TRACEY SCOTT-TOWNSEND: What I did at 50

I’m delighted to welcome Myself onto my blog today, as part of my ‘What I did at 50’ series. This is the final post in the first blitz, but there are plenty more posts to come after the 24th of June, so stay tuned! 

birthday 54 Tracey

Tracey Scott-Townsend

I was a late-starter. From the age of ten I wanted to be a writer, but I think my ‘voice’ started to emerge in my late teens. I was drawn to otherness, and in retrospect I suspect my own, lifetime-experienced otherness has its roots in Autism. It’s probably too late (and too expensive) to have that confirmed now. Aged fifteen, I remember being asked by some school visitors (inspectors or governors, maybe) why it was that I sat on my own in my form room (facing a window, with my back to the rest of the class).
I wrote characters who didn’t fit in, who struggled out of oppression in some form. George Orwell’s Nineteen-Eighty-Four affected me deeply at O’ Level.

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Me at 16

I left home the summer before I was eighteen, lodging briefly on my older sister’s floor. We both worked in a nightclub, although I still had a further year of my A’ Levels. I stayed no more than a few months in any flat or bedsit, soon moving on to another. But I remember each location, and can picture myself in the different surroundings during the nights I sat up reading and writing: poems and attempted-novels. As in the way I never stayed in any accommodation long, I quickly moved on to the next novel that I wanted to write. However, there was one character I wrote who endured through my every attempt at a novel. She was anorexic Marianne Fairchild, who eventually took full form in my first published book. Her name was inspired by that of the character Marianne in Sense and Sensibility, which I remember sitting reading in my wooden armchair throughout one night at a flat I lived in when I was eighteen.

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Aged twenty, I dropped out of my Sociology and Social Anthropology degree at Hull University. I told my personal tutor it was because I wanted to write a book. But that book never progressed any further than the ones before it. My boyfriend dropped out of university too, to try and pursue his music career. But we were both lethargic. Before long, and in a doomed relationship, I had become pregnant. I knew she would be a girl.

By the summer of 1984 we had moved into a communal house in Kilnsea, on the banks of the Humber Estuary. The location of mudflats and seascape imprinted itself in me deeply, and it’s the setting for three of my novels: The Last Time We Saw Marion, Of His Bones and The Eliza Doll.

My three novels set in Kilnsea, East Yorkshire

 

I lost my baby at six months, another experience that has permeated my writing. During the time I lived at Kilnsea, I completed my first novel, handwritten over two thick notebooks. I think it was something that just needed to be written and I never took it any further. After we moved back into Hull, I began studying for a degree in Visual studies. My relationship broke down and, living alone again, I stayed up late into the nights writing, after I had finished my artwork for the day. Aged twenty-six, I completed the first draft of what eventually became my first novel, The Last Time We Saw Marion, as well as a short story that eventually became my second published novel, Another Rebecca. But the two stories were to lay dormant for more than twenty years.

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I graduated from my art degree while pregnant with my first son. I got married the same summer, and went on to have two more sons and a daughter. I worked as an artist, exhibiting and teaching workshops, but I continued to think of myself as a writer. When my daughter was one and I was thirty-seven, my marriage broke down. I moved back to Lincolnshire with my children.

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My Children

 

I continued teaching art workshops, and went on to do a fine art MA. But I still thought of myself as a writer. Every now and then, over the years, I brought out the draft of the full-length novel I had written, and did some re-writing. But my time was filled with single-parenthood, making art for exhibitions, and the temporary teaching job I was offered at a secondary school in the wake of my MA, (initially supposed to be six weeks!) The job lasted two and a half years, by which time I had met up with a former school-friend who had also become a single parent. Phil and I married when we were both almost forty-seven and we lived in a tall house overlooking the South Common in Lincoln, where we tackled becoming a step-family.

~

When my school teaching job finally came to an end, I was able to write full-time. I used the lesson-planning discipline I had learned as a teacher to fully apply myself to writing this time around.

I was offered a publishing contract for The Last Time We Saw Marion when I was fifty years old. The book was published by Inspired Quill the following year, when I was fifty-one.

~

In the almost-decade since I married Phil, I’ve developed a close relationship with mortality. I’ve lost two sisters, my father, and several friends. It makes me achingly aware of how brief a touchdown we have on this earth. Phil and I are making the most of our life together. He took early retirement from his long-term job when we were fifty-five, and we started our own publishing company, Wild Pressed Books. We regained the rights to my second novel Another Rebecca.

another rebecca

Another Rebecca (second edition)

 

We have also published my books The Eliza Doll and Sea Babies, as well as several novels and poetry collections by other writers. We’ve just signed up our ninth author!

