a novel by adapting it as the first chapter. This, however, turned out to be a flawed idea. A short story is rarely the end of everything, but it is the end of something.
Short is not the same as incomplete. The act of ending a short story is a natural block for the writer, even if the reader would like it to continue. By trying to plough through the closure—albeit a poised-to-go closure—I encountered the drawback of beginning a novel with something essentially finished. In order to facilitate a smoother transition, I needed to open and unlace that ‘something’, then reconnect it in a different way.
Although further deletions took place during the final edits, elements of the original story were eventually incorporated throughout the novel, a process not unlike separating eggs. Just as any stray specks of yolk in the whites prevent a meringue from rising to peaks, if I had allowed too much of the short story’s inherent narrative flow to make the cut, it would have disturbed the novel’s pacing and structure.
In A Temporary Uprooting, Grandma Bishop stays behind when the family travel to Berlin. However, early readers of the novel asked if this larger-than-life lady could have a seat in the car, which meant blending in a back-story to deepen and soften her character and also delineate a more stimulating narrative arc.
Jacqueline Bishop did not plan to write a journal in the short story, but, despite her role as narrator, she appeared too passive and purposeless for the novel. Therefore, I gave her the task of producing a project about Berlin, not only for school, but also to bridge the widening gap between her and her German-born mother.
The semi-autobiographical character of Roy remained unchanged in the novel, his spirit and mission already established from the outset, via both my pen and my heart.
We can highly recommend Tying Down the Lion, a funny and moving read that's hard to put down. Here's my review from Goodreads:
I've been following Joanna Campbell's short story career for years - as we've featured on many a shortlist together (she usually won!) - and have always admired her excellent writing. Her debut novel doesn't disappoint and lives up to expectation. Well written and surprisingly funny throughout. Joanna knows how to weave tragedy and comedy together to create an incredibly satisfying and lingering read. I loved spending time with the Bishop family, particularly Nell the gran with attitude - I think we all know a few old ladies like Nell. Also enjoyed the 1967 setting, which brought back many early childhood memories of Woolworths / Angel Delight / Twinkle magazine and many more ... Longlisted for the Not-the-Booker-Prize 'Tying down the Lion' is a brilliant debut and I can't wait for Joanna's next novel.

Finally a little bit about Joanna and her writing career: Joanna's stories have been published in magazines such as The New Writer, Writer's Forum, The Yellow Room, Woman's Weekly and The People's Friend, as well as in collections published by Salt Publishing, Cinnamon Press, Spilling Ink, Earlyworks Press, Unbound Press, Rubery Press and Biscuit Publishing.
Shortlisted five times for the Bridport Prize and three times for the Fish Prize, she has stories in both the 2010 and 2013 Bristol Short Story Prize Anthologies.
You can follow Joanna on her writing blog here.
When Planets Slip Their Tracks, her first short story collection, will be published soon in hardback by Ink Tears Press.
Tying Down The Lion is published by Brick Lane. You can buy it from Amazon and I also ordered my copy from Waterstones.








  1. Thank you so much, Tracy and LitPig, for this lovely post. It really is an honour to be your guest today. In fact, LitPig, it has long since been my h-ambition as I am one of your piggest fans.
    I am so grateful for your very kind words about Tying Down The Lion and for all the support you have given me. More than anything, I love it when any words I have written have brought pleasure to a reader and proved to be entertaining. Thank you. xxx

    1. It has been a pleasure, Joanna, even with your dreadful puns. Now I'm looking forward to reading your collection when it comes out :)

    2. Thank you, Tracy! You've been a great support and I shall keep those puns coming - I know you love them really! xxx

  2. Great post - really interesting to read about your writing process, Joanna, and how you developed your short story into your novel (which I'm glad you did, as I very much enjoyed Tying Down the Lion). And such amazing news about your London Short Award - big congratulations!! Such exciting times xx

    1. Thanks for popping in, Vicki.

    2. Thank you so much, Vikki. It's been a very lucky year for me and I feel so grateful for all the support I've been given. I'm so glad I developed that short story and keep wondering if that will happen again! xxx

  3. What a fascinating post, Joanna - I loved reading about how you developed the short story into the novel and your readers must all thank you for it! Many congratulations again on the Story Award - you keep going from strength to even more strength and it's wonderful to see.

    1. Thank you, Rosemary, for the lovely comments.

    2. Thank you so much, Rosemary, for your kind words and for all the encouragement you have always given. I really enjoyed writing this post and love looking into the origins of stories, both my own and those of other writers, as those early beginnings can make fascinating stories of their own. xxx

  4. Really interesting to read how you created a novel from a short story as this is what I done. Like you, I thought it would be easy but in fact it took a lot of unraveling of the original story to make it work. I haven't started Tying Down the Lion yet (my tbr pile is ridiculous) but I am very much looking forward to it.

    1. Thank you for popping by, Wendy. I'd completely forgotten your novel also started out as a short story and a successful one at that. Can't wait for you to read Tying Down the Lion so we can compare notes :)

    2. Thank you so much, Wendy. It really is incredible how much unravelling there is to be done and whenever I come across the remaining scraps of the original story in the novel, I feel slightly overcome as they are reminders of how it all began and how far it has come. It's so kind of you to have TDTL in your tbr pile - thank you so much, Wendy, and I very much hope you enjoy it. xxx

  5. This is one I have to read, and when your readers want the gran to have a seat in the car, you've made her real. They care about her. Look forward to reading it when I get down a few I have on my kindle already. Great post Tracy and Joanna.