Happy Hump Day all!! Today on Meet the Author we’re talking to the absolutely lovely Rob Campbell…..anyone that reads my blog will know how much I love the Wardens of the Black Heart trilogy and am eagerly awaiting the final book! So I’m excited to learn more about the man himself…..I hope you enjoy this interview which had me chuckling throughout!!
Young Adult / Mystery
Tell us a bit about yourself:
I’m a Mancunian born and bred. I live with my wife and two daughters, and pretty much everything that I do is centred on family. We all love holidays and try to get away as much as we can. When I’m at home, I enjoy reading, films, TV and music. I love music, particularly American singer-songwriters like Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and Josh Ritter. Basically, musicians who combine great music with thoughtful lyrics or a good story in their songs. I’m also a life-long Manchester City fan (of the armchair variety).
What inspired you to start writing?
The idea that I could entertain others by being creative and putting a book out. I’m inspired by the films and TV I watch, the books I read, and the music I listen to. Sometimes it’s the words in a song, other times just the atmosphere. I had the idea for my debut novel, Monkey Arkwright, as far back as 2010 – I even wrote two or three chapters. Initially, the story was simply the tale of a boy who loved to climb. But I wanted something darker than this, and the idea for the core of the novel as it stands today, and the trilogy of which it is part, didn’t come until 2016. Part of the inspiration comes from films that I enjoyed growing up, where a bunch of kids stumble across something in the woods, or some secret in their home town. The Goonie sand Stand By Me are good examples. Netflix’s Stranger Things is a more recent example of the vibe I’m going for with my books.What I look for in a book is some mystery – a character with a hidden past or some shadowy conspiracy with a secret that’s about to be set loose in the world. I was thinking about all of these things and throwing them into the melting pot when I was cooking up the plot for Monkey Arkwright. My main characters, Lorna and Monkey, are struggling with very real issues before they stumble across the secret that changes their lives. Whilst I’d classify my books as YA, there’s no vampires, and I’d like to think that I offer something a little bit deeper. I’ve put a lot of effort into creating a story that has multiple layers so that there’s a depth that older readers can appreciate. There’s adventure in the form of urban exploration, and I wanted my books to feature characters people can root for, antagonists that ooze menace, and a labyrinthine plot that slowly spills its shocking secrets to the unwary reader.
How many books have you written and published?
I’ve written and published the first two parts in my Wardens of the Black Heart trilogy –
Monkey Arkwright (2017) & Black Hearts Rising (2019) – in addition to a related short story, The Mysterious Mr Gooch (2018)
Which book, out of all the books you have written, is your favourite and why?
I’m bound to say this, aren’t I? But I’d pick my most recent, Black Hearts Rising. With the exception of the epilogue, Monkey Arkwright is written in the first-person, with one of my main protagonists, Lorna, acting as the narrator. But writing that epilogue in the third-person, from the perspective of my antagonist, Charles Gooch, opened up a whole new series of possibilities for the second book. Several chapters in Black Hearts Rising are told from Gooch’s point-of-view, and this gave me an effective way to round out the story, giving a window on things that were happening that Lorna and Monkey couldn’t possibly have known about. It also gave me a chance to unspool Gooch’s fascinating backstory – his escape to the US in the early part of the 20thcentury, how he first got involved with the shadowy group at the heart of my books, his part in an event that shook the world in the 1980s, and the reasons why he hounds Lorna and Monkey. I think that seeing events from Gooch’s past will be both entertaining and enlightening for readers, making them look at what happened in the first book in a different light.
How do you choose the names of your characters?
I’ll quite often go to members of band that I like, or sportsmen. Lorna’s surname, Bryson, for example, is the name of a guitarist in a band that I like. Monkey Arkwright is a combination of the phrase “little monkey” and a northern surname – the juxtaposition of the two names appealed to me, and I think it gives me a unique book title. The genesis of Monkey as a character came from my youngest daughter, Rachel, who is now my editor. When she was a toddler, she’d climb on anything and everything – it’s what gave me the idea for Monkey’s character.
