Rainbow Rowell mentioned in an interview that she fell in love with world building as she was writing the fictitious fanfiction pieces in her novel Fangirl. She had always been a reader of fantasy but never thought she’d be able to write it until she began creating those characters and their world. She fell in love with it and decided to write it into Carry On.
I identify with this “revelation” of sorts because something similar happened to me. I used to read lots of fantasy, and fairy tales and Grimm’s stories had been a staple of my childhood, but like Rowell I never thought I’d be able to write it. Until Desert Jewel.
I had always wondered how fantasy writers were able to create whole worlds complete with their populations, flora, and fauna and keep them believable. I was surprised to find out that it was easier than I thought.
In Desert Jewel I used reality as the main ingredient behind its world and a lot of the creatures in it. The desert itself was inspired by the great Sahara with a tad of Kalahari Desert mixed in. The creatures Jaali had to face during his quest across the desert were also inspired by real creatures. I needed a bizarre looking animal and I found the amazing Armadillo Lizard, which was perfect for giving a shape to my Shetani.
At one point of the story Jaali has to face an army of bullet ants, tiny and fierce. As unbelievable as they sound, these ants are very real and have the reputation of having the most painful sting in the world.
To create the world of Natale in Afrika I used my own knowledge of several African countries to create Milenda’s luxuriant world–modern and archaic at the same time.
I’m a linguist by training and I love using language in my stories. So I created a language for Desert Jewel. Since I’m not even remotely as talented as Tolkien, I used a real language (or a mixture of real languages) to create a made-up one. If you speak Swahili, chances are you will recognize some or part of the words used in Desert Jewel.
Moral of the story: you can create fantastic worlds that feel real as long as you use just a pinch of reality.
What makes you connect with the worlds in the books you read?
The next book in The Jewel Chronicles is coming soon. Find out what happens next.