Interview with Victor Kelleher in Buzz Words

There’s a great interview with Victor Kelleher in the latest issue of the digital magazine Buzz Words, and with their kind permission, we are republishing it here. Enjoy! And do consider subscribing to Buzz Words, it’s a great mag, filled with news, views and reviews from the Australian children’s book world!

INTERVIEW

With Victor Kelleher

My life began in a poor part of London where I had, at best, a scanty education. In my mid-teens, I went to Central Africa. At sixteen I was working on the mines in Zambia, on the old Congo border. At twenty I was at university, and there I stayed (at various unis in fact) for most of my twenties. I accumulated five degrees, including a doctorate in English Literature, and finished up as a uni lecturer.

In my mid-thirties my wife and I left Africa – reluctantly – mainly to protect our young son from war and violence. I took up an academic post in New Zealand, then moved to Australia, where I taught for some years at the University of New England. It was in New Zealand that I began to write, motivated at first by home sickness for Africa. In my mid- forties I gave up my associate professorship and devoted myself full time to writing fiction.

That decision left me free to live and travel wherever I pleased, and although my wife and I kept a base here in Oz, we roamed all over the place. (As a former uni teacher, and sculptor/painter, my wife was as free as I was.) I must admit that our kids (we’d adopted a baby girl by then) tagged along and took their chances. As they’ve both gone on to get multiple degrees and make successful careers, I don’t think we did them any great harm!

In my mid-sixties my life changed again. I gave up writing and went back to my very first love, which was the study of philosophy. I concentrated on the philosophy of science. The gypsy life continued, of course, but with the addition of a Kindle full of technical books!

Then, early in my eighties, I was hit by a yearning to write fiction again. My upcoming novel, Wanderer, (Eagle Books) is the very first fruit of this shift. Inevitably, other books must follow, because I suddenly find myself beset by a wealth of things I simply MUST write about. Now, settled (kind of!) in Battery Point in old Hobart, my wife and I work on. We do so very happily.

How many books have you published during your writing career?

Which was the best-selling for you? How many book awards did you pick up?

More than a dozen adult novels, over 20 YA novels, two novellas, a few picture books, and 15 books for littlies. These last really tested me but were great fun. (I’d still like to write a concluding story for my Gibblewort series, for instance.) There are also many books I contributed stories to.

My bestselling book here in Australia is Taronga (Penguin). Other books, like Master of the Grove (Penguin) and Del-Del (Walker Books/Random House) may have outsold it worldwide.

I’m not sure because I don’t keep count.

I’ve picked up lots of awards over the years: Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year Award, two Australian Children’s Honour Awards, the Australian Science Fiction Achievement Award, the Australian Peace Prize, and so on; plus, plenty of state awards, especially from Western Australia, where they’ve been very kind to me; some children’s choice awards; and then there are all the short listings, including one for the Carnegie Medal. Again, I just don’t keep a record of these things.

Were all your books published by the same company? Did you have a particular editor who was very helpful?

I’ve been published by many companies, but by Penguin/Random most of all. Others include Faber and Faber, Heinemann, Walker Books, University of Queensland Press, Hachette, Allen and Unwin, Harper Collins, Lothian Books, Word Weavers Press, etc. Again, I don’t keep records of these things.

Yes, I do have a favourite editor: Rosie Fitzgibbon at UQP. She was great at her job, and a truly lovely person. She’s dead now, alas, and I miss her still.

It seems a long time since you last had a YA or children’s book published: what was that book? Why has there been such a delay in publication?

I’m not sure about my last publication. It was either a long short story-cum-novella published in Tales from the Tower (Allen and Unwin), or an adult novel, The Other (Harper Collins). As I explained earlier, I took a long break from writing to concentrate on other important aspects of my life.

Your latest book will be published by Christmas Press in 2022: can you tell us about it?

At its simplest, Wanderer involves two young people, Dane, and Lana, who wander the sea world in a kayak. Their quest is to save books from extinction. The world they travel through is my version of how the future might look once our planet starts the slow process of healing itself. It’s a place where the animal kingdom has finally turned against us, following generations of maltreatment; where the worst kinds of human beings persist, despite all that’s happened; where books and the power of story have been horribly devalued; and where goodness and truth remain in peril. There is an upside to all of this though: my two young heroes demonstrate how trust, honesty, and courage are still amongst our greatest treasures; and the novel holds true to the idea that the world itself, in its re-emerging beauty, is still worth fighting for.

