I have had the great pleasure in becoming friends with the multi-talented and extremely intelligent author, Ilil Arbel. In addition to writing in multiple genres, Ilil is also an expert in the field of mythology and folklore. She brings this expertise to life in a charming and exciting young adult fantasy novel, The Cinnabar Box, which my daughter recently read and enjoyed tremendously. I was able to entice Ilil to make an appearance on my blog to talk about The Cinnabar Box as well as some of her other projects. Please join me in learning more about this fascinating author, Ilil Arbel!
Hello Ilil! I’m so happy to have you join me today. Thank you for agreeing to appear on my blog. So let’s get started with a little bit about you:
A Bit About Ilil Arbel:
Collette: Tell us a little about your background.
Ilil: I am all mixed up. Born and raised in Israel, I studied in Paris, and then moved to New York where I still live, fighting for survival in Manhattan. But that’s not all, I also have a shady past… I did not start writing until later, as a career change. I was a scientific illustrator for years! During those years, I studied mythology, folklore, history and literature, some formally and some on my own, so when I decided it was time to make a career change, I was ready for writing. I think I always wanted to write, though. My grandfather was an author so it felt good to follow in his footsteps.
Collette: That’s so interesting! A scientific illustrator? So you’re quite the artist - well rounded.
Collette: How often do you do collaborations?
Ilil: I collaborated with only two Authors. The first was an expert on the field of extraterrestrials, and I wrote two biographies based on his notes. The other was editing Lord David Prosser’s delightful Barsetshire novels. I highly recommend Lord David’s books, by the way.
Collette: Oh, I do too! I love Lord David’s humor and his stories! He’s one of my daughter’s favorites as
Collette: So, tell me, where do you get your ideas?
Ilil: I walk in the street, and suddenly the ideas leap out of my bizarre subconscious mind and demand attention. We do a lot of walking in New York, so the ideas keep coming to harass me. I am sure books also trigger thoughts, but it is less obvious.
Collette: And I’m sure there’s plenty in Manhattan to trigger a story, hee hee... So were you inspired by someone/something to write the genres you’re writing in?
Ilil:The Lemon Tree was inspired my mother’s stories about her life in Siberia and her family’s year-long journey to Tel Aviv. She was a superb storyteller. For general fiction, I would say that W. Somerset Maugham made a strong impact on me and I learned a lot from his short stories and autobiographical material. For biography, I was inspired by the style of Andre Maurois. For fantasy and magic, I learned mostly from the great Lord Dunsany; he invented mythologies!
Collette: What is your writing process?
Ilil: I write the story mentally, telling it to myself. Then I sit and type it on the computer. I rarely write by hand since I like to write fast, keeping up with the thoughts. If I get stuck and don’t know what the next scene is, I let my thoughts drift and suddenly it feels as if a door is opened and I step into the solution. From the technical point of view, I read yesterday’s writing before I start on today’s writing, so it will be a smooth transition. When the story is done, I rewrite, edit, and proofread several times. Then every book goes to a proofreader to make sure it’s professional and clean.
Collette: Do you write full-time now?
Ilil: No… I wish I could, but life is expensive these days! I need a day job.
Collette: What is your current day job?
Ilil: I work as an indexer. Believe it or not, it’s a lot of fun, like playing with a puzzle. I index both databases and books.
Collette: You have written quite a bit so far and in different genres. You have somewhat of a memoir, The Lemon Tree, that’s on my Kindle eagerly waiting for me to start. How about a bit of a teaser into that amazing real-life story?
Ilil: Here is a segment, about an incident that took place as the family was traveling on the Trans-Siberian Railway from Siberia to Tel Aviv, and reached Manchuria under very dangerous conditions.
another unbearable thing happened. A policeman motioned Papa to follow him to the men’s department. Papa looked back at us, his blue eyes full of pain. “It's
all right, girls,” said Mama quietly. “You will follow me to the women's department, and soon we will meet Papa in the hall again. Don't worry.”At that moment, however, I wasn't worrying about myself, but about Papa. I couldn't bear the thought that he was alone; at least the three of us were together. If only Sasha were here to be with him, I thought, it's so unfair, so unfair, poor Papa, all alone . . . “Don't cry, Ida,” said Mama firmly and put her arm around me. “You will attract attention.” Somehow I managed. Mama's immeasurable inner strength never failed me.
