Sunday, 12 October 2014

Tracy Burton Interview

My interview this week, is with my lovely friend, Tracy Burton (no relation), who has returned to fiction writing after what she refers to as ‘several years in a creative wilderness’.

Hi, Tracy. Before we start chatting, would you like a drink?

Thanks, Tina. I wouldn't turn down half a pint of that scrumptious West Country cider, if there’s any on offer.

I can certainly manage that. Now, we first stumbled upon one another in a Writers Group on Facebook. Do you remember what you were working on at the time?

Yes, I do. I’d just started writing my first novel Halter Necks and Cocky Elbows and I was looking for inspiration from other writers. What I found, was lots of friendly people who shared a love of fiction writing... including you, Tina. Unfortunately, I've had to stop working on the novel this year to focus on my digital outdoor publishing business, camau, but I intend to pick it up again over the winter months.

Can you tell us what the novel’s about?

It’s set in a terraced street in the long hot summer of 1976, and focuses on the impact of a young woman’s disappearance on a group of neighbours. After trying out various formats, I've decided to tell the story through the eyes of three characters - Trevor, his wife Sylvie, and their teenage daughter, Karen. It’s not a thriller or a crime novel, more an exploration of how the lives of several unhappy people are shaken to the core by an event which, on the face of it, has very little to do with them.

That sounds intriguing, and something I’d definitely read as I grew up in the 70s. Is this your first novel?

Strictly speaking no, although it is my first attempt at a non-genre novel. The first novel I wrote was a Mills and Boon, called Stormy Lady. The action began on an unnamed Canary Island, however, most of the plot took place on a yacht as it sailed back to the UK. I remember doing copious amounts of research to make sure I got all the sailing details right (this was before the Internet) and I was delighted that Mills & Boon - although rejecting it - wrote that it was very well-written and well-researched. Sadly they then added that it lacked the ‘emotional punch’ they were looking for (and yes, I do still have that rejection letter).

Oh, that’s a shame. But it was an encouraging rejection. What other forms of writing do you enjoy?

I'm happy to have a bash at almost anything, although I'm a pretty awful poet. I can do those witty ditty things - and have won competitions in the past - but I can’t do proper poetry at all, quite possibly because I rarely read it. Other than that, you name it, I've written it... news, articles, comedy, short scripts, feature-length scripts, short stories, short plays and speeches (for other people).

Scriptwriting is probably my favourite creative form, maybe because I'm not great at descriptive prose. As a reader, I tend to switch off when an author starts describing what a character is wearing, or how the room is furnished, etc. Just tell me what I need to know so I can visualise things, then get on with the plot. The simplicity (some might say starkness) of scriptwriting really appeals to me.

That’s something I’d love to learn too. Do you have a regular writing routine? And do you have a special place to write, or can you write anywhere as long as you have space?

The short answer is ‘no’.  I'm definitely a morning person so I'm far more productive in the earlier part of the day than in the evening. Now I'm back at work, I’ll have fewer opportunities to write so I need to be far more self-disciplined. The biggest hurdle is getting myself into the study (our third bedroom). Once I'm sitting at my desk, I'm usually fine and get quite a lot done. Unfortunately, I have a tendency to keep editing myself as I'm writing - a bad habit which inhibits my creativity and slows me down.

I will write notes in longhand - for example I filled an entire notepad when I was writing notes for my travelogue, and many hundreds of words were written in our tiny tent - but given the choice, I’d always prefer to be sitting at a computer in my study (with tea and chocolate on hand!).

I also edit as I write, so it takes ages to finish a chapter because I go back over it to check it. It’s a habit I really need to stop doing! Do you belong to any writing groups?

When my children were little, I went along to Newport Writers Circle every Monday evening. The more experienced writers were incredibly supportive, and it was there that I learnt to keep the writing simple. There’s nothing wrong with saying ‘he said’.  Sadly, that group no longer exists, but I’ll always be thankful for all the encouragement its members gave me.

It’s amazing what we can learn from other writers isn't it? I don’t think we ever stop learning either, there’s always something new to discover.
What was the inspiration for Insubstantial Evidence, your short story in the Halloween anthology Hocus Pocus ’14, which I'm delighted to also have a story in?

Before her daughter was born, my sister worked as a manager in a charity shop. In those days, most smelt rather fusty, and little attempt was made to display the clothes well. My sister’s shop was the exception; it looked (and smelt) more like an upmarket boutique than a second hand clothes shop. A few years later, we moved to an Edwardian house where there were four sightings of a male ghost by three different people; we did some research, and learned that ‘our’ ghost had been a lovely family man. Insubstantial Evidence brings those two ideas together - yes, there’s a ghost but it’s not one to be frightened of.

Ooh, I love stories about ghosts. Do you often base your writing on your own experiences?

I think it’s natural to introduce your own views and life experiences into fiction, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, as long as it doesn't come across as the author preaching at his/her readers. If we were all writing the same thing, from the same viewpoint, modern fiction would be very bland. Instead, we writers each weave real-life events, memories and characters (with names changed of course) into our fiction, making each of our stories unique.

Yes we do. I often use something I've seen or overheard for a story, and some of my characters have traits that I've borrowed from people I know.
Can you tell us what you’re working on at the moment?

I've recently finished the first draft of a travelogue. My partner, the outdoor writer Harri Roberts, has devised a new long-distance route through Wales called O Fôn i Fynwy. He’s writing a guidebook outlining the route, transport, accommodation, maps, etc.  My in-laws read my blog, and they suggested I expanded it to write a warts-and-all account of our journey. The first draft is just under 94,000 words but I expect it will end up nearer 100,000 words by the time it’s finished. Think Bill Bryson in Wales, but without all the delicious food and drunkenness. Talking of which... any more cider going? 

There certainly is, and how about a piece of fruit cake, with a dollop of clotted cream?

Tracy, it’s been a pleasure chatting with you, the best of luck with your writing, and hurry up and get that novel finished, I’d love to read it

Tracy Burton’s short story Insubstantial Evidence is one of 13 spooky stories in Hocus Pocus ’14 available for Kindle and in paperback format from October 17. Join the Facebook party on Friday October 31 from 10am-9pm during which the ebook will be a freebie on Amazon.

Tracy blogs about hiking and running at The Walker's Wife and has recently started a new blog about writing at Tracy's blog