A Sort of Homecoming

I never really thought I’d come home. It wasn’t in the long-term plan – I have no long-term plans – or part of some well-thought out strategy. Like pretty much every other major decision I have ever made, it was the same combination of part-whim, part over-reaction to circumstances that has shaped so much of my life.

Bit bored of Newcastle? There’s that bloke in Sheffield who’s happy to have you move in. Glasgow tenement too cold? Move to London! London rent too high? Give Brighton a try! Windows in the Brighton flat buggered? Back to Newcastle it is, then! It’s not what you could call strategic, but it’s certainly a pattern, and one I can’t feel sorry about, as it’s led me into some adventures and experiences that planning could never deliver.

But in a way, this latest move is significant not just because it wasn’t planned for, but because for years, I actively resisted the very idea of it. I moved down south two decades ago, even if it was less to seek my fortune than to escape a ground-floor flat in Glasgow that was so glacial I had to wear gloves to type. I had thought about London before, but it seemed so big, so far away, so much an anathema to my Northern soul, that I’d never really considered it until a bad break up and a year of sleeping under three duvets to stay warm suddenly made it a more appealing prospect. I answered an advert on a whim and, when I got the job, felt obligated to at least give it a go – little realising it was to be a job that would shape my career for the next 20 years, and lead me to the business I now run.

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Oh, but I loved London – for all its flaws, I love it still – and for years, I couldn’t envision living anywhere else. But as my forties started to loom, the difference in my circumstances and that of my friends started to bite. Sure, we were all broke and muddling along together in our 20s and early 30s, but it doesn’t take long in a city like London to start feeling the pinch of inequality: friends mysteriously buying flats way beyond their income and grudgingly admitting to “a little help” from their parents, an inheritance from grandma, the salary of a wealthy spouse. Single, with long-dead grandparents and a parental bank that could barely stretch to a good night out never mind the deposit on a flat, I was starting to feel outpaced.

Back home, it was actually worse. Low property prices meant that friends no better off than me but smart enough to buy young were not just settled, but heading into mortgage-free forties, a middle age of foreign holidays and nice cars. Looking at the friends and family up North – some of whom were much younger than me – I was astonished by how grown upeveryone seemed, how infantalised my life of landlords and loans and the constant hustle for gigs was in comparison. But at least I’m here, I thought. At least I went for it, even if I’m not entirely sure what ‘it’ actually is. That counts for something, right?

And so Not Moving Back became a talisman of its own. As long as I was ‘away’, I was still striving, maybe even thriving. I could still “make it”, or at least do a passable impression of having done so. It’s easy to paint your life as glamourous at a long-distance: hey, look at me at my gallery openings and eating canapes and drinking champagne at the top of the Gherkin and mingling with the stars at some West End press night. Look at me in my Georgian sea front flat with its balcony and high ceilings and gorgeous views. I mean, don’t look too close, or you’ll see the duct tape on the windows and the sky-high debt and the constant, exhausting hustle for work. But step back and everything is shiny.

(My mum, bless her, remained convinced till the end of her life that I was earning far, far more money than I let on, because she had this vague idea about ‘London life’ and London wages and because many of my jobs were far bigger on glamorous perks than they were on income. And so she would regularly drop heavy-handed hints about my perceived stinginess: “if only somebody would buy me a new washing machine!”. “If someonegave me five thousand pounds, that would solve so many of my problems.” Me too, mum. Me too.)

If distance was the only success I had attained, wouldn’t moving back be failure? I’d always thought if I came home it would be triumphantly – a best-selling author, an award-winning playwright, bringing back all that London money and retiring to my 5-bed mansion on the coast that I bought with the sale of a one-bed in Streatham. Up close, my glittering life would be revealed as the cheap bauble it really was, and compared to the actual adults with sorted, grown-up lives I would be surrounded by, I wouldn’t seem free-spirited and bold, just flaky and kinda broke.

