It’s difficult to know where to start when asked what writing means to me. It’s always been there, threaded in numberless ways through who I am and what I do. I’m one of those people who has to have a notepad in every room and every handbag.
The “big story” about me and writing is how I first got published, in my forties, by winning the Richard and Judy Search for a Bestseller competition. And yes, it was a dramatic breakthrough, it gave me my dream career and, as life experiences go, it was one of my top two! But it was only the tip of the iceberg.
I have written since I was old enough to hold a pen and form words. I wrote my first poem at the age of three, inspired by Cicely M Barker’s Flower Fairies. An only child, I was forever lost in books, lost in my imagination. Stories – my magic carpets to other worlds – have always been my lifeblood.
I scribbled away during my teenage years, but only intermittently because I knew I had nothing much to say. I submitted a number of short stories to competitions throughout my twenties but nothing happened. I had a lot of internalised messages from school about writing not being a viable career – too competitive, impossible to make money out of and so on. I took these rejections as proof of all that. Like most writers, I’m a sensitive soul and each disappointment cut deep. But the writing urge wouldn’t go away. It might sound fanciful but stories have always whispered to me. It’s as if they exist somewhere in some other realm and they come and tap away at me, asking to get written. So despite all the disappointments, I kept trying because they nagged me.
In my thirties, I trained and then worked as a counsellor. My huge fascination with personal development was born and I came to a new relationship with writing. Among the many, many books I read on psychology and spirituality was The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, a book on the creative process. It changed everything. For one thing, it stopped me being such a perfectionist, always an inhibiting thing for any creative endeavour. For another it turned me on to the practice of “morning pages” – basically, journaling every morning.
And so I learned the therapeutic effects of writing, how it supported me in my studies and personal work, how it helped me to understand myself and life just a little bit better. Writing uncritically, with the hundred per cent certainty that no-one else would ever read those pages, gave me a safe space to be with my thoughts and my writing and I soon grew so comfortable with my pen and notebook that any self-consciousness fell away. Writing wasn’t some foolish dream, it wasn’t self-indulgent, it wasn’t a waste of time; it was just who I was, what I did. Like brushing my teeth or going for walks.
That changed everything. By the time I revisited the idea of writing for publication in my early forties, I had a wealth of life experience and thought about writing in a completely different way. I was tougher – not bullet-proof, but tougher. I wasn’t prepared to give up on my dream again. And overall, I’m glad that it didn’t happen sooner for me (although sometimes, now, the drive to write is compulsive, like I’m making up for lost time). When I look back, I can see how the different careers I had over the years, my different life experiences, all feed into who I am and what I do now.
It’s now six years since Richard and Judy chose Amy Snow as their winner. My sixth historical novel will be published this year and I have two contemporary novels coming this year too. Writing professionally, full-time, is yet another stage of my relationship with the page. Now, I have contracts, deadlines. At first this seemed at odds with the dreamy, organic flow of thoughts and inspiration that I’d always experienced. On closer inspection, however, the two have proved complimentary. Without the container of a professional commitment, it’s easy to daydream away months or years and to dither between different tempting ideas for ages. Having an imperative to write means that decisions have to be made and followed through. It imposes some structure on something that’s otherwise formless. It gives me the professional and creative satisfaction of seeing those ideas actually captured and turned into something that others can, hopefully, enjoy. It means my backlist is growing.
The ideas are still coming thick and fast, old ones that have stuck around for decades, still waiting their turn, and new ones that crystallise as I continue to grow and to live. Some fit readily into the brands my publishers have built, others are totally off-piste, but I make notes anyway so I don’t forget – not that they’d let me. Those daydreams and jottings are as much a part of what makes me a writer as my published novels.
My latest novel is Hidden Secrets at the Little Village Church, my first contemporary story, published by Bookouture. It’s the story of Gwen and Jarvis, two dreamy misfits and a wildly unlikely pairing, who are thrown together when they both, for reasons of their own, step in to help save the local church. The characters and the story are quite new arrivals in that waiting room that seems to exist in and around my brain, but the idea of building a tale around a visitors’ book has been around for longer. In several notebooks, I’ve found that I’ve jotted down, “Guest Book,” or “Visitors’ Book” many times over the years; the idea obviously kept recurring. While I was hard at work writing historical fiction, there didn’t seem to be a place for it. But once I signed a contract to write two contemporary novels, it came clamouring to the fore and the story structure and characters quickly followed.
I often look through my jottings and marvel at the random things I see; I wonder how, when and if they will also turn into a book I can be excited to share with readers. From a small child longing to make stories but with no idea how to do it, to an adult trying to make my way in the world and wondering what part writing could play, to happy author in my dream career, was a long, meandering journey but writing has always been there. I expect it always will. And writing is still how I process, reflect, plan, dream and make sense of the world.
(c) Tracy Rees
About Hidden Secrets at the Little Village Church:
When Gwen’s parents die tragically in an accident, she finds herself heartbroken and jobless, living with her tyrannical Aunt Mary in the little village of Hopley. She’s hoping for a new start, but even the sweet smells of the countryside can’t make Gwen forget how alone she is in the world.
Until one day she finds herself wandering up a little lane at the edge of town, and through the doors of a tiny stone church, lost in time and forgotten by nearly everyone. As she breathes in the dusty stillness and idly flicks through the messages in the old church visitors’ book, Gwen feels her heart lift. There are so many unfinished stories inside just waiting to be untangled – it’s the sense purpose she’s been searching for since she lost her parents…
Instantly drawn into the mystery, Gwen is unexpectedly joined by Jarvis – a little lost like her but too cool to admit it. Gwen isn’t sure what to make of him, or that she wants to share her discovery with anyone else. But Jarvis isn’t here to help Gwen – he has a secret of his own. And when they find a tragically beautiful story hidden deep in the old book’s pages, it threatens to bring everything they’ve been hiding from each other to the surface.
Perfect for fans of Jojo Moyes, Cecilia Ahern and Fiona Valpy, this is a gorgeous, feel-good read from a Richard and Judy bestselling author.
Order your copy online here.