March 6 saw the official opening of The Footpath Library’s Perth branch. Whilst that means we have been busy recruiting volunteers to make our library services a reality, we have also been recruiting two new ambassadors for Western Australia. What an absolute pleasure it is to welcome David Whish-Wilson and Ken Spillman to our team of ambassadors. And, what a perfect opportunity to introduce one of them to you.
Our Ambassador Program Coordinator, Meredith Jaffé caught up with Ken Spillman to find out a little more about him and what’s behind his fascination with India.
The Footpath Library opened its doors in Perth on March 6 and you have joined TFL as an Ambassador (congratulations by the way). What inspired you to become one of our inaugural Perth Ambassadors?
I see stories and worlds of the imagination as forms of sustenance, building resilience. I’ve spoken on this to audiences young and old, and the belief is reflected in some of my books. For years now I’ve supported foundations that promote literacy and storytelling among socially and economically disadvantaged children in poorer nations, so I’m really delighted to become an ambassador for The Footpath Library, which provides opportunities to marginalised people in my own country.
You’re a versatile writer—having written award-winning fiction, non-fiction and series of books for children. What is it about writing for kids that you love so much?
Formative years are so crucial to us all. I was fortunate to have a mother who read stories to me, and later took me to public libraries. I remember the excitement of total engagement in a story – the opening up of worlds. While the expansion of self is possible throughout life, we are never more capable of expansion that in childhood. The capacity of a child to engage with ideas is phenomenal. The sense of fun is also phenomenal. I love all that. It’s the same in the teen years, which are even more interesting because there are so many issues about self-identity, and identity in relation to the adult world. Writing for children and teens is challenging but also fun – and rewarding too, because they respond in a way that adult audiences often don’t.
You’ve just returned from touring India (again!)—explain this love affair you are having with India? It’s been a long term thing for you, hasn’t it?
I had always wanted to visit India and finally did in 2006. I immediately knew that I’d keep going back – I had never felt more alive, with all my senses so fully stimulated. I didn’t plan to write stories with Indian characters and settings, but after a while it just happened. At the same time, my Jake series started taking off in a big way, and the Indian publisher (Scholastic) gave me great opportunities to interact with my readership. I grasped that opportunity and have now spoken to more than 50,000 kids in India – and many more in other countries. One of my Indian books is on a national syllabus there and another is listed in a book called 101 Indian Children’s Books We Love. It’s such an honour to be embraced by another nation like that. Over the last 5 years I’ve also been able to connect with many foundations that work with disadvantaged children. I’ve visited slum schools and libraries and, as much as possible, support projects educating first-generation learners.
Tell us about your latest book—what’s it about, where is it set, who’s the audience?
Very excited about this. It’s a picture book forthcoming from Armour Publishing, written for older kids, teens and adults. Called The Circle, it deals with such global issues as diminishing resources, shrinking forests, human displacement, the refugee experience, discrimination and harmony. All in very simple language and very few words! It’s a project that has been more than 5 years in the making, and the artwork is from a wonderful Indian fine artist – very evocative. There are questions to ponder in the back of the book and I hope that anyone working with children in middle or upper school will find these useful. If this sounds interesting to any of your readers, they are welcome to contact me!
When you’re not writing, what is your most passionate distraction?
Apart from presenting sessions on imagination and resilience to young people, I love reading, sports and nature. Once I would have listed red wine, but that’s just for special occasions now!
Interview by Meredith Jaffé
Editor, Books thehoopla.com.au & Ambassador Program Coordinator, The Footpath Library