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James Phelan


Dr James Phelan is the bestselling and award-winning author of twenty-eight novels and one work of non-fiction. From his teens he wanted to be a novelist and he started his first novel aged 15. After high school he first tried his hand at a real job, studying and working in architecture before turning to English literature, spending five years at The Age newspaper, while obtaining an MA in Writing and then a PhD in Young Adult Literature.

His first published book was Literati (John Wiley & Sons), a series of interviews with Australia’s top literary figures. This lead to several publishers offering James publication for his fiction, and he signed with Hachette, who have  published five titles in the Lachlan Fox – an Australian investigative journalist – action thriller series, the Alone trilogy of Young Adult post-apocalyptic novels, and the Jed Walker series suspense thrillers: The Spy, The Hunted, Kill Switch, and Dark Heart. James has also written a fourteen-book adventure series for Scholastic, titled The Last Thirteen. This series, described as “The Famous Five meets Indiana Jones,” has won many Australian kids-choice awards, where it has sold over half a million copies since 2014.

James has been a full-time novelist since the age of 25, and spends his time writing thrilling stories and talking about them. As a highly sought after speaker across all education levels, James has spoken at festivals, schools, and universities all over the world. Each year James spends three months talking at schools in the USA. He is currently working on a Middle Grade series of funny illustrated novels, some picture books, thrillers, and YA work. James has sold over 4 million copies world-wide.

Which stories inspired you as a child?

I grew up in Parkville, and as a kid I remember long summer nights of reading in my room, with the setting sun spilling through the window, and the soundtrack of lions roaring in Melbourne Zoo. I credit my overactive imagination to being exposed to authors such as Roald Dahl and Paul Jennings, and some of my favourite books where The Hobbit, Treasure IslandThe Jungle Book, Taronga, Tales of the PunjabSiddhartha, and The Little Prince.

How did you start out as a writer?

I started my first novel for a creative writing project in high school but abandoned it for when I retired one day; writers were all old dudes, right? When I was 21 I took a year out from architecture, took those characters I created as a 15-year-old, and wrote my first novel. I then worked at The Age for five years, fixed Fox Hunt, started the sequel, completed an MA and started a PhD. I signed on for three books by the time I was 25, and a year later became a full-time author. Ten years on and I’m busier than ever.

What themes are recurring in your work, and what research do you do?

I have a keen interest in world events and political, ethical, environmental, and human issues. Character themes include: friendship, redemption, love, loss, survival, and coming-of-age. All my work, whether written with an 8 or 80 year old reader in mind, is designed to entertain. My research is constant and takes me to exciting places all around the world. Sometimes I’m talking with people who have partaken in incredible things, and always I’m observing even the most minute gesture or phrase that may be used in a story someday.

You’ve been a full time author for 10 years – what have been the highlights of your career?

Signing that first book deal was special. 35 books contracted by 35 was pretty cool… and a lot of work. Having bestselling books are good, winning awards are nice, but the best part of my journey is the feedback from enthusiastic readers. Each month I spend a day replying to fan mail, and I constantly get notes from teachers and parents around the world saying that their reluctant young readers have been converted to a love of reading because of my books or a presentation I’ve given at their school.

What are you so passionate about reading?

Reading fiction is education of the highest order. The more we know, the more engaged we are, the less likely there will be conflict. I know from a lifetime of reading and creating stories that it is only through story-telling that we are able to get to the true essence of the human condition. My greatest joy is inspiring new generations with a love for reading and thinking, and it’s a thrill to be an Australian promoting literacy on an international stage.


We thoroughly enjoyed James’ presentation and writing workshops. He was very friendly and had a great rapport with our students. A testament to the success of the workshop is that a number of students have continued to work on the narrative which they began with James. Many of the students have also read James’ books as his reading and analysis of extracts from Chasers: Alone really engaged their interest.

—L. Sellars, Cairns State High School, April 2016

The students thoroughly enjoyed having James visit. His presentation was enjoyed by all and the teachers were equally impressed.
James has the ability to speak to the kids on their level…manage their comments and their questions with a story, diverge onto other stories, but always come back with the original focus.
The year 6 students loved his sense of humour and hearing about his journey into life as an author. Not only that…the children have discovered they LOVE his stories and his books are walking out the doors of our library. As a teacher librarian….that is a joy to me.

—D.Lester, Carey Baptist Grammar School, July 2017

Our college is a year 5-12 all boys school and James’ humorous delivery allowed the boys to fully participate in the event. The students thoroughly enjoyed the sessions and James is an excellent story-teller. He is particularly suited to boys as his stories related to his upbringing having 5 brothers, his characters were siblings and so on. Our students learnt how to write a book, how to develop characters, even the importance of book covers. Since James’ visit his books have been hugely borrowed with reservations pending. Older students who haven’t read fiction since primary school are coming to the library to borrow. James Phelan has lit a fire in our students to read, which was a main aim of the whole experience.

—C. Collins, St Mary's College, July 2017

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