Today’s it’s my treat to welcome Trilby Kent, debut author of the middle grade historical novel, Medina Hill. Trilby is touring around the kidlitosphere this week, beginning with Toronto-based blogs (her native city), and ending in UK-based blogs (her current home base). Other tour stops today include:
Here’s the teaser for Medina Hill, provided by Tundra:
In the grimy London of 1935, eleven-year-old Dominic Walker has lost his voice. His mother is sick and his father’s unemployed. Rescue comes in the form of his Uncle Roo, who arrives to take him and his young sister, Marlo, to Cornwall. There, in a boarding house populated by eccentric residents, Marlo, who keeps a death grip on her copy of The New Art of Cooking, and Dominic, armed with Incredible Adventures for Boys: Colonel Lawrence and the Revolt in the Desert, find a way of life unlike any they have known. Dominic’s passion for Lawrence of Arabia is tested when he finds himself embroiled in a village uprising against a band of travelers who face expulsion. In defending the vulnerable, Dominic learns what it truly means to have a voice.
After reading Medina Hill, I’ll certainly be on the look out for whatever Trilby writes next. The main reason? Originality. An author who creates a story that’s just a little bit unusual (in concept or characters), as this one is, automatically warrants keeping an eye on, in my opinion. I enjoyed the way Trilby brought diverse elements together in this book. I thought it was an interesting approach for Dominic to be inspired by the past so that he might take hold of his present life and come into his own towards the end of the book. Naturally, I loved all of the passages focusing on his sister Marlo’s passion for cooking (a girl after my own heart, that Marlo). Read this bit:
My sister wasn’t complaining, mind. But The New Art of Cooking had opened another world for her. I guess it was an escape. There was a section called “Feasts from the Arabian Nights,” and another one called “Medieval Meats, Meads, and Mushrooms.” Marlo took to carrying it around with her the way a baby clings to her blanket. “You don’t even know how to boil water,” I’d sneered at her, irritated by the fact that she seemed so content, safe in a world of Sunday roasts and jelly trifles. “What’s the point of reading a book for housewives?” Marlo had gazed up at me with those dumb, gray eyes and replied, “You wouldn’t understand.”
Medina Hill explores some of my favourite themes: the blessing in discovering the things that matter to you most, learning to accept yourself and so finding the courage to change and grow, and the power one discovers when facing the world with a curious spirit and an open mind. Those are some big ideas for a slim book.
I thought this was a quirky read, with characters I wanted to know more about. I suppose that’s the only aspect of the book that wasn’t fully satisfying. There were so many unusual characters, indeed the plot necessitated a cast of oddballs, but I wanted more scenes through which readers could connect to them and come to understand them more deeply. It seemed like many of the secondary characters came and went rather quickly, with only a couple of scenes each. Perhaps it’s just that the book could have stood to be quite a bit longer. I think the overall impact would have been stronger with more of the story and characters fleshed out a bit more fully. In some respects, I don’t think Medina Hill is written for a broad readership, because not all kids will appreciate or perhaps even understand Dominic’s passion for such a specific period of history, though many may identify with his fears and self-doubt. This said, I was certainly attracted to the range of subjects presented here, from the history of Lawrence of Arabia to Romany life to cooking and baking and even clairvoyance. The eclectic subject matter intrigued me and could easily have supported a lengthier narrative.
Now I am happy to present Trilby Kent herself – and her two main characters as well, Dominic and Marlo, for a chat about what inspires them most about their particular passions. Welcome Trilby & Co!
So Trilby, what is it about writing that most inspires you?
Trilby: I think that writing is an extension of being a reader: you’re inspired or excited by something you read, and before long you start to want to inspire and excite others in the same way. Like many writers, my first efforts – and I mean my very first efforts, as a little kid – were hideously derivative. A fitting title for my first book (four pages written on a typewriter and stapled together) would probably have been Five Go To Malory Towers. It wasn’t an original statement; it was a paean to the idols of my childhood. But imitation can be a useful way to learn the basics.
Reading an excellent book is still my greatest inspiration – being an author means I have an excuse to spend lots of time reading novels (I get to call it “research”). And writing is still just a slightly more grown-up way of playing make-believe. It gives me permission to find out about things, to ask questions. I’d be enormously flattered if I learned that somewhere, some young author in the making was penning a thinly veiled knock-off of Medina Hill. That would be the ultimate compliment!
Dominic, why do you find history so intriguing?
Dominic: I used to think that history was just about the past – the names and dates they make us memorize at school, like the Battle of Hastings and Henry VIII’s six wives. But then I realized that history’s happening right this minute; it follows us around like a shadow. I wasn’t alive when the Great War was on, but it changed my dad forever. Him being sad a lot of the time: that’s history’s fault. Which makes history sound like a bad thing, but it isn’t. It’s just people. And the more you learn about them, the more you start to see yourself in them – the good and the bad. It makes you feel less alone, somehow. Not being able to speak used to make me feel cut off from other people – but dead people don’t expect you to speak. They want you to listen.
Lawrence of Arabia was just a weedy kid like me, once upon a time. But he read his history, and I’ll bet that made him realize that he could be something more. I don’t think he wanted to be a famous hero; he didn’t wake up one morning and think, Right, time to enter the history books.. But that’s what he did, in the end. That’s what happened.
Marlo, why is baking your favourite thing?
Marlo: Most grown-ups don’t expect an eight year-old to know the difference between a posset and a syllabub, let alone how to make one. When you’re only eight, sometimes it’s hard to be taken seriously. So I like to surprise people. Even Mum can’t make lardy cake and sticky toffee pudding like I can. (Of course, the good thing about being little is you’re still allowed to lick the mixing bowl!)
Cookbooks are just the most wonderful thing – especially if they have lots of pictures. It gets you thinking, Could I make that? And the house always smells lovely when there’s a pie in the oven, or fruit stewing on the stove. People can’t help smiling when they come through the door. That makes me happy, too. There’s nothing like presenting someone with a cake covered in buttercream roses to know that all the hard work was worth it, just to see the look on their face. Try it, and you’ll see.
Thanks to Trilby, Dominic and Marlo for stopping by Shelf Elf to tell us more about their talents!
For the full schedule of Trilby’s travels, including her stops tomorrow, head to Tundra’s blog.
Medina Hill is published by Tundra Books.