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Wild Pressed Books at the Northern Publishers’ Fair

 

The other massive lifestyle change we’ve undertaken is to do as much travelling as we can in our camper van. It started when we were a family of eight. We decided to buy a second-hand minibus – a huge, old LDV Pageant — and it immediately suggested itself to me as a home on wheels! It was at the age of fifty that Phil and I began venturing further afield than the outreaches of Yorkshire. We’ve explored most of Scotland, returning to the Outer Hebrides several times, and it’s where my fifth novel, Sea Babies is set.

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Ardroil, Uig, Isle of Lewis – setting for Sea Babies

 

We’ve also been to Ireland and to Germany, via Holland and Belgium (for my son’s wedding). Later this year we’ll be driving to Portugal.

Driving in Germany

 

At the age of fifty-six, Phil and I, together with my son and daughter-in-law, have bought our very own property in Portugal – a rustic two-roomed house with two-and-a-half acres of land on which grow olive trees, sweet chestnut trees and cork-oak. We’re currently in the process of buying a second building and extra land to accommodate the four of us.

our house in Portugal

Our future home in Portugal

 

The future feels vivid, and you can expect novels set in Portugal from me from now on!

My latest novel is Sea Babies…

SEA BABIES buy link

Sea Babies front Cover with quotes

Blurb:

Lauren Wilson is travelling by ferry to the Outer Hebrides, about to begin a new job as a social worker with the Islands’ youth. She’s also struggling to come to terms with a catastrophic event. When somebody sits opposite her at the cafeteria table, she refuses to look up, annoyed at having her privacy disturbed. But a hand is pushing a mug of tea towards her, and a livid scar on the back of the hand releases a flood of memories…                     

Some people believe in the existence of a parallel universe. Does Lauren have a retrospective choice about the outcome of her terrible recent accident, or is it the bearer of that much older scar who has the power to decide what happens to her life now? 

Set mainly in the Outer Hebrides and Edinburgh from the 1980s to the present, Sea Babies is a potent, emotional psychological drama that explores the harder aspects of relationships, as well as the idea of choice, responsibility and the refugee in all of us.

Sea Babies: BUY HERE

My Author page on Facebook

Connect with me on Twitter

This is the end of the first blitz of ‘What I Did at 50’ posts. Service will resume in late June, with a new series from writers, bloggers and others.

MAGGIE JAMES: What I did at 50

I’m delighted to welcome author Maggie James on my blog today, as part of my ‘What I did at 50’ series. If you have ever wished to undertake a travelling adventure, this read will interest you!

Maggie James

Maggie James

Tracey: Welcome, Maggie! Tell us your story.

Maggie: Thank you. Ever since I was a little girl, all I’ve ever wanted to do was to write novels. When the time came to seek my first job, however, I went into accountancy. As a young adult I lacked confidence and earning my living through writing fiction seemed impossible. In contrast, accountancy was a secure, well-paid profession. It didn’t appeal, but I’m comfortable with figures and so I entered the world of finance, where I stayed for nearly three decades.

My writing ambitions got buried under the realities of life: relationships, travel, a mortgage and the like. Time slipped by; I’d not written anything since my teenage years.

The dream never left me, though. I still intended to write a novel – someday. That day kept moving forward, always on the horizon but just out of reach. At one stage I even questioned whether it had just been a childish notion, one I should forget.

My answer always came back to one thing. On my deathbed, would I regret not having pursued my dream? The answer was always a resounding YES.

I dipped a toe in the water by penning a short story and was encouraged by the positive response it received online. I wrote some more, each one longer than the last, until my final effort was 27,000 words in length. I then decided to move on to novels. I was still stumped, though, about what to write.

~

Then I had a falling-out with my employers. For a few weeks, I stewed in my anger, until I had an epiphany, realising it could be one of the best things ever to happen to me. Wasn’t this the perfect time to put my novel-writing dreams into action? As well as indulge my lifelong passion for travel? With that in mind, I laid plans. First I’d save as much money as I could. Then I’d hand in my notice, go travelling for a year, and come back with a finished novel.

Maggie James

Happy Traveller: Maggie in Ecuador

And that’s what happened, albeit with a few hiccups along the way. Once abroad, my procrastination continued; three months into my trip, I’d not written a word. However, in Vietnam I engaged in a conversation that sowed the seed of the idea for His Kidnapper’s Shoes. We were discussing what happens to children who go missing, and I said I believed such events rarely had a happy ending. ‘Not so,’ said another traveller. ‘Sometimes kids are stolen to order for people who can’t have their own.’

