The award winning writer who grew up in a house with no books

I caught up with Phillip Gwynne, award winning author and esteemed workshop tutor, to find out how someone who grew up in a house with no books became such a prolific writer. Here's his story.

Why didn’t you have any books in your house growing up?

Because I grew up in a large family, eight kids, and we didn't have much money so there were other priorities - like food!

How did somebody who grew up in a house without books end up writing for a living?

Even though we couldn't afford to buy books, of course there were libraries where I could have access to books. And reading was really important to me, both as a way to try and make sense of the tough world I was living in, and occasionally to escape it. Weirdly for somebody who didn't grow up with many books around I always loved reading. And it's by reading that you learn to become a writer.

Before becoming a writer you played professional Australian Rules football, graduated with a degree in Marine Biology, worked as a fruit picker, a computer programmer, and a teacher of English as a second language. After following so many different paths, what was it that led you to becoming a writer?

Yes, you're right - I have a Science degree and have done many other jobs but always, in the back of my mind, there was this idea that one day I could write something. Finally, after thirty eight years of procrastination, I finally got around to it. The result of that was Deadly Unna? which has now sold close to 300,000 copies.

How have all of your previous vocations influenced your writing? Do they help you come up with ideas?

I definitely think my science background is a benefit because both the scientific method and creative writing require the ability to come up with startling hypotheses and then test those hypotheses to see whether they hold up.

You write for a number of different audiences ranging from adult crime thrillers to picture books. Which is your favourite audience and why? 

I love them all, and I feel blessed that I am able to get published across such a wide age range. I actually think it would be quite boring to write for the same audience all the time. I also write for film and TV, and again, that is a different type of writing as well.

What do you like the most about running writing workshops with kids?

I'm always amazed by what kids come up with!

Why do you think it’s so important for kids to learn creative writing and storytelling?

There's so many reasons, but the one I think is more and more important in our troubled times is empathy. By telling a story, by adopting a point of view that isn't necessarily theirs, kids inevitably learn empathy.

So what’s next for you?

I'm writing a YA novel The Break to be published by Penguin next year and I've been working on developing a TV series.


Don't miss the opportunity for your child (aged 5-7) to do a Story Squad holiday workshop with  Phillip Gwynn these holidays!