Saturday, January 8, 2011

Caribbean YA Books: Why I Wrote One – Guest Post by Joy Campbell-Chambers

I wish I could say I started writing children’s fiction out of some strong motivation, but I can’t. The first YA novel I wrote came out of challenging myself. At the time I started writing the book, I was a member at an online writing network and had already produced some short stories. One of my peers suggested that I try my hand at a novel, and after thinking about it for a while, I decided to get moving on that project.

During my childhood, my reading staples consisted of books written by American and British authors. At high school level, I was introduced to Caribbean novelists in English Literature classes. My school library had a collection of West Indian novels and that’s how I expanded my reading; however the subject matters in these novels were not specific to children. These were stories about West Indians trying to survive in Britain, but I didn’t enjoy reading them any less.

I wasn’t sure what reception my novel would receive once it was finished, but I decided to worry about that later and focus on producing a salable manuscript.

Inspiration came when a friend of mine told me about a situation her teenage niece was facing. She had lost her father suddenly and that provided a starting point for my novel, which I took in a different direction. Though I had the plot worked out in my mind, getting the mechanics right felt like a gargantuan task. I had put the cart before the horse, wanting to write the story before I had the requisite skills. Sure, I had always gotten good grades in English and English Literature, but fiction writing demanded a different set of skills.

I realized that I needed some basic knowledge if I was serious about writing YA fiction. At this point, I also decided to move on from the writing site I was on. Up to that point, I was blogging, which doesn’t compare with story telling. I migrated to thenextbigwriter and with the help of a group of patient and talented writers, combined with time spent reading innumerable articles on fiction writing, I learned the craft of writing. Call it on-the-job training.

That first novel dealt with issues that are common to the Jamaican situation, such as a home with too many children and not enough resources to go around. However, there were also not-so-common situations, such as the protagonist witnessing her father’s murder. In my opinion, that special something which sets the book apart is the main character and the way in which she handles the challenges that confront her.

For someone who had no ambitions of writing a young adult novel, I have moved to a place where I am happy that I wrote the book. After having read the book five years ago, my beta-readers still ask after that eleven-year-old girl as though she were a real person. Since then, I’ve continued the family’s saga through her brother’s story, and my readers were happy to see how that first character had developed over the two-year period that had elapsed in the storyline.

The story’s reception was good enough reason for me to have written the book. It’s not everyday that a writer creates a story that resonates with readers so that they laugh, cry and experience triumph alongside the characters.


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Joy Campbell-Chambers (who also writes under the pen name Jayda McTyson) is an author from Jamaica. Her short stories and articles have been published in Bookends, the literary pages of the Sunday Observer. In 2008 and 2009, she participated in the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission's Creative Writing Competition and won several medals for her short stories and Young Adult novels. Her awards include Outstanding Writer in the novel category. When she isn’t plotting and researching new projects, she enjoys cake decorating, gardening, and reading. Her first novel, Contraband, was published in April 2010 and her second, Dissolution in October 2010, while the publication date for the third, Hardware, is yet to be set.