Ken Spillman is one of Australia’s most renowned authors of children’s and young adult novels, writing memorable novels and contributing lovable and colourful characters to the literary world. Ken has written over 30 books and has more than a few awards under his belt, including the FAW National Literary Award. His YA novels include Blue (1999) and Love is a UFO (2007, Winner of the Western Australian Premier’s Book Award), while his Jake series of chapter books for early readers appears in many countries and languages as diverse as Vietnamese, Farsi, French and Serbian. He is also the author of the Daydreamer Dev series, The Strange Story of Felicity Frown, Advaita the Writer, and Radhika Takes the Plunge. Ken Spillman is a popular international presenter, travelling widely to speak at festivals and visit schools.
When you were little, did you dream of becoming a writer or did you also run around every Halloween as a fireman and pretend to chase villains down the street in the evenings? What made you want to become an author?
I didn’t dream of being a writer. My first thought was to become a veterinarian, but then my sister decided she wanted to be one too, so I dropped the idea. I didn’t really think about becoming a writer… but imagining stuff was what made life interesting, and I actually DID imagine chasing villains. I simply loved writing stories. Around the age of 8, I started writing stories out of school, just for the fun of it. Later, when I was 14 and 15, I had an English teacher who told me that I should never stop writing. Obediently, I never have and never will.
What do you love about writing? What are the things about writing that sometimes leave you wishing that you did indeed take up that police badge?
Kids often ask me what I love and hate about writing and I answer it this way… In your imagination, you can do anything, go anywhere – what could be cooler than that? The downside is that you have to sit still for long periods, and that isn’t good for the body. If I didn’t exercise, I’d be a hunched over and obese cripple.
Who are your heroes/mentors and why?
That teacher who told me I should keep writing – simply because other people would enjoy my work – is a hero. Sure, there have been times I’ve blamed him for my bank balance, but there are many more days I’ve thanked him. The people I admire come from all walks of life. People who work hard to make the most of what they’ve got, and the circumstances they are in. People who give more than they take. People who care about other people.
If you could be anyone for a day, who would it be and why?
Wow, what a question! The first person who comes to my mind is Roger Federer. The man has reached the pinnacle and stayed there for so long, yet remains the same man he always was. Pleasant, generous, humble. And fit… I’d love to be so fit!
What do you like to read when you’re not jet-setting around the globe or filling our heads with stories? Why?
I read very widely. I am moved and inspired by literary fiction, especially by such Indian authors as Anita Desai, Vikram Seth and Rohinton Mistry. I discover little gems like Rachel Trezise, from Wales. I adore YA fiction, and think Australians lead the field. And what is more gorgeous than a visually and narratively enchanting picture book? Why do I love them? – I just do!
Do you listen to music to get in the mood for writing? If not, what do you do to psych yourself up before jumping into a novel (or during)?
Music’s important to me, but not for writing. Confession time: coffee is what I need. No coffee, no words. Something else I’ve learned is that it is good for me to be surrounded by non-English speakers… it forces me into an inner world, but not an isolated one.
What are your personal experiences with writing and the Internet?
The kids who read my books can email me anytime, and I’ll reply. And when I visit a school, I let them know. A few weeks ago I was in an Australian library, working on my laptop, when a notification popped up – it was a message from a reader in India, near the Bhutan border. What a world! It’s wonderful! Readers also reach me on Facebook, but personally I prefer Twitter for networking and promotion. It’s something you can dip into as time permits, and unlike Facebook it never becomes a substitute from proper email communication.
In The Scarlet Omen, my main protagonist comes up against vampires and witches. What do you personally think about supernatural beings and their place in literature?
I look at it this way – there are supernatural beings in real life! For me, stories are about challenges and journeys, forces of nature and forces we don’t understand. Whether we are facing bullies or vampires, we need the strength and creativity to deal with them. So let’s all tell our stories, just the way they present themselves to us.
In Love is a UFO, your main character loses his father. How far do you think readers can emotionally delve into a story? In such cases, how can we tell if an author has done his or her job well?
A novel presents a real world. It’s not quite the world the reader inhabits, but it meets them in it and transports them away. When we respond to a novel, we respond emotionally as well as intellectually – we feel sadness, excitement, fear. When readers get it, they feel it. That’s when we know the art and the craft are good.
All writers always tell their aspiring colleagues to “Never give up and always believe in yourself”. What do you think about this statement? How much confidence should one have in their work before giving up altogether?
If you love something and believe in it, you will work very hard for it. And when you work very hard on something you love, the chances of eventual success are good. Writers write because they must, because they do, because they really want to. If you can give up, you should. That sounds weird, I know… but the thing is that good writers can’t give up.
Could you give us some words of wisdom about writing?
Feel it. Be on the page, or on the screen. Be present in your work and know that every good story is not just the story, it says something more. Oh yes, and get up off the chair to stretch and exercise, otherwise you’ll be soooorrrry!!!
Thanks, Ken! How inspiring. Check out www.kenspillman.com and www.jakeseries.com. Follow Ken on Twitter @kenspillmansays.