WriteWords talks to Trilby Kent|
Tell us all about your writing background- what you’ve written, what you’re currently writing
My first novel for children, Medina Hill, was published by Tundra Books in Canada and the U.S. in 2009; my second, Stones For My Father, will be released next year. My first novel for adults, Smoke Portrait, has just been accepted for publication by Alma Books here in the UK; at the moment we’re looking at a Spring 2011 release. I’ve also worked as a freelance journalist, writing film, book and exhibition reviews, feature articles, investigative reports and essays for the Canadian national press as well as for magazines and journals in the U.S. and Europe. I’ve had a few short stories published. I’m currently working on a Creative Writing PhD, for which I have to write a novel and an accompanying thesis. I’ve just finished my first year and I’m about 30,000 words into the novel.
Other work besides writing; eg. Editing, dramaturgy, tutoring, and how it works/worked for/against your own writing
I tutor creative writing with a distance learning school and I also have a few private students. Teaching has definitely helped me to read my own work with a more critical eye. I don’t tend to write on days when I’m reading someone else’s, though – I find I need to leave a little space between projects in order to give students a balanced and objective view of their work and to find my headspace for mine. I’ve done a little drama teaching in the past, which has also been a lot of fun – nothing beats face to face contact with students, especially hyped-up school kids!
How did you start writing?
My first efforts, when I was five or six, were thinly disguised Enid Blyton pastiches, written on a typewriter. I started by mimicking my favourite writers. After Blyton, it was Agatha Christie, then Arthur Conan Doyle and, later, various nineteenth-century gothic novelists. When I was in high school I wanted to be a playwright. I would have loved to be an actress, but I was far too shy; writing felt safer, and it meant I could be master of my own little on-stage universe. The other thing that I now realise was instrumental in getting me started were my parents' dinner parties, where there was always a delicious variety of characters to spark the imagination; I'd spend most of the time making mental notes, soaking up story ideas and half-understood snippets of conversation to jot down later.
Who are your favourite writers and why?
I love South African writing – particularly Nadine Gordimer’s early work and André Brink. I also have a soft spot for Southern Gothic – anything by Flannery O’Connor, Truman Capote, Patricia Highsmith (I think she counts, as she was born in Texas and there are so many wonderful grotesques in her writing), to name a few. I’m currently going through a mid-century phase, having discovered Maude Hutchins. I love quirky, edgy writers such as Stevie Smith, Muriel Spark and Colette. My PhD supervisor is Philip Hensher, who’s a very smart guy; I really admire his versatility as a writer. As a historical novelist, I love Rose Tremain and Ian McEwan. As a journalist, I have a huge admiration for Donald Woods. I could go on..!
How did you get your first agent/ commission/publication? Can you tell us about the process/journey?
My first children’s novel was picked up off the slush pile, which I realize was an extremely lucky break. I’d already slaved over a novel for three years while I was at university, and although it had received some interest from a couple of agents ultimately it didn’t get anywhere – which was probably just as well! I wrote Medina Hill partly in response to those rejections; in some ways, it was really my apprenticeship book. Then, while I was living in Brussels, I started working on a ‘grown-up’ novel set partly in Flanders. Two or three rewrites later, I landed an agent, and another rewrite after that we started submitting to publishers. In all, the process took about three years, and there were several moments when I found myself starting to think that Smoke Portrait would never see the light of day. But when you really, really believe in a book it’s hard not to keep pushing on.
What’s the worst thing about writing?
The waiting. The intangibility of it: until that day when you have an actual contract in your hands, it’s very difficult to quantify the time and effort you’ve put into writing a piece of fiction. There isn’t the near-instant gratification that you get with journalism, or the satisfaction that teachers get out of helping a student master a new concept or skill. Writing can easily start to feel like a rather self-indulgent exercise. It can also get lonely – when we were living in the countryside and my partner was working long hours, days could pass by when the only person I’d speak to would be the girl at the checkout counter at the local shop. There was always a danger that someone will casually ask ‘Alright?’ and I’d actually give a detailed response, just to remind myself that I could still talk. Embarrassing, or what?
And the best?
The moment when your characters start to live on the page. Getting positive feedback from readers. Seeing your ideas and imagined worlds existing out there, for real.
Tell us what kind of responses you get from audiences\ readers.
I’ve had some lovely mail from young readers. My favourite so far has to be the hand-felted carrier pigeon, modeled on Baron Sigwalt from Medina Hill, from a girl who lives in my home town of Toronto. He’s perched on the shelf above my computer and always makes me smile.
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