Author Tags: Fiction, Kidlit & Young Adult

Meg Tilly has chiefly devoted herself to motherhood and writing since 1995, having returned to live in Canada in 1994, settling on Vancouver Island, with a recreational residence on Galiano Island. Earlier, as a film actor, Meg Tilly was widely known for her roles in "The Big Chill" and "Agnes of God"--for which she won a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress in 1986, as well as an Oscar nomination. In the second decade of the 21st century she returned to acting for television and films.

Nominated for the Sheila A. Egoff Prize, her young adult novel Porcupine (Tundra 2007) concerns a fatherless family that moves to a run-down grandparents' farm on the Prairies from Newfoundland after the twelve-year-old tomboy Jacqueline ("Jack") Cooper's father is killed in war-torn Afghanistan. Porcupine culminates in the daughter’s realization that a family can be made in many different forms.

Tilly's first book Singing Songs (Dutton, 1994) was reissued in 2006. It concerns a young girl, Anna, trapped in a dysfunctional family. The revised edition contains a new foreword by Tilly reflecting on how the story came to be written. For information about her courageous and compelling novel Gemma (2006), see below. Both Singing Songs and Gemma are now described as novels for adults.

Tilly was born as Margaret Chan on February 14, 1960 in Long Beach, California. She has two sisters and grew up primarily in British Columbia, raised by her mother, a schoolteacher (maiden name Tilly) and her step-father, a Chinese-American businessman.

Until her screen debut in Alan Parker's Fame (1980) Tilly was primarily a dancer as a teenager, mainly with the Connecticut Ballet Company and the Throne Dance Theatre. Her best-known acting roles were in Body Snatchers (1993), The Two Jakes (1990), Valmont (1989), Agnes of God (1985), The Big Chill (1983), Psycho II (1983) and Fame (1980). Her marriages to film producer Tim Zinnemann and former Sony Pictures president John Calley both ended in divorce. She had two children with Zinnemann and also a son with British actor Colin Firth, who she did not marry.

In 2012, Meg Tilly moved to Toronto with her husband Don Calame, also an author of young adult fiction [See Don Calame entry], a move that facilitated her starring role in Global TV's show Bomb Girls. Tilly's return to acting was bolstered by her audacious acceptance of the role of Martha in Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? for a Victoria production. It was a rocky, difficult transition for someone accustomed to acting for a camera, but she persevered and subsequently played Madelaine 2 in Tarragon Theatre's production of The Real World?

Coincidentally Meg Tilly's third novel for young readers, A Taste of Heaven (Penguin Puffin 2013), examines the price of celebrity as it affects a friendship between two young girls, one of whom has Hollywood connections that must be concealed. It's for ages 8-12.


Singing Songs, Dutton (Penguin Putnam, 1994; reissued by Syren Book Co. October 2006)

Gemma (Syren Book Company, 2006)

Porcupine (Tundra, 2007).

First Time (Orca 2008)

A Taste of Heaven (Puffin 2013) 978-0-14-318249-8 $12.99

[BCBW 2013] "Fiction" "Kidlit" "Galiano"

Gemma (Syren $15.95 U.S.)

Anyone who can resist the lure of Hollywood in favour of parenthood deserves some respect, so hats off to Meg Tilly for turning her back on a Golden Globe-winning career and returning to live in B.C. in 1994.

Rather than be known for her roles in movies such as The Big Chill and Agnes of God, nowadays Tilly would prefer some credit for writing a riveting and explicit novel, Gemma (Syren $15.95 U.S.), about the abduction and sexual abuse of a 12-year-old girl. Due in October, Gemma explores the dynamics between a sexual predator and his prey whose resilience has already been tested by abuse suffered at the hands of her alcoholic mother’s boyfriend.

Nabokov’s Lolita was never so bold. All-too-believable, Gemma relates a cross-country journey made by low-life kidnapper Hazen Wood with his captive, Gemma Sullivan. Wood is captured halfway through the book. After a miscarriage, Gemma must find the courage to speak out against her abuser in a Chicago trial.

