Tracy Joy Holroyd wrote short stories and articles for many DC Thomson publications, including Shout magazine and the later Bunty and Mandy annuals. Tracy’s uncles Bill Holroyd, Albert Holroyd, George Holroyd and Ken Reid had previously worked as cartoonists at DC Thomson too. She has kindly answered some questions about her writing experiences.
Quick Link: Publication list
How did you get your start writing for DC Thomson?
I’d been writing for years, though not having much luck getting published. Then, inspired by a book about writing for children (can’t recall who wrote it), I decided to try my hand at a kids’ story. I researched the children’s market, then telephoned Maria Welch, who was then editor of D C Thomson’s Shout magazine. Maria encouraged me to submit my first story, which I did, and she bought it immediately!
Did your families history in comics encourage your interest in pursuing such a career?
I’d always wanted to be a writer – simply because I loved reading so much. Four of my uncles had worked for D C Thomson as cartoonists, Bill Holroyd and Ken Reid becoming particularly well-known. However, all had retired some years before I approached Thomson. Prior to writing my first story for Thomson, I’d visited my Uncle Bill in Scotland, and we got along so well that he actually invited me to move in with him and my Auntie Betty so that he could teach me cartooning – an invitation I didn’t accept, because I didn’t want to leave home. However, we spoke regularly by telephone,so he was able to give me lots of advice and encouragement. I recall his delight on hearing that I’d sold my first story – A Watery Grave – which I set in his home village of Ferryden, Scotland.
What was your typical process for writing stories?
I only wrote text stories. My stories were strongly plot-driven and panned out between 600 and 1200 words – so the first thing I had to do was come up with a plot. The hardest part! I liked spooky stories best, so tried to stick to that genre. I always opened with a hook – an action scene – then wrote a flashback to explain how my characters had reached the opening situation. The story had to move quickly. because of the limited word count, and the vocabulary had to be kept simple. With practice, I could turn out a complete story in under two hours.
You said you wrote short stories, articles and puzzles, had you a preference for one thing?
Short stories. I’ve always loved spooky stories, and seeing my own published and illustrated makes me very proud.
Have you any favorite or memorable stories/articles that you wrote?
My first proper sale, of course – A Watery Grave. But I was particularly pleased with my later work, such as Scaredy Cat,The Werewolf and The Fortune-Teller.
Did you know anyone else who worked on these comics and were you able to work in collaboration with any other creators?
Only my commissioning editors, Maria Welch (Shout), Ayshea Scharf (Animals and You) and Anne Kemp (Cool Girl, The Bunty Annual and The Mandy Annual). I became particularly friendly with Anne. Of course, any story I submitted was subject to editing or re-writing as per an editor’s specific requirements. Some were even rejected as ‘too scary’! I didn’t mind the editing too much – I was only really unhappy on one occasion, when my story’ s ending was changed beyond recognition!
Only once did I collaborate on a story – when I failed to come up with a plot for a Bunty commission. (I was going through a hard time personally and simply dried up.) Finally, Anne gave me a plot, and I produced the text. That was one of my very few non-spooky efforts – The Christmas Box.
Interesting that you succeeded in getting your work credited in Bunty Annual, what was that like and did you have support from others?
No, I just requested the credit. I’d always been credited for my magazine stories – and wasn’t bothered about my articles and puzzles so long as I got paid. However, when I realised that my name wasn’t appearing on my stories in the annuals, I contacted Anne and asked for future bylines on the grounds of Moral Rights. Anne not only secured this on my behalf, she also sent me copies of past stories with my name added, although they hadn’t appeared that way in many of the annuals. D C Thomson was notorious for not crediting their writers and artists even during my uncles’ day. It also demanded copyright on the stories. It was a case of either accepting the terms or not getting published.
You’ve gone on to write books, do you find the process quite different?
My first book was the Children’s History of Manchester, commissioned by Hometown World. It was written to strict guidelines to fit in with a series, and went into second print within weeks of release. I was quickly commissioned to follow with the Children’s History of Lancashire. However, I ran into problems: I’d done the research, but dried up with the actual writing. My brother, David C Holroyd, jumped in to help me, and we wrote the rest of the book together – although he wouldn’t steal my thunder by letting me add his name to the cover.
David then approached me to help with his project – a series of books entitled The Perfect Pair Dolphin Trilogy, the factional story of Europe’s top performing dolphins and their psychic trainer, set in the 1970s. I literally typed the manuscript (which David had written in longhand) and helped him to edit and polish. However, despite winning a couple of awards and being used to teaching English and Creative Writing in a UK university, the books have proven very controversial because of their strong anti-captivity message.
So, yes, I found the process different. Heavy research for the history books, and limitations on content, language and style. As for The Perfect Pair Dolphin Trilogy, I didn’t have the stress of turning out a gripping text, because David had already done that. However, the writing, typing and editing took six years in all, during which time we were attempting to look after our poorly dad, whilst also dealing with hostility from those who were trying to block the story.
Unfortunately, I have a short attention span, so have trouble writing substantial amounts of text. I like the fast reward and feedback that comes with writing short stories.
What stories/articles did you work on and any other comments?
I’m still trying to track a lot of it down – I know for sure that I published many more articles, puzzles and quizzes. Thomson tends to change titles, so some of these stories may have been printed with different titles. I actually didn’t know that Suzy Plays a Trick appeared in The Bunty Annual 2009. I notice that you mention an article entitled We Love Elephants! That’s probably mine, too, because I wrote an article about elephants for Anne, but didn’t know where it featured.
Just as a point of interest, as a little girl, I read Twinkle, then moved on to The Bunty,The Mandy and Tammy. The first thing I ever had published was a letter to The Mandy, telling readers how I got my dog. I was about 13, and the letter was called Tracy’s Trixie.
For a list of publications go to the next page.