In the end, of course, none of that mattered. I made the decision as I always have: pretty much off the cuff. Driven by a sense of disconnection with the city I lived in, and the sure-fire knowledge I couldn’t face another winter of single-glazing and duct-taped windows and working with a hot water bottle tucked under my knees, I made the move anyway. And, astonishingly, all of my friends and family haven’t spent all their time analysing and judging my life – I know, right? – because they are too busy with their own.

If a few people are puzzled that I am renting rather than buying (the estate agents were openly baffled that someone of my age and relative solvency wasn’t in the property market, especially when they heard I had been living down south) and that my life is not awash with the riches I earned in the Big Smoke, they have been mostly too polite to comment. I still have moments when I feel like a flaky kidult in a land of People Who Have Their Shit Together, but maybe that’s the artist’s lot. Or maybe that’s just me, and it’s always going to be so. Either way, I’m realising I’m sort of fine with it. And I’m discovering that in releasing all those notions of what a ‘triumphant return’ would have looked like, those externally-imposed definitions of failure or success, I’ve allowed myself to reconnect with people – and with my city – in a more honest, authentic and nourishing way. I didn’t have to earn my return with riches or acclaim: I just had to decide it was time.

Recently a friend, when I was bemoaning my precarious income and utter lack of savings in contrast to his nice secure job and his ringfenced cushy pension, cut short my complaints. “Well, you chose this, Tracey. And you keep choosing it.” And I realised he was right. My ship may just be a little tugboat chuntering up the Tyne rather than a sleek mega-yacht cruising Mediterranean seas, but at least I am still the captain. And I’m finding I like the view.

[Note: this post also appears on my writing blog, Dark Dates.

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If you’re skint: RTs and shares always welcome. Reviews of anything of mine you have read on Amazon or Goodreads or any book related/social media site, no matter how short, help boost profile. Tell your friends how lovely I am (leave out the needy bit.)

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Rom-com with a dash of Northern charm: The Bridesmaid Blues

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Dinosaurs at Northern Stage and Ghosts at Live Theatre

Another day of theatre yesterday – I am rather loving the fact that I am seeing so much. I had a meeting at Northern Stage in the afternoon, where I got to do one of my favourite things (rant about theatre and class) in good company. I hadn’t, however, reckoned with the fact that the theatre is currently showing Dinosaur World Live, so was mobbed with excitable kids. I was actually quite jealous – not only would I love to see a show featuring ‘live’ dinosaurs – but it was only an hour long! I did at least get to see one of the dinos roaming wild in the cafe, which made up for some of the commotion.

Then after a quick stop at Pizza Express on Dean Street – a place I haven’t been since I went on a date there 25 years ago with a bloke who actually fancied my flatmate more than me (good times), I was back at Live Theatre for the press night of Clear White Light. It’s quite an odd concept – a retelling of the Fall of the House of Usher, set against a backdrop of NHS cuts and to a soundtrack of Alan Hull (of Lindisfarne fame) songs, and it took a while to find its feet – the first half dragged a bit (and you know I already think everything is 15 minutes too long), but it bounced back with a very strong second half that had some proper surprises, and the acting was strong throughout. The rousing finale, a song exhorting us to ‘bring down the government’ ended the evening on a high note. (“I think every play should end with an ode to revolution,” said one of my fellow audience members, as we were leaving.

It’s sold out now, so if you haven’t got a ticket you are probably out of luck, but if it does come back or you can get returns, it’s worth catching.

Back at Stack

Yesterday I popped into Stack Newcastle, as I had heard there was a branch of Love of the North there and wanted to check it out. It’s teeny – 3 customers was a crowd – but has some gorgeous geeky Geordie goodies and I suspect I will be doing some of my Christmas shopping there.

Next door was a fine wines and gin shop called Fourteen Drops that I also plan to check out properly when I am doing my festive shopping. It’s also small – though there were tables at the back so they must serve drinks or food – but stocks an interesting array of wines and gins that piqued my interest…

Writing a Geordie romcom

I’m not quite sure why I set my romcom in Newcastle. It’s not like I was living there at the time, and the events it was – very – loosely based on all happened when I was living in Sheffield or London.

