Guest Post from Tracey Scott-Townsend

Guest Post from Tracey Scott-Townsend

Posthumous co-writing
Tracey Scott-Townsend

My older sister, Dawn, died of Melanoma in January 2009, two months after her 49th birthday. Not only was her death a terrible shock and her life tragically short, but it also caused a terrible rift in our family, which hasn’t been healed even nine-and-a-half years later. I won’t go into details – they really are too petty – but I’ve since learned that other families have suffered similar ructions before or during a funeral. The year didn’t improve with the death of my father a few months later. (However, there were two positive family events that year as well: I married my lovely husband, Phil, and my younger sister’s daughter gave birth to a baby boy and named him after his great-grandfather.)

Anyway, the point of this post is that, two months before she died, Dawn handed me a CD of the novel she’d written, on my request. She knew I would do something with it. Originally I planned to simply edit it and self-publish under her name, but I was busy writing my own novels and needed to take paid work at the same time, and it also felt too difficult and emotional to tackle. The years since have blown by like leaves, whirl-winded along an empty road. I’ve had four novels of my own published (The Last Time We Saw Marion, Of His Bones, The Eliza Doll and the soon to be re-released Another Rebecca) and Dawn has appeared in a couple of them, in disguise. Sometimes I dream about her. Her personality is as strong and definite as ever. She was an extremely forthright person and could be quite scary at times! I miss her terribly.

I’ve never forgotten about my self-imposed responsibility for her work, and I felt now was the time to bring out her (vastly in need of basic editing) novel and see what I thought I could do with it, at the point of having submitted two further novels of my own to agents and completed a ‘dirty’ draft of my seventh.

Dawn was a New Age Traveller in the late 80s and early 90s. She had a horse called Guinness and a bow-top caravan. Later she lived in an ambulance, and later still in a bender on a beach in Lissadell, Sligo. After that she discovered an abandoned cottage and sought out the owner, who said she could live in it for a nominal rent if she could manage to get inside. In 1984, before she set off travelling, I hitchhiked with Dawn down to Greenham Common where she lived for an extended period of time. She let me sleep in her tree during my three-day visit. I’ll never forget the warmth of woman-love as we sang protest songs around a campfire, on a visit (via the back of a Landrover) to the camp at another gate. I was also involved in a small ‘action’. My sister was highly influential in my life.

Dawn’s book (which she called Myth and Magic) is nothing like anything I’ve ever written, but as I began to trawl through it, possibilities for tweaking and co-writing occurred to me. She blends the myth aspect of the Maiden, the Mother and the Crone (in her version Hag) with a more modern story of a traveller girl who discovers she’s the daughter of a landowner. I decided to put that aspect of the story aside and concentrate on contemporising the myth aspect. I have some vague ideas floating around in my head at the moment, and for now I’m treating the job as a basic editing project. But I can already sense the ghostly shadows of new elements of the story waiting to be discovered. I hope Dawn’ll forgive me for messing with her work but I think she’d understand, and I think when she handed it to me she trusted me to make my own judgements as to what to do with it. After all, I’m the ‘older’ sister now… When I finally complete a first draft of our co-authored work I’ll be proud to see both our names on the cover.

When we were children we often went to Skegness for our summer holidays. One year, when I was seven and Dawn was ten, we were put on a bus home to Lincoln by ourselves, while the rest of our (large) family of siblings were parcelled off into the vehicles of various uncles. Dawn and I knelt up on the back seat of the top deck and sang, all the way home. Passengers exiting the bus tossed money at us and we bought chips on the walk home from the bus station. When we arrived, Mum had prepared a meal for us so we had to eat that as well! As a highly-accomplished fiddle-player, busking later became a major part of Dawn’s life.


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