It’s no secret that I love India.
I love Oscar too – please welcome him to India!
The publication of I AM OSCAR has seemed a long time coming – that, of course, makes it extra special. Oscar’s story appeared previously under another title in Australia, where it sold out and received the kind of reviews that writers only sometimes dare to dream about. In fact, I was on a 4-month writing retreat in New Delhi when I received news that the story had received one of Australia’s richest awards for Young Adult fiction. At that time the YA market in India was just preparing for lift-off, and I remember hoping that the book would eventually become available to Indian readers. Now it has, in a revised, retitled and updated edition from Scholastic Nova.
Although I didn’t find the book difficult to write, it took me a couple of attempts. I had written half of the book when my brother-in-law passed away, leaving my young nephew and two nieces without a father. Writing about my fictional Oscar and the period after his father’s death seemed a little too close to what was going on in my extended family, so I shelved the book for a couple of years, revisiting it now and then to ‘see whether it was any good’. I never lost confidence in it: the Oscar voice seemed real to me and I was sure he would touch and amuse many readers. When I finally resumed writing, Oscar spoke to me again and all I had to do was listen. The second half of the book was completed in just 3 weeks.
Within weeks of publication, I was receiving emails from all around Australia. One that I’ve treasured reads: “Congratulations on your book- I thought it was just wonderful. I lost my father when I was 14 and felt such an affinity with Oscar. It was truthful and the confusion/grief/angst was so wonderfully captured. I just LOVED it!”
This was from an adult reader, and I admit that I was surprised to receive as many emails from adults as I did from teens. Somehow, Oscar seemed to have appeal across age groups and genders, and I was also thrilled to receive positive feedback from Indian novelist and poet Sampurna Chattarji, whose opinion I respect enormously. She told me she’d given the book to her father to read and, at 70-something, he “picked up the book and finished it at one go, and liked it very much”.
Sometimes, I think, the best books come from the simplest ideas. In the case of I AM OSCAR, the idea was to create a young, funny, imaginative character and then give him a really tough time. I threw everything at Oscar – the death of a parent, the breakdown of the other parent, a difficult sister, an impossible crush, a change of schools, incredibly fast physical changes, a first experience of love, a massive cold sore – and left it up to him to cope. Not very nice, I know – but that’s authors for you. We’re cruel in the name of art.
The book’s message? Well, I’ve always believed that imagination is one of the keys to resilience. We need imagination in life, and the best exercise for the imagination is reading. I hope lots of people read I AM OSCAR. When you do, please tell me what you think via the contact tab at http://www.kenspillman.com.