Today it's my pleasure to welcome author Tracy Baines to the blog to talk about her debut novel The Variety Girls which was published last week.
My grandmother used to tell me stories of her life when she was younger. Her brothers, father, and grandfather were all fishermen sailing out of Grimsby - at that time the largest fishing port in the world. Her older brother was lost when his ship went down off the Orkneys in 1938. In 1941 her husband was killed at Lowestoft Station as he headed back to serve on the minesweepers and she was left with two small children to care for. She was worried that the stories of their lives and hardships would be lost if no one wrote them down. I said I would. It took me a long time to get started. Time but more, a lack of confidence held me back. I started with articles then moved on to short stories, selling regularly to Woman’s Weekly and The People’s Friend as well as many other magazines, here and overseas. The market has changed so much since I started out but there are still opportunities and new things will appear as time goes on. People love stories. It’s as simple and as complicated as that.
If you had to give an elevator pitch for The Variety Girls, what would it be?
Jessie Delaney has two loves, Harry, and the variety theatre. She feels sure that if she only loved Harry that little bit more she would have been content to marry him. But the theatre is in her veins and defying her respectable family she sets out to re-establish her singing career and in so doing, rescue her mother and brother from their suffocating life with the in-laws
Even with the country at war, the show must go on...
After the tragic death of her father, aspiring singer Jessie Delaney has been forced to live with her bullying aunt and dreams of getting the break of a lifetime to escape. When she's cast as one of the Variety Girls in a new show at the Empire Theatre, Jessie hopes this is the new beginning she's been longing for. But following her dreams on stage will mean being separated from sweetheart Harry.
As she starts her new job, it's not long before she forms a close-knit friendship with Frances and Dolly, although the girls soon find that life in the theatre isn't always glamorous. And with the country on the brink of war, everyone is facing an uncertain future. Can friendship help Jessie through the challenges ahead?
Why did you choose to write about variety girls during the war instead of a different profession?
We’ve all possibly heard of write what you know – variety is what I know - and love. I used to work backstage at the local theatre on the end of the pier in Cleethorpes. In between cues I would sit on the stairs and read whatever biographies I could get my hands on from the local library – George Burns, Jack Benny, Groucho Marx. I loved reading about George Formby, Norman Evans and many of the old variety acts. I can’t quite believe that I get to spend my days reading books about the world of variety in the 30s and 40s. My husband was a variety entertainer, working at many of the number one theatres around the country in summer season and pantomime. It seemed the natural choice.
Which comes first for you, characters or the plot?
A bit of both really. I had the idea for a series set in variety theatres but needed to get the name of the main character right. She has had so many Christian names but once I settled on Jessie I knew it was the right one. Then I had to work out her surname. It had to be a great stage name. Once I had Delaney I could see her as clear as if she was a part of my family. I then had to figure out who Jessie was and what she wanted most of all. It was then a question of both stopping and helping her achieve it.
Were there any interesting snippets of information that you discovered that surprised you during your research?
I love research and try to vary it. I read a lot but I also talk to people who have been in the business; I visit old theatres and other locations I might want to use. People come up with great little nuggets of information that add to the authenticity of my characters and setting. I suppose what surprised me most was how much the top of the bills earned at the time. Huge sums of money, especially Max Miller, The Cheeky Chappie.
What do you think are the characteristics of a good family war time saga book?
Warmth, kindness, and a sense of community. That despite their differences they will pull together and help each other. It’s what we all want deep down, not to feel alone in the world. I do think a sense of community is lacking these days, the sort of community that existed when I was growing up - although, it still exists in pockets here and there. An online community will never replace the warmth of someone really listening to you, holding your hand, putting an arm about your shoulder, dropping off a casserole when you’re ill etc. That said, I’ve made a great friend via twitter. Helen Baggott and I meet regularly to support each other with our writing projects.
What would you say is the best thing about writing? And on the flip side, what is the hardest?
By far the best is when you’re ‘in’ the story. It’s almost as if I am watching it unfold before me and my job is just to get the words down. It feels quite magical when that happens, even though it’s not very often. But the wonderful thing is that you never know if today will be the day. The hardest bit is to keep on working until it does - turning up, laying down the words even if they are rubbish words. I have to remind myself that I can polish them later.
If you could write in a collaboration with another author, who would you like to write with and why?
My great friend, Margaret Graham – who also writes as Milly Adams and Annie Clarke. She’s author of the Girls on the Home Front series. She the most marvellous writer; she’s funny, clever and kind, and the most generous person I know. I owe so much to her. We would work hard but it would be such a laugh – and there would always be cake. Perfect life if you ask me!
And finally, what can we expect from you next?
I’m working on the edits of book 2 which is a follow on from The Variety Girls. War has been declared and the theatres closed. Where will Jessie, Frances and Dolly find work? and will they be able to pursue their dreams?
Facebook: Tracy Baines author
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