Today I’m interviewing writer Tricia Gilbey, an author from near Sudbury, England. Tricia, it’s great to be with you today.
Thank you for asking me, Jeff. It’s great to be here.
Jeff: Have you lived in England all your life?
Tricia: Yes, I live in East Anglia. I spent my university years in London, but each time I’ve moved, I’ve gone deeper into the countryside, until I ended up in our cottage by the woods. I grew up in a new town – a satellite of London, and longed to be in a place with some history, and so I moved to the oldest town in England – Colchester, once the Roman town of Camulodunum which Boudicca destroyed. There are still the carbonised remains of meals eaten that day in the Castle museum, built on the remains of the Roman temple. I’ve been down in the temple vaults and heard the stories with many of the groups of children I’ve taught over the years. Now, I live in the Stour Valley.
J: What are some of the things you like best about where you live?
T: I love the light, and the rolling hills. It is an area immortalised by painters such as John Constable, Thomas Gainsborough and John Nash. Our village is on the Essex/Suffolk border – so it is possible to stand with one foot in each county, overlooking the beautiful River Stour. I love the timber framed buildings with their rich colours, and the sense of community. I also enjoy only being one hour from London, and being able to access everything going on there too. We have a tiny train halt in our village and a two coach train which trundles up and down to the mainline.
J: We’re probably loathe to admit it, but I think many Americans are all terribly confused (well, I’m not, of course!) over here about how this United Kingdom, Great Britain, England thing all fits together. Do you hear that a lot from people outside the UK?
T: No…well they haven’t mentioned it, but I don’t think many people think about it as deeply as you do, Jeff! Of course, you’ll know better than most that there are many historical reasons for the different names. It’s something that can really confuse children though, and it makes our geography difficult to teach. But the more you go into the reasons for the different names, and the way England itself grew from a patchwork of kingdoms, the more you realise we really are a culture shaped by invaders and settlers. I value all the people who come to our country and contribute to our rich, diverse culture. I was relieved in the recent referendum that Scotland remained a part of the UK, even though I understood their reasons for wanting to break away.
J: What is something you wish Americans better understood about England?
T: Well, recently I was watching an episode of The Good Wife which featured an English case, about publishing, funnily enough, and the clichés about English people were coming so thick and fast I nearly threw something at the TV! I love that series, it was just that one episode that bugged me. It seemed that English people were seen as being very stuffy and rule-bound and conventional, and that is definitely an unfair stereotype. As I mentioned earlier, I think one of the strengths of this country is that we are all very different, and yet we have so much in common. Perhaps we are a little more reserved than you, but as we make connections in the global meeting places of the internet, and as our families move to different countries – my sister married a Canadian and lives over there – it leads to greater understanding, which I think is a wonderful bonus.
J: Could you tell us how the desire to write came about for you?
T: It’s been there ever since I can remember. I loved writing stories and poems at primary school and a teacher thought my story was so good she serialised it and read a chapter a day. It was my first experience of seeing how my stories would go down with readers, and the other kids loved it, luckily for me! It was about a pair of shoes which came to life. I seem to remember they argued a lot! The shoes, not the kids. My mum encouraged me to write, one of my best presents ever was a set of little books and transfers- an early form of ‘self publishing’! And Mum suggested I send my stories into Heinemann – so I packaged up my collection of red Silvine exercise books and sent them off. One of the stories was an adventure called The Monster’s Cave. I’d stuck my own picture of the monster onto the front cover! Definitely influenced by the Minotaur, but set in Cornwall, England. I got a lovely letter back saying that, aged nine, I was perhaps a little too young, but they were sure I would one day have something published. Another early memory is going to a big house where my Dad’s friend worked and there, in the window, was the largest typewriter I’d ever seen – this was way before word processors. And he let me type on it, and it was just the biggest thrill. I always knew I wanted to write.
J: What would you say were the authors that influenced you the most.
T: Oh, so many, I read so much. But ones that have stayed with me were C.S Lewis – I adored Narnia, Alice in Wonderland was a big favourite and I also loved Tove Jansson’s Moomintroll books. I enjoyed stories where there was a world within a world, and where that line between fantasy and reality was so thin, you could step from one world into the other. I also loved A Traveller in Time by Alison Utley and Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce and each year I now attend the Pearce lectures in Cambridge, and I’ve seen some great people talk there, including Phillip Pullman, Malorie Blackman and many more. If you look them up online you can watch them too, they’re all on video.
J: Could you tell us a little about the different things you’ve written?
T: I write mainly for ages 10-14 – so YA books. It’s the age we really start to discover the world beyond our immediate homes, and begin to imagine our futures for ourselves, and so it’s a very rewarding age-group to write for. I’m writing a trilogy called The Thought Shapers about a near future world, a dystopian city, and a girl who, through a community of storytellers, finds she can alter her reality through her imagination. And when I got the idea for my current book I just knew I had to take a break from teaching to write it. It’s called To Know the Dark, and it’s about a fourteen year old girl, Martha, who returns from an itinerant life with her mother, travelling in India and elsewhere, to settle down with her Gran in a sleepy Suffolk town. But then, a ghostly soldier from World War One emerges from a portrait in her Grandmother’s barn, with secrets too terrible for him to bear alone. While based very much in the twenty-first century, I explore the influence of the past on the present and of the present on our memories of the past. My stories are often about how we remember and why we might try to forget. I’m so excited about this book, and am currently submitting it to agents.
J: I really appreciate the motivations you have for writing. They would lend themselves to fascinating ideas. Aside from favourite authors, what other influences inspire your writing?
T: I love to walk while thinking about ideas. I invariably come back with everything sorted in my mind. And for my current book To Know the Dark I have been very inspired by a particular small Suffolk town. There is a country park with a disused station building but they have left the tracks in the grass even though they go nowhere, and the platform. And there is a single old castle wall on top of a motte. All just right for a ghost story! I’ve combined the two vintage shops in the town into one where one of the characters works, and used the war memorial and so on. There is also a particular house where I imagine Martha lives. When I went there with a friend recently I gave her a guided tour and it felt as if I was walking through my book! The other thing I love is music. I don’t often play music when I’m writing, but with this book there are sections where I used music to get me in the mood. For example at the beginning there is a Halloween party in a barn and I found some music that might have been playing, and then again for the end of the book there was a particular piece by Elgar that really got me welling up. It’s a very emotional thing writing a book, and music helps to evoke the right feelings.
J: Tricia, I have to ask you. What is it with the British and their extra vowels? It’s so much extra work! As I was writing the question above, I wrote favorite and my spell checker corrected it to favourite! My own computer! You’re having great fun confusing us, right?
T: Now that’s odd because my computer does the same thing, but it takes the vowels out. Maybe we should swap?!
J: Tricia, I think it’s a wonderful you are writing for this age group. Young people need to be challenged more. You’re igniting their curiosity with invitations to explore the world around them and that’s a marvelous thing. Thank you so much for this interview. It’s been great to learn more about you and we’ll be looking forward to these great stories you’re working on!
T: Thank you, Jeff. I can’t wait until they’re out there, being read!
Catch up with Tricia on Twitter @ https://twitter.com/autho
And catch the spirit of her passion for writing for young people at http://www.pearcelecture.com/