I’ve got a new writerly friend on my blog today and her name is Tracey Barnes. Tracey was a fellow Maurice Saxby Mentee with me in 2013 and she’s relatively new to the world of children’s writing.
Tracey is an aspiring author who enjoys writing for young children. Currently, she fills in her time waiting to be discovered by teaching a grade full of rather gorgeous Preps and Grade One students who she is secretly training to be the cleverest children ever! She aspires to write stories that find special places in people’s hearts, just like the ones she reads to her own children and the children she teaches.
Although Tracey has always written stories, she’s only recently started to take it more seriously. She is an avid reader and a strong advocate of children’s literacy, and I just have to say that she’s an awesome teacher and mum.
Thanks for coming onto my blog today, Tracey.
Hi Neridah, thanks for having me.
1. I have to ask this question even though I already know the answer. I want my followers to hear it from you as it’s really inspiring. Tell us how you came to be awarded a Maurice Saxby Mentorship?
Well, not sure about inspiring. But, for me the Maurice Saxby Mentorship came at a time in my life when I needed something positive to look forward to during a period that was incredibly difficult.
To begin from the beginning though, I had always loved books…devoured them by the dozens. I have always found it hard to leave a library with less than a full arm load. I dreamed of being a writer, but like many others let life get in the way.
I became a teacher, married, had my two darling boys but I always kept dreaming.
Around five years ago life changed dramatically when my husband Phil was diagnosed with an unusual version of Myelodysplasia. This is a blood disorder that can be simply described as a pre-leukemia. Suddenly our life was thrown into a constant stream of doctor appointments, hospitals and transfusions.
I went back to work after years of being home, allowing Phil time at home to concentrate on getting well and being with our boys. He continued to become increasingly unwell and eventually it was decided he was to be given a bone marrow transplant. For many nights, while the transplant was taking place, I would be up in the 5th floor of the Royal Melbourne Hospital looking out over the city.
One night as Phil slept I was desperately missing our boys looking up trying to find the moon, wondering if they could see that same moon back home. A line popped into my head. Have you seen the moon tonight? That line played around and around in my head and I must have jotted it down at some point.
It stayed in a little note book for years. Eventually life went back to a sort of normal, but I never did any more than that.
A couple of years later Phil’s health began to deteriorate and once again we went back to the never ending merry-go-round of doctors and hospitals. I have no idea why in the midst of all of this I suddenly started to write except that it was probably a way to keep thoughts in a happier place than where they tended to wander.
I found my one little line and my stories grew slowly into a small little pile. I wrote them late at night, making poor Phil listen to them at all sorts of ungodly hours. I joined a couple of children’s author/illustrator newsletters and through one of these I saw an article mentioning the Maurice Saxby Mentorship. I hadn’t been writing long but I thought “why not” I have nothing to lose. I truly didn’t expect anything. It was all very new and I kept my writing rather close, only sharing with a few about my secret.
Then one day the family was travelling back on the train from an appointment in Melbourne. It had been a truly awful day as we had just learnt that the bone marrow transplant after nearly two years had failed. We were quite simply devastated. It was a very somber journey home. Phil had bought along the i-Pad and was checking our emails. He suddenly looked up at me and said my name is such a funny tone. I can still see his face, he had this look on his face which read ‘you’re are not going to believe this!’ He handed me the i-Pad. And he was right, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I had been accepted into the Mentorship. On this incredibly terrible day came a little glimmer of something positive.
So, we soldiered on and Phil was put in for another round of chemo with the hope he might be able to have another transplant. I met the other mentees (including my beautiful friend Neridah) and the lovely Helen Chamberlin and Albert Ullin.
Phil’s health began deteriorating at a rapid rate and the Myelodysplacia turned into acute leukemia. Very kindly the mentorship was deferred. Phil was so pleased that I would still get to have this amazing opportunity, all be it somewhat later on. We were both sad though knowing he would not get to share this with me. My darling husband passed away in June last year.
The boys and I slowly made ourselves a new sort of normal and I knew that I had the mentorship to look forward to in May this year. The mentorship was a gift that has done more than just further my knowledge of writing and publishing. I made some truly wonderful friends, met some incredibly inspiring people and it has helped pull me back into writing after feeling I was too sad to weave words into stories any more.
