Babies Really Can Fly

I will always have a special feeling for authonomy authors, who helped my book, Breath of Africa on its bumpy way to publication over a year ago. An especially warm welcome to Tracey Scott-Townsend one of my generous ‘virtual’ friends, and author of The Last Time We Saw Marion, which was launched on amazon earlier this month.

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Tracey describes her flight path to the birth of her novel in a candid, entertaining and unusual manner:

I remember my mother reading ‘Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens’ to us as children. All babies had the ability to fly for a short time after birth, and some would deliberately fall out of their prams so they could make use of this gift. Of course, the sensible ones got back in their prams in time to become normal babies and grow up into adults. Peter didn’t. I was sad that he could not have both his freedom (as a baby who could fly) and at the same time return to the safety of his mother’s arms. He had to choose one or the other. And in the end he left his choice too late, by the time he decided to go back to his mother, her window had bars on it. He cried and pounded on the glass but she did not hear him. She already had another baby by then. Peter was destined to be a free spirit forever, but he never stopped regretting the loss of the nurture that a mother represented.

In my novel The Last Time We Saw Marion (now out with Inspired Quill Publishing), Marion longs for freedom from the restrictions of body. When she finally achieves her freedom she enjoys it so much that, like Peter Pan, she leaves it too late to go ‘back’. Marion is forced into the prison of another body and destined to repeat the same physical experience that she found so dis-satisfactory the first time around.

Both Marion and Marianne choose Anorexia as a means of identifying the essence of their true selves. In my late teens I became fascinated with this condition. I read many books about girls who suffered from it. I understood completely the craving at the root of what soon becomes a dangerous illness: to strip away the layers of physicality and get to the core of being human. Of being a ‘Being’, in fact.

I didn’t know what I was or how I fitted into the world. As a child I wondered constantly where I had been ‘before’ I became the baby that had turned into me. So from a very young age I had a strong sense of mortality. I knew that I had been somewhere (or nowhere) before I was born and that I one day would be in some kind of unfathomable place again. I don’t think I really fully slotted into myself until I was in my late 20s.

It was motherhood that grounded me, I suppose.

My first experience of motherhood, or at least the possibility of it, was as a 21 year old. I was living with my boyfriend after dropping out of University at the end of my first year because I wanted to concentrate on writing.

I’d missed contraception pills when I went home for a few days at Christmas, took them when I returned and carried on as normal. Two months later my sister convinced me to go to the doctor to confirm that I was pregnant. Although I was terrified of informing my boyfriend, not to mention my mother, I really wanted the baby. All along, I had a strong feeling that she was a girl and I named her Alice.

During my pregnancy I went to live in a village called Kilnsea, set between the river Humber and the North Sea, a wild, empty place. It had a profound effect on me. I lived in a house with about 10 others. We’d all been recruited to work on a project with young offenders. As it happened the project never got off the ground due to bad management. Also, I lost the baby, when I was 6 months pregnant.

In those days such a loss was “all taken care of” and I never saw my baby again once she had been taken away from me. She was not dressed and laid in a crib for me to view. There was no funeral and no memorial.

She was my own Peter Pan, flown away, never to come back.

But the loss of my state of motherhood haunted me, as the loss of being someone’s child never left Peter.

I’m taking a winding path into an explanation of how The Last Time We Saw Marion came about, a novel that brewed for many years before it was born.

A few years after I left Kilnsea, I was living in a flat in Hull, studying for a degree in Visual Studies. At the same time as producing copious amounts of artwork I was writing prolifically. I wrote a radio play (it got rejected by the BBC,) I wrote several short stories (again rejected – by the BBC) and I wrote the first draft of a novel called The Drowning Man. It was inspired by the U2 song of the same name.

The novel was really about the main character, Cal. It was written in two parts and told from the perspectives of his sister, Sarah and his girlfriend, Lisa. It was a tale of love and loss and obsession; my aim was to create a kind of contemporary Wuthering Heights.

Into the novel crept Marianne, a character I’d carted around with me since I was 18 years old. She was a young anorexic girl who’d attempted to wrap a novel around herself many times in the past. In this book she blossomed into the driving force of Cal’s obsession with his dead twin, Marion.

When I was a child my baby sister became very ill with gastroenteritis. She was taken into hospital and my parents had to wear masks when they went to visit her, which made her scream. Thankfully, she got better, but it was the memory of this that initially informed Jane’s experience of her baby Caitlin’s illness in the first draft of the novel.

I finished the story and put it away. I completed my art degree, got married and had a baby. At the time I moved in with my husband, before our marriage, I still planned to become a writer. I got out the notebooks containing The Drowning Man and did a small amount of rewriting.

But now that my degree course was over I had lost the discipline of working to a deadline and the novel was put to one side in the preoccupations of pregnancy. I began to spend my free time painting.

I had a son, and then another. After my second son was born I was asked to join an artists’ studio group and then the practice of visual art took over completely from writing.

I had a third son, and then a daughter.

When my second son was 10 months old he developed a condition called intussusception, which involved his intestine telescoping in on itself. By the time he was taken into hospital he was seriously ill and would have died without an immediate operation.

It was the experience of going through this with him that I fictionalised in the rewrite of the novel. My baby son survived and is now a strong 21 year old, but apart from that, the character Jane’s experience mirrored mine very closely.

It was 20 years after I wrote the first draft of The Drowning Man that I took the notebooks out again and began another painstaking rewrite. At first I was going to retitle it The Drowning Man’s Sister, as it was mainly from Sarah’s experience, but in the end I settled for the title The Last Time We Saw Marion.

By this time I was not seeing things only from a daughter’s perspective or as a mother who had lost a baby; I was now the mother of four children, like the character Jane. Not only that, but I had first-hand experiences of a number of bereavements, and mortality had been etched sharply into my life. Light, when it shone, was now much brighter against the contrast of darkness than it had been before all these life-enhancing experiences.

I appreciated the simple fact of being, without concerning myself with the whys and wherefores of it, something I had struggled to come to terms with a lot in the past.

One other thing: when my eldest son was a young boy his father asked him why he had screamed so much when he was a baby. He thought for a moment and then replied, “Because I couldn’t get down from the ceiling.”

There you go. Babies really can fly for a short time after they’re born.

Tracey Scott-Townsend


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2 Responses to Babies Really Can Fly

  1. Amazing how a character can keep us company at various times over long periods. Fascinating premise and have bought it now. Kristin Gleeson

  2. Pingback: Fly Away Home | Traces In Time

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