Author Damian Kelleher grew up in Sutton, attending St Cecelia’s and John Fisher Schools. His books include 'Life, Interrupted' and, most recently, 'Dog in No Man’s Land', published to coincide with the centenary of the outbreak of World War I. I caught up with him at the Federation of Children’s Book Groups conference.


Your book Dog in No Man’s Land was written in association with the Imperial War Museum. Did they approach you or was it the other way round?


It was actually my publisher who was approached and then they asked me if I would write the book. What was fantastic was that I was able to see a lot of the files that aren’t open to the general public. I was able to read letters written by soldiers during the First World War and it was very moving and emotional. I felt very privileged to be able to read those letters and of course it was being able to read them that gave me the idea that I would have letters within the book itself.


Would you say that Luke in Life, Interrupted and Billy in Dog in No Man’s Land have anything in common? I was thinking that the war interrupted many lives.


I think for millions of people the war was hugely disruptive. Biily and Luke are about the same age and I think they are both going through really difficult times in their lives. Luke has his brother Jesse who he doesn’t really get on with, but by the end of Life Interrupted their whole relationship has changed quite dramatically. In Dog in No Man's Land it is Scruff and Alfie who see Billy through that war and I think for so many of the soldiers who would have been in WW1, fighting in really difficult circumstances, it was friendships that really did see them through. You also get to understand how important animals became. In a lot of cases, they were more than just mascots. They were performing a very important task and that’s exactly what Scruff did. There were dogs like him who saved hundreds and hundreds of lives. We can’t underestimate the contribution of those animals to the war.


Do you think that your work as a journalist has helped with your fiction writing?


It did actually, because with journalism you have to be quite organised. When you are interviewing someone you have got to understand how important it is if you are going to do something properly that you prepare. That element of preparation is really useful when it comes to writing books. You've got to structure and think about your story, where the story is going and who the characters are. Being a good journalist holds you in very good stead when it comes to writing books.


You went to school at St Cecelia’s and John Fisher. Is there anybody at those schools who particularly inspired you?


There were two teachers at St Cecelia’s. There was a teacher called Miss Clark who had a real love of poetry and I can remember her reading to us. I can remember a poem that I learned to recite in her class. Those things stay with you all the time and those teachers make such a huge difference. Another teacher called Miss Harnett was also very keen at helping us and encouraging us with creative writing. I loved writing stories even in those days. I think as a child when you sit and write a story and someone says to you “That’s a great story”, that’s just the encouragement you need to direct you to books. When I went to John Fisher I had an English teacher, Mr Weir, who was fantastic and always encouraged me. He always said “You should go to university; you should do English at university” and he really helped me to understand that I was capable of a lot more than I might have thought at the time. He was one of those teachers who can just direct you and just give you a nudge and he was one of those people who really made all the difference. If you ask people about school, everyone will have at least one teacher who made a connection with them and it really helped. We really need those teachers.

Imogen Easton

Cheam High School