How Tracy Beaker got her name, and more Jacqueline Wilson secrets

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Storyteller… Jacqueline Wilson at St Peter’s School hall in York

Storyteller supreme Dame Jacqueline Wilson kept a York audience enthralled with her tales of life and books on Saturday (February 14).

Speaking to a packed St Peter’s School hall for around 90 minutes, the author talked of her childhood, her break into writing and even revealed a few secrets.

Many of her young readers were at the event, organised by Waterstones York, and they peppered Dame Jacqueline with questions during the Q&A at the end.

She was there to launch what she disclosed was her 101st book, The Butterfly Club. The author told the audience that she gained her first writing job on Jackie magazine after writing a funny story about being left in the lurch at a teenagers’ dance.

As an 18-year-old who had never even held a baby, she wrote the Mother & Baby column for Annabel magazine. Later she wrote the readers’ letters for another magazine, Red Letter, before being asked to write the horoscopes.

She wasn’t an astrologer and said: “Basically I made it all up!”

I was born on December 17, which makes me Sagittarius. Therefore, when I was writing the column, all Sagittarians were going to meet tall, dark, handsome strangers. They were going to do brilliantly in their career, they were going to earn lots of money. My predictions got wilder and wilder, and nobody seemed to notice!

Jacqueline Wilson meets her fans and talks about her life. Click to see a bigger image

‘Tracy Soap? Tracy Toilet…?’

Dame Jacqueline explained how the name of her most famous character, Tracy Beaker, came to her when she was daydreaming in the bath. “Tracy just popped into my head,” she said. “It seemed a modern, bouncy sort of name, but I couldn’t think of the right surname for her.”

A schoolfriend of her daughter’s was called Tracy Jelly. “I very much wanted to call the book The Story Of Tracy Jelly, but I thought it didn’t sound like a serious book.”

Bathrooms aren’t the best place to get inspiration, Dame Jacqueline said.

I peered all round the bathroom and thought, should I call her Tracy Soap, Tracy Flannel, Tracy Toothbrush? Tracy Toilet…? None of these ideas seemed any good whatsoever.

So I got on with washing my hair. I don’t have an elaborate shower. When I’m rinsing my hair I just keep an old Snoopy beaker on the edge of the bath, hold it under the tap and just sluice my hair clean. I picked up this Snoopy beaker… and suddenly thought, ‘Tracy Beaker…’

And that’s the true way I actually got Tracy’s name.

During the Q&As, Dame Jacqueline told the audience that she might have been a hairdresser if she hadn’t achieved her ambition to be a writer.

She said that two more of her books would be published this year, Katy, her take on the famous 1872 book What Katy Did, and her next story about Hetty Feather, the Victorian foundling.

Dame Jacqueline finished by telling all about her pets – cats Jacob and Lily, and her rescue puppy Jackson, who was one year old on the day of her York talk.