White Rock author P.J. (Perry) Kilby has an edge when it comes to writing fantasy fiction for the 11 to 14 – or ‘eleven to eleventy’ as J.R.R. Tolkien might have put it – age group.
One, he’s always been a fan of fantasy and science fiction, such as Frank Herbert’s Dune series and Tolkien’s Lord Of The Rings.
Two, he spent close to 30 years teaching English and Literature to children and teens in the Kamloops area before his retirement – and getting to know what made them tick in the process.
“If you’re a teacher and not willing to learn from the students, it’s an uphill struggle,” he said.
“You can take kids on amazing journeys – if you win their respect. But kids see things remarkably clearly – I found that out in my first week of teaching, when I started in a junior high school.
“That’s a difficult age to teach and a tough age to go through. Just because they’re young doesn’t mean they’re not smart. You can’t put anything over on them. If there’s any pretense, they’ll see through it. You have to be genuinely who you are.”
Being open to the life issues he learned children really care about – like what it takes for someone to becomes a good human being – has informed his recently self-published first novel, The Bridge Beyond The Boundary, available in Kindle and paperback editions at Amazon and through his own website, www.perryjkilby.com.
Narrated by 11-year-old Annie, it’s about what happens when she and her eight year-old brother Davis – who has autism, but is possessed of unusual powers – escape the mundane environment of everyday life and find themselves in Eldan, which Kilby describes in his synopsis as “an enchanted medieval land filled with peasants and slaves, nobles and knights, and evil wizards called Masters” and where the two children just may be the agents of change of an ancient prophecy.
Strengthening the fantasy – and the relatability for young readers, or anyone who recalls their own school days – is the realism of the opening chapters. The clear-sighted Annie, who hates school and wants to drop out, is not fooled by the injustice of the world around her – one in which sneaky bullies are often rewarded and their victims punished, where teachers patronize her younger brother, and where the school principal, like other adults, always gets things wrong.
Annie quickly emerges as a flesh-and-blood character, tough and resourceful, fiercely devoted to Davis and just as capable of guile as the other children, in her own way.
Also benefiting the story is Kilby’s own fascination with medieval life and historic facts he gleaned during his teaching career, such as details of Chaucer’s Yeoman from The Canterbury Tales, or the papal invention of the ‘crusades’ as a diversion for marauding knights, or references to Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
And The Bridge Beyond The Boundary, started by Kilby in 2011, but finished over the last couple of years, is very much a family production, too, he added.
His editor is his wife Elizabeth (the couple moved to the Semiahmoo Peninsula, where she grew up, about five years ago).
“Everything you read about writing says you shouldn’t have your spouse edit your work, but it worked out – she was brilliant,” he said.
“It went from being something that had some good ideas to something well-constructed and tight.”
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A map of Eldan was created for the book by their daughter, Katherine, while Tara Barker, a professional animator married to their son Daniel, has created a strong and evocative cover design (a creation only eclipsed by the birth of a daughter, Isla, in late December).
Friends and fellow residents at the Kilbys’ condo development provided unexpected test marketing by buying copies of the book and sending it to their own grandchildren.
“The feedback I’ve been getting from them has been wonderful – I think they’re seeing Annie and her issues as things they can identify with,” Kilby said.
Writing The Bridge Beyond The Boundary has fulfilled a long-standing ambition, he said – one that was frustrated by three decades of long hours as a teacher. His writing (he’s hard at work on a sequel, likely the second volume in what he projects will become a trilogy) is a legacy for his children and, now, his granddaughter, he noted.
But he also considers it a gift for his former students, he added – the kind of life-lesson inspired work he would have liked to have shared with them during his teaching career, rather than dragging them through such standard curriculum works as William Golding’s Lord of the Flies.
Kilby said that one unanticipated consequence of his book – thanks to an article which appeared late last year in a Kamloops-area community newspaper – is that he has since received a raft of emails from one-time students.
Many of them have said they were inspired by his teaching to continue their education – and in some instances have gone on to distinguished careers he might scarcely have anticipated from their school years, he said.
“It is gratifying,” he acknowledged. “When you’re a teacher, you usually never get to see the finished product.”