Novel in the attic

WITH more than 100 short stories and 60 books already under his belt, a prolific Ipswich author has penned a new novel which could mark him as a name to watch in the world of children's fiction.

By Tracey Sparling

WITH more than 100 short stories and 60 books already under his belt, a prolific Ipswich author has penned a new novel which could mark him as a name to watch in the world of children's fiction. Features editor TRACEY SPARLING reports.

IPSWICH is possibly the final stop, on a globetrotting life that's taken Garry Kilworth everywhere from Yemen to Borneo to Singapore and back again.

After a life spent living in over 20 countries and experiencing different cultures across the globe, he now lives in a converted 18th century workhouse near Alton Water, where he loves to write.

He said: “Writing is a compulsion for me; if it was outlawed tomorrow I'd be a criminal!”

He added: “Our windows look down on the paupers' graveyard where the inmates were buried - without tombstones - because they couldn't afford a church funeral. There are 500 corpses without names or markers out there.”

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His new novel for kids, out this month is called Attica. Fast, fun, and exciting, but also dark and creepy, it could be his best yet, and is due to be made in to a film too.

Attica is billed as a contemporary mix of Narnia and The Borrowers. It's the story of three children who find a secret portal in their attic, to a land made up of strange creatures and other people's junk. The story is peppered with other-worldly creatures like Bortrekkers and Tatterdermalions.

But this is no benign wonderland. Menace lurks around every corner, and these discarded items take on a life of their own, and seek revenge for a life lying unloved in a loft.

He has been fascinated by attics ever since he was a child. Then about a year ago, during a Friday night curry evening with his wife and some old friends, he began talking with an artist pal about the mystery and mystique of attics - and the new novel sparked from there.

There are now plans to make it into a movie, and he said: “As far as I know, it's just crossing i's and dotting t's. Funnily enough, I haven't had a movie deal for 20 years, and then two came along at once: one for Attica and another from an Indian film company for In the Hollow of the Deep-Sea Wave, a novel about a tsunami in the Indian Ocean, which I wrote 12 years ago.”

Garry draws upon influences from storytelling that he has encountered whilst globetrotting - from Polynesian folklore, to African and Chinese fairy tales, to Persian myths and legends, as well as Kipling, Hans Christian Andersen and the Grimm Brothers.

Attica's dominant theme - the search for home - is drawn straight from his own itinerant life.

A baby of the Blitz, Garry was born in York in 1941, and has been on the move pretty much ever since.

Just as Garry has had to discover and fit into new environments and cultures as the son of an RAF pilot - he had attended nearly 30 schools by his fifteenth birthday, and has lived in more than 20 countries around the globe - it is essential for the characters in Attica to adapt to their new surroundings, and rely on each other's wits, in order to keep themselves safe…and alive.

His happiest childhood memories were “living the life of Kipling's 'Kim'” in Yemen, where he fell in love with Rudyard Kipling's tales, as well as the William books. From reading Kipling and Richmal Crompton, as well as Hans Christian Andersen and the Grimm Brothers, Garry knew that he wanted to create stories and characters full of adventure and fantasy.

Initially though, writing was a hobby and diversion. Following in his father's footsteps, Garry joined the RAF, signing up while still in his teens. He spent 17 years in the services, travelling the world and living in just about every corner of the globe, including Singapore, Hong Kong, Cyprus and Kenya.

All the time he was writing stories, picking up themes and inspiration.

His break finally came in 1974, when he was 33, with Let's Go Golgatha, a short story which won a Sunday Times short story competition.

Feeling “a little under-educated”, Garry returned to university as a mature student in the 1980s, completing a degree in English literature at Kings College in London, before embarking on his long-held desire of being a full-time writer. He's never looked back, and writing now fills every morning.

He said: “Ideally, I'll start writing at about 8am, and work through until one.

“I have a coffee machine by my desk and imbibe frequently. I also eat a lot of toffees and fruit gums.

“I often take a nap if I work on into the afternoon by simply falling off my chair and snoozing on the carpet for 20 minutes - after which I can work on until I'm told to stop.

“Once the story's in my head, it comes tumbling out like a waterfall. It used to take me around three months to write a story. I write about 2,000 words a day, which is 10,000 words a week.

I don't believe in writing in 'blocks'. With Attica, though, I allowed myself a lot more time and space for the ideas and stories to develop - which I hope will result in a more revealing, rewarding read!”

As well as science fiction/fantasy, Garry also writes poetry, ghost and vampire stories, film novelisations, a series of historical war novels set in the Crimean War, and general fiction.

His work has been translated into 17 languages, from Hungarian to Japanese, Polish to Portuguese.

He lives with his wife Annette, and they have two grown-up children and five grandchildren. The couple share a love of travel and the outdoors. Whenever possible, they like to go on long walks, preferably somewhere high, rugged, windy, and exposed.

He also loves a leisurely round or two of golf, or a trip up to London to pop into the museums, or the Royal Geographical Society. He hasn't stopped backpacking round the world and would love to visit Iceland, Madagascar and the Amazon - and he recommends everyone to see Petra, Alaska and Hong Kong.

He added: “Everywhere I go - from New Zealand, to Borneo, to India - I have this strange yearning to rent or buy a house and live there. It drives my wife crazy, even though she loves travelling too. 'You can travel places but you can't live everywhere,' she says.

But it doesn't change how I feel. I want to live in Venice, in a village in Malaysia, in California, and in the Canadian Yukon…I want the Inuits or the Darwinites to say, “Oh, yeah, Garry? He's local.”

And back at home in humble Ipswich, the question remains: what's the most exciting thing in his attic?

A Dyak sea-warrior's sword from Sarawak.


Attica is published by Atom, at £12.99.