We were received by a very tall woman, dressed entirely in black. She even wore a black fur hat, like the hats of the Cossacks. Over her forehead peeked a few gray hairs and her face was wrinkled, not with friendly laugh lines around the eyes, but with vicious lines, pointing down around her mouth. She smelled of mildew, and reminded me of Baba Yaga, the horrible witch that ate little children in the Russian fairy tales.
This looming apparition went straight to Feera and mumbled: “undo your braids and then take off your clothes.” Feera stood naked and shivering from the cold, with only her loose hair reaching her ankles and covering her back. The witch raised her eyebrows with surprise at the magnificent hair, but did not utter even one soft word or try a little smile to relax the terrified child. After Feera was searched I repeated the procedure. When Mama's turn came my heart stopped beating. I observed the speed with which she took off her coat, with the buttons loaded with gold coins, and her stockings' garters which also had some coins in them. The witch took the belt filled with all our paper money immediately. She didn't even bother to check what was in it. She knew. Wordlessly she waited for us to dress and led us to another room.
At least Papa waited there already. It was the office of an official who took care of “criminals” like us, those who dared to smuggle some necessities of life. The official methodically recorded the list of our offenses. Suddenly, he raised his head and looked sharply at us as we stood there, pale and desperate. His eyes rested on the lemon tree in Mama's hand and he asked: “And what's that?”
Mama's fingers went white as she clutched the pot to her heart. We all had the same thought: he will never believe us. He will dig the pot, searching for valuables, and the lemon tree will die of shock.
“That's all I have left from my eldest son, who sowed this lemon tree with his own hands. He died recently,” said Mama.
The official's eyes softened. He continued to stare at the little, upright lemon tree. On a chair, next to his desk, the witch left all her loot, including Mama's belt. The official, with a sudden gleam in his eyes, looked at the belt, and then at us again. He seemed to hesitate. Suddenly, he extended his hand to the belt, shoved it at Mama and said: “Take care of the lemon tree and of your daughters.” He hastily handed our papers back to Papa, poked his head out of the door and called: “Next traveler!” motioning us to hurry and leave so that no one would witness his act of kindness. He, too, was afraid.
Collette: Thank you, that's wonderful. You are even currently writing a book on your blog in installments. Tell us a little bit about “A Book in Progress”?
Ilil: It’s called The Golden Rule. This is the strangest book I have ever done. I wanted to write the life story of Hillel the Elder, a prominent Jewish scholar, lawmaker, and leader who lived two thousand years ago. I adore him; he was a lovely human being. The Encyclopedia Britannica claimed it can’t be done, reflecting the view of almost everyone that Hillel’s life was too shrouded in legend. This was a challenge, so naturally I decided to write it anyway. I figured if you take the legends and lay them out against the exciting, violent history of the time, as faithfully recorded by contemporaries, and then add a lot of material from other Jewish sources, it can be done. Since it would take years to write, I figured the way to get it out to the public right away is to write it online, as a blog. So every Sunday I place a new segment. I was surprised and delighted by the showof interest by readers. The book is of course free of charge and available to everyone on my website.
Collette: I have been following this story, and it’s fascinating stuff! The amount of research into Biblical times is staggering and well-written. Anyone who enjoys that time period is bound to learn something new, Ilil. You are to be commended.
Collette: And your “Personal Histories”, would you like to share a bit about that interesting journey?
Ilil: My personal histories were never done professionally. I did it as a hobby since I think everyone in the world has a story that should be told, and I had an opportunity to interview several elderly people who were extraordinarily interesting. A few samples are available on my website; I would love to come back to it someday, either as a blog or as a book.
Collette: With your background in mythology and folklore, do you plan to continue in that vein or with more historical/memoir stories?
for the sequel to The Cinnabar Box.
