We spoke with Tracey Iceton, author of The Celtic Colours trilogy about her creative writing process, what inspires her and more. Read on to find out more about this fascinating author.
Where did your love for creative writing come from?
I was always an avid reader as a child. I loved stories, the escapism they provided, right from being very young. After reading a lot of other people’s stories I realised I could create my own, it was a natural progression for me. Writing my own imaginary worlds was, I discovered, even better than reading myself into other people’s imaginary worlds. I could control the story, escape to wherever I wanted, as whoever I wanted and whenever I wanted. I was ‘writing’ in my own head long before I even knew that’s what I was doing and I actually properly wrote my first novel aged 13. It filled four A4 notebooks.
How do you get inspired to write a story?
My inspiration comes from a wide variety of places and usually it hits me very suddenly. I can overhear or observe something and have the ‘light bulb moment’ when I start seeing the story developing. A lot of my stories are inspired by real life, things that have actually happened to people, either those I know or those in the public eye, but small things inspire me too. One of my short stories came from a single line spoken by Stephen Fry on QI, for example.
What is your writing process like?
It depends on what I’m writing. When I’m working on a short story I need to have the whole story in my head, know where it’s going and how it will end before I can sit down to write it. But I never plan short stories on paper, I just think them out, usually while I’m swimming. Then I write the whole thing and go back after to edit and polish. With novels the process is slightly different, mainly because the novels I write all need a fair bit of research doing before I can get down to the writing. So, in the case of books one and two in the trilogy, I did the research first, used the facts to build the outline of the story (which I did note down) then started writing, filling in the gaps in historical record or recorded accounts with what I imagined could have/probably did happen. Then after that it’s back through the whole novel to edit and polish, usually the longest part of the process.
What advice would you give to people who have a desire to write?
When starting out the two best things you can do are find a good creative writing course that will help you learn the basics of the craft of writing and then get writing. Writing is a practice-based art form. That means you get better at it by practicing so the more you write the better you get. But you need feedback on your work to help you see what/how to develop. Usually family and friends are no good at this. They’ll want to encourage you, which is great, but you can’t improve a piece if the only feedback you get is that it’s ‘very nice, dear.’ Find a writing group, or form your own, or join a course that offers chance for you to share your work with the rest of the class and/or tutor. Or, if you can afford it, get a professional critique on your work for an experienced writer.
If you are a bit further down the line with your writing and are starting to try to get published then the best piece of advice I can offer is don’t give up. You need to be thick skinned, learn to accept not everyone will love your work and believe that someone will love it, you just have to find them; they are out there somewhere so keep trying. If it’s good enough, if you’ve worked hard on your writing and developed your craft to a professional standard then it will get published but you just have to be determined. To me the difference between a writer who makes it and one who doesn’t is the one who doesn’t didn’t try hard enough.
Can you tell us about parts one and two of your Celtic Colours trilogy? Where did the inspiration come from?
The concept behind the Celtic Colours trilogy is to tell the story of a hundred years of conflict in Ireland. Part one, Green Dawn at St Enda’s, opens the trilogy in 1911 and focuses on the events of the next five years which culminate in the 1916 Dublin Easter Rising. The story is told through the eyes of a fictional schoolboy, Finn Devoy, who becomes embroiled in the Rising because his headmaster is Patrick Pearse, one of the leaders of the Easter Rising. Pearse, along with most of the other adults in the novel, was a real historical figure and it was really he who both inspired part one and spawned the trilogy. I was holidaying in Dublin, years ago, and happened to visit Kilmainham Gaol, where the leaders of the Easter Rising were executed for treason (spoiler alert!). So standing in the stonebreakers yard, under the Irish flag I first learned about the Rising, a key part of both British and Irish history. It struck me as such a poignant story that I became haunted by it and knew I had to write about it and about Pearse in particular. Here was a man who was a teacher and a writer, much like me (I used to be an English teacher) yet he ended up in front of a firing squad. How? Green Dawn attempts, through fiction, to explore the answer to that question.
Part two, Herself Alone in Orange Rain, picks up the story over sixty years after the event that ends part one. This is mainly because the novel is about the experiences of a young woman who joins the IRA and, prior to the late 1970s, women did not take on the role of combatant for the Republican Movement. But that’s what I wanted to explore: what was it like to be a woman in the IRA? What did they experience? How did they feel about what they did? Why did they do it? It was actually a friend and fellow writer, poet Natalie Scott, who suggested the female angle and I’m so glad she did because I feel like I’ve ended up telling a story not told properly in fiction before.
The trilogy isn’t typical because of the gaps left in time between the books’ settings and they can be read as stand alone stories but there is a family connection running through them so that the whole trilogy will end up telling one family’s experiences of the conflict in Ireland. I’m working on book three right now and it should be out in spring of 2019.
Do you have anything you’d like to add?
I have two objectives when I’m writing sometime: to entertain and engage readers and; to leave them with something to think about. So it’s always great when a reader tells you they were moved by your work or learnt something from it and readers often like to have that contact with authors, which I welcome. But I would encourage readers to recommend good books (not just mine, but that’s a good place to start!) to friends and family, via social media etc. Word of mouth is very important, especially for writers who are not, yet, a big name. And I think, like most writers, I just want people to read my stuff because that reading, more than the writing, is what makes me a writer.
To get to know Tracey even more book tickets for An Audience with Tracey Iceton.