Australian author Ken Spillman talks about writing for children

Ken Spillman with young readers

Ken Spillman with young readers   | Photo Credit: special arrangement

Throughout his years of writing, Children’s author Ken Spillman has watched books for little ones change by leaps and bounds

Ken Spillman has been to India over 25 times. But it was not until 2008, when the Australian writer (based in Perth) was at a residency at Sanskriti Kendra, that the germ of an idea for his first children’s book based in India took form. His short chat over a car window with Ruskin Bond was nothing short of an inspiration for him then. And so, Advaita the Writer started taking shape, as a story based on the real-life account of a young writer he had met at the fellowship. Since then, the children’s writer’s love for Indian fiction, and his numerous interactions with children here, have only pulled him more towards exploring Indian settings and characters.

In town for a few workshop sessions for children with Tulika Books, Spillman sits down with MetroPlus to chart his journey with words and discuss the power of imagination, while giving away the names of some of his personal favourites in children’s literature.

Spillman’s love for stories has gone through several phases. “I liked stories even before I could read. When my mother used to read to me as a child, I would have the story playing out in my head.” At the age of eight, when Spillman started writing, it became a game. “I realised I could be a character, an animal or anything I wanted to. I had the power to move the story forward,” says the author renowned for his Jake series, who has over 70 books to his credit till date. As a shy teenager, writing slowly transformed into his tool for expression. With a teacher who loved his writing by his side, Spillman never looked back. This is also when the author, who is also an educator himself, discovered the importance of a child’s unadulterated imagination. The 60-year-old now teaches children to be confident in their own creativity. “I need them to have fun, while realising that humans have always told stories,” says Spillman.

His stories are often character-driven. “I need to have a character who is really well defined in my head. I need to know exactly how they would react in any situation. And the situation also needs to drive the characters to do something. This creates the plotline.” But while writing for children, does he have specific pointers in mind? No, for him all that matters is the story. The minute the story starts becoming work for Spillman, he realises that it has lost its charm. “Stories should never lag,” he says. The creator of Clumsy! also refrains from being preachy in his fiction for children. “Having said that, any message, across my body of work, is about being strong and imaginative. I think there’s a message of hope in my fiction and the story arc itself leads to some form of resolution, even if it’s not complete resolution,” continues Spillman.

Over the course of his writing, what seems to have changed more than the habit of reading in children, is the kind of books that are being published. “Typically today, a child wouldn’t read the kind of a book that I used to read, which was just black, dense text . Now, they want to see more colour, white spaces, illustrations and so on,” says the author who works with illustrators and artists quite frequently.

In a couple of months’ time, Spillman’s new picture book will be out — My Upside Down World published by Pickle Yolk and later in the year, his The Absolutely True Adventures of Daydreamer Dev will get its second volume after much demand from Indian readers.

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Printable version | Apr 10, 2020 12:58:02 PM |

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