Thea Phipps: I read ‘Walk to Paradise Garden’ in two days. It wasn’t a short novel. It wasn’t something I had to do. It was that I wanted to keep reading. By page 5, I was intensely curious about John Armitage, Campbell’s leading character. By page 12, I’d found another character that claimed even more of my interest. From the beginning to the end – which was more than satisfying – I walked to Paradise Garden alongside John and Evie. If you like books that leave you thinking about the characters long after you put the book down, if you like drama, the best of the human race, or the most infamous part of mankind’s colorful history, you will thoroughly enjoy ‘Walk to Paradise Garden’. After reading his book, I have some questions I’d like to ask the author, John Campbell, a.k.a. Nigel Fields:
How much of your own personality is reflected in your leading character John Armitage?
–John Armitage is possibly more courageous than I am but we share the same ideals. Personality? Hmm, perhaps you should ask my wife this question.
What was the motivation behind giving Evie such a scandalous secret?
–I didn’t plan this. It was one of those things that simply came from moving my fingers over the keys. I was influenced, however, by something in the book ‘The Kitchen Boy’ by Robert Alexander.
What inspired you to place part of the story in Chicago?
–Not only do I know Chicago (my hometown) but it was the center of the meatpacking industry. As a boy, I sometimes rode with my father to his job at Lake Forest College where we would pass by some remarkable estates. The Armour estate, of Armour Meats, really impressed me. And then I read The Jungle.
Without giving away too much of your plot, what is your favorite part of ‘Walk to Paradise Garden’? (A certain passage, a character and their development, a place, etc.) And why?
–I enjoy reading those scenes set in gardens, which were inserted after I’d first completed the story. Originally, the book was entitled. ‘Armitage House’, but after writing the big scene where Evie is giving her speech, I decided to play upon her garden metaphor in hopes this would add more strength to the music that had captivated her during her grieving, “The Walk to the Paradise Garden” by Delius. The scene in the Jardin des Tuileries in 1917 holds my interest, but I am especially pleased with the walled garden scene following the war, which serves as a transition for the story, for their lives together.
A writer usually has some kind of inspiration that they utilize to prepare their mind to write and heighten their creativity. Sometimes it is a ritual, or a favorite place to sit and write, a work of art, or a piece of music, another piece of literature, etc. Did you have one while writing ‘Walk to Paradise Garden’, and if so, what was it?
–My inspiration pulls from a lifetime of things, many of which I hold dear. To a large degree, these include things that I’ve read. Our home, built in 1916, has a few nooks that many a writer would likely find conducive to such literary inspiration: a sunroom facing our garden, a leather chair near the fireplace, but I really just need to be at a computer keyboard with a measure of quiet. I visualize scenes and pull from the reservoir life’s experiences offer us. I have a musical background but when I write, I go rather deaf—just ask my wife. So, it doesn’t really matter what’s playing at those times. I did try to capture the bucolic tones of the Delius, but that was after I was already on that type of path.
Writing a full length novel is completely different from writing short stories. A writer discovers the weak points that he or she has to work on, the strengths, what the most enjoyable part of the process is, etc. What secrets about yourself or about writing have you learned?
–That I’m no good at writing short stories. Everything turns into an epic, and I have no idea what this says about me.
I don’t know if this is a strength or a weakness but I try not to overstay my welcome with any given scene. I fear jeopardizing a scene’s power by overdoing it. And I’m only aware of this because, as a weakness, I’ve found this to be so when I’ve talked too long on a topic. The beauty of writing is that you can fix something before it’s ‘out of your mouth.’
If John Armitage had only one important message to tell others after living his life, what would it be?
–To respect people regardless of their disadvantages, their lack of social tools or despite their personal baggage.
I understand that you are working on your second novel. What is it about? Is there a tantalizing blurb you can give us that will whet our appetite for another work from Nigel Fields a.k.a. John Campbell?
–I will continue to work with the era surrounding 1914. And my second novel will play upon another British composer’s work: A Lark Ascending by Ralph Vaughan Williams. This story begins during the main character’s boyhood. He witnesses a crime, has serious issues with his father’s shellshock and, as a result of the latter, he comes to live in a very bohemian setting. The boy will eventually become an investigative journalist, which should get him into all kinds of trouble.