Thursday, 9 April 2015

Debut Spotlight: Tracy Rees

Today is the day... it's finally publication day for Tracy Rees whose debut novel Amy Snow won the Richard and Judy Search for a Bestseller competition in October which earned her a publishing deal with Quercus.

Tracy Rees is a Cambridge graduate with a degree in Modern and Medieval Languages. She had a successful eight-year career in non-fiction publishing. She then retrained and worked as a counsellor for people with cancer and their families. She has run personal development workshops and taught counselling theory at Swansea University. 

In 2013 she had a short story published in the American literary journal The First Line, and was shortlisted for two poetry competitions, before being shortlisted for the inaugural Richard and Judy Search for a Bestseller completion in 2014, which she went on to win. She lives in Swansea, and is now writing her second novel. 

Amy Snow is set in early Victorian England and will be published by Quercus on April 9th 2015. You can find out more on Twitter: @AuthorTracyRees.

Abandoned on a bank of snow as a baby, Amy is taken in at nearby Hatville Court. But the masters and servants of the grand estate prove cold and unwelcoming. 

Amy's only friend and ally is the sparkling young heiress Aurelia Vennaway. So when Aurelia tragically dies young, Amy is devastated. But Aurelia leaves Amy one last gift. 

A bundle of letters with a coded key. A treasure hunt that only Amy can follow. 

A life-changing discovery awaits... if only she can unlock the secret.

Can you tell us a little bit about your debut novel, Amy Snow?
Amy Snow is a novel set in the early Victorian era. Abandoned on a bank of snow as a baby, Amy is discovered by the beautiful heiress to the nearby Hatville Estate, Aurelia Vennaway. But Amy is despised by masters and servants alike and Aurelia is her only advocate. So when Aurelia dies young, Amy’s world collapses. But Aurelia leaves Amy a mysterious legacy which she must keep secret at all costs: a trail of cryptic letters leading one to the other. A life-changing revelation awaits - if only Amy can unlock the secret.

Where did the inspiration come from?
I wrote the first few pages of Amy Snow is a house I’d moved into about eight months previously, when there was thick snow for several days. I loved it! I went for walks in it and spent hours gazing out of the window. It was a very magical time and clearly impressed itself on my memory. Then Amy suddenly appeared in my mind as a baby in the snow all those months later. I think the image of the snow offered a true blank page for me as a writer and Amy as a character. 

At that time I was also working for a counsellor for people with cancer and their families so I think the emotional and practical impact of losing someone you love was very much a preoccupation for me. So in retrospect it’s not surprising that the book starts with Amy’s grief about Aurelia’s death.

How much research did you have to do for your letter treasure hunt?
I read a few really great books to understand the context of early Victorian society and made copious notes! I used the Internet a lot to check out the details of specific rail journeys in specific years and got really carried away researching rail travel at that time. Part of the novel is set in Bath and I hadn’t been there for years so obviously I had to take a trip there with a friend, sightseeing and soaking up the atmosphere and trying on Victorian costumes in the Fashion Museum. That was gorgeous! (We also had a really fantastic lunch in a restaurant that definitely wouldn’t have been there in Amy’s time!)

Can you describe Amy Snow in three words?
Mystery. Romance. Friendship.

What can we expect from you next?
Book two is another historical novel, set a bit later in the nineteenth century. It’s not a sequel to Amy - story and characters are all completely new. I can’t say much more than that at present, other than that I’m enjoying writing it just as much as I loved writing Amy.

How did your writing journey start?
I’ve always written. I wrote my first poem at the age of three (“Peony, Peony”!) For years I just scribbled poems and stories for my own enjoyment. I always longed to be a writer but was told “writing’s a nice hobby but you can’t make money out of it so always have a proper job”. I entered a few short story competitions when I was in my twenties, without any success. I thought I’d given up on my dream but luckily it didn’t give up on me! The urge to write kept coming back stronger and stronger so I kept trying and in 2013 I had a short story published in America. That was quickly followed by having two poems shortlisted in competitions and then by making the Richard and Judy Search for a Bestseller shortlist, which I went on to win. I guess my time to be a writer had come at last!

What is the best writing advice you have ever received?
Something I read in ‘The Artist’s Way’ by Julia Cameron. Wonderful book! She says (and I paraphrase!) that you can’t be afraid to write complete and utter garbage because if you are, you’ll never write anything. So give yourself permission to write rubbish and then you have a starting point. I found this very freeing as I can be a bit of a perfectionist and this wisdom stopped me being paralysed by the thought of all I wanted to write and all the ways I could get it wrong!

What does a typical writing day look like for you?
I’m not great with structure so one of the many, many aspects of being a writer that I just love is that I can arrange my days to suit myself. I never worry that I won’t get the work done because I love it so much. So sometimes I’m up early, writing at 6am in my pyjamas, and I finish at lunchtime, others I need to do things in the morning, so I start work in the afternoon, when I settle down with a big mug of tea and work into the evening. Somehow it all seems to work. I usually try to fit in some exercise on a writing day otherwise I get a bad back. At some points in the process, for instance when I’m mid-story, or when I was writing Amy because of the competition deadline, I put in many more hours per day than at others.

Do you set yourself a daily/weekly writing target?
For Amy I didn’t because I knew I just had to hammer out as many words as possible to meet the deadline. For my current book I’m trying for a more moderate pace and more of a work/life balance so I’m aiming for 1,500 words a day, five days a week. But if I don’t always achieve it I don’t worry so long as I’m roughly on track.

Can you remember what you were doing when you heard you’d won the Richard and Judy Search for a Bestseller competition?
Yes! I think it’s etched on my memory! I was floating round the house feeling quite edgy, almost as if I knew something was about to happen. I had a few bits and pieces to do but I couldn’t settle to anything. Then the phone rang and it was Stef from Quercus, calling with the amazing news! What a tremendous moment.

Are you going to treat yourself to anything nice to celebrate the publication of your first book?
Definitely. I’m treating myself to a trip to London to celebrate with my friends there.

Have you anything exciting planned for publication day?
After so many months of waiting, seeing cover designs and proofs and then at last a finished copy, I can hardly even imagine what publication day will be like! But I do know that at some point I’ll be signing books in WH Smith in Swansea. The WH Smith involvement in the competition has been tremendous, so it feels really special to be doing something in my local branch.

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