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Trilby Kent Interview

Posted on 14 June 2010. © Copyright 2004-2024 WriteWords
A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
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WriteWords talks to Trilby Kent

Tell us all about your writing background- what youíve written, what youíre 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 weíre looking at a Spring 2011 release. Iíve 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. Iíve had a few short stories published. Iím currently working on a Creative Writing PhD, for which I have to write a novel and an accompanying thesis. Iíve just finished my first year and Iím 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 donít tend to write on days when Iím reading someone elseís, though Ė 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. Iíve done a little drama teaching in the past, which has also been a lot of fun Ė 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 Ė particularly Nadine Gordimerís early work and Andrť Brink. I also have a soft spot for Southern Gothic Ė anything by Flannery OíConnor, 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. Iím 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, whoís 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 childrenís novel was picked up off the slush pile, which I realize was an extremely lucky break. Iíd 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 didnít get anywhere Ė 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 Ďgrown-upí 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 itís hard not to keep pushing on.

Whatís the worst thing about writing?

The waiting. The intangibility of it: until that day when you have an actual contract in your hands, itís very difficult to quantify the time and effort youíve put into writing a piece of fiction. There isnít 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 Ė when we were living in the countryside and my partner was working long hours, days could pass by when the only person Iíd speak to would be the girl at the checkout counter at the local shop. There was always a danger that someone will casually ask ĎAlright?í and Iíd 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.

Iíve 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. Heís perched on the shelf above my computer and always makes me smile.

A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
Click here to learn more about becoming a member.

Comments by other Members

CarolineSG at 13:40 on 14 June 2010  Report this post
Great interview, Trilby. Sending masses of good luck for the new book!

Steerpike`s sister at 17:50 on 14 June 2010  Report this post
Same from me - can't wait for it to be out!

Issy at 19:30 on 14 June 2010  Report this post
Great, Trilby, many many congratulations, you are all set now for a brilliant writing career.

Shika at 10:45 on 15 June 2010  Report this post
Great interview.S

MF at 14:43 on 15 June 2010  Report this post
Cheers, gang!

Sappholit at 19:34 on 17 June 2010  Report this post
I loved reading this, especially this bit:

There was always a danger that someone will casually ask ĎAlright?í and Iíd actually give a detailed response, just to remind myself that I could still talk. Embarrassing, or what?

I've done that a lot.

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