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Women Writers, Women’s Books

Light after Dark

June 29, 2017 | By Tracey Scott-Townsend |

My little boy spoke of wanting to die. His statements came out of the blue at innocuous moments – once when we were playing with Lego on the living room floor.

Yet his reception class teacher described his smile as ‘lighting up the room’. Perhaps that light shone all the more brightly for its contrast with the darkness that lay behind it.

Later my child was diagnosed with Autism. He spent his young life as a square peg, fighting his enforcement into a round hole. At fourteen I allowed him to withdraw from this battle for good. He came out of school, disappeared into his room and planned his future. At sixteen he took off with a rucksack on his back and became a world traveller. He found the path he needed to walk on – quite often barefoot – and he still walks it now, currently with a like-minded partner.

When my four children were small I became a single parent. We moved into a white cottage overlooking fields. The massive garden was overgrown with neglected vegetables and inside, wallpaper peeled off the walls. I tackled the chaos of it one room at a time, perceiving the gem that lay beneath this tattered wrapping. My toddler daughter asked me who the man standing in the hallway was. I checked and could see no man but I gave an answer she accepted, “Perhaps he’s happy to see children in the house.” I learned that an old man had taken his own life in what was now our home. One or two odd incidents occurred after that but I always felt what I’d told my daughter was true. We had brought life back into the house. My family of young children was the light after his darkness.

In my novels I draw heavily from my own emotional experiences. I break myself into pieces and scatter the crumbs amongst the various characters. I wrote the first draft of The Last Time We Saw Marion (Inspired Quill 2014) five years after I lost my first baby. I set the book in the estuary landscape where I’d lived at the time. By the time I began the first rewrite more than 20 years later I was able to use my real-life experiences to put flesh on the bones of that novel. My second son had almost died as a baby and I wrote the details of this into Jane’s loss of her baby Caitlin. Like Cal and Sarah in the book, I’d also experienced the death of a sister by then. My sister has never ‘come back’ like theirs but she does manage to nudge her way into my novels in disguise.

Of His Bones (Inspired Quill 2017) is set 20 years after The Last Time We Saw Marion. Mariana is happily adopted but when her own son is born she’s drawn to connect with the two strands of her birth family. The sea is again the beating pulse of the story. The sense of place as always, an extra character.

My second novel, Another Rebecca (Inspired Quill 2015) is about a teenage girl who lives with her alcoholic mother. Another story brought to life from 1989, when I wrote it late at night in blue biro on the pages of an exercise book. Rewriting it into a novel two decades later I placed the 17 year-old Rebecca and her mother in a caravan on a scrubby piece of land in Lincolnshire where my family had temporarily lived when I was the same age. An unhappy time for my mother due to my father’s alcoholism. In the book Rebecca has to cope with her mother’s addiction.

I set The Eliza Doll (Wild Pressed Books 2016) partly again on the Humber Estuary – a place that has always stayed with me. Ellie is unable to bond with her third child Eliza and this ricochets into the future – where we find Ellie on a poignant trip to Iceland with her ex-husband, Jonah. I’m lucky enough to have fallen in love with all my children at birth but I do use elements of my third son’s struggles in the character of Eliza. He recognised these when he read the manuscript.

Family relationships wind their way into the heart of my writing – there’s so much darkness and light to explore in every family – in every life.

For me, fiction is a way of making a concrete ‘thing’ of thought processes that might otherwise be too difficult to deal with.

My next three novels reach further out from the family into the vast sea of wider human experience. I try and tackle the chaos of what can seem an uncaring human race. The Foam of the Sea (currently in preparation for submission) explores the plight of refugees, amongst other things. The Vagabond Mother takes a middle-aged woman – inspired, as I’ve been by mine – by her son – out of her comfort zone into a much simpler way of life. Treading lightly on the earth. The novel I’ve recently started writing deals with how we carry responsibilities through the years from having children to when we must consider the welfare of our elderly parents. At the same time looking outwards at a troubled political situation. And minding it. I try to voice my hopes and fears.

I look to my children as beacons in the fog of current political uncertainty. My children and all the young people. I have a feeling the tide is turning. Their consciousness has grown greater than ours. They’re braver in some ways than my generation and so many of them – those with curiosity and a sense of adventure at least – have seen so much more of the world than we did. 


The Vagabond Girl

traveller Jacky
On The Road again – Jacqueline Goede

I’ve just completed the third draft of what will become my sixth novel, The Vagabond Mother. The material for this book has been heavily drawn from the young adventurers I’ve been lucky enough to meet and chat to over the past few years. One of them is 21 year-old Jacqueline Goede. She’s had experiences most of us could only dream of. Because she’s gone out there and DONE it! To find out more, read our interview.

Interview with Jacqueline Goede

Tracey: Hi Jacky, thanks for agreeing to take part in an interview for my website. I wanted to talk to you because you’ve lived first-hand some of the experiences of my character in a new novel I’m writing. First – could you tell us a bit about yourself?

Jacky: I’m 21 years old and grew up in Germany but left soon after my high school graduation when I spent all my savings on a round-the-world ticket in 2014. Since then I haven’t really turned back “home”.

Tracey: In my fledgling novel The Vagabond Mother, Maya can hardly lift her rucksack off the ground when she first starts out on her journey. What was it like for you the first time you set out carrying your belongings?

Jacky: My parents who both went backpacking in their youth constantly reminded me to only take things I really need. I was also more and more disgusted with the consumerist lifestyle I had led before, constantly buying new clothes when old cheap ones broke and it was a more than welcome opportunity to really go through my possessions and sort out the important stuff. Consciously making an effort to only get second-hand or fair trade clothes really narrowed it down. It also helped that I originally thought I’d return after one year of travel to start Uni, so I left a few things behind, knowing I could get back to them in a few months’ time. But don’t get me wrong, my backpack WAS heavy and towards the end a total pain in the ass to carry around. 

