Character descriptions: About Tilla

Characters are a vital part of any novel. And the more you know about a character, the more a reader becomes invested in the story. For better or worse, we care about the characters. We love them, hate them, imagine them, root for them — they become as real to us (if the book does its job) as the people in our lives, if only for a time. So I’ve decided to give character descriptions of the people who inhabit Bridey’s world in 1967.

In What You Don’t Know Now, Tilla McKenna is the 38-year-old mother of the main character, Bridey. Tilla is a loving, overprotective mother of three, a stay-at-home mom (many were at that time in the late ’60s — young women married just after the Second World War, producing the Baby Boom). She’s still in her own prime — a strawberry blonde with a trim figure who is far less aware of her appeal than she is concerned about the attention her tall, shapely 18 year old is getting from men along their tour in Europe.

Tilla becomes increasingly afraid and suspicious of the unfamiliar in their travels. She has good reason to be, in a sense — they are about to experience the less savory side of Europe.

Here’s a little piece from an early version of the book — it got cut, but it’s a good example of what Tilla was thinking before a scary incident in Germany:

     Tilla McKenna chewed on a caramel from the bag she bought at a candy shop. She offered one to the girls. Caramels were the only thing she liked as a substitute for the cigarette she really wanted. She’d only packed a carton of her Pall Malls; she’d have to make them last. Unlike her sister, Corinne, she couldn’t find a joke in their trip so far. There’d been bumps in the road: No tour guide appeared until they reached Bonn. They were staying in third-class hotels not listed on their itinerary. They were lost on the road. Lost a lot. There were the roaches in the girls’ room the night before. It was just one thing after another.

There weren’t any names for vigilant moms back then, but there are now: Helicopter Mom, SmotherLove. If you’ve read the book, what did you think about Tilla? (My editor wanted to strangle her at times.)

Let me know what you thought!


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