Kindle Author Interview: Valentine Cawley

Valentine Cawley, author of The Boy Who Knew Too Much, discusses his book, his journey as a writer, and self-publishing on Kindle.

DAVID WISEHART: What can you tell us about The Boy Who Knew Too Much?

VALENTINE CAWLEY: It is a multimillion word series on the life and raising of scientific child prodigy, Ainan Celeste Cawley and his family. It is based on a journal I have written, on a daily basis, since my eldest son was six years old. The story told within is a rare glimpse at the upbringing and development of a child prodigy, since very little has been written about them, by those close to them. Given its size, scope and depth, it is, I believe, a significant contribution to the literature on gifted children.

The title is meant to capture the astonishment that people feel when talking to Ainan for the first time. They often wonder: how does such a young boy know so much?

Volume 1 and 1a concerns Ainan from birth to six years old; Volume 2 and 2a when he was seven. Future volumes, which shall be released as fast as I can get the work done, will take him all the way to adulthood. He is now 11.

Volumes 1 and 2 consist of my journal entries and many reader comments, to which I reply. Volumes 1a and 2a are just journal entries, free of comments—although they have the same core as Volumes 1 and 2.

The Kindle Report reviewer Marguerite Zelle said of this journal: "I found this a fascinating read, and I recommend it for everyone who has gifted children, extremely intelligent children, or just children in general."

DAVID WISEHART: Who do you imagine is your ideal reader?

VALENTINE CAWLEY: Anyone who is curious about what gifted children and child prodigies are like, when they are growing up—and how to raise them. Also any reader who wishes to learn how to parent an intelligent child, would benefit from my experiences. So, too, would any teacher who would have to guide such children, in the course of their careers. In fact, my books would interest anyone who wanted to know more about parenting any child, not just intelligent ones—for the lessons we learnt from our experiences would be informative for anyone interested in understanding children.

DAVID WISEHART: What was your journey as a writer?

VALENTINE CAWLEY: I have always been a writer, since I very first grasped a pen and began to form words. I have been a teller of stories, since my earliest days. Whatever else has been going on in my life, I have continued to write. In fact, I have written several million words of book length works. Now, I am finally getting around to publishing them, one by one. Although, I began as a writer of fiction, as a child, most of my output, as an adult, is non-fiction—though that might change in future.

My first large work was a memoir I wrote in my twenties. It took me five and a half years, of cloistered effort and runs to three quarters of a million words. I have postponed publishing it for many years, because it is a very personal work, but I think I shall start publishing it in the coming year, on the Kindle.

For me, writing is about conveying my insights into the world. I am always thinking and my writing is a means to fashion something permanent from those thoughts.

For The Boy Who Knew Too Much, my journey was one of treading a path to understanding of my children. Like all fathers, to have a child is to be confronted with a new person of unknown character and potential. Much of the reward of being a father comes from the gradual discovery of just who it is, one has fathered. In coming to understand my sons, I have come to understand life, in a much deeper way. I have tried to convey that understanding in as clear a way as possible in this series.

I observed my children closely, every day. Whenever they did something I would seek to understand what it said of who they were and how they were thinking. I wrote down my reflections as journal entries. I also tried to capture the essence of their childhoods: every funny anecdote, sweet moment, insightful utterance, I personally had the chance to observe, is written of, in The Boy Who Knew Too Much.

I tried to understand the world as my children understood it and to record their daily growth. In so doing, I think I came to see my children more clearly than perhaps many parents, distracted by work and the demands of daily life, do. I made it a daily goal to see my children clearly and deeply, and to write down what I saw. The result is a portrait of the childhood not only of a child prodigy—which is a rare achievement—but of his gifted brothers, too. I am very glad that I made the decision to write my journal, for when my children are adults, I will be able to show them just how they were, when they were children. I cannot think of a better gift from a parent to a child.

DAVID WISEHART: What is your writing process?

VALENTINE CAWLEY: Reflection, insight and communication, would sum it up in three words. I contemplate the idiosyncratic actions and words of my children and seek to write of them in the clearest way possible, so that anyone might understand what I understand of them.

For me, as a writer, memory is very important. I revisit the events, in question, in my mind’s eye—and seek to see them more clearly and to understand what they mean. Once I do, I write of them, in a very spontaneous way: the right words come to me, unbidden, just the right words to express my thoughts. I never need to rewrite: everything comes out just as I want it, the first time. I have always been like this, since very young: everything I write is spontaneous, and final. Nothing ever needs changing. I find that, in this way, what I write is truest to how I think and feel. If I started a process of multiple revisions, as many writers do, I think my true, initial intentions would become obscured. So, I am happy with spontaneity: it takes me to where I want to be, most naturally.

