BackStory: Five Questions with MaryPat Campbell

The Walters Art Museum W.170 Book of Hours, ca. 1430-1440 333. fol. 165v

BackStory: Five Questions with MaryPat Campbell
Author of Love in the Margins

How much research did you do while writing and editing this piece? Did you discover anything that surprised you?

I follow a medieval manuscript site which gives me access to beautiful and quirky images of the detail in manuscripts, including sketches in the margins of texts. Here I discovered the practice of monks who sketched their fantasies, amusing or scandalous dream figures in the margins of scriptural texts. I love the subversion, and it led me to thoughts of a scribe with a rich, imaginative and passionate life, as he works each day on the business of perfecting his craft. I also found some ancient ink recipes, and instructions on how to prepare an animal hide to make the vellum.

What is your favourite part of the writing process? Your least favourite?

Favourite: Initial searching once I’ve hit on an idea, flotsam and jetsam. Visual imagery often inspires me. I can run with it easier than reading something factual. It’s a way in.
Least favourite: making decisions, editing.

What, if anything, do you have in common with your main character?

A good eye for colour, a sensual imagination, being Irish! (although I haven’t exactly placed him as an Irish monk, I think of him in one of the famous monasteries like Roscrea or Durrow, famous for their spectacular work in calligraphy and illumination).

What do you like most about writing flash?

It feels like a hybrid between prose and poetry. I’m an avid poetry reader.

How important is historical accuracy to you in your own writing?

In the early stages of researching a piece, historical accuracy is important. Slippage between so-called fact and fiction interests me. Historical fact gives me a place to anchor a story in, and then imagination can blossom. Making a stand for the imagination feels important in these days of ‘fake news’. It’s also a way to time travel.

MaryPat Campbell lives and works in London. While her interest in short-form writing is recent, her interest in early manuscripts and illumination is not. These two bring together her love of early design, calligraphy, the craft and creative work of writing. Although working on short fiction for a couple of years, she has not published before.

Image of Mary Magdalene courtesy of the Walters Art Museum, Digital Walters project.  W.170 Book of Hours, ca. 1430-1440; 333. fol. 165v. (CC0 1.0)