Tracy Rees: Catching a dream and soaring to Richard & Judy bestseller heights
I am absolutely delighted to welcome historical fiction author Tracy Rees on to my blog today. In 2015, Tracy won Richard and Judy’s highly competitive Search for a Bestseller competition with her debut novel, Amy Snow and won hearts the world over with her engaging, memorable heroine. Since then, it has been quite a whirlwind for Tracy as her second novel Florence Grace came out this year and her third, The Hourglass, will be published in May 2017 by Quercus Books (available now for pre-order.)
Read about Tracy’s inspiring story and writing journey below.
What were you like as a child?
I think child Tracy was very much like adult Tracy! Extremely dreamy and extremely gregarious by turns. Shy, but always happy in good company doing fun things. I was a real bookworm and did very well in school and I was also very ready to believe in magic. A creature of contradictions really – I think it’s my Pisces nature! I was also horse mad and ballet mad!
How would you like to envisage yourself in old age?
I guess the biggest thing is, I’d like to be surrounded by people I love and who love me. What could be more important than that? I’d also like to be wise – I think the whole point in life is to learn and grow as you go along and I like to think I’ve acquired a bit of common sense and perspective compared to how I was in my twenties and thirties! But of course there’s still so much more to do and learn and be. I want to enjoy good health, of course, and I want to be writing still; working creatively, hopefully collaboratively, fulfilling all my dreams and ambitions, of which there are many!
At what stage in your life did you realise you wanted to be a writer?
I’ve always known it. Always, always, always! My mother was a nurse and used to work night shifts while Dad looked after me. She would come home from work when I was three and find scraps of paper littered about covered in bits of poetry I’d written (mostly about flowers!). I wrote my first ‘novel’ at the age of five. I cut out the bits of paper and used string to tie them between two sheets of brown cardboard! It was called The Adventures of Princess Tulip and Her Friends.
When you entered the Richard and Judy ‘Search for a Bestseller’ competition, how confident did you feel in your abilities?
Well at that point, I knew I could write. I’d been longing to be a writer for so long and I knew that nothing else was going to make me happy. I’d had some great feedback from agents I’d approached with a different book, not Amy Snow – although that particular book didn’t get taken on. It was very frustrating yet I knew enough about the industry to know that feedback wasn’t given lightly, so it was frustrating and encouraging! My emotions didn’t know what to do with themselves at that time! So I had confidence that I could write, but that I could write a saleable book that would convince an agent to take me on, well that was looking harder. As for confidence that I would get anywhere in the competition, I had zero! I genuinely never expected that. I knew there would be great numbers of people entering and I entered very much in the spirit of ‘putting it out there’ and making a gesture to the universe that I was serious about my writing. When I received the email to say I’d made it onto the shortlist of seven people I couldn’t believe it. I had flu at the time and thought I was hallucinating!
When you got the phone call to say you’d won, what was your reaction?
Wow! That was some moment! During the phone call, I guess the best word is ‘stupefaction’! The first thing I said to the lovely people at Quercus when they told me was, ‘are you serious????’ Like they’d joke about something like that! After the phone call I literally fell to my knees and cried. It may sound melodramatic but I’d gambled everything to get Amy Snow written in time for the deadline and I had about £40 left in the bank. I’ve never been one to do things by halves. Relief is a beautiful emotion, especially when mixed in with joy.
Do you know what it is that attracts you so much to the Victorian era?
Yes I think so! I believe it’s the romance of the period – I adore the clothes, the wide-skirted dresses and beribboned bonnets! Ringlets!! I also love the language, its formality and elegance, its chivalrous flourishes. For someone who loves language it’s just a dream. I love fairytales for the same reason. Also, because the Victorian era was a more formal time, there were so many taboos on what could be said and discussed. Therefore the strongest emotions and most dicey issues had to be conveyed in the most understated language – I love the intrigue of there always being more going on than is allowed to meet the eye.
If you had to describe yourself in three words, what would they be?
Determined. Questing. Dreamer.
What is the proudest moment of your life?
I guess it has to be winning the Richard and Judy competition, because of what that signified for me. It wasn’t so much that it was a wonderful achievement, that was just the tip of the iceberg really, but that I had really given up a lot by that point to prioritise my writing. I was forty, I think, when I entered it. I’d had SO many disappointments and discouragements with my writing (and life in general!) along the way and honestly I felt like giving up about a million times. But something in me wouldn’t let me and eventually I noticed a pattern. Whenever I was writing, whatever else was or wasn’t going on, I was happy. When I stopped writing, even for supposedly unarguable reasons like ‘get another job and earn money,’ I wasn’t. Eventually, feeling terrified of what I was doing, I decided to follow that. I gave up a really excellent career and started waitressing so that I could keep my head clear for writing. My friends and family thought I was crazy but I knew there was nothing else I could do with integrity at that point in my life. So winning the competition said something incredible about the book I’d written, yes, but it also validated my decision to trust my intuition and follow my heart. That has made the biggest different imaginable to my life.
Where is your favourite place in the world?
Home of course. I love to travel and I’ve seen some wonderful places. California, Mexico, Israel to name but a few. I’ve also lived in two other cities in the UK, London and York. I love both and spend as much time in London as I possibly can for all the obvious reasons! But there truly is no place like home. It gives me a warm, rich feeling. My parents are here and lots of friends. I live near the sea and love going for long walks on the cliffs or just sitting in a beachside café staring at the sea and courting inspiration. The Swansea vibe is very laid-back (some might say horizontal!) so that’s a lovely contrast for me to my London time. I love the clean air and the silence in my house and the beautiful hills for walking… it’s a very grounding place for me, yet it’s also a special place to sit and dream…
Can you give us a peek into what you are working on right now?
I think this is the most exciting period in my writing career to date since furiously writing Amy Snow for the competition. My third novel, The Hourglass, is with Quercus, being edited as we speak. So in a couple of days I’ll be working on those edits. It’s quite different from my first two as it’s a dual narrative, set partly in the 1950s and partly in the present day. It’s set in Tenby, a beautiful seaside town in West Wales that I’m totally in love with. So I can’t wait for that to be published in May. I’m also taking a bit of time to work on a Secret Project before starting my fourth book for Quercus next year. OK, it’s not that secret. It’s a book I wrote years ago, a fairytale, and very much the book of my heart. I have a bit of rewriting I want to do in the hope that now is the time for it to be published at last. Returning to that as a published writer feels very much like a fairytale itself.
If you could share your top writing tip, what would it be?
Trust the process. If writing truly makes you happy, if you love it and want to do it, don’t let anything put you off or convince you that it can’t happen. If you write something that you judge to be poor, don’t conclude that you have no talent. Remember that anything you write can be improved upon, but you can’t improve anything you haven’t written! And if that rough, embarrassing first draft contains even the smallest seeds of a good story, or one detail that you take with you to your second draft, it was meant to be.
Follow Tracy Rees on twitter here.
What readers are saying about The Girl and the Sunbird:
‘This is a poignant, heart-wrenching, impactful story that I won’t soon forget.’
‘I envy anyone who is still to read this.’
‘It’s one of those books that weaves itself into your soul and stays with you long after you reluctantly read the last page.’
‘A brilliant book, an epic story, this book deserves to be read by everyone.’
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