Collette: Okay, so we’re back to the story that my daughter read and loved! Let’s talk a little bit more about your YA novel, The Cinnabar Box. My daughter recently finished that novel and truly enjoyed it. She had a few questions she’d like to ask you about your adventurous story:
Collette: How long did that story take you to complete?
Ilil: It took about six months.
Collette: Can you describe your research into your subject?
Ilil: I did not need much research, to be honest, since this is the type of mythology I know well. I checked for accuracy against my mythological dictionaries.
Collette: She found it very informative the way Donna traveled to alternative worlds. Did you draw on your background in history, mythology and folklore to describe them so accurately?
Ilil: Yes, all the characters and locations are based on accurate mythological or historical figures and situations, even the vegetable lamb, the balalaika-playing toad, and the Devil’s School. Except for one thing– the flood scene is based on a horribly realistic dream I had when I was about twelve years old.
Collette: Are there going to be more stories about Donna and Yolanda?
Ilil: Yes, I am hoping to start a sequel soon.
Collette: Now that’s what she wanted to hear!
Collette: Her favorite character was Bartholomew. Did you have a favorite character in the story?
Ilil: I liked him too. It’s a toss up this irresistible donkey, and Camellia, the elegant camel who wears pearls and a flower behind her ear.
Collette: Are any of your characters based on real-life friends or acquaintances?
Ilil: No, never. I make them all up. I don’t want to upset my friends…
Collette: Haha, I know what you mean! So do you ever incorporate yourself into your characters?
Ilil: Not deliberately, but I am sure some weirdness must seep into them.
Collette: Are you still writing? If so, what will your future projects entail?
Ilil: Yes, why stop? Writing is great fun. The Golden Rule will take years to research and write. But in the meantime, I am also trying my hand at my first detective story. I can’t give details since the publisher wants to wait on that for a while and swore me to secrecy. But soon all shall be revealed!!!
Collette: Considering how well rounded you write, do you have a favorite genre to write or do you write what stories come to mind?
Ilil: I like to try many different things, but I think my favorite is biography of historical figures.
Collette: How often do you read?
Ilil: I read every single day since I have learned how to do it. I think the only day I missed was the day my son was born. It would have been awkward to ask for a book under the circumstances.
Collette: That's true. Besides, I'm sure you were busy! So what is your favorite genre to read?
Ilil: For entertainment, I prefer late 18th and 19th century British classics. For nonfiction, including research, I love ancient Jewish history and folklore.
Collette: Does your reading inspire you?
Ilil: Reading is not an option for me, it’s a necessity, so it’s hard to decide if it is an inspiration or a horrible addiction…
Where can we find you online?
Blog: The Golden Rule (blog/a book in progress): http://ililarbel.weebly.com/a-book-in-progress.html
Angela Thirkell Society of North America: http://www.angelathirkell.org/
Collette: Where are your books available for purchase?
Ilil: Most convenient are Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com. The books are also on a bunch of independent sellers but I can’t keep track. I am sure some are pirated…
Collette: What formats are your books available in?
Ilil: The books that are available for sale exist in paperback and/or on Kindle. The free books on the Angela Thirkell Society and Encyclopedia Mythica can be downloaded and saved on your computer as PDF or Word.
Collette: Thank you so much, Ilil! It was fascinating to learn more about your work and your writing. I wish you all the best success and we can’t wait for you to release The Cinnabar Box’s sequel!
As I mentioned, my daughter enjoyed this book so much that she wanted to write a review. Once she started it, she was unable to put it down until the end. She reported that she was totally engaged with the characters, feeling their fear, excitement, sadness and stress. By the end, she was so caught up in the story that she did not want it to end and is thrilled with the news that there will be a sequel. Here is her review:
Though somewhat slow at first, don't let that deceive you. Once you get into this book it's hard to put it down. It was a great story, well written and so descriptive you could almost feel like you were in the book. I loved the travels that Donna and Yolanda took, and the adventures they participated in were at times breathtaking. I would definitely recommend this book and hope she writes more!