Tracy Beaker, the curly-haired heroine who first appeared in The Story of Tracy Beaker in 1991, is back, all grown up. And the next step in her journey is narrated by her daughter Jess, a calmer, more sensible child than the charming but irascible Tracy used to be.
Wilson says she was often asked about what became of Tracy at book events. “I joked about her being an adult—Tracy as a young mum, or Tracy having a mid-life crisis—but only started to think seriously about writing the book a couple of years ago.”
She wanted to show that Tracy would be a loving mother, because “there is still this idea that if you haven’t had good parenting you won’t be a good parent yourself”, an idea she disputes. “Sometimes you are more determined to be a good parent,” she says. “I also wanted to show that Tracy is very bright, [albeit not] a hard worker—and now that she is in her thirties, she regrets not having gone on to further education.”
When news of the book came out, there were grumblings on social media about Penguin Random House’s announcement that Tracy was a single mum, struggling to make ends meet, but Wilson says she didn’t want to write a “fantasy story” for children, so many of whom think being rich and famous is the only way to lead a happy life.
Tracy lives on an estate and has irregular jobs (including, at one point, looking after the children of a publisher) but loves her daughter fiercely and has, as Wilson says, “a lot going for her”.
At one point Tracy thinks her problems are solved by starting a relationship with a wealthy ex-footballer, but once she moves with Jess from her estate to his big house, she realises fame and fortune don’t necessarily make people happy. “I wanted to give her a taste of this life with the boyfriend, but show that there are actually more important things in life,” says Wilson. “I’m having my cake and eating it, too.”
Many of the original Tracy Beaker characters make an appearance, including Tracy’s bête noir Justine and her long-suffering social worker Cam, as well as Tracy’s mum, but Wilson says she didn’t know what would happen to them until she sat down to write, which she does every day for an hour, in bed, after breakfast. “Obviously I do more writing or re-writing later on in the day, but that special hour is the hour when I feel I work best.
“Bizarrely, when I go to bed and I’m quite tired, that’s when the ideas come for the following morning. I have to write them down straight away, or I forget!”
She is gearing up to promote the book (Penguin Random House says the PR and marketing campaign will be Wilson’s biggest to date), including a launch event on 7th October at west London’s Royal Geographical Society with her long-time illustrator collaborator Nick Sharratt. But she laughs when asked if she has had to restrict the number of events she participates in. “That was the plan! But I seem to be doing more and more. I do like doing events, and as long as I have a vague idea about what to do, they are enjoyable. The only things I can’t do any more are great long signing sessions... The hand just won’t do it.”
Wilson began her career at 17, when she responded to an advert from D C Thompson, which was seeking teenage writers for its magazines. After she had her daughter, she carried on writing for its magazines but also started penning novels—and got a publishing deal at 23.
The Bath-born writer wasn’t an overnight success, however, and it was only when Tracy Beaker appeared that she became a household name. “With Tracy Beaker I had a change of style—it was for younger children and it was the first book Nick Sharratt illustrated,” she says. “It’s all been lovely ever since.”
Wilson has sold 19.2 million books for a value of £105m in the UK through Nielsen BookScan; however, the actual figure will be higher, as many of her publications predate BookScan, which started record-keeping in 1998. The original paperback edition of The Story of Tracy Beaker was published in 1992, and has sold 443,709 copies since 1998. The Tracy Beaker series as a whole has sold 1.37 million copies.
Wilson, who now publishes two books a year and aims to write 1,000 words a day, is currently working on a title set in the 1920s. She is also heavily involved in the Jacqueline Wilson magazine—for which she writes letters to readers—and judges the Jacqueline Wilson Creative Writing Prize, now in its third outing. The winner of this year’s prize, for which young writers aged seven to 12 are eligible, will have their successful story published in an exclusive W H Smith paperback edition of My Mum Tracy Beaker, and Wilson says the texts entered are always “delightful”. “Children haven’t changed,” she adds. “They love Tracy Beaker because she’s naughty, but they understand why she’s naughty. They can see she’s hurting.
“I wanted My Mum Tracy Beaker to be perfectly accessible to seven or eight year-olds who have never heard of her, but I thought that twentysomethings who had grown up with her might be interested too. They might want to see what has happened to her and meet up with some of the old favourites.”
Jacqueline Wilson’s My Mum Tracy Beaker (9780857535221), illustrated by Nick Sharratt, will be published by Doubleday Children’s on 4th October, priced £12.99.