2. As part of the Maurice Saxby Mentorship, you are provided with the opportunity to have a mentor to help you with a manuscript as well as getting to meet industry specialists in every facet of the children’s publishing industry.
What was the most important thing you learnt about your visit to Penguin and Allen & Unwin?
I think the most important thing I learnt from the visits to publishers was realising what an incredible team effort the production of a book is. That the reality is you really are just one part.
There is a need to be able to ‘let things go’ and trust in the expertise and passion of others to take your story all the way through to a beautiful book you can hold in your hands.
As an author you tend to work on your own. What you write is private and personal for the most part until you choose to release it to other eyes. From that point on when you put it in the hands of others you entrust your manuscript to their care.
And the wonderful thing to discover was that they do care, passionately.
3. Your mentor was Shaun Tan (yes, WOW! I hear you all say). What was the most important thing you took away from that meeting?
Just like with Shaun’s books it all seemed a little surreal. There were some parts from meeting Shaun that seemed to hit me so hard and true that they have continued to echo around and around in my head still.
It is difficult to put into words all of the things I came away with that day. One comment that seemed to have more impact on me than the others was – “Every book I write is about me.”
When you think about that statement, it is HUGE. I suppose on some level I knew this, but maybe it was the way he said it that seemed to resonate so much. Shaun is sharing an often very personal part of himself with others in the form of a seemingly simple book. It is a telling statement. It is also probably part of the reason people feel such a connection to his work.
My writing tends to be lighter and for a younger audience, but to some degree it comes from an experience or emotion that is connected to me. Now, I can only hope to aspire to Shaun’s strength with words, but that moment, that connection I made on hearing that statement was truly like bells ringing in my head. That doesn’t mean I am going to toss away my other ideas if they are about fluffy bunnies, but it certainly resonated with me. I am not sure what that means when I write in the future, but I think it will make the journey more interesting.
It was a truly wonderful experience having Shaun as a mentor.
I am so very grateful for his expertise, his advice and the time he generously gave me. Plus, he is just the nicest guy!
4. What was your favourite part of the Maurice Saxby Mentorship? Do you think it’s changed you as a writer?
My favourite part has most certainly been meeting such an amazing group of people who are all connected by a love of children’s literature. We got to share some wonderful experiences that for a beginning writer are invaluable and inspiring.
Has it changed me as a writer…??? I feel that I have learnt many things that I can use as tools or guidelines when writing. It opened me up to new ways of thinking about writing and challenged me to question why I want to be a writer. I think all writers are constantly evolving through experiences and new learnings whether they are as targeted as the Maurice Saxby Mentorship or just from our everyday lives.
But at the heart of it all, I still only write for the joy that I have in creating something special to share with others and that hasn’t changed.
That’s a beautiful reason to write.
5. What are your favourite books?
Hmmm…this could take a rather long time. It is almost painful as the decision making process for something like this is slightly excruciating.
Well, as a little girl I was MAJORLY obsessed with Enid Blyton. Anything and everything she wrote was magical to me. I loved all things fairytale and spent hours reading my mum’s collection of fairytale books in our sunroom at the back of the house. I still love fantasy/fairytale books and practically hyperventilate if I see anything new written by Juliet Marillier and Cassandra Clare.
The Harry Potter series and ‘The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe’ both hold a special place in my heart and I really enjoy a lot of the new Y.A. novels.
In terms of other favourites, I love ‘Anne of Green Gables’, ‘The Secret Garden’, ‘Little Women’ and all things Jane Austen.
My favourite children’s books change all the time because there are so many wonderful books out there I can’t go past.
‘Where is the Green Sheep’ by Mem Fox, ‘Wombat Stew’ by Marcia K Vaughan, ‘The Red Tree’ by Shaun Tan, ‘Finton Fedora the World’s Worst Explorer’ by Clive Goddard and ‘The Muddle Headed Wombat’ by Ruth Park.
Now my brain is going into over drive thinking of millions of others…it’s so hard to limit a list like this.
It’s true, there are so many wonderful books out there. We could be reading forever!
Well, thanks so much Tracey, for giving of your time and coming onto my blog today, it’s been such a pleasure to hear from you.
Good luck with your writing. I can’t wait to be a part of your journey.