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Friday, March 30, 2018

The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night by Jen Campbell - Book Review, Interview & Giveaway

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Review by Suze

The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night is a collection of short stories with magical subjects. Hearts of animals can be placed in humans, hearts can be kept in a jar and each heart has a different effect on the person who carries it. A boy wonders if his sister has two souls and asks the weather woman about it, because she has so many answers. At Madame Honey’s Camp for children with names from the soil Lily didn’t return this summer, where did she go? A silent soldier walks in the house and eats dinner, after which he leaves without saying a word. Margaret’s parents are poor, so her mother encourages her to stop eating, finding an example in Mary, she then takes her daughter to the reverend who’s supposed to sort her out and Margaret ends up in a situation similar to Mary. Ghosts in jars are being sold on the market. Two people are each describing one of their beginnings. A kiss can make the misery of the world disappear for a while. Being close to death can be made possible in the Coffin Hotel. A girl is dreaming of the sea that will take her everywhere. What is the planet called The Hours? The colorful world of the sea experienced through the eyes of someone working in an aquarium. 

The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night is a fantastic variety of stories. Jen Campbell's poetic language and beautiful words enchanted me from the beginning. I loved the way she uses fairytales for her stories, she effortlessly captures their essence and that is an admirable skill. Some of her stories are gruesome, others are thought-provoking, a few are bizarre, but they always feel natural and exactly right. There’s a lot of variety in main characters, themes and length, which is something I really enjoyed. It kept me captivated and made me read all the stories in one sitting several times.

Jen Campbell's vivid writing makes her stories come to life in an incredible way. Her stories are true gems, they're perfectly written and each of them surprised me in a different way. She tells unique stories and the way she writes them is refreshing and unexpected. I fell in love with The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night straight away. I like that this is a book that can be read over and over again. Each time I read her stories I discover something new. I love how Jen Campbell's intelligent descriptions are making me think about all kinds of different topics and she achieves this while also mesmerizing me with the gorgeousness of the stories themselves. The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night is special. I absolutely love this terrific book and highly recommend it.


If you love fairytales and like unique short stories you don't want to miss The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night.

About Jen Campbell

Jen Campbell is an award-winning poet and short story writer. Her debut short story collection ‘The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night’ is published by Two Roads, and her first children’s book, ‘Franklin’s Flying Bookshop’ is published by Thames & Hudson. She is also the Sunday Times bestselling author of the ‘Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops’ series, and ‘The Bookshop Book.’ She is the recipient of an Eric Gregory Award and talks about books at where she has a following of over 40,000.



1) Can you tell our readers a bit about yourself?

My name’s Jen. I was a bookseller for ten years; I write books; I have a pet tortoise called Penny-Slow and a small dog with huge ears.

2) How did your love for fairytales start?

I think I first fell in love with fairy tales via Roald Dahl. I’ll never forget his lines about Red Riding Hood: ‘The small girl smiles. Her eyelid flickers. / She whips a pistol from her knickers.’ It showed me how you could play with convention, how you could subvert narratives.

3) Which key ingredients does a good fairytale have to have?

What I find fascinating is what we have romanticised these days, when it comes to fairy tales. Sleeping Beauty is not a love story. I prefer delving into the history of these tales - seeing their darker origins. I have a whole series about this on my channel over here, if you’d like to take a look. So, it’s not just the fairy tales themselves that I find interesting; it’s the context in which they came to be. A ‘good’ fairy tale is very subjective. I prefer tales like Sedna - an Inuit Fairy Tale - where Sedna, a girl punished for not marrying, gets to seek revenge.

4) What’s the most wonderful thing about writing short stories?

You can push the boundaries when it comes to short stories and ask your reader to believe in something bizarre for a short period of time, a world that - perhaps - they would struggle to believe in for an entire novel. You can also play with form and structure; be more experimental. I often think short stories are closer to poems than novels.

5) What does magical realism mean to you?

Magical realism, for me, allows me to comment on aspects of our society through a slightly different lens. For instance, in my short story Plum Pie. Zombie Green. Yellow Bee. Purple Monster, a group of teenagers who are sprouting plants from their bodies are sent to a summer camp, where scientists experiment on them. This is a story with a magical element, yes, but it’s also rooted in our world and is an exploration of disfigurement, and how those who look different are treated.