In part it was because the location seemed a bit of a novelty in the genre. Sure, there are exceptions, but in my experience romcoms can be divided into those set in glamorous urban locations (London, Paris, New York) which revolve around high flying – if improbably easy to fall into – jobs such as journalist, PR, cupcake shop owner – or genteel, cosy countryside or coast (jobs: bookshop or cafe owner). The heroines, for the most part, are also solidly middle class.

There’s nothing wrong with these tropes, of course: god knows I spend every December glued to the Hallmark Channel watching Christmas movies that are some variant on High Flying City Girl Moves Back to the Country to Find Love, and if you set your romance in a bookshop, I’m already halfway sold. There’s something reassuring in a read that brings a new take to tropes you are familiar with, especially if it does so in a way that challenges the genre slightly, or is imbued with the kind of smarts and humour the best romance writers bring to their work. (I have no time for genre snobbery – it’s usually laced thick with misogyny, ageism and classism. There are some incredibly talented romantic comedy writers out there, and the fact they make it look so easy just proves how good they are).

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So it wasn’t in any attempt to be better than people who’ve been doing this longer and more successfully than me, no. It was, if I’m honest, a bit of a whim. I wanted to write a character who was as Northern and working class as me; who struggled with loneliness the same way I had; and who was employed in an OK but not spectacular job that bore a striking familiarity to many of the OK but not spectacular jobs I have had in my own time, (a job which, no spoilers, she is still doing at the end of the book).

More than that, though, I wanted to write about my hometown. I wanted to write a book where London wasn’t the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, more an entertaining if expensive stepping stone on the heroine’s journey home. Where the sights of the city play a part in the story:  the aspiration of luxury flats on the Quayside, the restaurant at the Baltic, the beautiful coastline we have down the road. Hell, I even slipped in a mention of the Tuxedo Princess for no other reason than pure nostalgia.

I’ve always had a strong sense of location in my work. Doll was set in Sheffield; Dark Dates is based firmly in Smithfield, an area of London where I used to work – I spent hours wandering the streets there to ensure I got the geography right. But there’s a special pleasure in writing about somewhere that’s baked into your bones, where the seam of the city runs through you. If nothing else, it’s just fun – going over memories of clubbing in Walkers and drinking in the Barley Mow, and deciding which of these you can use for the plotlines.

In the end, I was delighted with how the book turned out, and the reception it got. It’s funny and honest and playful, and imbued with emotional truth. I’ve had lovely feedback both from people who love romcoms and those would would never normally read them – so I figure I must be doing something right.

Which is all a long-winded way of saying: if you like this blog, why not buy a copy?  You’ll probably get all the references, after all.

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Crocodile shoes and canaries in a coalmine

So, it’s been nearly three months since I moved back to Newcastle – moved home, as I am getting used to saying – and while at times it has been stressful (and expensive – so, so expensive), I’m also convinced more and more that I have done the right thing.

I’ve loved reconnecting with family – my Sunday nights at my cousin’s are now a highlight of my week, not least cos she stuffs me full of beer and great food and I only have to stagger round the corner to get home – and with old friends, some of whom I haven’t seen for decades.

I’m still getting used to my neighbourhood – I miss having a Co-op and a coffee shop at the end of my street – but I like my new flat, and being handy for the Metro, although I still turn up everywhere early because I can’t quite believe I can get to town in 10 minutes rather than the ‘everything is an hour away’ London commuting experience. I love having more space (fitted wardrobes! A spare room!).

My hopes that moving North would enable me to plug into the local arts scene in a way that I never felt I could down south have so far proved wonderfully true. I have been welcomed with open arms by people in the theatre scene, having meetings with the kind of folk I would have previously dismissed as Too Busy and Important For The Likes of Me. I’ve already been to six of the region’s performance venues and seen nearly a dozen shows, and I’m enjoying exploring more offbeat work and ventures. I’m hoping at some stage this involvement will become more participatory – I’m already mooting doing some readings – but at the moment, I am happy just to observe, and enjoy connecting with a bunch of interesting, passionate people.

