While I'll be having a more hands off approach to blogging this year, I'll still be doing interviews etc from time to time. I'm pleased to introduce this first BaBs article of the year - an interview with author Tracy Darton. Tracy's debut novel will soon be hitting the shelves, and I got the chance to catch up with her on her previous publication as well as the upcoming book.
What made you decide to do the WYP MA at Bath Spa University?
I’d wanted to do it for ages but had to wait until my kids were that bit older. I’m fortunate that I live in Bath so I had a short journey from school drop off to the lovely Corsham Court. My late mum had always said I had a book in me, and I thought it was a fitting way to use the money she’d left me. I hope she’d have been very pleased with how it all turned out.
In a time when creative writing courses are often criticised, what were your impressions of the course, and would you recommend it?
Personally, I loved being a student again: I was childishly excited to get a locker key and hang around the library with a cappuccino. The main plus was that it gave me permission to spend time writing – I had deadlines and assessments which everyone around me could understand and respect more than when writing was a hobby squeezed in as and when. It’s an MA so there’s a lot of interesting work looking at context, different genres, writing styles. You have to write academic essays and do research, not just write your own novel. For instance I looked at the use of nursery rhymes and fairy stories in children’s books, and why there are so few books in translation in the UK. Alongside that you’re experimenting across different ages and genres and encouraged to actively reflect on your own work. Gradually you work towards a final manuscript. You also do a publishing module on the Bath Spa course which is an invaluable insight if you want to go down that route. And of course, you have inspiring tutors and become part of a community of writers which gives ongoing support. So, yes I would definitely recommend it. I’d like to return and do a PhD one day...
Congratulations on winning the Stripes / The Bookseller YA Short Story Prize. What can you tell us about your story The Letter?
Thank you. It was about 18 months ago and I wrote the short story because I’d just graduated from the MA and was missing the discipline of deadlines and writing to a brief. And this competition was raising money for Crisis which appealed to me. Of course it was a lovely surprise to win. The Letter is about a teenage girl called Amber who isn’t going to get the cosy Christmas in the John Lewis advert. I liked writing her because she is very prickly and downright mean to her care worker, long-suffering Julie, but shows a lot of vulnerability too. I like characters where you have to read between the lines to see what they’re really like.
Part of the prize was to be published in an anthology, I'll be Home for Christmas, alongside established authors such as Benjamin Zephaniah, Marcus Sedgwick, Melvin Burgess and Juno Dawson. What was your experience of being included in this anthology, and how do you feel about being featured alongside these authors?
I think it’s called imposter syndrome! Of course that critic in your head keeps saying you should have done a better job and don’t deserve to be there. But Stripes treated me like one of the ‘proper’ authors throughout and the other authors I met at YALC or the festive YA Salon were very welcoming and supportive. It was a brilliant experience covering all stages of the publishing process from working with the commissioning editor Ruth Bennett to meeting the varied requests of the marketing team. I had to wear my Christmas jumper in August, got my name on the YALC T-shirt, captained a literary quiz team and drew my own name in a fund-raising raffle. Once I’d had a taste of the YA world, I didn’t want to leave it. I still get a massive thrill seeing the anthology – and its beautiful cover by William Grill – in a bookshop. And the advantage of being in a Christmas book is that it comes round again every year so for instance last December I did #SundayYA with some of the other authors.
You were also shortlisted for the 2016 Times Chicken House Competition - can you tell us more about what made you enter this competition and the work you submitted?
Again, there’s real value in having a deadline that makes you finish something. I polished up the middle grade novel Milo and Operation Stepdad that I’d submitted as part of my final manuscript project on the MA. I hoped to get some useful editorial feedback. It was a funny book about one boy’s quest to find a partner for his single mum, scientifically – very different from the YA novel I’ve just written.
Your debut novel The Truth about Lies is coming out this year - what's your novel about?
The Truth About Lies is a YA thriller about a girl who remembers everything.
It’s set in a college on Dartmoor and the main character Jess has an amazing memory, not just for facts and figures but autobiographical too. She remembers everything that happens to her. I was interested in exploring what carrying all that baggage in your head would be like for a seventeen-year-old trying to make friends and start relationships. How much harder must it be to forgive if you can’t forget?
After the death of her roommate Hanna, Jess starts to receive cryptic notes and realises that someone has been rifling through her things. Together with Dan, who’s new to the college, she starts to re-examine her role in a memory research project called the Programme. She thought she’d left it all behind her when she moved to Dartmoor but worries that it’s catching up with her. What’s the truth about what happened to her and to Hanna? Even with the best memory in the world, how does Jess know what’s really true?
I’ve always been fascinated by memory and the novel is a chance to explore to what extent our memories are true or reconstructions and if memories make us who we are, would you, should you, try to change or remove any. I’m also interested in whether we are now outsourcing our memory too much and thinking about how we can improve our memory.
Your novel will be published by Stripes. What can you tell us about your experiences in the publishing world? Did you receive many rejections before Stripes took on your manuscript?
My situation was unusual in that through the YA Short Story Prize, Stripes had got to know me and my writing, and vice versa and I really liked everybody and knew I could work with them. So they asked me to pitch a YA novel and I developed a piece about a girl who could remember everything that I had started on the MA. I knew that the commissioning editor Ruth Bennett would help me through writing my first YA novel and first thriller.
Are you working on any new material and what are your plans for the future?
I’m new to all this so I’m just feeling my way through! I certainly need to crack multi-tasking and writing a second YA book while talking about the first one - and get better at social media and developing school visits and workshops.
I had a rough year personally last year so I’m not where I wanted to be in terms of writing new material but I’m pushing on now. Young adult fiction is a perfect place to engage with the issues arising as science expands our understanding of the human brain, particularly through the development of machine intelligence. I think it’s interesting for writers – and not just ‘science-fiction’ writers - to explore and that’s what I’m continuing to do in my next project.
I’ve just done my first event on the The Truth About Lies at the Stripes YA Showcase and it was great to see the proofs. I’ve had a preview of the actual cover and now I’m really looking forward to seeing the final copy and the launch in July.