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Caswell, Brian 1954–

Caswell, Brian 1954–

Personal

Born January 13, 1954, in Wales; son of George Harry (a courier) and Jean (maiden name, Hignett; present surname, McGrath) Caswell; married Marlene Gerada (a homemaker), February 23, 1974; children: Michael, Claire, Nicholas and Benjamin (twins). Education: University of New South Wales, B.A., 1975, Dip. Ed., 1976. Politics: "Slightly left of centre." Religion: Roman Catholic.

Addresses

Home and office—17 Wagstaff St., Edensor Park, New South Wales 2176, Australia. Agent—Rick Raftos Management, P.O. Box 445, Paddington, New South Wales 2021, Australia.

Career

New South Wales Department of Education, high school teacher of English and history, 1976–91. University of Western Sydney, writer-in-residence. Lector and Eucharistic minister for local church. Royals Basketball Club (youth club), coach.

Member

New South Wales Teachers Federation, University of New South Wales Alumni Association, Australian Society of Authors, Australasian Performing Right Association.

Awards, Honors

Honour Book designation, and Book of the Year designation, both Children's Book Council of Australia (CBCA), both 1990, both for Merryll of the Stones; CBCA Book of the Year award shortlist, 1993, for A Cage of Butterflies, 1996, for Deucalion, and award, 2006, for Double Exposure; CBCA Notable Book designation, 1992, for A Dream of Stars, 1994, for Mike, for Lisdalia and Dreamslip, 1996, for Maddie, 1997, for Asturias, 1998, for Only the Heart; Australia Council fellow, 1994, 1996; Australia Council screenwriting attachment, Australian Film, Television, and Radio School, 1995; Australian Multi-Cultural Children's Literature Award, 1995, and Highly Commended citation, Australian Human Rights Award—Children's Literature, both for Lisdalia; Australian Children's Peace Literature Award, 1995, for Deucalion, and shortlist, 1997, for Asturias; Aurealis Speculative Fiction Award, for Deucalion; Notable Book selection, International Youth Library (IYL), 1997, for Asturias; Braile and Talking Book Library award, and IYL Notable Book designation, both 1998, both for Only the Heart; Sanderson Young-Adult Book of the Year designation, Vision Australia Awards, 2000, and Ethel Turner Award, New South Wales Premier Literary Awards, both for The View from Ararat.

Writings

FOR YOUNG ADULTS

Merryll of the Stones, University of Queensland Press (St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia), 1989.

A Dream of Stars, University of Queensland Press (St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia), 1991.

A Cage of Butterflies, University of Queensland Press (St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia), 1992.

Dreamslip, University of Queensland Press (St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia), 1994.

Darryl, Ginn, 1995.

Sweet Revenge, Ginn, 1995.

Deucalion, University of Queensland Press (St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia), 1995.

Asturias, University of Queensland Press (St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia), 1996.

(With David Phu An Chiem) Only the Heart, University of Queensland Press (St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia), 1997.

Relax Max!, University of Queensland Press (St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia), 1997.

(With David Chiem) The Full Story (sequel to Only the Heart), University of Queensland Press (St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia), 2002.

Double Exposure, University of Queensland Press (St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia), 2004.

Author's works have been published in Braille editions and have been translated into several language, including Swiss.

"BOUNDARY PARK" TRILOGY; FOR CHILDREN

Mike, University of Queensland Press (St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia), 1993.

Lisdalia, University of Queensland Press (St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia), 1994.

Maddie, University of Queensland Press (St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia), 1995.

"ALIEN ZONE" SERIES; MIDDLE-GRADE NOVELS

TeeDee and the Collectors; or, How It All Began, University of Queensland Press (St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia), 1998.

Messengers of the Great Orff, University of Queensland Press (St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia), 1998.

Gladiators in the Holo-Coliseum, University of Queensland Press (St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia), 1998.

Gargantua, University of Queensland Press (St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia), 1998.

What Were the Gremholzs' Dimensions Again?, University of Queensland Press (St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia), 1998.

Whispers from the Shibboleth, University of Queensland Press (St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia), 1998.

OTHER

Relax Max! (picture book), illustrated by Kurt Hedridge, University of Queensland Press (St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia), 1997.

Hyram and B. (picture book), illustrated by Matt Ottley, Hodder (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 2003.

Contributor to books, including The Written World: Youth and Literature, edited by Agnes Nieuwenhuizen, Thorpe (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia), 1994; and Spooky Tales, edited by Paul Collins and Meredith Costain, Addison Wesley Longman, 1999. Contributor to periodicals.

Author's papers are housed at the Lou Rees Archives.

Work in Progress

A screenplay based on the novel Only the Heart, with the novel's coauthor, David Phu An Chiem.

Sidelights

Popular with teen readers in his native Australia, the award-winning novels of Brian Caswell reflect their author's knowledge of contemporary teen culture as well as his knowledge of popular film and music. A former teacher, Caswell began writing full time in 1991, and has produced several novels in the "Alien Zones" series for elementary-aged readers, the short-story collection A Dream of Stars, as well as such well-respected youngadult science-fiction novels as Deucalion and the picture book Hyram and B. Working in collaboration with David Phu An Chiem, Caswell has also produced Only the Heart and its sequel, The Full Story, which follow a group of Vietnamese refugees as they make a new life in Australia. The Full Story—which focuses on Vietnamese immigrant Andy, a young man whose relationship with Australian-born Libby is both threatened and strengthened by family pressures and history—was praised by Curriculum Materials Information Service online reviewer Sally Pyvis as "an ambitious, wellcrafted novel" that "deftly" combines "poetry, humour and vernacular language with outstanding results."