How did you get it picked up by Sophie Masson?

My agent offered it to Sophie, and I’m glad to say she took it straight away.

Can you name five children’s books which you would recommend to Buzz Word readers? Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson. (An oldie, but a goodie)

Lord of the Flies, William Golding (Faber and Faber) (A wonderful book for all ages. Timeless.) The Mouse and His Child, Russell Hoban (Allen and Unwin) (An amazing book. Nothing else quite like it.) Red Shift, Alan Garner (Collins) (In my view, the best book yet on the mysterious disappearance of the ninth Roman Legion. Oh, and see if you can crack the code on the flyleaf.) The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupery (Gallimard was the original French publisher. Don’t know who published the translation.) (I had to include this, because it was the first book I read in French, and it taught me more about the language than any other.)

You’ll have noticed that these are all fairly old titles. I’ve allowed them to squeeze out recent titles because these are some of the texts that inspired me when I started and was struggling to write well.

Can you tell us some interesting things about yourself?

Here are two things, one sad, one not so: When I was young, I dreamed of becoming a great long- distance runner. I duly trained and trained, but it didn’t happen. So, I upped my distances until I was running well over 100 kms a week. I thought that would make me super fit and strong, the way it has many other runners. Wrong! I just became super tired. The truth? I didn’t have the inbuilt strength and stamina and sheer talent for a great distance runner. A real sadness for me at the time.

On a happier note, (!), I enjoy playing blues harmonica. I even took lessons in it years ago, and there was a time when I practised hard. These days, one of my favourite things is to open YouTube and accompany some of the great blues musicians. It just goes to show that you don’t have to be famous to play with the best!

How can readers learn more about you?

Google me, I suppose. The horrid truth is, I’m quite a private person.

Publication day for Wanderer!

Today is the publication date for Wanderer, the brilliant new novel by one of Australia’s greatest storytellers, multi-award-winning author Victor Kelleher. It is his first new middle-grade novel in over fifteen years, and we are so proud to be publishing it!

Wanderer is not only an exciting, immersive adventure, with unforgettable characters, set in a brilliantly-imagined alternative world: it is also a lyrical love song to the power of books and stories. You can read more about the story here, and watch a great trailer for it here, but here below too are some words from Victor to readers, about the book and its themes.

I wrote Wanderer while living in the Channel Country of southern Tasmania. It grew out of the waterways and landscape I looked onto every day, and more or less demanded to be written. So like all my fantasies, it is grounded in a real place. Only the time has shifted, from the present to a not-too-distant future, when the world is learning to heal itself again.

 The notion of healing runs right through the book, from the main character, Dane, who has been mentally wounded by the manner of his mother’s death and his own feelings of guilt; right through to the animal kingdom, which has turned against humanity after millennia of ill-treatment and neglect. Then, too, there are the abandoned children who, for me, symbolise the plight of poor kids everywhere.

 The stories told by Lana, and the books she and Dane are trying to rescue, can also be seen as a part of this healing process – though they clearly symbolise much more. Again, for me, the image of the lost kids sitting around the campfire listening to Lana tell her tale is central to so much of what I was trying to convey. Stories can heal us, as First Nations people throughout the world have known for many, many centuries.

 In this respect, let me confess something here. I hadn’t written a novel for some years and telling Lana and Dane’s story helped restore my writerly self. It reminded me of a part of myself that had been missing. Does that make sense? I hope so, because it’s the simplest truth I took away from this act of authorship.

 But that’s enough about healing. Readers can further explore that theme for themselves.

 Just a final word about one of the many other issues raised by the novel, and that’s the thorny problem of violence. In and of itself, violence is a nasty thing. On the other hand, it’s something we’re all capable of. Why does, say, Lana show restraint at critical moments, while her father, Karl, gives free rein to his basest passions? What constrains her?  Or Dane come to that? Or to look at it in another light, why do the people of Skull veer one way, and the people of Elysia another?