DAVID WISEHART: What authors most inspire you?

VALENTINE CAWLEY: I am not one to look to other authors for inspiration—I always look within myself. I think that if one spends too much energy looking at the work of others, that it is very difficult to find one’s true voice. To my mind, a true writer need only look within to find the truth they seek: there they will find all the words they shall ever need to write.

DAVID WISEHART: What one book, written by someone else, do you wish you'd written yourself?

VALENTINE CAWLEY: The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. It is a perfect book. I love it because I see in it, the experience of an original child, in a world of conformists. In that sense, it is very much my own experience of childhood, in some ways—and, I would suggest, the experience of any creative person growing up in a modern society. It touched me deeply the first time I read it, more than twenty years ago. Very few books have the power to do that, so profoundly. I think it is a book that should resonate with any creative person.

DAVID WISEHART: How have you marketed and promoted your work?

VALENTINE CAWLEY: I am just beginning to explore how to do so. I think the online publishing world is very different in its needs and demands to the offline world. I have a lot of experience of promotion in the offline world: for instance, my family has been on the front page of The Wall Street Journal, in the pages of the Times of London, The Daily Telegraph, De Bild and hundreds of other newspapers, around the world. However I am new to promoting in the online world and I am still assessing what needs to be done.

DAVID WISEHART: Why publish on Kindle?

VALENTINE CAWLEY: Sadly, I think the physical book is slowly dying. I don’t think it will die out completely—it will always have a niche presence, but its dominance will soon be over. In its stead, we will have ebooks. I think it is eminently wise to establish oneself in the ebook world, in particular on the Kindle, which is by far the most important platform, at present, before the “end” of the book.

Furthermore, publishing on the Kindle is fast. The thought of spending years of my time, seeking traditional publishing deals, for my books, seems foolish. Those years can better be spent writing more books. Not that alone, but anyone who has studied the terms of traditional publishing contracts and compared them to the deal on the Kindle, would only be able to make one decision: forget the traditional way—and go for the Kindle.

DAVID WISEHART: What advice would you give to a first-time author thinking of self-publishing on Kindle?

VALENTINE CAWLEY: Do it—and do it yourself. By this I mean, take the time to learn how to do everything you need to do, yourself, if you can. There is no need to spend vast sums of money on services connected to putting together an ebook. Or worse still, to give up a percentage of your book to a company that provides such services. If you have the smarts to write a book in the first place, you should be able to handle publishing it as an ebook. Don’t hesitate because you are worried about making everything perfect—do as good a job as you can, when you can—and then, if you like, you can improve it later, with new editions. Of course, if you are the sort who is unable to proofread your own work, or if it needs editing and you can’t do that yourself, then you could seek out a professional editor/proofreader. Pay them a fixed fee, however, and not a percentage of sales.

I have noticed that some writers never publish, because they never feel that what they have done is perfect. With ebooks, that feeling is unnecessary, since improved editions can be uploaded in an instant—and at no additional cost.

It is a great pity that most of the world’s books never get the chance to be read by others. They sit unpublished in the bottom of drawers and, in time, are lost. Quite a few of these books, no doubt, are worth saving. So, get them up on the Kindle!

DAVID WISEHART: Thanks, and best of luck with your books.


Valentine Cawley is, presently, a psychological researcher (Senior Lecturer) focussing on giftedness, based at HELP University College, in Malaysia. A Cambridge University graduate, he has led a varied career, having been a government Physicist, in the UK; an Arts magazine founder and editor; an actor on TV, stage and film; a teacher; an event promoter; a performance artist and a writer of both fiction and non-fiction. He is the father of child prodigy Ainan Celeste Cawley and his two gifted brothers, and considers fatherhood to be his most satisfying achievement, apart from writing. He has been featured in several documentaries and news programmes, including Superhuman Genius, for ITV1 in the UK and The Science Channel, in the US and The World’s Cleverest Child and Me, for Channel 4. Both shows were sold internationally to a total of over twenty countries. In the 1990s, his performance art piece, Lord Valentine the Misplaced, was global news on CNN, Reuters and NBC News.

Valentine Cawley lives with his wife, Syahidah Osman Cawley, the artist, and their three sons, including Ainan Celeste Cawley, the child prodigy, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Read his blog.

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