■ The author, 71, talks about the pressure put on girls and resurrecting her hit character for her latest book, My Mum Tracy Beaker
Tracy Beaker’s a mum now?
She is indeed. I’ve been joking for years about finding out what she’d be like as a grown-up, so I decided to get down to it. My last Tracy Beaker book was 15 years ago, but there’s still a Tracy Beaker spin-off on television so she’s had a long life. I think I know all about her but until I start writing I don’t have a clue, so it was great fun for me to find out.
It’s told from her daughter’s perspective…
Yes, it’s from Jess’s point of view, so we can see Tracy from another perspective. Jess is embarrassed by Tracy at times — Tracy is still determined and sticks up for herself and even more so for Jess. I wanted to show that just because Tracy grew up in care and didn’t have very good parenting at all, it doesn’t mean she can’t be a responsible, loving mum. There’s a myth sometimes that if you have difficult parents you’ll be a difficult parent yourself but that’s nonsense.
Who is the father?
Sadly, he’s past history. He’s not cut out for fatherhood. There’s the possibility of a stepfather in the book. He’s rich and famous and I wanted to explore that there may be a big downside to that.
Has society become more materialistic than when you started writing the books?
It has. Kids tell me they want to be writers but often, when I ask why, they say, ‘Because I want to be rich and famous.’ Most published authors would laugh at that. The average author’s earnings are £11,000 per year. Children hear about JK Rowling and think if you can put some words on paper, that’s it. Sadly, that isn’t the case. There’s a passion for people to become famous now and that whole selfie thing…
What else do you have to bear in mind now?
I’m glad I’m not young any more. It’s wonderful girls now feel they’re important, they have choices and don’t have to put up with anything that makes them feel uncomfortable, but I see teenage girls going to school and they must have got up an hour early to put their make-up on and get their hair looking shiny and beautiful. It must be a struggle nowadays to look wonderful and be a feisty girl who can stand her own ground — and yet everyone, male or female, has insecurities. There’s a lot of pressure on kids now.
The wonderful thing about getting older is you stop caring what people think about you. It’s so sad that the first thing so many kids do in the morning is wake up and check how many likes they’ve received on social media. Who cares?
Have things improved for children in care since you started writing the books?
I think they have. There’s a move away from the big children’s homes Tracy was in towards trying to have smaller family units. I’m an ambassador for a local foster parents’ association and I went to an event and all the kids seemed very happy — they weren’t Tracy Beakers. It’s good we’re trying harder to give children a chance to experience what ordinary family life is like.
Do you have any tips for would-be authors?
Often people try to get an agent, only to be told the agent doesn’t take unpublished authors. Then publishers say they don’t take unsolicited manuscripts so you need to get yourself an agent. Look up names of people at publishing companies — if you send it to a particular person they’re more likely to glance at it. But it’s very difficult at the moment. Established authors who were big names in the past are struggling now because things go out of fashion. I wish there was a fail-safe way of doing things, but there isn’t.
How many books did you write before you got a deal?
I wrote two full-length novels in my late teens. I gave up quite quickly. I was stupid. I thought if someone said, ‘No, we don’t want to publish this,’ that was the end. I didn’t realise you have to toughen up and keep sending it to other publishers. I then saw a series of children’s books in a library and wrote something that would fit into the series, sent it off and they accepted it.
But it wasn’t plain sailing?
No, I was being published for 15 years and no one had heard of me. Tracy Beaker was my breakthrough book and the TV series helped. But even then several marketing people said no one would be interested because Tracy wasn’t an aspirational character. Sometimes you have to listen to what people say, they might have good advice, but other times you need to say, ‘You might think that, but I’m having a go anyway’.
Will you be doing more Tracy Beakers?
I’m going to see how this one does to see if there’s any interest to continue Tracy’s story. I’m currently writing a book set in the 1920s. When I give talks to children, they look at the silver hair and wrinkles, and say, ‘Is this the last book you’re going to write?’ I say, ‘No, I want to write as many more books as I possibly can’.
My Mum Tracy Beaker (DoubleDay) is out now