Karen Campbell/Nicola Upson
Inverness Book Festival
WHO knew Sydney Devine fans could be so dangerous?
Certainly not policewoman turned author Karen Campbell — not until a perhaps incautious word with one of the Glasgow crooner’s more enthusiastic fans resulted in her getting a bashing with a stiletto heel.
It was one of the few times in her police career that Campbell was the victim of an assault, but being a novelist fortunately comes without such physical dangers.
It may seen a odd career progression, but her interviewer for this Inverness Book Festival event, journalist Peter Ross, wondered why it was one more police officers had not followed. After all, being a police office must offer plenty of material for a budding novelist?
Campbell agreed, likening being a member of the police to lifting the carpet of the city and revealing that one of the worst domestic disputes she had ever attended was not in a tenement, but in a much posher doctor’s house.
There were no such thoughts of a writing career when Campbell first joined that police at the age of 20 after university.
There was a family history of police service, with both her parents having been police officers, but a bigger motivation for joining the service might simply have been that Campbell did not know what she wanted to do.
"For someone who doesn’t know what they want to do, the police is quite good because it’s different every day," she said.
"Being in the police, you are in a job where you are running towards things most people are running away from."
Her first four published books drew on that experience, though they were more about what it was like to be a policeman or woman than solving a particular crime.
As Campbell pointed out, one book centred around a firearms incident, but she had never held a gun, and the closest she had got to a dead body was standing outside.
Which was why she did not find it as much as a leap as some of her interviewers that her latest novel, This Is Where I Am, pretty much leaves the police behind and focuses on the experience of a Somali asylum seeker in Glasgow.
It was a subject she had come to know a little about through her husband’s work with a refugee charity, but though the experiences of Abdi and his daughter mirror some real life events, the story itself is fiction.
"I didn’t want to steal any one person’s story because that would be dishonest. Besides, if you do that, you’re not really stretching your creative muscles," she said.
"It was a story I felt I wanted to write.
"Also I felt that I didn’t want to write it in any kind of dialect for Abdi because I might not get it right, but also because I felt that would make him cartoonish.
"Abdi thinks he speaks a bit of English. Then he comes to Glasgow — you may have had the same problem."
It might be a book dealing with some tough issues, but Campbell certainly does not intend it to be a downer of a read.
"I would hate somebody to close my book and think: ‘That’s it! I’m bloody depressed now!’" she declared.
"Reading is about entertainment too."
Nicola Upson, appearing an hour later, is also linked to the crime genre, but finds it a more comfortable fit for her Golden Age detective novels.
Not without some controversy, Upson has made her central character crime writer Josephine Tey, who was born and lived in Inverness where she was better known to her neighbours as Elizabeth Macintosh.
Upson, who only refers to the writer by her Tey pseudonym and never her real name in her books, admitted that even she could not always tell where fact and fiction met in her books.
Upson had planned on writing a biography of Tey until the night her partner gave her the wine-fuelled suggestion that she "just make the bloody thing up", so had already done much of the research by interviewing friends and colleagues of Tey, including the actor Sir John Gielgud.
Upson defended herself when asked by interviewer Nicky Marr what Tey, who was well known for presenting different personas, from more extravagant side in London to her more private one at home in Inverness.
However, Upson’s decision to give her version of Tey a lesbian relationship, prompted a reaction from one audience member who revealed she had written her own biography of Macintosh/Tey.
Upson conceded that there was ambiguity about the author’s sexuality although "going around wearing ties and calling herself Gordon (Gordon Daviot was an early pen-name) didn’t help her in certain sections of Inverness", but admitted that the main reason she had introduced a lover was that she wanted to write a love story.
"We crime writers are good at murder. Not so good at love," she said.
Upson also touched on Macintosh/Tey’s sometimes prickly relationship with Inverness, which Macintosh described as "that bloody little town", but also spoke of how the radio adaptation of her first novel had brought her an unlikely celebrity fan — bad boy rock star Pete Doherty.
"He was in Wormwoood Scrubs and said it had kept him going," a delighted Upson said.
But what of Elizabeth Macintosh herself? What would she think of the books, Marr asked?
"I think she would have a grudging admiration for the cheek of it," Upson said.