This adult story contains graphic scenes of sexual and physical violence, including a rape scene with the heroine clutching her teddy bear. Among those acknowledged by Tilly for their support are film director Mike Nichols and the Vancouver Young Adults Kidsbooks book club.


[BCBW 2006] "Kidlit"

Who’s not afraid of Virginia Woolf

from Meg Tilly
Life is about taking risks… Meg Tilly of Victoria has a growing reputation as a novelist, with four titles under her belt. Her young adult novel Porcupine (Tundra 2007) was nominated for a B.C. Book Prize.

But she is revisiting her acting career by taking the starring role as Martha in Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, from July 5-17 at Victoria’s McPherson Playhouse.

Although Oscar-nominated Tilly appeared in films such as The Big Chill and Agnes of God, this will be her first appearance in live theatre.

We asked Meg Tilly to explain her risk-taking gambit.

Would anyone in their right mind volunteer to memorize a hefty two-hundred-and-fifty-seven pages of dialogue, then exacerbate the situation by not only agreeing to rattle off said two-hundred-and-fifty-seven pages of material while trying to climb into the skin of an incredibly complicated woman, but agreeing to do it under bright lights, on a nightly basis, in a theatre full of hundreds of strangers?

I don’t know the answer to that question. I do know that not only did I agree to play Martha in Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, but I really, really wanted to do it.
And the question that hovers above me, circling like an unwieldy turkey vulture, day after day, as I try to cram all these lines into my fifty-one-year-old premenopausal brain, is, why?

I wish I had a simple answer for you, but I don’t. It was a mishmash of events that led me to this point. My youngest child left home last year and after spending the last twenty-six years of my life raising, cooking, supporting and loving my three kids, when the house emptied, there was a hole.

I write novels, but even that was no longer enough. I found myself getting up from my desk after spending hours alone, hunched over my keyboard, staring at a glowing screen, and thinking to myself, as I stretched the kinks out of my back, that just writing wasn’t sufficient anymore. That if plugging out another manuscript and another, and another, was all that I did to the end of my days, I would have squandered too many of life’s precious hours.

I made an effort to contact old friends, to try to make new ones. I started going on long walks, trying to absorb the smells of the woods, the cold slap of salty ocean-scented air, the crunch and slide of pebbles under my feet, smoothed out from being tossed on countless shores, and it was good. It did help, but still it wasn’t enough.

And then, this Christmas, after the hustle and bustle of stockings and presents and turkey dinner, after my sisters had left and my visiting children had disappeared to their various corners of the house, I bent over to switch off the Christmas tree lights and I found a small wrapped present that had been overlooked sitting forlornly under the tree. “A present!” I said, dropping to my belly, so I could reach under the branches and rescue it.

It was for me! For Meg, was on the gift tag and love, Jennifer was scrawled underneath. And there was something magical about finding that present in the darkened living room, the house quiet, the Christmas tree lights twinkling. There was something about holding that small little box in my hand that caused a tingle to go chasing through me.

I went to my writing room, shut the door, sat at my desk and carefully unwrapped it. Inside, nestled on a bed of cotton was a silver bracelet. “Hmm…” I said. There was something carved on the thin band. I held it closer so I could see more clearly, It is never too late to be what you might have been, a George Eliot quote.

Oh pooh, I thought, sitting back in my chair, the bracelet resting on my upturned palms. That’s silly. I am very happy with my life.

And right on the heels of that, You’ve always wanted to do theatre, dropped into my head. Instantly, I was scared. Scared, but excited, because I knew there was no going back.

One thing lead to another and within a matter of weeks I found myself committed to performing in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, this July, at the McPherson Playhouse.

I vacillate between being thrilled and totally terrified. Would I go back and undo it? Absolutely not! And yes, I might make a total fool of myself, fall on my ass or worse, but whatever happens, good or bad, at least I won’t die with regrets on my lips, disappointed in myself, that I had this secret dream and I didn’t even try.

[BCBW 2011]