A safe job gives way to sex, drugs and decadence in Tom Campbell’s The Planner

Tom Campbell

Tom Campbell - Credit: Archant

Having grown up in the quiet suburbs of Oxford, 42-year-old Tom Campbell hasn’t always been familiar with the grand metropolitan opportunities that London provides.

After graduating in history at Edinburgh University, he moved to the English capital in the early 90s and quickly began to feel the distinct division of fortunes between his circles of friends.

Some had swiftly risen as high-flying bankers; others became journalists who were able to enjoy book launches and art gallery openings.

He, meanwhile, was spending much of his 20s and early 30s going through a series of jobs that – while certainly worthy – weren’t nearly facilitating comparatively glamorous lifestyles.

By the time it came to write his second novel, The Planner, this experience proved the perfect back-story for a “love letter to London”.

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Drawing from his experience working in economic development for the Mayor of London’s Office, Campbell tells the story of James: a promising young town planner who, after seeking a way to escape his underwhelming social life, is drawn into a world of drugs, dates and danger when he meets the cynical but charismatic Felix.


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Campbell says: “For me, there’s an interesting juxtaposition in responsibility, in that you have these guys at work who during the day have to plan London in terms of transport, housing and education, yet they can’t actually plan what they’re going to have for lunch.

“It’s that sense of having to plan for a profession and then their own – or certainly my own – inability to plan in a personal capacity.

“It’s like the mafia boss who can terrorise New Jersey but can’t manage his teenage children.”

While he is still involved in city planning to some degree, Campbell’s circumstances have changed since the publication of his first novel, Fold, in 2011.

Married and with three boys under the age of 10, the novelist previously lived in Kentish Town and Islington, but settled in Stoke Newington as his family grew.

Indeed, even now as we talk, he is sitting outside on his doorstep to avoid the inner chaos of cartoons and loud noises.

The Planner has been described as “Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity for a new generation”, and Campbell admits he has looked towards the writer and people like Martin Amis, Zadie Smith and Will Self as writers who have shaped the image of London within the literary canon.

“If you write a book about London, there’s a sense in which London itself is very much another character.

“It infuses everything and you can do more in the city than anywhere else, which in turn means you can get in a f***load more trouble than anywhere else.

“You can write a book in London that’s very compressed, with just a small number of characters over a short period of time, and get into some very different scenarios and experiences – from the wealthy and comfortable to the lowlife – all within 250 pages.”


Overcoming the frustrations of his younger years, Campbell is enjoying his new life as a writer, but admits it can often make him a “nightmare to live with”.

Describing himself as restless and often irritable, he adds that his process is usually aided by a mixture of late nights and avoiding television.

As we finish our phone call it appears his children have taken this to heart; they have stopped watching cartoons to move to the hallway and lock their poor father out of the house.

The Planner, published by Bloomsbury, is available from July 17 for £12.99.

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