Tracey Norman - A Deep Fascination With Folklore and The Supernatural
Tracey Norman is an author, historian and researcher who has a deep fascination with folklore and the supernatural. She has an unhealthy obsession with sock yarn, a large collection of unused notebooks, and can often be found clutching a mug of coffee whilst trying to avoid the feline trip hazard which shares her house. As our Author of the Day, she tells us all about her book, Who is Anna Stenbaerg.
Please give us a short introduction to what Who is Anna Stenberg is about.
Who Is Anna Stenberg follows the adventures of a young girl who, after a series of misfortunes, finds herself alone and vulnerable, disguised as a boy called Viktor, and if fear for her life. She’s rescued by a streetwise young woman, who takes her under her wing. Viktor quickly realizes that there’s more to her rescuer than meets the eye. Over time, they bond and find friendship, and Viktor is drawn into her new friend’s strange life, where she discovers that the world is full of supernatural entities, some of which are a little too close to home.
What inspired you to write about a young girl who is forced to flee from her murderous father?
Viktor was inspired by a character I created some time ago for a role-playing game. The concept of identity is woven throughout the book, and Viktor and her choices were a great way to explore the subject. The issues with her father provided a backdrop for this well-bred Victorian girl to break away from societal norms and take control of her own life and destiny.
Tell us more about Anna. What makes her tick?
Anna is an elusive character. She and Viktor have a lot in common, and one thing which drives them both is purpose. Both are spirited, strong young women, and both seek more from life than society and upbringing have in store for them. Anna knows she has a calling, and although her life isn’t the easiest, she takes satisfaction from knowing that what she does makes a difference.
Why did you pick Victorian England as the backdrop of your story?
I chose Victorian England and France because part of the story features a series of crimes committed in Paris between 1847 and 1849. I wanted to weave this story into the narrative, so the action had to be set rather precisely in 1865 in order to fit in with that timeline.
How much research did this book require from you to make the history and folklore ring true?
I did quite a lot of research into an array of subjects – costume and fashion, hairstyles, transport, the town of Dover, the Light Brigade and the Crimean War, folklore and, of course, the crime on which part of the story focuses. I needed sufficient realism to support the fantasy and supernatural elements, so the world is both familiar to the reader, but also not quite the world they know.
What was the most interesting aspect of your research?
Partway through the book, Anna and Viktor have a lengthy journey from Dover to Amiens in France. I spent a lot of time on Google Street View, devising a route for their horse-drawn carriage – which meant I also needed to know things like the average speed of a horse, in order to estimate how long their journey would take. I also needed to be able to recreate the streets of Dover, so I spent a lot of time on this aspect of my research, because location is such a key element in the book. I discovered some great details to include – features from the landscape to use as landmarks or stopping points. I needed a thorough grasp of what Anna and Viktor were seeing, the routes they walked, where places were in relation to each other. This allowed me to create a 3D map in my mind, which made it so much easier to describe the various locations and to understand how the characters would move in and around them.
Do any of your characters ever take off on their own tangent, refusing to do what you had planned for them?
Characters frequently fail to get with the programme, although I have to say that Anna and Viktor are far better behaved than some of the characters I have written. There is a key moment in the book where a scene almost wrote itself, and even though it wasn’t what I had planned, I loved it so much, and it worked so beautifully, that I kept it in. It’s worth pointing out that no one in that scene behaved as I’d originally planned!
Interesting cover. Please tell us more about it.
I had a very clear idea of how I wanted the cover to look. Is the girl Anna or Viktor? We can’t see her face - and this echoes the enigma of Anna, as Viktor tries to get to know her. I wanted a red gown, as it’s an eye-catching colour and makes her stand out against the darkness surrounding her, just as Anna does in the book. It also hints at the enigma of Viktor, whose real name we never learn.
What was your greatest challenge when writing this story?
My greatest challenge was stopping! Viktor’s and Anna’s stories kept revealing layer after layer, and eventually I had to start making notes for a sequel, otherwise the book would have been even longer!
You included supernatural threats in the story. Why did you take this approach?
I’ve always had a deep fascination with folklore and the gothic. The aesthetic is very appealing to me. I do a lot of historical and folkloric research and writing (for example, my last book, Dark Folklore, co-written with my husband Mark), and wanted to use some of my research and knowledge to create an intriguing “what if” story. As it happens, there are several “what if” threads in Who Is Anna Stenberg?
When starting on a new book, what is the first thing you do?
I brainstorm on a piece of plain paper, writing words and phrases randomly around a central idea – sometimes a title idea, sometimes a name sometimes a concept such as identity, which is what I used for Anna. I work out characters’ backstories in this way, too. Another thing I do early on is to create what I call my book bible. This is a notebook in which I keep all my notes, all my research, pictures I’ve printed, ideas which don’t go anywhere, mind maps from my brainstorming sessions... everything which goes into the crafting of the story.
What are you working on right now?
Currently, I am working on the sequel to Who Is Anna Stenberg?, and am researching my next non-fiction book for The History Press.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
I am on Twitter/X - @fireeyeschron and @WITCHplayCoS. My main website is www.traceynormanauthor.com and I have one for my historical drama WITCH – www.traceynormanswitch.com. I’m @traceynormanauthor on Instagram and TraceyNormanAuthor on Facebook and you can also find me on Goodreads.
When her murderous father escapes from an institution, a young girl is forced to flee to safety with secretive pickpocket Anna. Disguised as a boy called Viktor, and drawn into Anna's mysterious activities, she is catapulted into a strange investigation, and learns that Anna may be able to help her uncover the mystery of her mother's disappearance.