It’s always a joy to welcome Tracey Scott-Townsend as my guest on Being Anne – always something really different, always beautifully crafted, giving a real insight into the background of her books. Today, she’s joining me as part of the blog tour for The Vagabond Mother, due for paperback release by Wild Pressed Books on 10th January next year. My thanks to Kelly at #LoveBooksTours for the invitation and support. Let’s take a closer look…
All Maya Galen wanted was a happy family, stifling her inner urges to explore the wider world for the sake of being there for her children. But parenting with her husband, Con, wasn’t always easy. Their eldest son, Jamie, broke off all contact some years ago and now Joe, the apple of her eye, has done the same after an argument with his parents about his chosen way of life. Maya and Con are left rattling around ‘The Cottages’ – their enormous home in a Lincolnshire village, wondering what they did wrong.
When they are called to Australia to identify the body of a young man, Maya is given her son’s journal. After a sleepless night she makes the decision to follow in her youngest son’s footsteps and become a vagabond, leaving her husband and daughters to return to the UK without her. From now on she needs to rely on her own physical and emotional strength.
Following Joe’s hand-drawn maps and journal entries, Maya travels from Australia to Denmark and beyond, meeting many young people like Joe along the way and trying to discover what it means to be alive. As months turn into years she can’t bear to go back to the oppression of her perfect home. Slowly, she comes to understand that what she is discovering is her most basic human self.
Another family crisis, involving one of her twin daughters, eventually forces Maya to return home. As she treads carefully through the wreckage of her marriage, unfinished business is tied up and the family once again becomes complete, but in a different way from before.
One day, I hope to surprise Tracey by reviewing one of her books – I’m so sorry that today isn’t that day, although I so wanted to. But until that day comes, let me hand over to the author – with a piece she’s called Travelling With a Tarp…
Eight years ago I waved my son off at the railway station in Lincoln for the second time. He was sixteen years old but if you’d seen him you would have perhaps guessed his age at about twelve. The rucksack on his back dwarfed him and he bowed slightly underneath its weight. Clutched in his hand was a plastic carrier bag and on his feet a pair of blue canvas plimsolls.
He was about to board a train to London, where he would be met by his father, and driven to the ferry port at Plymouth for the 24-hour sailing to Santander. Travelling alone, he was going to walk the Camino De Santiago. In his bag he carried a tarp, some dried food and a small cooking stove.
He looked small, so small, with almost-translucent skin and fair hair. I took his photo and swallowed hard as he boarded the train. I fought back tears as the train rumbled out of the station. It was seven in the morning. I turned and made my way back home, thinking how short his childhood had been.
A month or so before, my youngest son had returned from a tour of European cities: Amsterdam, Berlin, Rome and Venice. He’d always sworn he was going to leave home at the age of sixteen: in truth, I had to hold him back. Sixteen was the magic number.
He had access to money that had been saved since his birth. He announced he was going to travel, I said please find a travel-companion, at least. He found a website for people who wanted to travel in company. Planned his European city trip with a Chinese boy a year older. I spoke to the other boy on Skype, and to the boy’s father.
We printed off his itinerary of plane tickets and hostel bookings, and inserted it into a plastic folder. His passport photo was of a round-cheeked, blond-haired boy. That first time I also waved him off at the station to meet his father in London. His father would deliver him to the airport and wave him onto the plane. I watched hours ticking by on the clock and fully expected a phone call to say our son had changed his mind – the boy who’d previously been reluctant to tackle unfamiliar situations. Instead, I received a text informing me he had just gone through Security. This was something he was choosing to do, and not dictated by someone who wasn’t living his life.
That was the beginning, not only of my son’s travels but what led to my own desire for new adventures, to the eventual writing of The Vagabond Mother, and even, at length, to clarity of understanding myself.
He returned home. But now he was experienced in situations that I had never encountered, wiser than me in many ways. He could never be forced back into the mould of childhood. Before long he was planning further adventures. He’d read Jon Krakaur’s Into the Wild and was influenced by the desire of the book’s main (real-life) character to cut off all associations with his life and disappear. Anyone who’s read Into the Wild knows the outcome of that boy’s adventures. Thus it was with a swelling in my throat that I turned away from the railway station the late summer morning I waved him off for the second time.
This time he had only a small amount of money. He would not be staying in hostels, apart from the first night or two after arriving in Santander. He would be sleeping on a reclining seat on the ferry instead of in a bed. He was going to be on his own, and not with a companion. This trip was open-ended and there was no particular itinerary.
Whilst being concerned for the safety of my son, and with a sense of the loss of his childhood, or more accurately, the semi-loss of my motherhood of this boy – I also envied that idea of freedom; of drifting, of the importance of the journey rather than the destination.
My son walked many miles on the Camino. At nights he often slept at the side of a road, with only his tarp for shelter. Sometimes he shared his scant food with other Pilgrims and at others he was gifted a night in an Alberge by fellow-travellers. We kept in touch by email and messenger. He shared vivid evocations with me of the places he was seeing and the experiences he was having. Following that months’-long trip he got himself a job at a hostel in Venice. Thereafter, he returned home for brief visits, before setting off again for another part of the world, living hand-to mouth and working temporary jobs to enable him to move on.
The locations in The Vagabond Mother are brought to life by his detailed descriptions and in some cases his experiences. Like Maya in the book, I’ve often followed in his footsteps (though I’ve never slept in a bush!) but unlike my book’s main character, I’ve never felt that I’ve lost my son.
As perfect as ever, Tracey… wishing you every success with the book.
About the author
Tracey is a visual artist who began to write full-time in 2010. Her novels are about family relationships, a sense of place, sexual love and motherhood, the lynchpins of human emotion.
She is the author of The Last Time We Saw Marion, Of His Bones, The Eliza Doll and Another Rebecca. Her fifth novel, Sea Babies was released on 21st February (extract here): The Vagabond Mother is her sixth. Her poetry collection, So Fast was published in January 2018.
Tracey is the mother of four grown-up children and now spends a lot of time travelling in a small camper van with husband Phil and their rescue dogs, Pixie and Luna, gathering her thoughts and writing them down.