That got me thinking. How would it feel to discover, as an adult, that you’d been kidnapped as a child? I was fascinated, and knew I’d found my storyline. If only I could quit procrastinating…

Matters came to a head in December 2010 in a small town called Arica in northern Chile.  My frustration was growing that despite all my plans, I still hadn’t written anything. One evening I was browsing the website of an author whose work I very much admired. I discovered she was a prolific writer, despite holding down a full-time job. I felt ashamed. Here was I, complaining about how impossible it was to write while getting on and off buses, planes, etc., and yet this woman was churning out excellent fiction while working. No excuses, just action. I resolved to change my ways. Time to throw procrastination out of the window, and get to grips with writing a novel.

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I’d heard about a city in Bolivia called Sucre; other travellers were raving about this place. By all accounts it was beautiful and a great place to stay. I made a decision. I’d go there and remain as long as it took until I’d completed my first novel. I’d write every day, without exception, until the first draft was done. Sorted!

…50…

The next day I booked a bus ticket to La Paz, my resolve strong. Something inside me had changed, and this was crunch time. The fact a milestone birthday was approaching strengthened my decision. In four months’ time, I would turn fifty; I couldn’t bear the thought I’d reach that marker without having written a novel.

Sucre turned out every bit as lovely as I’d heard, surrounded by rolling hills and graced with beautiful colonial architecture, its streets filled with locals in colourful attire. I found a cheap hotel and booked myself some Spanish lessons to improve my grasp of the language; I was all set to go.

~

First I made some rough notes in an Excel spreadsheet about each chapter, along with a tab for each character. Then I opened Microsoft Word and set to work, determined to make good on my promise. I wrote every day and kept a tally of my word count; it was both exciting and motivating to see the numbers build up as chapter after chapter was completed. I began His Kidnapper’s Shoes at the end of December 2010 and finished it towards the end of February 2011.

Writing the last sentence proved hugely emotional; I burst into tears, and then went to a local cafe to celebrate.

His Kidnapper's Shoes_cover BLOG

His Kidnapper’s Shoes

BUY His Kidnapper’s Shoes HERE

At the time, Amazon’s Kindle programme was in its infancy, and wasn’t something I knew much about. When I looked into it, however, I liked what I read. Self-publishing appeared to have huge advantages over the traditional route to publication, with no downsides. I was ecstatic, and decided this was the path I’d take.

~

Upon my return to the UK, I self-published the novel, and got to work on writing others. I’ve now completed six novels, a novella and a non-fiction book aimed at would-be writers. I’ve signed publishing contracts for all my full-length fiction, including His Kidnapper’s Shoes, but recently reclaimed my rights to four titles, which now fall under my own imprint.

Nearly nine years have passed since I flew to Thailand to begin a new life, and I’m delighted at how things have turned out.

Fifty is the new thirty!

Tracey: Thanks to Maggie for sharing her story of travel, adventure and writing. Read more about her book, His Kidnapper’s Shoes, below.

His Kidnappers Shoes - Try 2 half size

His Kidnapper’s Shoes: BUY HERE

Blurb:

Daniel is my son. He has always been mine. And he always will be.
On some level deep inside, Laura Bateman knows something is wrong. That her relationship with her son is not what it should be. That it is based on lies.
But bad things have happened to Laura. Things that change a person. Forever.
For twenty-six-year-old Daniel, the discovery that his mother is not who he thought comes close to destroying him. As his world turns upside down, he searches for sanity in the madness that has become his life. Daniel is left with nothing but questions. Why did Laura do something so terrible? Can he move past the demons of his childhood?
And the biggest question of all: can he ever forgive Laura?

Find Maggie on:

Twitter: @mjamesfiction

Web: www.maggiejamesfiction.com

Facebook: Maggie James Fiction

Goodreads: Author Maggie James

RICHARD SAVIN: What I did at 50…

Tracey: It’s my pleasure to introduce Richard Savin today, with his take on how to surf the decades with panache — post two in my series about making life-changes at the age of 50 (as well as before and after!) Read all about Richard’s adventurous and ever-fluctuating lifestyle and enjoy. Welcome, Richard.

The author - Book launch party

Richard: Thank you. I know a lot of people see 50 as some kind of watershed and make a change in their lives.

