Keith Gray Biography
A British author, Keith Gray has written a number of young adult and children's books. Until he was about twelve years old, he limited his own reading to comics and graphic novels, but one day during his preteen years he picked up a book, The Machine Gunners, by Robert Westall. Gray told an interviewer for Write Away!: Teachers' Centre that a few years later, he "became a massive Stephen King fan. Both these writers were a huge influence because they put the story first. Dig a little deeper and you may find social commentary, or a moral, or a 'message,' but definitely the story came first." However, as he admitted on his Web site, his enthusiasm for writing did not extend to school work, and he failed to maintain the grades he needed to pursue a university degree in English. Instead, he entered in a business and finance program after secondary school. When he scored a zero on his accounting exam, he quit to work at various odd jobs, including dressing up as a bear at a theme park, while concentrating on writing in his free time.
Gray was twenty-four when his first young adult novel, Creepers, was published. Two years later, a Writers Online interviewer asked Gray why he wrote children's books. He said that an instructor had told him that the first rule of writing is to write what you know. "Well, I'm only twenty-six," said Gray, "so I know pretty much what it's like to be a kid, but I haven't figured out what being an adult is all about just yet."
The nameless narrator of Creepers is a loner who engages in creeping, a British activity during which teens skulk through backyards at night, over fences, and away from angry dogs and homeowners as they challenge each other to cross a neighborhood without being caught. When he panics during an especially difficult creep, his buddy, Jamie, is caught, and the narrator tries to intervene with the homeowner by befriending his daughter, Ruth, a girl "so cool she could have been a Creeper."
The story grows darker when the narrator hears that Jamie has been killed in a fire, but a few nights later, Jamie shows up, and they plan the most ambitious creep of all. Horn Book reviewer Nancy Vasilakis said that "themes of courage and betrayal are explored within an unusual context; the elements of suspense are skillfully manipulated." A Junior Bookshelf writer called Creepers "a brilliant first novel. The complex culture of creeping makes a convincing background for the interplay of schoolboy loyalties and rivalries."
From Blood: Two Brothers is a story of friendship that spills over into the supernatural. Chris and Paul use a razor blade to cut through their skin and mingle their blood, becoming blood brothers. But what they also create is a telepathic link which brings some dark moments, but also some lighter ones. School Librarian's Sandra Bennett said that the book's "treatment of friendship is comic and moving, and the plot is skillfully handled to reveal character and maintain suspense."
Gray has written several books for a younger audience, including Dead Trouble, a story that emphasizes the danger of firearms. Jarrod and Sean find a loaded revolver and hide it so that they can play with it later. The end result is that a deer is shot. School Librarian's Gillian Cross called the story "memorable" and noted that it could be read by readers as young as seven. Cross also remarked upon the "emotional impact of the deer's death. This is a valuable book, but it needs careful handling."
A former bass guitarist in a rock band, Gray's book Happy is about a group of teens who form a musical group. Gray told an interviewer for Achuka that the book is "about ambition and obsession. Oh, and friendship (naturally). It's for anybody who has ever played in a band, or anybody who wanted to play in a band, or watched a band, or bought a record, or listened to music. Or anybody who's had a dream of being something special."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, February 1, 1998, Frances Bradburn, review of Creepers, p. 911.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, January, 1998, review of Creepers, pp. 160-161.
Horn Book, September-October, 1997, Nancy Vasilakis, review of Creepers, p. 570.
Junior Bookshelf, October, 1996, review of Creepers, pp. 201-202.
School Librarian, August, 1997, Sandra Bennett, review of From Blood: Two Brothers, p. 158, Susan Hamlyn, review of Hunting the Cat, p. 158; summer, 1998, Gillian Cross, review of Dead Trouble, pp. 78-79.
Achuka, http://www.achuka.com/ (January 3, 2003), interview with Gray.
Keith Gray Home Page, http://www.keith-gray.com/ (April 5, 2004).
Write Away!: Teachers' Centre, http://improbability.ultralab.net/writeaway/ (February 6, 2003), interview with Gray.
Writers Online, http://www.literacytrust.org.uk/ (February 6, 2003), interview with Gray.*
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