All of that, really, was what I expected – or at least hoped – to get from my move. A life rich with connection, friends and family, culture and arts, and less focused on the punishing reality of just slogging to make ends meet as a working class freelancer, without a partner or the Bank of Mum and Dad to help out. I’m thrilled by it – it’s gone better than I could have dreamed – but also not entirely surprised.

What has caught me more off guard are the ways in which I am not just reconnecting with others, but with myself. My accent still wanders liberally from one end of the UK to the other – from Newcastle to Glasgow with some Ireland thrown in for good measure – and I still find myself regularly shocked by how cheap the drinks are.

But there are moments when familiarity hits me so hard I’m thrown. I’ll walk down a street I don’t remember, but realise I know where I am going. Words and phrases I haven’t used since childhood are slipping into my conversation. I find I have fully-formed opinions about neighbourhoods I wasn’t aware I knew existed, and can tell by the lightest variation in an accent from which side of the river someone stems.

Talking to a director the other day (get me, now), we were discussing the specificity of cities. We’d both lived in Glasgow, and found it culturally similar to Newcastle, but were also both acutely aware that each city has its own flavour, its own quirks and beliefs and habits. And lately I have been thinking about those specificities, the things you only ever really know if you live somewhere, a culture you have to inhabit to understand.

(A Glaswegian friend of mine once said it’s impossible to explain to an outsider the horror of the phrase, ‘’ExCUSE me, pal’ which sounds harmless but usually means you are at best going to be tapped for cigarettes, at worst mugged, and so you should always head off in the opposite direction when you hear it).

Sometimes the things you think are unique to you, are actually culturally ingrained. In the Biscuit Factory this weekend, enjoying their gorgeous art, I was looking at some bird sculptures and casually remarked that my mum would never have images of birds in the house, believing it unlucky. ‘Oh, yeah, that’s a mining tradition,’ my companion blithely assured me – and something I hadn’t even ever wondered about fell neatly into place.

Sometimes, you forget how engraved certain things are in your local culture consciousness until they are surfaced by other people. Say the phrase ‘She’s lyin’’ in an Geordie accent to anyone of my age and we instantly have the Jimmy Nail earworm Ain’t No Doubt stuck in our head for the rest of the day, when most people will barely be able to recall it.

And the other day when I wore my fancy, shiny Brighton boots to the ballet, one of the ushers stopped me and said, ‘wye, they’re a right pair of Crocodile shoes, aren’t they?’ And I was so shocked I stopped on my way to my seat. Oh God, I thought, they are, aren’t they? They really, really are…’

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Like my writing? You can support me in a whole load of ways (some of them for FREE!)

If you’re skint: RTs and shares always welcome. Reviews of anything of mine you have read on Amazon or Goodreads or any book related/social media site, no matter how short, help boost profile. Tell your friends how lovely I am (leave out the needy bit.)

Donate to my Ko-fi. All the cool kids have one. (I am not cool, obviously, but have been assured this is true).

Buy my books: Some are available for as little as a quid! Not these two, mind, but others.

Rom-com with a dash of Northern charm: The Bridesmaid Blues

Paranormal adventure with snark and sexiness: Dark Dates: Cassandra Bick Chronicles: Volume 1

Want some swag? Buy a bag or a tee. And be sure to send me a picture! I’m on Instagram (@traceysinclair23) or Twitter (@thriftygal)

Prosecco on the Quayside

On the Quayside we stopped off for a quick drink at a place I think is called Signori – by this stage my feet were hurting and I needed a drink – a prosecco bar attached to an Italian restaurant. It wasn’t quite what I hoped – the decor was fancy but it felt slightly like a place that hadn’t established its identity yet – but as it was a match day and the town was heaving I was just relieved to find somewhere we could get a seat…