Mine has been a little different because I have changed direction and pursuits about once every decade; which I strongly recommend as a life style. I started out working in the City of London, training to be an actuary – and I hated it. I decided then to give myself 10 years out, just doing what took my attention. In that time I travelled a lot, doing all sorts of things: window cleaning, gardening, hearse driver (in Australia) freelance journalist, , motorcycle courier, tyre fitter working on earth movers in a quarry just outside of Perth in West Australia; then there was my passion for motor sport. I had been driving in club competition with a little formula junior I owned and occasionally an outing with a friend’s 1936 Ulster TT Aston Martin – my home circuit was Brands Hatch in Kent. Then in 1963 I had the chance to drive for Ford on a record run publicity stunt for the launch of their new Cortina model. London to Istanbul, non-stop with two co-drivers. We made it in 52 hours 23 minutes and a few odd seconds. The record still stands unbroken to this day.

Cortina 1200 - on loan from Ford

Cortina 1200 – on loan from Ford

 

Formula junior - Brands HatchFormula Junior – Brands Hatch

My second ten years was in journalism. I started out writing for motoring magazines then joined a press agency, operating in Asia: Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. Most of my ten years was spent between Islamabad and Calcutta. At the end of my time I wrote my first book (non-fiction) about my experiences in Iran during the run up to the revolution. This was commissioned and published by Canongate in 1980. I am about to launch a non-fiction book about the journey I made overland by car to take up my new job in Calcutta.

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For my third ten years I built and ran three London restaurants under the name of La Petite Auberge de Saint-Savin (chefing my lead one). My lead restaurant was a popular haunt for politicians and journalists in the late 80s and received applause from the press including the late greats, Jonathon Meades and Fay Maschler. My clients included Terry Jones of Monty Python, Peter Mandelson, Roy Hattersley, television’s John Snow, Lord King, then CEO of British Airways, the Governor of the Bank of England, Robin Lee Pemberton and numerous TV personalities. Cooking has always been a passion throughout my life. My wife is not allowed in the kitchen.

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For my fourth ten years I became an artist: painting, sculpture and ceramics and a spot of radio journalism for BBC South. I had four satisfactory exhibitions, and several critiques in the national press (including a double page spread in the Independent).

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For my fifth ten years I invested in and became CEO for a group of construction and engineering companies based in London and the south east. In that time I led the team that facilitated and project managed the joint millennium funding for the Portsmouth Spinnaker Tower. This was a period when I felt the need to money as I was then in my seventies and was indulging my passion for classic cars.

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  A passion for Classic cars

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For my sixth ten year change I have returned to writing. This time it is fiction and I have become a novelist. I have three books in the market, a fourth due out at the end of June (though this is autobiographical) and a fifth due to launch in September; with two more on the blocks as WIP.

My most popular novel is The Girl in the Baker’s Van which sold well from the day of its launch in August 2018. The Girl in the Baker’s Van: BUY HERE

I am not sure what my next change will be. I enjoy monstrously good health, love to drive long distances (often do the 1600 kilometre drive from our house in France to our apartment in England in a one day hit), love walking, swimming, motorcycling – and sometimes climbing trees. I enjoy cooking (I do all the meals in our household and also love to cook for a crowd), good wine and jawing.

The Girl In The Bakers Van_pb-eb3

The Girl in the Baker’s Van

Book Blurb: Evangeline Pfeiffer has a stolen secret. There are those who will kill her to get it back.

Ever since the German occupation, Evangeline Pfeiffer has worked at the bakery in the small French town of Turckheim. Each morning, with Alain her brother, she helps make the bread and pastries for Joseph, the baker. It is a life of routine and order.
But when Alain is arrested by the Gestapo, her life is turned upside down. Unwittingly, she becomes an accomplice in the murder of Nazi agent Ludwig Kraus. Thrown together with the killer, a Polish spy, Kasha, her only hope is to escape to Spain. Taking the baker’s van she and Kasha drive south. She has burnt her bridges – there is no going back. She is on the run – but the spy running with her is not all he seems.

Behind them as they twist and turn across Occupied France, their pursuers are closing in: the Gestapo, the German spy catchers (Sicherheitsdienst) and, most terrifying of all, the ruthless French secret police, La Carlingue. If they catch her she knows she will be violated then executed.

In the city of Dijon Kasha is captured. On her own, her chances of escape fading she flees south, the net tightening around her. Then in Lyon she meets Grainger, a British SOE agent – he could be the game changer. If she can persuade him to help her, this could be her ticket out. Grainger is reluctant, he has his own mission, he can’t afford passengers – but she’s sticking to him. She’s not about to let go…

 

You can connect with Richard on Twitter: @rsavin_author

 

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