 Tracey: When was the first time you ever hitchhiked?

Jacky: The first time out of necessity in the countryside of Galway when my best friend and I were a bit lost and wanted to get to a paintball game we had signed up for. But I don’t really count that experience as the first time for some reason. The second timJe I hitched when I wanted to do the Golden Circle in Iceland. I even made a sign back then, something I don’t really do anymore because it seems to be a bit easier to decline people with a “bad” vibe (although I only had to do that twice in my nearly four years of hitchhiking).

Tracey: Do you feel especially vulnerable travelling alone as a woman?

Jacky: I wouldn’t pick vulnerable as the word for this. I feel jealous of my male friends since they seem to be able to do things I don’t really feel comfortable doing simply because I have a vagina and less biceps. I met a lot of guys who’ve slept in city parks and streets or subway lines, something I could probably do as well but chances that I’d maybe get raped or mugged simply because a women seems to  be an easy target, are, I think, quJacky:ite higher for me. Then there’s also the annoying question of other people: “So you travel all on your own? Aren’t you lonely/scared/concerned for your safety?” The quick answer: “Nah, not really.” I trust my gut feeling when it comes to people. What I’ve learned actually though is that there are A LOT of real, genuinely nice and compassionate human beings out there and most of them don’t qualify as serial axe murderers, rapists or thieves.

Tracey: When you first slept ‘in the wild’ on your own, where were you and how did you choose a spot to sleep?

Jacky: Truly in the wild and on my own I camped out in a place called Paradise, Glenorchy on the South Island of New Zealand. I got eaten by sandflies and mozzies, it was next to a beautiful glacial stream in the middle of an enchanted forest (they filmed Lothlorien in the Lord of the Rings trilogy there so imagine that minus elves and hobbits). I just wanted to be alone in the bush so I had hitchhiked there without really knowing where I’d end up. Back in those days I actually carried a hammer (yeah, you’ve read that right) with me everywhere I went. Not too big, not too small, but enough to seriously hurt someone if smashed in the right place. Felt a bit safer than just me, myself and I with a pocket knife. So after crossing that river, which turned out to be quite treacherous in places, and hiking upstream for a while I finally found a flat piece forest clearing with easy water access and simply put my tent up and read for a while with my hammer next to me.

Tracey: Tell us the countries you’ve travelled in.

Jacky: Since I left home I went to Ireland, Iceland, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, New Caledonia, Japan, Spain, Germany, Switzerland and Morocco. Before that I travelled around France and Scotland quite extensively with my family.

Tracey: What drives you to live a life of – let’s face it – poverty and often deprivation?

Jacky: I like the simplicity and that I constantly have to figure out new ways of getting where I want to be. You have to work with the things you have or find out how to get the ones you need. In addition, the prospects of having an actual pension you can live on when you’re old are quite slim for my generation in Germany. I’ll work until I’m seventy or eighty anyways so why not do it anywhere in the world?
When I was still in school I really didn’t have a lot of faith in the good things in the world. Following the news can be quite depressing at times. But all the random acts of kindness and generosity and love I met along the way, they really restored faith in humanity for me. That’s also one of the reasons I chose this. Good things come to you all the time and you really realise that when you don’t own a lot of things that would distract you from that.

Tracey: In my WIP, Maya adopts the term ‘vagabond’ to describe herself. What description do you prefer? E.g. adventurer, explorer, foot-traveller, tramp, vagabond…

Jacky: It’s really hard to stick a label on myself when it comes to anything. People are never just one thing, you are made up of a bunch of traits that all come together in the grand colourful picture. I may be an adventurer at times but then there’s also weeks where I consider my adventure to be the trip to the grocery store or the beer in the pub when I meet up with my friends after work rather than climbing up some mountain side and nearly losing my shoe during a river crossing. 

Tracey: Which is your favourite country or place out of all those you’ve visited?

Jacky: I’d consider Iceland to be my home and favourite place in many ways, because I have a nice life there, a lot of wilderness to explore and friends that I see as my family. There, I just like to be. After all though, home is just a feeling and I miss my time in New Zealand or even those two weeks in New Caledonia on some days as well.

Tracey: Tell us a funny story about one of your experiences as a hitchhiking traveller.

Jacky: Ufff there’s heaps of them but if I have to choose one, I was once hitchhiking in the middle of nowhere in North Iceland when suddenly this massive red jeep splattered with mud stops next to me. I was trying to get back to Reykjavik that day. The guy rolls down his window and tells me in very broken English over a lot of weird noise coming from the inside of the car that he can only take me to the next intersection. In these cases, when you’re out in the country side on the only road there is, a short distance is better than nothing so I opened the door, put my backpack in and climbed behind it. Turns out in the backseat there’s a big fluffy sheep fastened in the seatbelt, bleating at full force because this obviously is not its preferred mode of transport. Turns out this guy had found his neighbours missing sheep and was going to bring it to him, picking me up along the way because why the hell not?

Tracey: Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?

Jacky: Hard question to answer. I don’t even really know where I will be in a year or next month, really. I want to visit a lot of friends all over the world, trek through South America or the Pacific Northwest or even to Everest Base Camp but who knows where I’ll end up J Really I just hope to still be happy with whatever path future me has chosen.

Tracey: Thank you so much for answering these questions for us. I’m really looking forward to weaving some of your responses into my next draft of The Vagabond Mother.

Here are some of Jacky’s amazing photos, taken on her travels

vista with Jacky

See more of Jacky’s photos on Instagram