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.
We asked Tracy some questions about her writing and publishing process to celebrate her achievement.
What motivated you to start writing Brave Lotus Flower Rides the Dragon?
After an accident left me paralysed from the neck down when son was only 9 months old, I understood how fragile and fleeting life was and the seed was planted. Initially, my aim was to simply write my story for my son. But every time I presented a talk, people asked if I’d written a book. I realised that people wanted to leave with something tangible – something to take home in their hands after they’d listened to my story and felt inspired in some way.
How did the title come about?
Tracy means BRAVE.
Lian, my second name, is of Chinese origin, and it means LOTUS FLOWER. My journey is representative of the Lotus flower that germinates in the muddy sediment of a swamp and pushes up through the murky water to seek the light and eventually blossoms into something beautiful.
I RIDE through life in a chin-controlled, battery-powered wheelchair.
Becoming paralysed has to be the most terrifying DRAGON I’ve ever faced, and my memoir shows how I tamed it enough to live with. I wish I could say that I’d slayed it, but taming it comes close. Also, Dragon NaturallySpeaking software enables me to write without hands.
Certain books need to be written. What was it about this book that wouldn’t go away?
Society’s curiosity mainly. Many people have never met a quadriplegic, and have no idea of how to respond when they do. By sharing my story, I realised that I could give you an intimate look into a quadriplegic’s life, to show that we are not as different as you think we are. I felt as if I had the power to make a positive difference to society. For us to live in a more caring and compassionate world, we need to share our stories with one another. Everybody has one.
How do you see this story: as a love story? As a coming of age? As a story of struggle and hardship? As a celebration of life?
All of the above. It’s a memoir from the depths of loss and heartbreak through the highs of triumph and self-discovery spanning 47 years of my life.
Did it provide a therapeutic experience, or was it painful travelling along those old roads?
It was definitely painful travelling along those old roads, but in my case, I think it was very necessary. Once I’d made up my mind that I was going to share my story publicly, I knew I was going to have to dig deep to go back and scratch open old wounds until they were raw. I had to lay down the bare, honest truth or there’d be no point. Writing such a personal account of one’s own life is draining. I lay awake many nights – sometimes crying, sometimes angry and sometimes marvelling at everything I’d overcome. And in that lay the therapy. Writing my story helped me to process many lingering negative feelings of anger, bitterness, resentment, and make sense of functioning in a completely immobile body in a world specifically designed for able-bodied people.
What do you think of the idea that writing is therapeutic? Is this antithetical with producing a story of literary merit? Can it do both?
Absolutely, it can do both. It used bug me terribly that I was so physically dependent on others for absolutely everything. But I’ve since learnt that we are all interdependent on one another to survive. If my story is therapeutic for me, the chances are good that it will help somebody else too, because human challenges are more similar than we care to admit. Stories of literary merit are just that – stories – often inspired by the life experiences of others. The only difference is that the story is written well. In order to produce a story of literary merit one needs to hone your writing skills. Writing is an art. We all know that. That’s why we do courses through All About Writing – to learn and practice.
Here’s an excerpt from Brave Lotus Flower Rides the Dragon
We were approaching the small farming town of Standerton when Chad became distressed, the toys no longer serving to distract him. He was tired and had a dirty nappy and he wanted to get out of his baby-safe car chair. But we decided it wasn’t safe to stop. We were travelling along an isolated stretch of road which meant we were vulnerable. Shocking stories of hijackings on these remote roads had done the rounds. So we agreed to push through to Standerton, where Chad and Rocky could receive the attention they needed. It would be our last stop to fill up with fuel, stretch our legs and then we’d be almost home. Just two more hours to go.Chad’s sobs were heart-wrenching and after a while I could take it no longer. I unbuckled my seat belt and climbed over the front seat into the back to comfort him. He screamed even louder when he realised that I wasn’t going to pick him up.
“Babes, I’m going to change Chad’s nappy,” I told Craig.
“Okay, I’ll slow down a little.”
“I’ll be quick.”
I lifted up my baby boy and held him. His exhausted little body immediately relaxed and he stopped crying. I kissed his head and laid him down on the seat next to a panting Rocky. I wiped his flushed cheeks with my hand. Despite being exhausted, he smiled. His hand reached for Rocky who offered a slobbery lick in return.
Seconds later, Craig yelled loudly, “Trace, grab Chad. I think the car ahead of us has had a blowout.”
I turned to see what was happening. There was a blue car directly in front of us with a cloud of dust or smoke billowing from it. Stones and bits of tar were flying up, pelting our windscreen like a violent hailstorm.
I turned to grab Chad. He had ipped over on to his tummy and was crawling away.
I made a desperate attempt to grab his foot but he was too fast.
Rocky was squatting on all fours, his ears at against his skull.
The car jerked to the side and I lost my balance. My outstretched hand stopped me from slamming into the window. The car jerked again violently and my body lurched in the opposite direction. Tyres screeched. I reached out with both hands, trying to gain a handhold on something, anything. And then we seemed to be airborne. I tumbled, seemingly in slow motion, while the world swirled about me. I came down hard on my head. The impact as the car landed on its roof punched the breath out of me. The noise of the crunching metal and shattering glass was deafening. I watched my legs flop on top of each other, and my arm fell limply from above my head into my lap. I was at on my back, yet I felt no pain. The smell of dust and fumes burned my nasal passages and I gasped. The air was thick and I felt as if I was suffocating. I wanted to get up but my body would not react. I could see my toes, red nail enamel shimmering through the dust. My bronzed legs looked unscathed, but I couldn’t feel them. Or my arms. I knew that I’d broken my neck. I can’t explain how I knew, but I just knew.
I heard Chad crying but I couldn’t turn my head to find him. Craig shouted, “Trace, are you all right?”
I didn’t answer immediately.
“Tracy!” he yelled. “Are you okay?”
“I think I’ve broken my neck,” I said. “Just find Chad, Craig. Please find him.”
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