On a cold but sunny morning, Jacqueline Wilson, the diminutive power house in children’s literature for the past forty years, arrives right on time in the car park at Sainsbury’s, Eastbourne, and joins Your East Sussex to support the launch of East Sussex Fostering Services’ bright blue information van.
A patron of the East Sussex Foster Care Association, Jacqueline said she was thrilled when she was asked to take on the role a few months ago. “I’m always very interested in anything to do with foster care,” said Jacqueline, “because many years ago I wrote a book called The Story of Tracey Beaker and I’ve been writing about Tracey intermittently ever since. Because of that book I got to know a lot of people to do with foster care and met loads of foster children.”
No surprise then that the award-winning author is keenly aware of the need for potential foster carers to come forward. The van gives the friendly bunch in the Fostering Team the chance to get on the road and meet people right across the county who might consider becoming carers – either by fostering children or by offering a room and support to young people who are 16 plus.
Awarded an OBE in 2002 for services to literacy in schools, Jacqueline Wilson was the Children’s Laureate 2005-2007 and made a Dame in 2008. However, she stresses that success did not happen overnight. She wrote 40 books before getting her big break.
I always wanted to be a writer – a strange ambition for little girl on a council estate
“I started writing when I was six years old. I always knew I wanted to be a writer although that was a strange ambition for a little girl on a council estate, my parents certainly thought so. Then I was lucky enough to be a journalist in my late teens but I always wanted to write books. I did that for a good 20 years and nobody had ever heard of me. Then I wrote The story of Tracey Beaker and everything has changed since that.”
The inspiration for the story came from an advertising campaign in the 1980s which featured photographs of real children in need of foster care. “Some of the children were smiling in a very touching way, some were mucking around and one was poking out their tongue and I thought ‘I like these kids, I know where they’re coming from and I want to write about one of them’.”
The feisty girl in care who had to fight her own battles, struck a chord with a generation
The novel about the feisty girl in care was published in 1991 and struck a chord with a generation. “Children understand she has behaviour issues. She’s had a tough time and she’s desperate for her mum to come back and make a fuss of her. They [the readers] love it when she’s really cheeky or when she throws a tantrum or when she has a challenge from her rival. I liked writing about her because I was a relatively well behaved child then suddenly to be this wild spirit who does exactly what she thinks was very liberating. “
Jacqueline describes the first book as “the easiest one I have ever had to write”. A few years later Tracey hit the small screen in a popular television series. Some 27 years later, a spin off TV series, The Dumping Ground, is still going strong.
Over the years some people have questioned the realistic nature of her work for a young audience. “I think you have to be as truthful as possible. I don’t want to dwell on things that upset children but I think they do want to know the actual truth of the situation,” said Jacqueline. “I’ve certainly had lots and lots of feedback back from children who have said ‘you absolutely understand that something like that happened to me’ and many letters and emails from children who haven’t had a care in the world growing up but are interested in what life is like for someone who has”.
Tracey hasn’t changed character, she still has what we would now call anger issues
The latest installment in the saga, My mum Tracey Beaker, is written from the perspective of Tracey’s daughter, Jess, who is 10. “I thought it would be fun to see what Tracey was like as an adult and I knew from the start she would be a great mum. Just because you haven’t had much loving parenting when you’re young doesn’t mean you can’t be a magnificent parent. Tracey was lucky enough to have a wonderful foster mum from the age of eleven onwards and she has shown Tracey just what it is to be there for you no matter what. Tracey is determined that above all else she is going to be a great mum. She hasn’t changed character, she’s still pretty feisty and she still has what we would now call anger issues but she is never cross with Jess, she can do no wrong in her eyes”.
Since writing the first Beaker story Jacqueline has met many foster children in different circumstances and describes most as “a huge delight”.
Although she has already written the entire contents of a sizeable book case, Jacqueline’s fans will be relieved to know she has no plans to stop anytime soon. Most days writing is the first thing she does after making a cup of tea and returning to bed with her laptop. If she gets down 700 words, she’s happy.
“I used to say I’d write 100 books and then I’ll keel over, but as the 100th has been written I certainly don’t want to keel over yet, so as long as I can still think coherently I’ll keep writing.
To anyone thinking about fostering, Jacqueline has a heartfelt message: “You don’t have to be a certain type of person, you don’t have to be married, you can be any kind of person as long as you’re willing to learn, and willing to love without any kind of reward for quite a long time. Having seen such happy families, in my experience it works magnificently and is just one of the most wonderful things anyone can choose to do.”
Come and meet us
There are always children waiting for a safe and loving home. If you think you could foster a child or provide supported lodgings, why not come and see us and have an informal chat? Our information van visits lots of locations across East Sussex:
15 November 2018, 9am to 11am at the Sovereign Centre
15 November 2018, 11.30am to 1.30pm at The Crumbles
13 December 2018, 9am to 11am at the Sovereign Centre
13 December 2018, 11.30am to 1.30pm at The Crumbles
8 November 2018, 10am to 12.30pm at Sainsbury’s
20 December 2018, 10am to 12.30pm at Sainsbury’s
27 November 2018, 10am to 3pm at Debenhams
8 November 2018, 1.30pm to 4pm at the Co-op
22 November 2018, 10am to 3pm at Rye Market
6 December 2018, 1.30pm to 4pm at Tesco’s