The name of my main antagonist, Charles Gooch, owes a debt to the 70s/80s American sitcomDiff’rent Strokes. Many times, Arnold and his friend Dudley would mention the notorious school bully “The Gooch”, Arnold going wide-eyed with fear at the mere mention of the name. But the funny thing was that “The Gooch” never appeared on screen, and that was always one of the best things about the show for me – the fact that the characters could talk about somebody who the viewers never saw, yet inspire a feeling of fear just by the sheer mention of his name. The name just felt right for a sinister villain, and I can’t imagine my book without the name Charles Gooch in it.
In other cases, I like to combine fairly normal names that just sound good, or quirky, together: Victoria Halfpenny and Dylan Fogg are good examples.
Which of your characters would you want to be stranded on an island with, and why?
We’re talking about a desert island, right? Not the Isle of Man or a traffic island in Milton Keynes? I’m not really like any of the main characters in my books, so to be stranded on an island with any of them might be a bit of an issue. I’m going to pick one of my supporting cast, Mick Brodowski. Given that he’s the editor of a newspaper, he’d probably have some interesting tales to tell. Plus, the way I’ve portrayed him in my books means that I’d probably get on well with him; putting the world to rights and scoffing with cynicism at the trivialities of modern life.
Who is your favourite author and which of their books is your favourite, and why?
Joe Abercrombie. He writes in the fantasy genre but he’s one of a growing number of writers who like to bring a bit of realism to proceedings. Whilst his stories are set in another world, it feels very much like middle-ages Europe – magic is kept to a minimum, and the characters that we come across bleed, sweat, swear and suffer from problems that, in many cases, the reader can empathise with. Joe Abercrombie’s calling card is his brilliance in creating characters and making them leap off the page – Inquistor Glokta being a perfect example. A crippled war veteran-turned-torturer, he does bad things in service of his superiors, yet he has such a wonderful sense of gallows humour and cynicism that after only a few pages, you find yourself rooting for him. This is some achievement given the subject matter. Abercrombie’s books are full of such characters, his writing is beautiful and his stories engaging. I’d pick the first book in his “First Law” trilogy, The Blade Itself, as my favourite.
What is the first thing you can remember writing?
From an early age, I remember watching films and reading books and coming away with a burning desire to create something of my own. One story that stands out in my memory was an essay that I wrote in an English class. The teacher asked the class to write a story about a dictator taking over the world. I’m going to show my age here, but combining my love of the TV series The A-team, and football, I came up with the idea for The C-Team. The concept behind this lost classic was that the legendary football manager, Brian Clough, got so big-headed that he took over the world. I can’t remember all the details, but in one scene, I described how he had Mount Rushmore redesigned to accommodate a sculpture of his head, and had it renamed Mount Cloughmore! Thinking back, the idea was probably far better than the execution.
What other jobs have you done other than being an author?
It’s fortunate that I don’t have to rely on my author’s income – otherwise I’d be miserable and hungry. I’ve been a software engineer ever since graduating 28 years ago, and I’ve been in my current job for more than 22 years. A colleague once explained what we do to a friend as follows: We’re the Doctor Dolittle’s of the automotive world – whilst the good doctor talks with the animals, we talk to your cars! Or in simpler terms, I write the software that talks to all that electronic equipment fitted to your car.
I think that being a software engineer, writing all that code and the documentation that goes with it, has given me the discipline that’s necessary to get on with writing my novels. My day job requires a lot of technical skills, and I think that some of those skills are transferable to the creative writing process; activities such as organising the plot, planning the chapters out, keeping track of the characters arcs have some overlap with the software development process (but writing is a lot more fun, of course).
In my younger days, I did volunteer work as a hospital radio presenter for Radio Cavell in the Royal Oldham Hospital.
If you could get in a time machine and had one chance to travel, where would you go? (Backwards or forwards!)
Sometime during the Victorian age. We are currently living in a time where technology is taking over our lives – in both good ways and bad. But I think it would be interesting to talk to the famous explorers of the nineteenth century, or the people who put together the worldwide telegraph system, or what about being able to visit the Great Exhibition and seeing The Crystal Palace? Can you imagine being there when photographs of people first appeared? Or when electricity was first demonstrated? It must have seemed like some form of magic!
If you could have one conversation with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
It might be a boring answer for readers, but it would have to be my dad. He lived a great life before he died aged 83 a few years ago. He gave my mum, my brother and me a wonderful life, was a great grandad to my kids, and everybody loved his easy-going personality and his wonderful sense of humour. Just to be able to talk to him again…
What are your favourite things to do?
