Do you know what you want to do with your life? 16-year-old Matilda ‘Tilda’ Braint doesn’t. She’s approaching the end of Year 10. Her best friend Shell is all set to leave school and pursue her dream of opening a hair salon. Ditching school with her boyfriend Jamie no longer holds the appeal it once did. Ditto for actually dating Jamie! Her estranged parents are getting on track again, but is it for real this time? Tilda feels her world is changing fast and she’s unsure of her place in it. When a pregnant elephant seal strands herself on a beach near Tilda’s grandparents’ house, all of Tilda’s problems fade away as she focuses on keeping the seal and her pup safe. In the process, Tilda goes outside of herself to discover where her heart belongs.
Award-winning Tasmanian-born author Kathryn Lomer was kind enough to talk to us about her latest book.
What I liked about What Now Tilda B? is its underlying message—follow your passion. When did you realise you wanted to become a writer?
Follow your passion indeed! But how do you find out what your passion is? Not only did I love reading, I also loved reading about writers. I should have guessed sooner, really, that I wanted to write. We can be so blind about ourselves! In the end I realised, not so much that I wanted to become a writer, but that I had done lots of little bits of writing. And my work as a teacher of English as a Second Language had helped to open up my creativity. So there came a point when I thought, now or never. I took those bits of writing overseas with me and one day I said to myself today’s the day you start writing stories. And that’s what I did.
Tilda and her best friend Shell contemplate leaving school after Year 10. This was a decision you also faced at their age. What prompted you to return to study as a mature-age uni student?
I was fifteen when I started work. I worked for some years and saved up to go to Europe. There, I met many people from many countries and all walks of life, many of whom had been to university. I also learned a lot, at least as much as I would have learned at Matriculation as Grade 11 and 12 were then called! I went to art galleries and museums. I went to plays in London. I got to speak other languages. I learned about history, architecture, literature. It was an education on my feet. I realised that I loved learning and wanted to learn more. I also wanted the confidence exuded by the more educated young people I met. It took me two years after returning home to work up the courage to go to university. It was ‘a leap in the dark’. And it was one of the best things I’ve ever done – a great adventure. I should add that I failed my first assignment. But things improved after that.
Tell us about how you came to write this story. Did you encounter any problems, and how did you solve them?
I wrote this story because of the real story of an elephant seal giving birth on a beach in the Tasmanian town of Dover, not far from where I live. I thought about what might happen to individuals in the town as a result of this event. Once I had the character of Tilda, the challenge was to structure the story. In the end I decided to utilise the chronological structure offered by convergence of the seals’ stay and the final weeks of the Grade 10 year. The other major decision was to accept the switches in tense which occur in the story as being natural and intrinsic to the storytelling mode.
I’m curious about the lack of quotation marks to set out dialogue in What Now, Tilda B?. I’ve seen this employed in a handful of other novels (Anita Shreve’s work, for example). Was this a stylistic decision made by your publisher or is this how you presented the manuscript originally?
That’s how the manuscript was presented initially. My previous young adult novel, The Spare Room, employs the same style. In fact, it has been my style since my first novel, The God in the Ink. It seems to me crisp and uncluttered. It also offers the writer the challenge of making clear to the reader when something is being said and by whom, without resorting to quotation marks.
You’re an award-winning poet and novelist. Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
First and foremost, read. Read everything. Keep reading everything. Then, be persistent. Stick with writing through disappointments and rejections. Join writers’ organisations. Find people you trust to read your work. You don’t know how much you can achieve until you give it a serious go. Take advantage of every opportunity you can. Don’t give up.
Amen to that! Thanks so much for your time, Kathryn!
I have a review copy of Kathryn’s book to give away. All you have to do is tell me what you’re passionate about.