Today I’m talking to Jen Campbell, the author of the bestselling ‘Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops’ and also, now, ‘The Hungry Ghost Festival’ – her first collection of poetry, which has just been published by The Rialto.
AJ: Hi Jen, thanks for talking to me. Congratulations on The Hungry Ghost Festival, which I found to be a really engaging and poignant collection of poems. Can you tell us a little bit about how the collection came about and how long you worked on it for?
JC: Thanks, Andrea! I think the poems span over two years, when you look at them from start to finish. I didn’t deliberately set out to write a collection about the north-east, and my childhood, but I began to notice that the poetry I was writing tended to fall into one of two categories: one of those was a nostalgic/north-east/childhood/sea-memory type, and the other concerned freak shows, deformity and identity. The latter’s a longer collection I’m working on at the moment.
‘The Hungry Ghost Festival’ is not about what actually happened when I was younger; it’s often not even about real places. It’s about misremembered and strange things. It’s about girls praying to The Angel of the North. It’s about the idea of a mermaid born in the river Tyne. It’s about another girl who’s bullied for being a ‘real-life mermaid.’ It’s about Chinese lanterns, teenagers at the beach, and a family who run a sacred farm. It’s about lots of things.