6) What do you like the most about your YouTube channel?

I set up my Booktube channel because I missed recommending new books. At the time, I’d moved from new bookselling to working in an antiquarian bookshop, and setting up my channel was a way to reach an audience and talk about the books I was reading. It’s still that, of course, but now I also make videos about writing and the publishing industry. Booktube is a great space where something solitary like reading has a community feel.

7) You’re passionate about representation in the media, can you tell a bit more about this?

It’s a difficult topic to condense but, in short, I’m passionate about advocating representation that is nuanced and is driven by those with lived experiences. All too often we see lazy tropes of villains having disfigurements; we see television shows that exploit people with bodily differences; we see actors ‘cripping up’ to portray a narrative that hasn’t been researched well. I want this to change.

8) You write haunting stories, do you find inspiration in everyday life and how do you use it?

When writing is your job, it’s more about motivation than inspiration. You have to force yourself to write - a lot of it will be bad, but if you write enough, something will shine through that you can pick out, dust off and work on. I actively search for inspiration by reading non-fiction on different topics, but the writing itself is a case of routine.

9) What is your favourite fairytale and why?

That changes all the time. I mentioned Sedna above, that is one of my favourite tales. I also love The Wild Swans and The Twelve Months. The latter is a Czech fairy tale that seems to be little known. You can find out more about that here.

10) What are your plans for the future?

To keep writing. My first children’s picture book ‘Franklin’s Flying Bookshop’ was published last year. The sequel will be out later this year, which is called ‘Franklin and Luna Go To The Moon.’ I’m about to start work on a novel for grown ups, too, which is a little daunting. Wish me luck!


One very lucky reader of With Love for Books will receive a hardcover copy of The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night by Jen Campbell.

The winner will be notified by email and has 3 days to respond. All of our giveaways are international.


  1. Love the captivating title and gorgeous cover. Great review and lovely to discover more about Jen.

  2. I love fairytale stories, this sounds fantastic.

  3. The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night sounds like a beautifully written collection of strange and unusual tales that sound magical, thoughtful and absorbing.

  4. I am intrigued by that cover!

  5. These stories sound very interesting! I'm curious about the ghosts in jars....

  6. i love jen's youtube channel so im sure ill love this too!

  7. This book sounds absolutely enchanting, also I love the gorgeous cover design!

  8. wow, that's a title that makes you wanna dig in! and boy, do I fancy reading this!!

  9. I love to read books that have a variety of stories in them. This sounds amazing and just right for me to read :)

  10. Great interview, thanks for sharing it.

  11. I love books that are a collection of short stories, and if they are magical, that is a bonus!

  12. This looks great, would love to read it. xx

  13. I enjoy stories with paranormal elements.

  14. I absolutely love the sound of it. I've read quite a few review about this story and yeah, I'd love to read it.

  15. Sounds unique, creative and original. Good luck with your books, and thank you for the review and giveaway

  16. ive heard lots of good things about this book

  17. Hi Jane! I read your book about the bookstores and their strange visitors! :)
    funny really stories!
    Βασιλική Α.

  18. The cover is very unique and intriguing. Cant wait to read!

  19. This sounds fascinating and the cover is gorgeous!

  20. Thank you for the great book prize and competition. Good luck everyone!

  21. Love the author's creativity! Would love to read this book.

  22. I’ve been following Jen and this book is on my TBR list!

  23. First-- this could be the best and most wonderful book title I've ever come across; that's a new bit of trivia that I'll have to jot down somewhere.
    This book. This book looks incredible! Why, of course everything is upside-down in this upside-down world. It makes perfect sense that way! ...These sound like worlds crafted by a superbly imaginative person, and they look beautiful, horrific, and perfect for getting oneself lost.
    Thank you,

  24. Well, what can I say that you haven't said already, Suze? I'm extremely impressed by Jen's fertile imagination, the vividness of her world building, and that cover! Definitely going on my to-buy-myself-for-my-birthday list!