“I am homeless in a major UK city. I’m skint and I don’t know a soul.”
So begins a diary entry written by a Big Issue vendor that has been praised by established authors and street paper readers as a powerfully compelling insight into homelessness.
Recently made homeless, the writer – whose work is published under the pseudonym James Campbell – decided to chart his experiences of life on the streets.
After he joined The Big Issue as a vendor, Campbell contacted the street paper’s editorial team to ask if they would consider publishing his work.
In his writing, Campbell charts how he quickly became homeless after moving for a job which eventually fell through, and his subsequent experience sleeping rough in a major UK city.
“It just came to me one day that it might be helpful for me if I note down my experiences,” he told The Big Issue.
“It keeps me active and aware – I’m always observing. There are some negative and frightening experiences but many can be very positive, really funny. I think that might surprise people.”
Campbell would write on bits of paper, then go to the library next day and type them up. A voice began to emerge that paints a very different picture of life on the streets.
The clarity of his writing, and the humour and darkness in his storytelling, had the Big Issue staff hooked. They decided his work was too good not to share with readers and published the first entry in Campbell’s diary as a cover story last week.
After it appeared in the magazine, Big Issue readers took to social media to promote Campbell’s writing, including internationally-renowned Scottish authors Ian Rankin and Irvine Welsh – who Campbell cites as a major inspiration.
The diary was called “compelling” by Noel Smith, editor of Inside Time and author of The Criminal Alphabet, who has also spent time sleeping rough.
“This compelling piece of writing is on a subject the majority of people know far too little about,” he said. “I found it very evocative of my own experiences – the fear and strangeness of the life is almost palpable. I hope there is more of this to come as it is more interesting than anything I have read in a good while.”
The Big Issue also reported that Campbell’s writing was the talk of the Edinburgh Book Festival – the city where Campbell found himself rough-sleeping. It was hailed as “an interesting, well-written read”.
— Sharon Green (@SharonGChiara) August 11, 2015
Reader Lesley Stephenson’s sentiments were echoed by many. She tweeted: “This article sums up why I buy the mag in one – for the good and interesting writing and for the cause highlighted.”
Sharon Green added that she found the writing “Eye opening and shockingly honest.”
Peter Sas was the only one who expressed disappointment. “Disappointed with JC’s Journal in this week’s mag,” he tweeted, before continuing: “Disappointed that it wasn’t longer. Keep up the good work.”
Campbell says he will keep writing until he is back on his feet. Until that happens, The Big Issue will continue publishing updates from his diary.