Returning to the blog today is one of my favourite authors, Tracey Scott-Townsend. Tracey’s books are like nothing I’ve ever read before. I’m such a huge fan of her writing, and I’m delighted she’s agreed to visit again and share her special memories with us. You can read a question and answer session with Tracey here, but take a look at these photographs first!
The Home Birth
In this photo my second son, Ruben, is being bathed in a red bowl by the midwife shortly after his birth at home. Felix, his 21-month-old brother, looks on and strokes his head. Felix had been present throughout the active stages of his brother’s birth, and I watched wonder spread over his face as he saw him emerging into the world. (Felix was also close by during the homebirths of his second brother and his baby sister.) My first experience of birth was of delivering a stillborn girl in 1984 at Hull’s old Hedon Road Maternity Hospital. Felix was born six years later, at the same hospital. As I was admitted a midwife told me that she remembered me from the first time I was there. Felix’s birth ended in a severe shoulder dystocia and panic as the emergency team burst into the room in a flurry of white coats. It took a while for the team to get him to breathe and I thought he was dead. I was determined to have subsequent homebirths, and be in control of my own body. I was well-informed and supremely confident of the community midwives’ care. Each birth was a real family occasion. I chose this photo as a representation of all of them.
Blackmore House, Kilnsea, East Yorkshire.
I lived at Blackmore House during the final months of my first pregnancy. We used to carry sleeping bags to the beach and set up camp under the stars. There were about ten of us, mostly musicians or artists of some kind. I remember the sense of community and felt surrounded by empathy when I became worried that my baby had stopped moving inside me. A scan a couple of days later revealed that she was dead. Small kindnesses from my housemates helped me through the sad months that followed. At Christmas many of us stayed in the house, the windows streaming with condensation and trees buffeted by wind on the ridge of the field opposite. Tom Waits played on the record player. In the spring, we watched hares running across the same field. The house was backed by the mudflats of the Humber Estuary and a short walk through marsh grass takes you to the broiling waves of the North Sea. I brought a fictional version of the Blackmore House community of 1984-1985 to life in my third novel, The Eliza Doll. I called the house in the book Running Hare House. I used the same location in my first novel, The Last Time We Saw Marion and its sequel Of His Bones. The Wilde family in those books live in Blackberry House. The wild, raw landscape and the wide-open sky of the location will stay with me forever. Blackmore House was burned down two years after I left and now a redbrick hotel and conference building stand in its place.
Riley at Uig Bay
Riley was our beloved black Labrador. He travelled to so many places with Phil and me in our bus-with-a-woodstove. Like us, he loved the Outer Hebrides, especially the Isle of Lewis. Two years in a row we parked up at a ‘courtesy’ camp site at the township of Ardroil. Mountains shield us on one side and most of the other three sides consist of deep-green machair and spiky marram grass, giving on to white sand and translucent turquoise sea. My fifth novel (out on submission) is set here. The beaches of Uig Bay stretch on for miles. One morning I got up at 5am to go to the loo. I decided to get Riley out of his bed on the front seat of the van and together we trekked over the rabbit burrow-pitted bank (you can imagine how much Riley loved it!) to the low cliff bordering the beach. I didn’t have my glasses on so I couldn’t swear to it but I was pretty sure I spotted a UFO! Riley was a gentle, loving, full-of-energy and funny dog. He helped acclimatise my beautiful white Romanian rescue dog, Luna, to life with us in the six weeks before he died. It wasn’t the first time he had poisoned himself because of his voracious, greedy appetite, but it was the last. We were with him as he was given the lethal injection. He was wagging his tail: thump, thump, thump as we whispered to him and stroked him. The wagging slowed down until it stopped. This photo is to represent my love of all the dogs I’ve had, but especially Riley.
The very first League Family Camp.
We are one of the original families at the first League Family Camp. When my three little boys were aged 5, 3 and 1, I spotted an advert in the La Leche League (GB) newsletter: Breastfeeding Matters. LLL families were invited to camp together at the beautiful Rydal Hall in the Lake District. Deciding to go changed mine and my children’s lives. We became part of a community that has so far lasted 22 years and I can’t imagine it ever disbanding now. The children run wild in the woods and we cook on a grill over one of the several fires. Men who spend their working lives at a computer drag logs through the woods and wield axes. There is live music everywhere and women breastfeeding their babies. Camp is our village. We moved to a new site in Leicestershire in 1998, when I was pregnant with my daughter, Faye. Faye was a 9-month-old baby at the following year’s camp and she’s now 19 and still goes to Camp every year, along with her ‘sisters’. There are also several other gatherings in different places. The latest was, very sadly, the funeral of one of our young men. We elders are the aunties and uncles of the children of Camp. There’s a new generation of mothers at Camp now, too, promoting us original young mothers to grandparent status. I’m so grateful my children have grown up with this experience.
Writing while on the road. (Waiting for the ferry to the Isle of Lewis at Ullapool, 2014.)
One of the best things about being a writer is that you can do it anywhere. One of the best things about being married to Phil is our mutual passion for getting away in our van (with our dogs). We often pick a location based on what I want to write – hence we’ve been to Ireland a couple of times, (Another Rebecca, The Last Time We Saw Marion, The Eliza Doll) and Scotland almost every year. We’re off to Germany this year for me to make some finishing touches to The Vagabond Mother (novel 6). My son has provided the material for her backpacking journey from Australia, through Iceland, Denmark, Germany, France and Spain. Sea Babies, (novel 5) is set in Edinburgh, Glasgow and the Isle of Lewis. Phil took this photo of me when we were in a café opposite the ferry port at Ullapool, waiting until it was time to board the ferry. Ferry ports are actually great places to set up office in. Not to mention empty the waste water from the van and refill with fresh water. Also you can have a shower and even spot otters (Lochmaddy on North Uist). Phil and I set up office for a whole day at the ferry port on the Isle of Skye in 2016 when we accidentally arrived a whole day early for the ferry to Harris in the Outer Hebrides. This photo represents my life on the road with Phil. The life I love.
Thank you so much, Tracey. I’ve really loved seeing your photos and hearing the stories behind them.
Tracey is a visual artist who began to write full-time in 2010. She is happiest on the road in the Bus-with-a-Woodstove and in the cosy domain of her shed. Her novels are about family relationships, a sense of place, sexual love and motherhood, the lynchpins of human emotion. She has four grown children, a husband and various animals. To find out more about Tracey, visit her website here, or follow her on Amazon here.
“Gabe and I are happy this way. We don’t need anyone else in our lives.”
Mariana feels like a pawn in other people’s games. Her birth mother is ill and opportunities for them to be reconciled are running out.
Despite being adopted, Mariana has always felt secure with who she is. But both sides of her birth family are now closing in, and whatever she decides will irrevocably alter many lives; most of all the man and woman who created her.
Of His Bones is about predestination and choices. It explores themes of familial love, identity and the powerful hold of the past. Set in the seascapes of East and North Yorkshire, this novel is the sister-book to The Last Time We Saw Marion.
You can buy Of His Bones here.