All Maya Galen wanted was a happy family, stifling her inner urges to explore the wider world for the sake of being there for her children. But parenting with her husband, Con, wasn’t always easy. Their eldest son, Jamie, broke off all contact some years ago and now Joe, the apple of her eye, has done the same after an argument with his parents about his chosen way of life. Maya and Con are left rattling around ‘The Cottages’ – their enormous home in a Lincolnshire village, wondering what they did wrong.
When they are called to Australia to identify the body of a young man, Maya is given her son’s journal. After a sleepless night she makes the decision to follow in her youngest son’s footsteps and become a vagabond, leaving her husband and daughters to return to the UK without her. From now on she needs to rely on her own physical and emotional strength.
Following Joe’s hand-drawn maps and journal entries, Maya travels from Australia to Denmark and beyond, meeting many young people like Joe along the way and trying to discover what it means to be alive. As months turn into years she can’t bear to go back to the opression of her perfect home. Slowly, she comes to understand that what she is discovering is her most basic human self.
Another family crisis, involving one of her twin daughters, eventually forces Maya to return home. As she treads carefully through the wreckage of her marriage, unfinished business is tied up and the family once again becomes complete, but in a different way from before.
When I was young I would sometimes squeeze into a cramped living room with friends and acquaintances, sit in conversational silence, drink copious cups of tea and pass around joints while we listened to record after record of progressive rock music. I don’t remember it as listening, rather we would ride the music, soar on its chords, inhabit its spaces; feel the music; be the music. The shared experience of music was our language. The night would eventually putter to an end, either in individuals leaving one at a time, the house residents taking to their beds, or a decisive removal of the final record from the player and it not being replaced.
Sometimes I made my way home alone through deserted streets, past the canal and across the bottom of the common, a key clutched in my hand, eyes flicking into dark spaces, hyper-alert until I had my key in the door of my flat. Even the exterior of my flat, surrounded by a high fence that would have been easy for someone to hide behind, was a place of danger, but the necessity of partaking in the company, the music, the relief from aloneness was worth the risks taken on the dark streets and empty spaces of night.
Sometimes, without any spoken agreement that I can recall, those of us who didn’t live at the house would settle down on the floor and pull our coats over us and fall asleep in the smoke-hazed air (to think I was once capable of sleeping on a totally unpadded surface, without waking up in pain!) We’d wake in the morning with the gas fire still burning – another kind of danger there, I know. I’m pretty sure landlords of those kinds of rented houses were remiss on the safety-check front: I don’t remember ever having a gas fire or water heater checked for carbon monoxide, and we had no smoke alarms back then. The flat I lived in at the time actually had water running down the wall, possibly from a pipe-issue in the flat above…
I was never the life and soul of the party on these occasions. I never knew the right thing to say, found it difficult to banter, struggled to fit in. But I needed to place myself in the situation at least; feel I was real. I must have been, if other people could see me, right? I was simply there.
Fast-forward thirty-five years. I’m another kind of invisible now. It’s due to being in the classification of “older”. But with age, I’ve developed some degree of confidence that comes from having coped with and surpassed my sense of unreality in youth, having lived through various traumas and survived; having brought up four children and seen them grow into independent and unique adults. I’m still here. I’m doing stuff, I don’t need any other proof I’m real.
Aloneness is now a luxury. Feeling invisible in the passing-over-me-eyes of the young has its advantages as a writer: I have become a non-participatory observer, and I love it, I’m allowed to be a shadow.
In early October 2019 I sat alone in the basement bar of the Circus Hostel in Berlin, perched on the edge of a bench with my free beer in my hand (they brew their own beer, I was given a token on registration to hand in at the bar for a sample, presumably to encourage me to buy one of the litre glasses-full brandished by the hoards of younger people surrounding me.) I would have had another (perhaps not a litre!) except the bar was jam-packed and incredibly loud, with music and shouted conversations going on around me – a buzz of excitement, anticipation and, well, sex. It’s not called The Circus for nothing. I glanced at the tight-knit groups on either side of me and considered segueing my way into a conversation, but stopped myself in time. Who wants to be reminded of your mother when you’re working up to getting laid? I know this is what was going on because I was party to many such conversations over the two days and nights I stayed in the hostel. Because I was invisible, the young travellers talked openly to each other as if I wasn’t there.
Anyway, that first evening I left the bar after finishing my free beer, and returned to my (thankfully lower) bunk in the ten-bed room on the third floor. There’s the connection between me in my youth and me now – mass sleeping. Only I don’t think I worried about keeping people awake with my snoring back then. Also I probably didn’t mind so much about the overhead lights being left on most of the night. In the spirit of non-participatory observation I chose on that first night not to flounce out of bed and snap them off so I could attempt to get some sleep. Instead I watched the
comings and goings of youngsters arriving with suitcases, studying bunks to work out where they were going to sleep; boxer-short-clad youths spraying deodorant into their armpits in preparation for a night out at midnight, and listened with mounting frustration to a young man trying to persuade a young woman in the top bunk at the end of the room that she was wasting her first night in Berlin going to bed instead of to a club with him. For this I was willing to break my cover and play Mum if she’d showed any signs of distress at his persistence. But she looked after herself fine and eventually he gave up.
I liked this girl with pink hair, a fellow lone, female traveller. She was the one who strode across the bedroom floor at 11 PM on the second evening, firmly announcing that she was putting the lights out. Beat me to it, my deadline had been midnight. I congratulated her the next morning when we bumped into each other in the bathroom.
For the record, I chose to sleep in a ten-bed hostel room with nine roommates the ages of my children, in the name of research for my upcoming novel, The Vagabond Mother. Not actually research, to be fair, as the book is already written and will be released 22 January 2020, but so that I have lived it, so that I can talk about my book character’s experiences with some degree of contemporary experience.
Thank you, Tracey Scott-Townsend and Love Books Group Tours.
About the author
Hello! I’m Tracey Scott-Townsend, author, poet and artist. My novels are Sea Babies (Wild Pressed Books 2019) Another Rebecca (Wild Pressed Books 2018) The Eliza Doll (Wild Pressed Books 2016) Of His Bones (Inspired Quill Publishing 2017) and The Last Time We Saw Marion (Inspired Quill 2014). My first poetry book So Fast was published by Wild Pressed Books in January 2018.
I spend some days in my shed-in-the-house writing, others in the Wild Pressed Books office, editing the work of our eight authors, yet more days no-dig-gardening on my allotment, and many more on the road in the bus-with-a-wood-stove with Phil and our dogs, Luna and Pixie.
I’m mother to four grown children, three boys and a girl. Three of my children now live in London: one works in the City, one works in sound and lighting, and my daughter is undertaking a BA in Drawing at Camberwell School of Arts. My youngest son lives in Stuttgart with his German wife, both of them working hard to save towards our future plans of the two of them — together with my husband, Phil and I — moving into the off-grid property with land that we’ve recently bought in Portugal. My son and his wife intend to plant a permaculture forest. I expect to be looking after the kitchen garden, currently practising for this on my allotment in Hull. I expect that idyllic Portuguese location to be where Phil and I will grow old together… (one day!)
Website : traceyscotttownsend.com