Interview with the Dreammaker: Ken Spillman

For over the span of thirty years, Ken Spillman has mesmerized the young minds with his unique stories and poems. The Australian writer, whose Jake series and Daydreamer Dev has captured the attention of the world, has also books for the adult readers as well.

The writer, whose debut novel ‘Blue’ received outstanding reception from the readers, was followed by the other novels for children, such as Magpie mischief, Love is a UFO, I am Oscar, Advaita-the writer and many more. With the launch of the Jake series, Ken received the international fame, which was followed by the Daydreamer Dev series.


Having a close affinity with the children on India as he has in the other countries as well, Mr. Spillman makes visits to the different Indian states and interacts with the children there. It is his generous nature and freeness in mixing with the children without any age restriction that made him a very popular figure among the young readers.  Check out the session of Mr. Ken Spillman with Indiacafe. The following is his frank answers to the questions.

1.To start with, I would like to ask you about your connection with India. Almost each year you visit this country and engage yourself in various activities which includes visiting the schools, taking part in the seminars, book promotions etc. How did this connection with India grow up?

KS: You’re absolutely right — I do have a special connection with India. I think the seeds were planted by some Anglo-Indian teachers I had in primary school. They spoke about India with such love and yearning, and I developed a sense of wonder about it. A little later, I also idolised Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev! Surprisingly, it took me a long time to make my first visit to India but, within 24 hours of my arrival I knew that it was going to be a huge part of my life forever and a day. If I had to sum up my attraction to India, I would say this: it brings all my senses alive and makes me feel part of a big, bold, colourful sea of humanity.


2. In your books, especially in Jake series and Daydreamer Dev, the characters and the story contents are quite close to the heart of the children, all over the world. How do you get inside these young minds and find out what they really feel?

KS: I’ve been asked this question often, all over the world. I tell kids that I’m a very old child. When I was young, I didn’t realize that it was possible for an adult to keep alive the child within. Many adults do not. To keep it alive, one must remember to play — really play, even if that play is in the mind. It’s also important to allow oneself time to occupy the spaces that children occupy, to absorb the movement and perspective of a child, and to communicate with children at eye level. That way, feelings are transmitted. It’s like getting a look inside a window.

3. Along with time, children are changing psychologically. So are their intellectual needs. Do you think, in respect to that, children literature has been upgraded?

KS: I wouldn’t use the word upgraded — but it has changed in some ways. With such a plethora of other media, devices and activities available to so many children, books can’t just ‘assume’ they’ll be read. They can’t afford to look or sound ‘dry’. They can’t risk ‘boring’. This means they must compete, and the competition is occurring at the level of fun and accessibility so that a love of reading grows naturally in the child, not because someone else thinks it should develop.

4. Tell us something about you childhood in Perth, Western Australia.

KS: I was a sports-mad, tree-climbing kind of boy. We lived in a new suburb which adjoined vast areas of natural bush, which I loved to explore. Some days, I would be out in the bush with other children from the area for many hours — roaming free and having real and imagined adventures. I developed some bushcraft and never got lost. We’d catch goannas (a goanna is a kind of lizard) and then let them go free, we’d inspect birds’ nests, we’d watch snakes slither off into bushes. I felt like Huckleberry Finn!

5. I remember some years back, while having a conversation about your book, ‘Advaita-The writer’, you mentioned Ruskin Bond as you favorite writer in India. What in his books attract you?

KS: In my view, Ruskin Bond is the purest kind of storyteller — he writes timeless stories with strong characters, intriguing situations and the classic ‘story arc’. Having said that, I’m a fan of many Indian authors. In fact, about a quarter of my vast personal library is made up of Indian books.

6. Talking about ‘Advaita’, the book has become a huge success all over. What is the secret?

KS: It’s hard to say, but my suspicion is that it’s connected with the rawness of Advaita’s feelings in the story. When I was 17, I left Perth to go to university in Brisbane. I was much older than Advaita is in the story, but I realise I channelled my emotional memories of that time in order to capture Advaita’s homesickness. It becomes a kind of madness, yet she is saved by what saved me — a passion for reading and a developing conviction that writing is at the core of identity.


7. What will be your advice to a budding author of children literature in India?

KS: I’ve referred to one important aspect in my answer to an earlier question, i.e., it’s vital to keep alive the child within. It simply won’t work if you set out to ‘teach’ something — you need to tap in to feelings. Apart from that, it’s all hard work and patience.


8. The 39th International Kolkata Book Fair has started now. What would be your suggestion to the children willing to read Australian literature?

In my ideal world, children would read literature from all over the world. Australian writing for young people is exciting because it is lively and often (especially in Young Adult lit) irreverent — after all, Australians themselves tend to eschew formality. More and more, too, it reflects multicultural Australia. In my own books, I don’t identify ethnic backgrounds but diversity is always there as an underpinning value.

9.What is your favorite Indian food?

KS: I love all Indian food and have enjoyed some amazing Bengali prawns. But as much as it makes people laugh at me, I have a huge soft spot for a good palak paneer.


Interviewed by: Rudranath Chakroborty

Photo Credits: Rudranath Chakroborty

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