Holidays. As a family, much of our year is based around planning and enjoying them. We’ve always tried to get away two or three times a year, and being lucky enough to have paid off the mortgage, we’ve been able to add in a few city breaks as well. We’re currently in the “you only live once” phase – my two daughters are growing up, and my wife and I are lucky that they still enjoy being around us, but of course we don’t know how far away the day is when they want to start doing their own things. Where many people might have moved on up the housing chain or changed their bathroom every five minutes, we’ve spent a lot of money on holidays over the past twenty years, but the head full of memories that I have as a result is priceless. Our favourites include Orlando, Disneyland Paris (yes, we’re Disney freaks) and Spain’s cities and resorts.
What is the strangest thing that has ever happened to you?
I’ve been wracking my brains on this one! I can’t say that anything truly strange has ever happened to me, except that one time that I was abducted by aliens and forced at gunpoint to explain the rules of Cluedo to them. No, seriously, the best that I can come up with ties in with my holiday obsession described above. There’s a hotel on Spain’s Costa Brava (The Golden Taurus Park in Pineda-de-Mar, since you asked) that we’ve been going to for more than ten years. To cut a long story short, we’ve become quite well-known there for our holiday videos. It started off when we used to do a typical video clips-plus-music compilation for YouTube, but then we started putting in little comedy sketches, roping in the hotel’s entertainment team, and generally acting the goat for the camera. My eldest daughter, Lauren, edits the videos and we post them on YouTube where we get hundreds, and in some cases thousands, of views. It’s very rewarding when guests around the hotel stop you to say that they’ve seen your video from last year and enjoyed it, and a little strange when random people point at you and shout “It’s YouTube Man!” across the hotel foyer!
If you could give your younger writing self any advice what would it be?
If a mysterious apparition appears and tries to give you writing advice, book a visit with your doctor! Concentrate on the characters. If you make them believable and interesting, the plot will take care of itself.
Name one book you think everyone should read?!
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. I could go on all day about this book. It is followed by three more, and together they make up the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series, but it is the first book that is truly exceptional. The author combines superb characterisation, prose and mystery on the streets of gothic Barcelona, weaving it all into a spellbinding tale that lovers of books will adore. The novel opens in 1945, when we meet the main protagonist, a young boy named Daniel Sempere. His father, owner of the Sempere & Sons bookshop, takes Daniel to visit the aforementioned Cemetery of Forgotten Books, which is a hidden library in the heart of Barcelona’s old town. But this is no ordinary library – it is a labyrinth of seemingly impossible geometry, with endless twisting passages in which one could get lost. Visitors are invited to select one book from the library, and to take it away, making it part of their life. When Daniel selects a book by an obscure Spanish author, the haunting mystery that unfolds will change his life forever. Now stop reading my chimp-like fawning and go and buy it!
And finally, tell us about your most recent book and where we can find it?
My most recent book is Black Hearts Rising, but given that it’s part two of a trilogy, it makes more sense to present the blurb for the first book, Monkey Arkwright:-
Budding writer Lorna Bryson is struggling to come to terms with the recent death of her father when she meets Monkey Arkwright, the boy who loves to climb. The two strike up an immediate rapport, and Monkey challenges her to write about him, claiming that he can show her things that are worth writing about.
True to his word, Lorna is catapulted into Monkey’s world of climbing and other adventures in the churches, woodlands and abandoned places in and around their home town of Culverton Beck. When the two teenagers find an ancient coin in the woods, claims from potential owners soon flood in, including the mysterious Charles Gooch, who is adamant that the coin is his. But this is only the opening act in a much larger mystery that has its roots in some dark deeds that took place more than a century earlier.
Combining their talents, Lorna and Monkey set about fitting the pieces together in a tale of budding friendship, train-obsessed simpletons, the shadow of Napoleon and falling pianos.
Both books are available on Amazon Kindle via the links below:-
Thank you so much Rob for taking part! I absolutely loved learning more about you, and getting some sneaky peaks into the writing behind the books and characters that I love so much.
Thanks for reading my lovelies! Have a wonderful day.