 Much greater writers than myself have tackled this problem, and it even arises in many fairy tales. So it would have been foolish of me to pretend that Wanderer supplies all the answers. It doesn’t. But at the heart of my young characters’ quest, there are, I hope, some clues as to how and why we become who we are.

Happy reading!

Wanderer

By Victor Kelleher

ISBN 9780645378818

Cover and internal illustrations by Lorena Carrington

Published August 2022 by Eagle Books, an imprint of Christmas Press

RRP $19.99

Available in all good bookshops.

Fabulous first review of Children of the Wild!

Michael Grey’s amazing novel, Children of the Wild, has just received its first review, and it’s fabulous! It’s on the influential book site Read Plus, and the reviewer is Carolyn Hull. Here’s a short extract:

This is an exciting and impressive first novel. There are waves of dramatic moments within a dystopian or speculative-style fantasy set in an unidentified world that has declined beyond imagination. Sometimes it has the feel of a ‘Hunger Games’ survival tale with bows and arrows, set within a world-gone-wrong, and sometimes it is more Sci-fi with coming-of-age overtones.

You can read the full review here.

Publication day for Children of the Wild!

We are delighted to announce that today is the official publication day of Michael Grey’s stunning debut YA novel, Children of the Wild! It’s an amazing speculative fiction story, set in an unusual dystopian world, with a cast of memorably vivid characters, full-on adventure, edge-of-your-seat suspense, and fantastic world-building. We are very proud to be publishing it, and warmly congratulate Michael on the book’s release! We also congratulate the wonderful Lorena Carrington, who created the striking cover illustration and internal chapter decoration.

You can read more about Children of the Wild here.

Announcing the acquisition of Victor Kelleher’s brilliant new middle-grade novel

Christmas Press is excited to announce that we have acquired world rights in Wanderer, a brilliant new novel for upper middle-grade readers by eminent, multi-award-winning author Victor Kelleher. The novel will be published in August 2022 under the Eagle Books imprint and was acquired via Margaret Connolly of Margaret Connolly and Associates.

Wanderer is Kelleher’s first middle-grade novel for over fifteen years, as the author has been concentrating on short fiction for younger readers in the interim. And it is a triumphant return to the powerful speculative fiction for older readers that saw him win many awards and gain legions of readers for novels such as Taronga, The Red King, The Green Piper, and Brother Night.

From the very beginning of Wanderer, the reader is plunged into the cold waters of an unusual post-catastrophe world where a secretly salvaged book is a source of comfort for a young boatman and where ravaging warriors hunt down any hint of the old knowledge. With its heady mix of lyrical description, gripping action scenes and philosophical reflection, this is a novel that makes you hold your breath, a novel which is not only an immediately engaging story but also a love song to books themselves.

Victor Kelleher explains the genesis of the novel: ‘I wrote Wanderer while living in the Channel Country of southern Tasmania. It grew out of the waterways and landscape I looked onto every day, and more or less demanded to be written. So like all my fantasies, it is grounded in a real place. Only the time has shifted, from the present to a not-too-distant future, when the world is learning to heal itself again.’

Wanderer is a tour de force, a masterpiece by a writer at the peak of his powers,’ said Christmas Press publishing director Sophie Masson. ‘We are really honoured that Victor has chosen to entrust his beautiful novel to us and excited to be publishing the first Victor Kelleher novel for older readers in over fifteen years. So many people, including us, grew up with and were inspired by his extraordinary speculative fiction from previous years and we are thrilled to be bringing his wonderful new work to a whole new generation of young readers. ‘

Victor Kelleher

Cover reveal for Children of the Wild!

We are delighted to reveal the gorgeous cover of debut novelist Michael Grey’s fantastic YA novel, Children of the Wild, which we are publishing in March 2022. The beautiful cover illustration is by the wonderful photographic artist Lorena Carrington, and design is by Authors’ Elves. Lorena has also created an elegant motif to use as chapter headings throughout the book.

We’re excited to be publishing Michael’s book, the first YA novel we’ve taken on. Powerful, action-packed and thoughtful, it is an absolutely gripping read. Read more about it, and Michael, here.