Read an interview with Ken Spillman

Dr Ken Spillman has been writing for publication since his schooldays. His writing includes the celebrated Young Adult novels, Love is a UFO and Blue, as well as the immensely popular Jake series for younger readers. More recently he has received been acclaimed in India for his novel Advaita , described by Young India Books as a work of ‘sheer genius’ that ‘gently pushes the boundaries of language’.

Previously, Ken teamed with Jon Doust to create the popular Serventy Kids books for primary school children. His other published work includes poetry, history books, essays, reviews, and sports and travel writing.

Ken has edited or co-edited five collections of writing, including The Greatest Game and Fathers in Writing. He is an examiner for doctoral and masters degrees, and has assessed manuscripts for three Australian publishers. The major US reference work Contemporary Authors has compiled a detailed entry on his career, now available at

The range and quality of Ken’s work is reflected in the fact that it has been shortlisted for a WA Premier’s Book Award five times in four different categories – for two wins. His list of literary honours includes:
• Creative Development Fellowship, Department of Culture and the Arts, Western Australia, 2010
• Asialink Fellow, India, 2008
• Resident, Island of Residencies, Tasmania, 2008
• Winner, WA Premier’s Book Awards, 2007
• Shortlisted, WA Young Readers’ Book Awards, 2007
• Shortlisted, Wilderness Society Environment Award for Children’s Literature, 2003
• Nominated, WA Young Readers’ Book Awards, 2003
• Shortlisted, WA Premier’s Book Awards, 2000
• Shortlisted, WA Premier’s Book Awards, 1998
• Top 5 listing, The Australian critics’ Books of the Year, 1997
• Shortlisted, WA Premier’s Book Awards, 1994
• Winner, Fellowship of Australian Writers’ National Literary Award, 1986
• Winner, WA Premier’s Book Awards, 1986
An Interview with Ken Spillman
For Premier's Summer Reading Challenge 2010

Who was/is your favourite author? Why? My list of favourite authors grows longer by the week. Any author who gives me a free pass into another world, and a sense of participation in the lives of others, is a favourite forever. Australian author Scot Gardner, who has written many books for teenagers, does that every time.

Who was your role model when you were in primary school? An idealist even then, I think I was more interested in ideas than particular people – apart from sporting heroes. When I admired people from history, it was usually for what they said, or for what their actions represented – the anti-slavery campaigners, the people who got voting rights for working people and women, and so on.

Was there a role model in your life who inspired you to start writing? There was. At 14 and 15, I had an English teacher named Chris Waddell who saw the value of creative writing and took the time to provide detailed, encouraging feedback on every piece I wrote. He took my work seriously, which gave me the confidence to take my own work seriously, and to keep at it.

If you could be a book or cartoon character for a day, who would you be? Why? Perhaps it's a boring choice, but I wouldn't mind being Superman! I have two reasons… First and foremost, I'd love to be able to fly. Secondly, it would be wonderful to get around the place helping the good people of this world deal with those who are not so good. As a child, I loved the Robin Hood character – taking from the rich to give to the underprivileged.

If you could meet a famous person, who would it be? Why? Tough question! It's not something I'm particularly interested in. As a fan of sports, however, I would probably choose Roger Federer. There's nothing in particular I'd want to talk about, but I have a feeling that it wouldn't be too hard to just sit together for a while and have coffee.

What are your hobbies? Reading, browsing around libraries/bookshops, watching sports, travelling overseas, swimming, and enjoying great food and wine in moderation.

What do you enjoy the most about writing? Creating characters who are real to me in almost every way, and going on some kind of journey with (or through) them. I also like having flexibility in my life with the management of my time – it isn't a 9 to 5 job.

What motivates you to write? I just love stories, and believe they are important. Ultimately, I guess, I want to make some kind of difference. I want readers to connect with my characters and to take something from that experience. It's great when people email me to say that they have!

Do you have a favourite book that you have read more than once? Why do enjoy this book? The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. It's a book I can read every year or two, and find something new that I can immediately connect with my life.

Where is your most favourite place in the world? Beaches, forests and mountains are all in this contest. But I also yearn for the crowded, noisy, smelly streets of Delhi, where I can feel part of some great, colourful, monstrous, beautiful humanity – yet profoundly alone.

Where do you get your ideas to write? From anywhere and everywhere. From the things people say and do, from the things I see and feel, from the vast and surprising storehouse of memory.

When did you write your first book or piece? My first book was a work of non-fiction – a history of Subiaco that I wrote in my early twenties for publication in 1985. Prior to that, I'd had short stories and poems published around Australia and also overseas.

When did your passion for writing begin? In Year 4, my teacher got the class to write imagined autobiographies – of animals as well as people. I found that I loved escaping into the head of others – seeing a different point of view, and 'experiencing' things that, in real life, I could not. In Years 9 and 10, Chris Waddell empowered me to take that interest further.

A last note to our young readers… Through reading, you can learn more about people than you will ever learn through talking to them. You can eavesdrop on souls. Don't be put off by books that are just not 'up your alley'… Find the ones that are, and remain open to the occasional side-journey.

For a more recent author interview, courtesy of Time Out Mumbai,