Conor Grennan is the founder of Next Generation Nepal (NGN), a nonprofit organization dedicated to reconnecting trafficked children with their families in Nepal. He’s also the author of the new speculative children’s book The Hadley Academy for the Improbably Gifted (Thomas Nelson), ideal for fans of the Chronicles of Narnia, Maze Runner, and the books of Rick Riordan. In this interview, Conor explains the parameters of the new book, how his work with NGN impacts his fiction, and the challenges if writing fantastical fiction that’s grounded in the Bible.
Conor, The Hadley Academy for the Improbably Gifted has elements that would appeal to fans of all kinds of YA and children’s science fiction and fantasy stories. How do you describe it?
I’ve always loved the science fiction/fantasy intersection. The Hadley Academy is fantasy in that the Hadley universe is a parallel one to our own, where every person is born with a gift that they can manifest into actual powers if they believe they are unique and if they are courageous enough to actually use their gift.
In Hadley, as in the real world, using one’s gift can make you different—and kids are not eager to stand out. But The Hadley Academy for the Improbably Gifted has a lot of sci-fi elements in it—you’ll find cutting edge technology, artificial intelligence, and some seriously bright kids. It’s that combination of deep faith and advanced science that I find so exciting about the story.
What inspired you to create this world?
I wanted to tell the story of how battles are fought in this world against truly dark forces, and how the most dangerous enemies are the ones that the world does not even believe exist. I wanted to explore how brilliant, battle-hardened warriors would react when faced with a decision of faith—how do they decide what is true when confronted with what may be myth and what may be fact.
From a personal standpoint, I grew up in the inner city in Jersey City, NJ, and every summer spent a couple of weeks on a small island off the coast of Maine. I used to wish I had a portal through time and space that would let me escape that hard city life and be transported to a place like Elk Island. I wanted to write about that experience.
How do you handle the challenges of writing fantastical fiction that’s still grounded in a biblical worldview?
I wanted to tell a story of spiritual warfare, of deep faith, and of reliance on a savior. The Hadley Academy gave me that opportunity. The principles of my Christian faith guided the entire process. In today’s world (and especially in my life), we are so often challenged with the question of why we believe what we believe.
I wanted to put my characters in that situation. What do we do when we can sense dark forces rising in the world, when nobody else believes us? What do we do when we know that we have to rely on a savior, and when that reliance changes how we fight those battles? For me, The Hadley Academy for the Improbably Gifted is a story of faith and a story of the courage in believing in yourself and what you know to be true in the world, even when feel completely alone. And how that faith and courage can change the world.
Your best-selling memoir Little Princes details your work as the founder of Next Generation Nepal. How did you experiences working with these children and their families impact how you approached writing Hadley Academy for the Improbably Gifted?
Working with trafficked kids in Nepal had a huge impact on why I wanted to write Hadley. In Nepal, what I saw over and over were kids who were literally trying to survive, kids who knew that nobody was coming to save them. They had to fight for themselves and fight for each other, every day.
I wanted desperately to write a book where the kids were empowered, where the tables were turned and the adults of the world were relying on them, not the other way around. This was my way of giving those kids a voice and a power that they sometimes don’t have in the real world.
What do you hope readers take away after reading The Hadley Academy for the Improbably Gifted?
The biggest take away for readers, I hope, is that we really do all have a gift inside of us. That we are all born with a purpose. The challenge in this world is that we are told over and over not to stand out, not to believe we are special.
We are told to be normal. But we aren’t—we are blessed with unique powers that can change the world, each one of us, and sometimes the biggest hurdle is just believing that we have them. In the Hadley Academy, the kids that become the world changing warriors against darkness are the ones who are not afraid to believe that truth.
Visit Conor Grennan’s Author Page