Grinding to Valhalla

Interviewing the gamer with a thousand faces

Reading the text: Alan Campbell

Posted by Randolph Carter on May 12, 2009

god of clocks coverAuthor website:


Could you take a minute and explain what God of Clocks is about?

God of Clocks is the third book in the Deepgate Codex. One of the gods has broken Time, creating a bastard universe which impinges on our heroes’ world and throws up all manner of paradoxes. Temporal incarnations of the same character return to help their former and future selves defeat the Lord of the Maze by saving his life, while their allies travel through Hell intent on defeating the same Lord of the Maze by killing him. It turned out to be quite a complex plot, so I was glad I’d read the other two books in the series first.

What was the process like in getting your first book published?

I was extraordinarily lucky. After three years and about seven drafts, I finished Scar Night, and sent off my 50 page sample to an agent. He got back to me the next day, asking to see the rest. He read the book over the weekend and agreed to represent me on the Monday. After ironing out some flaws, we took it to the major publishers, and I’m pleased to say there was a lot of interest. A few weeks later the book was sold to Bantam and Tor.

Would you mind discussing your game developer background and perhaps why you decided to leave the industry?

I worked as a software engineer, developing games for years. There were a couple of reasons I left. I was certainly becoming tired of working on successive versions of Grand Theft Auto. But I was also quite ill at the time, and decided to make some major changes in my life. Thankfully, everything worked out well.

Would you say that your experience as a game developer has had any effect on you as a writer? Please explain.

A lot of people ask me this, and to be honest, I’m not sure if or how one affected the other. They’re both creative professions, so I can see why people make the connection. For me, writing comes from a love of reading books, while I enjoyed developing games because I liked to play them.

iron angel coverWhere do you happen to find inspiration for your writing?

The same place as everyone else. All around. Humans soak up everything we see and hear, piling it all into that cauldron we call a brain. The creative process involves delving in there for raw materials to make something, which we then inflict on others.

Are you or have you ever been a gamer? What has your gaming experience been like (board games, pen & paper RPGs, console & computer games, etc.)?

At school I once attended the D&D club, where I attempted to play a pen and paper RPG. But I couldn’t figure out what was going on. The regulars were all talking about Ear-seekers and armour classes, so I just panicked and never went back. Part of me thought, if I stay here, I am never going to get a girlfriend. But I’ve played computer games since I was a boy, starting with the VIC 20. Magazines printed games that you had to type into the computer yourself. The page margins were plastered with cool Sci-Fi graphics, and the blurb would say something like “as a commander of a unique prototype Uridium Class interstellar warship, only you can protect the Earth from the sinister Vogon hordes.” So you’d spend the whole day typing it in, only to discover that your Uridium Class interstellar warship was a yellow blob that moved left and right across the bottom of the screen, and the sinister Vogon horde was a green blob that moved left and right across the top of the screen, and the game crashed when you pressed the fire button.

Have you ever ventured into online worlds? If so, please explain what that experience has been like.

I played Unreal Tournament for a while. But then one day I joined a team storming the enemy base in Torlan. It was all going well. There we were, in tanks and scorpions, closing in on the enemy core under heavy fire, when one of the players with a nickname like Thoraxxx or DieMuthaDie, announced in high-pitched, adolescent voice, “Protect the power nodes, protect the power nodes!” That sort of shattered the illusion for me. I suddenly felt very old.

Games like World of Warcraft scare me, because I know that if I buy it, I’m never going to get any work done.

Grind is a term used frequently in gaming vernacular referring to something that is rather repetitive or unpleasant that one engages in in order to progress in the game.Would you say there is grinding in the writing process? Please explain.

Blank pages. You encounter hundreds and hundreds of them while writing a book. And every one looks daunting until you’ve filled it in.

By contrast, what would you say is one of the most rewarding things about being a writer?

When someone sends an email to say, cheers, I enjoyed your book.

Would you have any words of advice for the would-be-writers out there?

Two things. Be open to criticism. I’ve heard from various sources that a surprising number of unpublished writers are reluctant to alter a word of their work. They ignore advice, batting their hands and say, “I wrote it that way, because…” They’re unlikely to be published because if they’re not going to listen to their peers, then their not going to listen to an agent or an editor. scar night coverAs Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch said, “Murder your darlings.”

And secondly: always remember the advice of Ernest Hemingway. “The first draft of anything is shit.”

You wake up to a world where your Deepgate Codex novels have been made into an MMO. What race and class would you play and why?

Hmm… I’d play an Icarate. These are demented priests clad in rotting armour who travel across Hell, gathering souls for the Lord of the Maze. That particular job appeals to me because you’d get to meet a lot of interesting people, while enslaving them for all eternity.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with this gamer/reader audience?

Thanks for inviting me here, and for listening. If you’ve read this far, you probably deserve some sort of prize. And, of course, you’re very welcome to come and visit me at my blog.

One Response to “Reading the text: Alan Campbell”

  1. […] this series Reading the Text, and has interviewed writers like Sarah Monette, Ken Scholes, and Alan Campbell.  I’m very pleased to join such ranks.   My interview on gaming, being a writer, and living […]

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