Sylvia Campbell

Self-taught author turns another career page

Co-founder of North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre takes up pen to write first novel

Errington’s Sylvia Campbell has no formal education that would suggest a career as an author.

Then again, nothing in her upbringing suggested she and her husband Robin would be able to create and run one of B.C.’s premier wildlife rehabilitation centres.

“When we started out, neither of us had any post-secondary education,” said Campbell, co-founder with her husband of the North Island Wildlife Recovery Association. “We just worked  whatever jobs we could get, just enough to get by. But we always had these goals, that we were going to own our own property, and we were never going to work for someone else again.”

Those goals have long since been established, first with the opening of a group home for disabled residents in 1988 on their 80-acre property, then with the creation of the wildlife centre on the same grounds.

But as it turns out, that was not the end of Sylvia’s goals. Having started writing a newspaper column 12 years ago that covers activities and subject animals at the wildlife centre, she decided she enjoyed writing.

In part to answer repeated questions from visitors to the centre, Campbell wrote and self-published an autobiography of both herself and her husband, Unknown Path to Success: An Autobiography of Robin and Sylvia Campbell, published in 2011.

“We do have a lot of people asking about the wildlife centre itself,” she said. “So I wrote about that, but I took it one step further and made it an autobiography.”

Campbell has no formal training as a writer, and admits it shows in her rough drafts. But she enjoys the process and has many ideas she feels are worth sharing.

“I barely made Grade 12 and I nearly flunked language,” she said of her academic days. “I was a terrible student. But after doing that (newspaper column) I decided, I think I can write. I have a lot of things in my head, but I’m not good at grammar. I need to get it edited.”

While she was very open in sharing the story of herself and Robin, her second effort proved more intensely personal.

Phantom, published in 2012, tells part of the story of her brother. Because the story included personal information on her brother and her parents, she fictionalized some elements and published under the pseudonym DD Stephenson.

“This is a story about how horses got one child through a difficult situation,” said Campbell, who grew up in rural ranch country in Alberta and who helped found the Errington Therapeutic Riding Association in 1990. “My books are not intellectual; they’re more emotional books.”

She then cast her sights outside the family to write about colourful people that she knew. That resulted in 2013’s Knight to Knight: a Biography of biker Pinky O’Connor. She was taken by the silver-bearded biker, a former hard-core, “one per center” with the 101 Knights who turned away from the lifestyle and who now “rides for the Lord” and is a member of the Knights of Columbus.

“I don’t know why I started writing; it just happened that way,” said Campbell, “But it’s been fun, fun. I was raising three kids, did a prison ministry. Once I started painting and sculpting, using that part of the brain I never used before, the ideas just started coming.”

Her newest book, and first fiction effort, Mind Bending, just arrived in November. It begins as a fatherless boy’s coming-of-age story before a traumatic attack and brain injury steers his life into an odyssey of discovery and recovery.

Campbell’s books are not available at book stores, but all of them can been seen an purchased at the wildlife centre’s gift shop in Errington. For now, at least, the writing and publishing remain less a career than a labour of love.

“I’m not going to make any big money out of this,” she said with a smile. “I pay for them to be printed, so I don’t really make anything. I just like to see people getting enjoyment from reading them.”

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