The death of Mal Peet has taken from us not only an exceptional writer, but also someone who truly loved life and was loved. Mal Peet was a late starter to publishing: he was 53 when Keeper appeared in 2003. Mal had a strong following in Australia and his books made an immediate impact. At the time of this interview, Keeper and Tamar had been published. Tamar won the prestigious Carnegie Medal and his later book, Life: An Exploded Diagram (2011) was a Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor book.
Writing questions for this interview was quite a challenge. Although I had responded strongly to his books, I didn’t really know very much about Mal himself. But his detailed, nuanced and often very funny answers told us a great deal about him – what pleased him and what didn’t. It also helped set the seen for his first visit to Australia, for Reading Matters (he was to have come in 2007) in 2009, where he appeared along with John Green, MT Anderson and Isobelle Carmody. On news on Mal’s death, John Green called him ‘One of the greatest YA writers…’.
Mal Peet died at home on 2 March, 2015.
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Mal: First off, let me say these are really good questions; I’ve scratched a small pink helipad on the top of my head thinking about them. So here we go:
Mike: Your books tell some unusual stories. What draws you to write about these things that are outside your own world?
I’ve always, from a very early age, liked books that take you elsewhere. That may be because I didn’t like where I was. Or it might just be that I somehow realized, when I was kid, that words are a form of transportation. Through time, as well as space. I don’t think I was ever very interested in books that told me about what I was already familiar with. In other words, ‘realism’ never appealed to me very much. My early loves were for books like Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea, Treasure Island, Journey to the Centre of the Earth, The Time Machine. I was also very into comics, like The Wizard, The Hotspur, The Victor, and these had strips about ‘ordinary’ boys whose lives were transformed by strange meetings, or magical events, or the discovery of peculiar powers. Keeper comes from there, I think; from way back when I was maybe eight or nine or thereabouts. And anyway, the best books are those that persuade you that the impossible is possible.
You seem to be in some ways a very un-English writer…Where in England do you live and where did you grow up?