Learn how author Joan Campbell of South Africa got started writing fantasy novels for young adults. Her first novel, Chains of Gwyndorr, won a gold medal for young adult fiction in the 2017 Illumination Book Awards. Recently the MAI trainer was interviewed about how her family and faith journey led her to write fantasy. This article was adapted from her full interview on Radio Pulpit.
How do you start writing, faced with a blank page?
You have to overcome a lot of resistance. Everybody starts off thinking, “This is way beyond me, I don’t have it in me.” I start with a diagram of some characters and an idea for a story. A lot of creativity happens in the process. Don’t overthink it; you just have to start. My first attempts were probably really bad. But you learn as you go and learn what works. I did a lot of editing—went back and rewrote and changed a lot.
How did you get into writing fantasy novels?
I love the genre of fantasy. When I started writing, my daughters were in primary school. I’d been reading C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, to them. It was the first time I saw the power of that genre to explore spiritual themes—the character of Aslan and redemption. It resonated in my spirit and I thought, “That’s what I’d like to do.”
Why do you think this genre is so fascinating and popular today?
I think it’s an exploration of good versus evil. We know in the deepest part of ourselves that this is so important. The characters are often heroes, and we have an inherent desire to be a little bit of the hero of our own story. If we can put out books that excite teens and have that story of Christ woven in, it’s a powerful genre.
Tell us about your walk with Jesus Christ?
I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior as a teenager at a church camp. For the first time it struck me that the Cross wasn’t just for everybody out there; it was for me. I made Him my Savior, but I didn’t always make Him the Lord of my life. That’s the big journey, to really give Him everything, to walk obediently and trust Him. That’s the journey I’m still on every day.
How does your faith affect your writing?
My writing is best when I’m in a good place with God. If I’m not spending time with Him and I’m distracted, that affects my creativity. He made us creative beings, and He’s given us that imagination. I have to line it up with Him, make sure that I’m honoring Him and not going off in my own direction.
Q: In mainstream fantasy the line between good and evil has been blurred. The good guys do as much evil as the bad guys for a good reason, so the end justifies the means. How about in your books?
In my books it’s a very clean line. My books are a lot about people making decisions and the consequences of their choices. In Chains of Gwyndorr, my main character is trying to discover something of her past. She finds a beautiful, alluring “Power Rock” which gives her dreams of the past and future. But there’s a cost to using its magic, and Shara’s choice to keep using the “Power Rock” leads her onto a dangerous path. A lot of my story is about choices and consequences, but also how God can draw us back from those bad places we find ourselves in.
Q: How much of you is woven into the story?
A huge amount. I think you explore a lot of your own issues through your characters. There are bits of myself in a few of my characters and a few of the struggles they face are my own.
My fantasy world is a very divided world—the high-born and the low-born. Some of that reflects the culture we are in and the society we live in at the moment. You’re a product of your society so that’s going to play out in your writing.
<<Read more of Joan’s articles on writing on her blog, www.joancampbell.co.za
<<Read about Joan’s writer training via MAI.
<<Check out Joan’s trilogy: Chains of Gwyndoor, Heirs of Tirragyl and Guardian of Ajalon.