Lanyards by Neil Campbell

Call me Mrs S Mug but as I was reading ‘Lanyards’ I kept thinking ‘this reminds me of Knausgaard ‘, one of my great literary loves. How surprised and triumphant I was to discover that Karl Ove himself makes an appearance! Early in the book the narrator actually goes to see the Norwegian writer at a reading in Central Library in Manchester, telling the Scandi literary god that he has helped him to improve his own writing. How could I not have known that my hero was in my city, that we were breathing the same air? However, upon googling the event to torture myself further I was unable to find any reference to it.

This raised a question about ‘Lanyards’. I had thought it was a true chronicle of the author’s life. It sounds authentic and I completely believed that it was. If not a novel or an autobiography then what is it? I notice that the narrator refers to Knausgaard’s writing as ‘autobiographical fiction’. Neil Campbell’s website calls it a novel. Whatever it is, I like it.

The premise may sound dull to some. ‘Lanyards’ is a low-key work describing the largely uneventful life of a middle aged man living in Manchester. The narrator, a writer, works in various temporary jobs around the city and the surrounding area. It’s a tale of modern working life with no job security and no paid breaks. Jobs include working in a call centre in Didsbury, as a learning support worker in a college in Tameside and in a warehouse. An attempt to become a tram driver ends in failure.

We learn that the narrator had been a promising footballer as a boy and the football world and the revelations about child abuse in the youth game feature. We read about the narrator’s efforts to be published, his attendance at reading events and involvement in the Manchester writing community. He talks a lot about writers he admires and I’ve compiled a reading list of books I like the sound of – including a couple of footballer autobiographies that I wouldn’t have thought about reading before.

He’s got some bugbears. Creative Writing courses come in for some stick. They produce ‘conceited cretins’ and exclude the working class due to their cost. The middle class are also a target for his dislike along with the  literature they prefer ‘researched, plot-based, historical cobblers’. Whoops, that’s most of my book collection out of the window.

The writing style is minimalist with some laugh out loud moments and great descriptions. I loved his account of a publisher’s household.

‘I visited him once, at his house on the wind-lashed plains of Newton le Willows. It was a maelstrom of screaming budgies, feral daughters and groaning lurchers, but his Mrs made a quality spag bol’

Campbell writes with great compassion and humour about relationships, friends and family, people the narrator meets in the pub, students he supports, some work mates. It’s hard to explain why all this is so compelling but it just is. Other reviews I’ve read call his style ‘authentic’ and I can’t better that. You can recognise a real life here. It’s not showy. There’s just a little tub thumping – see above – but I felt that a kind of tenderness for others and a humorous view of life is being revealed all the time.

‘Lanyards’ is the third novel in Neil’s Manchester Trilogy. It stands alone but I found that I wanted to find out more about the narrator and particularly his childhood and will now read the others. The Manchester Trilogy is available from Salt Publishing.

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