Scots author Karen Campbell has written a number of novels.
She started out in crime fiction but her latest work – The Sound of the Hours – is set mainly in a small Tuscan town during World War 2.
Recently, however, she has turned her attentions to a slightly different project.
She is working with staff at Dumfries and Galloway Council to capture how they responded to the coronavirus pandemic in the region.
‘Beyond the call of duty’
“The project of writer in residence at the council is part of
a wider regionwide arts project called Atlas Pandemica being done by the Stove (an artist-led community group) in Dumfries,” she explained.
“The Stove invited local artists to bid for commissions about trying to document and make some sort of artistic response to what has been happening with the pandemic in Dumfries and Galloway.”
The Galloway-based writer already had some knowledge of the subject having volunteered with the council’s communications unit at the start of the crisis.
She submitted her idea – which was accepted – to record how staff were going “above and beyond the call of duty”.
“Basically what I am doing is reaching out to council staff, as many different types of jobs as possible, asking them to tell me their experiences and then I am going to fictionalise these,” she said.
“No-one will recognise themselves in a story it will just be me trying to give a flavour of the sorts of jobs and the sorts of ways people were coping over the initial three months.
“I am hoping to produce an anthology, ideally a hard cover paperback anthology that you can hold but at the very least something that is online.”
It will sit alongside a bigger artwork planned by Atlas Pandemica near the end of the project in December.
‘Slice of humanity’
“I have had a range of stuff from people working in refuse collection to people administering grants for businesses to teachers trying to create their classes online,” said Ms Campbell.
“I really want to get that cross-section of everybody that had to step up to the mark.”
She said she believed the stories would be relevant to people outside the local authority.
“We are all in this together and everyone that works for the council is still a mum trying to teach her kids at home or a person worried about their elderly relative who is shielding,” she said.
“It is a slice of humanity really that I am trying to gather.”
‘Piece of history’
Ms Campbell said the process had been “a lot different and a lot quicker” than writing a novel.
“This is giving staff a wee moment to stop and think – we did do something differently there,” she said.
“It is almost like a piece of history I want to pin down.
“I want to do this job well – not be sycophantic and not say everything was great – but just to give individual wee moments and individual voices the chance to be heard.”
Ms Campbell said it might also be a chance to address the “bad press” local authorities sometimes get.
“I don’t know if there is always that appreciation of the huge amount of care that there is within councils,” she said.
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“Folk in there really care about what they are doing.”
Through her final work – whatever format it ultimately takes – she hopes to shine a “wee spotlight” on the good work they do.
Extract from the short story Winter is Coming
You realise all the time that this will happen, with or without you, that communities will grow and protect and shelter and provide.
Hunched in the alienation of your spare room and your virtual screens, you realise it is their turn to matter, and it is your job to hold hands and steer and shepherd, to gather and steward and open up the box, to burst the bubbles and unlock doors and let folk soar, if they want to.
Suddenly, you understand. Why we call them services, and what it is to serve.
Courtesy of Karen Campbell