“Trust the child’s imagination while writing”


shares well-known children and young adult author Ken Spillman in conversation with All About Book Publishing.

Ken Spillman is a well-known Australian writer for children and young adults. His work has spanned diverse genres including poetry, sports writing and literary criticism. His output also includes a large number of books relating to aspects of Australian social history. Here, he shares more about his life as an author. Excerpts.

The beginning…

“As a kid I wrote for my own enjoyment. As a teenager, I wrote because I needed to. As soon as I left school, I started sending some of my work to literary magazines, and it was only then — when I started to build up a strong track record of publication — that it occurred to me that I could pursue writing as a career in itself, instead of simply using my writing skills in some other occupation,” tells Ken.

The journey…

“While growing up, I didn’t give any thought to the type of writer I wanted to be — I only knew that I wanted to write. I started out publishing poetry and short fiction for adults, and then made a living for some time as a non-fiction writer. I heard the call of fiction again when I started reading stories to my children. I remember having so much fun and never wanting to turn the lights out. I was more of a child than they were! My first children’s book failed to get published (mainly because it was terrible) but I don’t accept failure very well and was still having fun so I persisted,” tells Ken.

‘Having the first couple of children’s books published in Australia led to opportunities to engage with school children as a presenter, and that also gave me a blast. I didn’t want to stop, and now I’ve got around 40 books for children published around the world. I’ve presented sessions to 85,000 kids and I’m still having fun!” he adds.

Hardest part of writing…

“People always think I’m joking when I say this, but the hardest part is sitting with a story long enough to finish it. Ideas are easy, starting is easy, but sitting down long enough to make your story the best it can be is hard, especially for a person like me who feels best when physically active,” he shares.

Factors kept in mind while writing for children…

“The key is POV (point of view). If you can’t take on a POV that is childlike, and modify your voice accordingly, you will always struggle to write well for children. The biggest sin is to ‘write down’ to children — it’s the same as ‘talking down’ to a friend and always creates a barrier between reader and story. Another very important aspect is trusting the child’s imagination. Children do not need to have everything described to them or shown in some other way, because they are really expert at filling in gaps using their own wonderful imaginations,” tells Ken.

Characters – inspired from life or fictitious?

“My first instinct is to say ‘fictitious’, but like all writers I draw from my observations and experiences of life and people,” comes a quick reply from Ken.

Writing/publishing advice for aspiring writers…

“I always offer two pieces of advice. First, enjoy yourself. If you enjoy what you do you will be prepared to work harder. Second, work on your self-editing skills and respect the work of editors. Editing is not easy but it makes a critical difference,” he tells.

Book that most influenced my life…

“I love so many books, but the book that influenced my life most powerfully was One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I read it when I was seventeen and it was liberating. It said to me: “Writers can do anything,””shares Ken.

Reading is fun…

“Books are the best exercise for the imagination. If not for the imagination of the reader, they are only ink and paper — or shapes on a Kindle screen. The reader makes the story come alive. The reader sees and hears and feels the story, which makes the world it creates more real to the individual — though silent and invisible to everyone else. It’s personal. And by exercising the imagination in this way, we find that we are empowered and enriched in ways that nothing else can achieve, tells Ken.

What keeps me going…

“I grew up playing in the Australian bush and spending time at the beach, and I continue to love being outdoors, in nature. Observing nature makes me feel part of something sacred and universal. I’m also sports mad – cricket, football, tennis, hockey, anything. And finally, I can’t imagine a day without music! he tells.

What next?

“I’ll have two new books released in India soon. One is another volume of Aesop’s Fables from Scholastic India — retelling these little fables as full-blown stories in my own style is such an incredible amount of fun! The other book is titled No Fear, Jiyaa! and it tells the story of an Indian girl who has moved to Australia. Her new school is holding a school camp and… Sorry, that’s all I can tell you. The publisher is Tulika,” concludes Ken.

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