Tracy Sorensen: Not Just Lucky

October 2019

Not many authors can write an immersive novel from a galah’s perspective. Particularly a galah with remarkable perceptions of the world around her, dreams of flight and romance, a slight inferiority complex and a wild jealous streak. But not everyone is Tracy Sorensen. 

Currently living in Bathurst, Tracy has become well known in all the right circles for her first novel, The Lucky Galah, set in Australia and based around the 1969 moon landing. Tracy was recently announced the recipient of the Judy Harris Writer in Residence Fellowship at the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre and was longlisted for the 2019 Miles Franklin Award. She has been lucky, she will tell you, to have received such incredible recognition after her 2018 debut. 

“There is an element of luck in everything, but as the cliche goes, you’ve got to be in it to win it,” Tracy explains. “Not for one minute do I think anything I’ve written is better than what Tim Winton has written, and he didn’t make the longlist this year. It’s not only about literary merit, there are other factors going on.” 

When I ask about these factors, she explains it’s dependent on current trends in society, what’s in fashion or out of fashion, and happening to hit that sweet spot at the right time. “I got voted off the island for the shortlist, but the longlist was only ten novels, so it was pretty incredible.”  

These achievements have far surpassed Tracy’s original goal, which was just to get published. It was a dream that was almost cut short in 2014 when Tracy became seriously ill with ovarian cancer. “I didn’t know whether I was actually going to live, particularly in those early months when it looked terrible. And I was really, really regretful that I hadn’t finished my writing, that I hadn’t been published.” 

As for when the novel actually started, Tracy tells me the genesis of it was in 2000 when she got stuck in her hometown of Carnarvon in a cyclone. “Things about that situation just set me off. I started writing elements of it way back then. The end-to-end work is not the same, although there are chunks that remain fully intact,” Tracy explains. 

There was something incredible about this vision of a bird meant for flight being stuck in a cage, watching on while these humans are flying to the moon.

“When I got better in 2015, I was ready to give it one last go. Fortuitously, there was this program going with Charlotte Wood, she was offering these mentorships which were reasonably expensive, but it was the best thing I ever did. Charlotte just immediately understood what I needed to do to clean it up. She didn’t really need to say much, but the things she said were crucial and straight to the point. Then, at the end of that process I had a manuscript.” 

Of course, having a manuscript is one thing, but getting published is another. While Tracy was at the Varuna Writers’ Centre working on her novel, she “got lucky” when a writer friend recommended her agent, Jactinta Di Mase, who turned out to be a good fit and decided to represent the novel. “It’s like I got ill and everything fell into place after that. In a way I’m glad I wasn’t published earlier, because being ill gave me a new perspective on life. I felt I could be more open and generous in some ways, and less political and snarly.”

When I ask what prompted the decision to write from a galah’s perspective, Tracy tells me that the book wasn’t always written from Lucky’s point of view. “Originally, there was a conventional, human narrator. I wrote one little bit from the point of view of the galah, because I was playing a little bit with multi-voiced work. I did this one passage and found myself crying and feeling really moved by it. There was something incredible about this vision of a bird meant for flight being stuck in a cage, watching on while these humans are flying to the moon.”

Having read the book, I have to agree that the galah narrator — no matter how strange it sounds — adds an element of magic that turns the exceptionally well-written book from great to brilliant. But while one friend had suggested Tracy make the whole novel from the point of view of the galah, others were adamant she should ditch the concept and stick with a human narrator. “But everytime I did that it just went flat for me. I thought: no, it’s alive when I stick to this concept,” Tracy explains.

“That’s why I feel like writing is a form of tuning into, or discovering something. It’s something that’s already there, and you are working your way towards it. And it might be really odd, but the thing is to stay with that.” Tracy adds that Lucky “just pushed herself forward as the narrator, she came out of the writing herself.” 

Tracy’s story leaves me thinking that aside from a healthy dose of talent, the most important factor when working towards a dream is not luck, but persistence. Perhaps luck only shows up after you’ve decided on a dream and have truly committed to the process, even when the way forward isn’t clear. “If you just start writing, eventually you’ll end up writing the thing you’re meant to write,” Tracy says. “If you show up, it will find you.”

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