Australian author Ken Spillman loves visiting India. “I never fail to enjoy India – it is definitely part of who I am now,” said Spillman, who has written over 30 children and young adult novels. Now the country is also the setting of his latest book, Advaita the Writer. The novel is about a girl who is lonely at her new boarding school in Dehradun, but who soon finds friends in the form of library books. Reading and the love of books is a recurrent theme in many of Spillman’s novels. In Jake’s Gigantic List, part of the immensely popular Jake series (Scholastic), a little boy called Jake is writing a super-long birthday list which includes things like a good mood tablet for teachers and a piranha fish tank. Then his Aunt Lyn introduces him to the wonders of books. This fortnight, Spillman will be in Mumbai to read from Advaita the Writer. In an email interview with Bijal Vachharajani, Spillman talks about the love of books.
Tell us about Advaita the Writer.
It’s a story about the sustaining power of imagination. I’ve always believed that a child’s resilience is linked to the strength of their inner life, which is richer when interwoven with stories of other lives, other worlds. In 2008, I met Advaita Kala (author of the bestseller Almost Single) and she told me that she’d been homesick when sent to boarding school at Dehradun, and had immersed herself in books. She was inspired when she heard that Ruskin Bond lived up in the mountains, and started to write her own stories. That was the seed from which my book grew. It’s not a true story, but that little bit of it is based on Advaita Kala’s actual experience.
What made you decide to set a book in India?
I never actually decide to set a book anywhere – a story begins with a character, and if that character lives in India then so does my story. The fact that I now have books with Indian settings at Indian publishers is probably because I love India so much, return here several times a year, and stay for as long as possible. India is now feeding my imagination.
How did you start writing for children?
My first published writing was short stories and poems, from the age of 17. After that I was able to earn a living with nonfiction and continue with my fiction ‘on the side’. Having always had a great connection with young people, writing for them seemed a natural shift. Now I see that this is my real strength – being able to engage with kids anywhere at any level, and to see the world as they do. I delight in visiting schools, whereas some writers prefer to stay home. Some people say I’m childlike, actually. Maybe one of the hyperactive variety.
Through your writings, you also try promoting the love for books and libraries.
Reading feeds the imagination, and I consider that imagination is our most precious gift as human beings. With imagination we can deal better with everyday problems, put ourselves in another’s shoes, cure diseases, teach more effectively, invent new things and so on. The key to getting the imaginations of children well fed is in getting them to read… and the key to getting them to read is to make that fun. I try to show kids everywhere that books are magic – we can go anywhere, do anything, meet people very different from ourselves. We can understand the world better.
Advaita the Writer, Tulika Books, R 100.
By Bijal Vachharajani on August 04 2011