Clever Heather’s novel approach

Debut novel: Heather Hampson
Debut novel: Heather Hampson
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IT’S a long way from reviewing Busted and revived 1980s bands at Sheffield Arena to the ‘love mansion’ of a Premiership footballer.

But the journey – with a spell working for the civil service – has landed former Sheffield University student Heather Hampson a publishing deal for her debut novel.

Now based in London but for a while a regular contributor of concert and play reviews to these pages, Heather has invented Beaumont Alexander for her satire on celebrity culture mixed with crime noir, The Vanity Games.

She says the initial seeds for the e-book were planted during the twilight days of her studies in Sheffield, but she really put the idea on the pitch while working for the Central Office of Information.

“The Tories closed it down and I took redundancy, so I’m concentrating on the writing now,” says Heather, who had already penned short stories while living in Heeley and Hunters Bar.

Published under the name HJ Hampson, by Blasted Heath, The Vanity Game stemmed from the author’s interest in fame and celebrity culture.

Beaumont Alexander and girlfriend Krystal are a celebrity couple with their own designer scents, modelling contracts for jeans and endorsement deals for sunglasses, trainers and high energy drinks – and even their own internet dating site “to help you find love like theirs”.

It seems one wouldn’t have to think too hard about the inspiration behind Beaumont.

“I suppose the Beckhams were inspiration for the whole ‘brand’ side of Beaumont and Krystal,” says Heather, who studied history and philosophy before journalism training at Sheffield College.

“I remember being in Thailand, in some back water town and there was a huge billboard with David Beckham advertising a mobile phone.

“It made me think about how his image, the brand, is famous all around the world, and it has come to exist almost separate from the actual person.

“That is one of the key themes of the book, but the character of Beaumont was influenced by a lot of other people and a lot of things – some footballers, other famous people, dark thoughts within my own head.

“Beaumont is much nastier than David Beckham.”

During her Sheffield time Heather was the music editor on student paper The Steel Press but reckons her creative writing probably started with an Andy Warhol obsession developed as a teenager.

“I’ve often wondered what Warhol would have made of reality TV as it seems very Warholian to me. But his own obsession with fame and celebrity obviously has rubbed off on me.

“I was also influenced by writers like Bret Easton Ellis who have written about Hollywood. The main character was actually, at the very start, going to be an actor, but then the whole celebrity culture around footballers and WAGs happened, around the time of the 2006 World Cup really, and it so disgusted me that I had to satirise that.”

Of course, turning that into a novel was one thing, getting it published was another.

Heather has words of encouragement for other aspiring authors. After a number of drafts and redrafts, she got a copy of The Artists and Writers Yearbook and sought an agent.

“You need a thick skin as a writer and if you believe your work is good, just keep going.

“But make sure your work is the absolute best it can be before you unleash it into the world,” she says.

Heather began writing a second novel and went on a tutored retreat, run by the Arvon Foundation, at Moniack Mohr, in the Scottish Highlands.

She showed the opening chapters of The Vanity Game to one of the tutors who saw the potential of the work, read the rest of it and then recommended her to his agent, Judy Moir, a highly experienced agent based in Edinburgh who agreed to take Heather on, leading to a publishing contract with digital publishers Blasted Heath.

“Keep the faith, join a writing group, and network like hell at any given opportunity,” she says.