Q&A with Tracy Todd, author of Brave Lotus Flower Rides the Dragon
More than anything, this is a love story – a tale of courage and transcendence, which will have you laughing and shedding a quiet tear. Perfect for February reading.
Here’s part two of the Q&A we did with Tracy to celebrate her achievement. You can read part one here.
Tell us a bit about the writing process.
This memoir has been an ongoing project and dream for over 15 years. It’s taken that long for three main reasons:
- I was in denial for a long time and had an epic amount of emotional healing to do.
- I had to learn how to use the technology in order to write my story. Considering that I didn’t even know how to switch a computer on before my accident and had to learn how to use specialised voice-activated software called Dragon NaturallySpeaking before being able to begin writing, I think I’ve done pretty well.
- I had to learn how to write. I’ve spent hours practising the craft of writing. Fortunately, time is a gift I now have as there are not too many things to keep you busy when you can hardly move a muscle below your neck. To finally have a manuscript worthy of being published, though, makes me feel incredibly proud. It just goes to show that we are never too old (or too disabled) to learn.
What surprised you about how the book unfolded as you wrote it?
I think what surprised me the most was the feedback – not only from my mentors, Richard and Jo-Anne who have a tremendous amount of compassion and patience, but also from the other writers in my mentoring group. They weren’t only positive and encouraging, helping me to believe that my end goal of having my memoir published wasn’t some crazy, insane idea, but their weekly feedback was also enriching and invaluable in my learning the art of writing.
You started writing this story before the climax actually happened in real life. Did it feel as though the writing process conjured the end of the story into being?
I started writing long before the climax of the story actually happened, although I didn’t know it at the time. I don’t think that the writing process conjured the end of the story into being, but I do feel that the writing process made me more aware of what I really wanted in my life and gave me the courage to go after it.
What was involved in the editing process for you?
Writing. Cutting. Rewriting. Cutting. Rewriting. Cutting. The first draft was a complete purge. Only then did I begin writing and creating my story.
Tell us about how you went about finding a publisher?
Like most others, I wrote to all the major publishers in the country and received many rejection letters. The feedback was non-specific, but I understood that it all came down to how much money the book could make. I began thinking that there was no appetite for a story like mine. Richard, Jo-Anne and the rest of my mentoring group disagreed. Armed with their encouragement, I accepted a hybrid publishing deal through Tracey Macdonald Publishers. She supported me by creating a crowdfunding campaign on Thundafund. Within two weeks we had all the funds necessary to move ahead. Brave Lotus Flower Rides the Dragon will be officially launched on 23 February. For me, that is affirmation – you should never give up on your dreams and always believe in yourself.
At what stage of the writing process was this and how much more editing and rewriting did you do once you had your publishers input.
The publisher only came into play right at the end when I was satisfied that my manuscript was, in my mind, adequate for publication. My publisher and editor guided me into making a few changes to avoid possible legal implications later on due to the nature of my story and it being true to life.
Who are your writing heroes?
It varies from week to week, depending on what I’m reading and enjoying. If I can connect with an author through their writing, then he or she automatically becomes my idol for that week and I hope to learn to write like he or she does. My real writing heroes are everyday people like the ones I encountered through All About Writing who dream about getting their first book published. It is their courage and tenacity to keep going that I admire.
What tips do you have for other writers –those writing a memoir specifically or writers in general?
We all know that we can’t write well, if we don’t read. So my #1 tip is read, read, read.
Read a wide range of genres and make notes as you go along, especially if you like the way an author has expressed something. Read other memoirs to see how they’ve managed to take a real-life experience, and weave it into a story that everybody else will enjoy.
Someone once gave me good advice when I went knocking on doors for help. He said, “I can’t help you until you’ve written your entire story down on paper.” He was wise. You can’t help yourself until you’ve written your story down. Then, only then, can you seek help and really start writing and creating your story.
Here’s an excerpt from Brave Lotus Flower Rides the Dragon
In the morning, I was fitted with a corset-type, upper-body support and a hard, plastic neckbrace to stabilise my spinal column. I was eager to get up. Two nurses, one with dark hair and the other blonde, lifted me into an oversized hospital wheelchair. I didn’t care that the wheelchair was too big because I trusted that I wouldn’t need it for long. I believed that it was only a minor part of the process involved in getting me healed and back to normal.
Almost immediately, I passed out.
When I came round I was still in the wheelchair, but it had been tilted backwards so that I was almost horizontal. The blonde nurse had my feet in the air, her eyes fixed on mine. My stomach was queasy and I closed my eyes to shut out the black stars orbiting the bright light above. I could hear voices, but they sounded far away. Slowly, the tide of nausea retreated. Once I was feeling a little better, they restored the wheelchair to an upright position. I swallowed. The taste of bile in my mouth made me gag. My head was throbbing and I felt dizzy. It was unbearable.
Moments later I fainted again. Th is happened a number of times. The fainting spells only lasted a couple of minutes each time, but their frequency was alarming. The nurses, however, didn’t seem fazed. The nurse holding on to the back of the wheelchair peered over my shoulder each time, her long dark hair casting a shadow over me, a temporary reprieve from the bright lights overhead. Once I’d recovered enough to try again, I was met with warm smiles and encouragement from both of them.
After trying for more than an hour, Magda, the head of the unit, told them to put me back to bed and try again the following day. I was overwhelmed with disappointment. I felt as if I’d failed, unable to cope with even the simple everyday act of sitting. I didn’t understand why this was happening. I wanted to beg them to try one more time, but there were many other patients waiting to be lifted into their wheelchairs. I lay in bed and sobbed.
We tried again the following morning, and again I fainted repeatedly. The nausea surged as my head was lifted, making my stomach roll. But I was determined to sit up, terrified of the prospect of spending the rest of my life lying supine in bed. In addition to the queasiness, I had absolutely no capacity to balance myself, which surprised me. I expected to be able to sit up like before, except in a chair on wheels, but it seemed impossible. I realised then that I had no real understanding of the implications of being paralysed from the neck down.
Eventually a nylon strap, much like a seat belt, was fastened around my upper torso, securing me to the backrest of the wheelchair. Pillows were shoved under my elbows and arms to support me. Maggie stood by, patting my shoulder, as she chatted to Kenny and Marion. Kenny was always the first visitor to arrive, leaving only when Paul got there in the evenings. Marion continued to wave her arms about as if she were chasing flies. I learned that she had an anxiety disorder which caused her to thrash her arms around. Kenny told me it was caused by the shock of the accident. Secretly, I was envious of her ability to move her arms, even if she couldn’t help herself.
Maggie tapped my shoulder again. I felt like an old woman who needed to be reminded to stay awake. I clenched my teeth, refusing to pass out again. I felt ill, but I willed myself to stay conscious. I forced myself to listen to the chit-chat around me to distract me from the nausea rising from my stomach. I fought for as long as possible, but I was relieved when Maggie called for help to put me back into bed.
Maggie checked the watch on her bosom. “Ten minutes.” My jaw dropped. “Is that all?” It had felt like an hour. At least. “You’ll get better at it,” she said as she rubbed my shoulder.
How To Write a Screenplay, online – Starting 1 March
Weekend Retreat, Temenos, McGregor – 24 to 26 March
Creative Saturday, Muizenberg, Cape Town – 1 April
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