Born in Wales in 1954, Caswell spent his early years in Great Britain, then moved to Australia in 1966. He attended the University of New South Wales and earned his teaching degree in 1976. Working as a teacher of high-school history and English, he also coached basketball, and began writing seriously in 1987. As he once explained to SATA, he wanted "to create a story that would speak to the teenagers I was involved with. These were teenagers from the western suburbs of Sydney, Australia, for whom much of the traditionally 'popular' canon of youth literature was becoming increasingly inaccessible and irrelevant." As Caswell noted, because of the much shorter attention span characteristic of the television generation, his students had "a markedly different perception of narrative from those (like myself) born into less-frenetic times. If books are to remain an important part of their culture, a new narrative must be developed to retain all that is best in traditional forms, but also to speak to the new generation in a form it recognizes and to which it can respond."

In Caswell's novels, he incorporates an original prose style that, as he once explained, "mirrors and complements the complex multi-media culture that surrounds us…. I tell stories of groups, rather than individuals, and I allow different members of the group to tell their parts of the story, in the way a film might. I am still very aware, however, that I am writing a novel or short story, which must do far more than a film in some areas." Many of his books feature futuristic elements: the short-story collection A Dream of Stars, for example, features a love affair between a human teen and a Tralfamadorean, while Deucalion and A View from Ararat focus on race relations in a future world. In contrast, Double Exposure is a thriller that finds twin brothers Chris and Cain drawn into a tension-filled relationship with a single mother that ultimately taps into memories of their own troubled shared childhood.

In Deucalion, which won the Aurealis Award for Young-Adult Science Fiction, readers travel forward to the twenty-third century. Earth's inhabitants have, by now, developed warp-travel technology and have colonized a distant planet. During the first fifty years of colonization, the Earth-born inhabitants have learned that they share their new planetary home the Elokoi, an intelligent life form that communicates via thoughts. It is this new race that brings Jane to the planet Deucalion: a genetic researcher, she hopes to acquire genetic material she can use in her gene-splicing experiments. Other characters include Elokoi natives Saebi and Cael, who watch their peace-loving race slowly dwindling in the face of human encroachments. Calling the novel "an old-fashioned science fiction thriller," Alien Online reviewer Elizabeth A. Billinger noted that Deucalion is an "'issues' book," the two races being a metaphor for modern Australia with its native aboriginal population shrinking in the face of centuries of British immigration. "Caswell … spins a compelling yarn," concluded Billinger, adding that, "although he offers a happy ending and an optimistic future, he does recognize that there are no easy answers."

A sequel to Deucalion, The View from Ararat is set many decades in the future, as the planet's colonial government faces a crisis when a fleet of Earth-based spaceships intends to land despite the fact that some passengers may be carrying the fatal disease known as Crystal Death. With no known cure, the disease is a terrible one; those inflicted suffer great pain as their body organs gradually turn to stone. Through use of flashbacks, vignettes, and many voices, Caswell focuses on the effects of this plague and on the fear it causes among both the Deucalions and those on board the immigrant ships, as the human's civil society is fractured by fear and desperation. Praising Caswell's "rich, meaty story," School Library Journal reviewer Pam Spencer noted that the author's use of "varied points of view add to the complexity of the exciting plot," while on Western Australia's Curriculum Materials Information Service Web site Barbara Combes wrote that the author's "technique effectively builds tension" and "provides an excellent vehicle for exploring all sides of an issue."

"I believe in the capacities of young people," Caswell explained to SATA, in discussing his issue-oriented fiction, "and I refuse to 'write down' to them simply because common 'wisdom' is willing to assign to them a sophistication in emotional terms which it is unwilling to acknowledge in the area of reading technique. Such an attitude can tend to produce youth fiction which is at once confrontational and disturbing, yet technically and artistically simplistic and intellectually limiting. Our youth deserve more respect than this.

"What we must aim for is, I believe, the creation of a form of 'literary' youth fiction that is technically and artistically demanding, yet culturally relevant in both form and content. It must also recognize the fact that, though youth fiction is different from adult fiction in purpose and audience, it is in no way 'inferior.' My greatest pleasure is that I have found a willing reader-ship—in Australia, at least—not only among teenagers, but among their parents, teachers, and librarians. These readers allow me to raise some of the questions about their world and themselves that it is the job of literature to raise."

Biographical and Critical Sources

PERIODICALS

Horn Book, July-August, 1992, p. 497.

Magpies, September, 1992, p. 33; November, 1993, p. 32; July, 1994, p. 24; November, 1994, pp. 31, 33; September, 1995, p. 34; September, 1996, p. 36; July, 1997, review of Only the Heart, p. 36; May, 1998, review of "Alien Zone" series, p. 33; May, 1999, review of The View from Ararat, p. 37; July, 2000, review of Mike, p. 18; November, 2002, review of The Full Story, p. 39; November, 2003, review of Hyram and B., p. 28; September, 2005, Kevin Steinberger, review of Double Exposure, p. 41.

Reading Time, November, 1997, p. 32.

School Librarian, winter, 2002, review of Deucalion, p. 211.

School Library Journal, April, 2000, Pam Spencer, review of The View from Ararat, p. 130.

ONLINE

Alien Online, http://www.thealienonline.net/ (June 2, 2003), Elizabeth A. Billinger, review of Deucalion.

Curriculum Materials Information Service Web site, http://amlib.eddept.wa.edu/au/ (May 5, 2006), Barbara Coombes, review of The View from Ararat; Sally Pyvis, review of The Full Story; Pam Buselich, review of Double Exposure.

Lateral Learning Web site, http://www.laterallearning.com.au/ (May 4, 2006), "Brian Caswell."

University of Queensland Press Web site, http://www.uqp.uq.edu.au/ (May 4, 2006), "Brian Caswell."

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