Give Him A Reading: a review of Lanyards by Neil Campbell and a reading at Waterstones, Deansgate by the author, chaired by Nick Royle, on November 7th, 2019
When the team meets up to plan the Manchester Literature Festival, Neil Campbell deserves a place on any events list. He is one of the few writers writing about working class life in the North West from the inside. He knows his Ancoats from his Audenshaw (hereafter, Audi), his Universal credit from his Minimum Wage.
The third volume of his Manchester Trilogy, Lanyards, follows the employment and under-employment of a writer, not unlike Campbell. He is interested in writing about work, a rarity amongst English writers.
The funniest episodes in the book focus on a call centre in South Manchester, work as a special needs assistant and warehouse work. Campbell excels in deadpan, downbeat dialogue that often leads from nowhere to nowhere:
“You are happy with the role?”
“Nothing we can help you with?”
“No, don’t think so.”
“Now you were off on Saturday. Why didn’t you phone in?”
“Who did you speak to?”
“I forget her name. but I told her to tell you I wouldn’t be in.”
“Well you aren’t supposed to leave a message. If you can’t get through you need to try the other phone number.”
“I did get through.”
“Okay, I’m not going to argue with you about that.”
“Who is arguing?”
Anyone who saw Nick Royle’s attempts to reveal more about Campbell’s work will be familiar with this type of questioning and reply, the dialogue that conceals as much as it reveals, and the swapping of authoritative roles. Exactly who is in control of the conversation and to what ends?
The writing style is low-key and unflamboyant. Unsurprisingly, Campbell’s favourite writers are Charles Bukowski, especially the Bukowski of Post Office, Raymond Carver and John Steinbeck – the writers of blue collar America:
I had to show I’d spent thirty odd hours per week looking for work. I was supposed to do it as I went along. I put down two hours per day checking emails, job alerts from Indeed and CV Library, and then padded it out with other stuff.
Throughout his career Campbell has specialized in short stories from his first anthology Broken Doll through Pictures from Hopper. Most include his customary laconic style.
If he lived in Glasgow, Campbell would be feted as a son of Kelman and be at the forefront of an Albion Rovers style anthology. Like the writers in that anthology, he understands how sport underpins working class life. It is time that Manchester recognized his worth as a unique voice within the city. “Lanyards” is a welcome addition to the literature of Manchester at work. On Friday I take delivery of Skyhooks the first volume of the trilogy. I can’t wait.
(Lanyards is published by Salt Publishing at £9.99)