THIS WEEK’S OTHER FEATURED POSTS, “STEALING CHERRIES,” BY MARINA RUBIN AND “PASSAGE OAK,” BY K.M. DEL MARA, CAN BE FOUND BY SCROLLING DOWN BELOW THIS POST.
THE BOOK: Never a Hero to Me.
PUBLISHED IN: 2011.
THE AUTHOR: Tracy Black.
THE EDITOR: Kerri Sharpe at Simon & Schuster.
THE PUBLISHER: Simon & Schuster.
SUMMARY: Tracy Black was only five years old when her mother was hospitalised for the first of many occasions, leaving Tracy in the care of her father. His behaviour, seemingly overnight, changed from indifferent to violently abusive and, for the next seven years, Tracy was sexually and physically abused by her father, his friends and her own brother. All of the men were in the British Armed Forces. Tracy’s father compounded the abuse by sending her to baby-sit for his paedophile friends – whilst their own children slept in other rooms, these men would find excuses to leave later or return earlier than their wives in order to abuse her, with her own father’s blessing. When she sought help and safety the doors were closed as the authorities closed ranks. In this shocking and compelling book, Tracy Black pieces together the jigsaw of a story that has haunted her for the past forty years. She reveals the horrific betrayal of trust perpetrated by men who were considered upstanding citizens and heroes. Tracy’s tale reminds us all of the terrible ways in which paedophiles work and the secrets too many children are forced to carry alone. It is only now that she can tell her full story of recovery.
THE BACK STORY: I had my story all written out in 1995 and didn’t know what I wanted to do with it. It was therapeutic to have put it down on paper then I put it away in the back of a cupboard. For some reason, I have no idea why, I picked up a book about childhood abuse and read it, the author’s story was similar to mine. I contacted her and she gave me the name of her agent and suggested I got in touch. This was in July 2010 and the book was revamped and edited for publication in May 2011. It was all very quick and I didn’t have time to blink. All in all I have had no regrets and feel since the publication I have been able to move on with my life.
WHY THIS TITLE?: The title was chosen because my father was in the British Armed Forces and he was there to supposedly protect Britain and its people and as a father protect his children. Shouldn’t every little girl’s father be her hero? Since he was my abuser I can’t give him that title.
WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? My main reading audience is geared towards those that have also suffered childhood abuse. It not only relates my story but it also shows how you can summon inner strength to get on with your life?
“Hard-hitting and uncompromising biopic that simply has to be read.” — Kato’s Revenge, 23 Aug 2015.
“My love for reading is the same as many of you, I suppose. I want to be thrown into a world of fantasy, of magic, of horror, of mystery. I rarely want to read a book that has elements of realism so potent and strong that the reading experience can actually become a harrowing one. However, the overriding feeling left with me regarding Never a Hero to me is its incredible power.
“It is hard to read in certain sections, but I tell you this – it is so well written you cannot help but flip through the pages. The story of five year old Tracy Black will hit you harder than perhaps any fantasy character you “have invested your time in. Why? Because little Tracy goes through things that no one should have to go through. You’ll have already gotten an idea from the synopsis. So whilst not an easy read, it is essential reading. People need to understand that the monster in this book does not have horns or carries a pitchfork. He’s a hero to some, because Tracy’s father is an Army man, and of course, there are many unsung heroes in the Forces and their sacrifice should always be appreciated. The army fights an enemy, and in this case, Tracy’s father is the enemy.
“He abuses her. At first, the abuse starts at the kind of level that instantly horrifies – but as this happens early on in the book, I suspected worse was to come. Even in my thoughts about how awful it might be, it was worse. I can’t imagine how Tracy coped. Oh, the story takes you through the years, but the main bulk of the book is Tracy from age five to age ten. Her father has her just where he wants her. He almost makes the abuse of his own daughter reasonable, often citing ‘You want your mother to be well, don’t you? So you’ll have to be a good girl.’
“Yes. As children we are told to be good. But when abuse is the centre of your young life, and your feelings tell you that this is wrong on every level, what does good mean anymore? This is a story that literally drags you through the pages. You feel Tracy’s pain, confusion, resentment, and yet I began to cheer when I could see the start of her rebellion. A rebellion she should have never had to start.”Her father doesn’t stop there. He uses the mother’s ‘condition’ as a reason to punish Tracy. I found myself getting increasingly annoyed with the mother, who seemed oblivious to the abuse her own daughter was suffering. At the same time, Tracy’s brother seems virtually impervious to blame. Both parents – especially the mother, lavish him with praise, whilst Tracy is treated no better than something you’d put in the bin.
“Not only are we taken through Tracy’s life, we are taken through several countries. When in Germany, things start to turn for the better, and there are signs Tracy may finally be able to defeat her tormentor. She just needed somebody to listen.
“The cover is very striking. An innocent, beautiful looking child, but there is so much emotion and angst in that face, if one looks closely. So my congratulations to the team behind the book cover. As ever, a book stands or falls on its content. Tracy Black has delivered a hard hitting tome which in its 300 pages deliver more than many longer books.
“Uncompromisingly graphic, it may upset some, but the world isn’t always butterflies and bunny rabbits. I can’t remember a book exhausting me as much as this one. It will leave you absolutely floored, and I have to say, the last two chapters are the real treasure of Never a Hero to Me. We often see those lists – 1000 books to read before you die, and so on. This book needs to be on that list, and yours. Do not miss it.”
Bypalfon 9 July 2014
A must read, shocking reading, very upsetting, but a book all should read to get rid of the myth that when these stories are brought out in adulthood they are sometimes made up, working on the theory that the child would tell at the time. This book tells why a child stays quiet and how the mind and words of the perpetrator work on terrorising the child. A very brave book to write and I hope in doing so it helped the writer put the past behind her.
Byhappy ladyon 27 June 2011
This book is written from the heart and is a moving account of a young girl and her shocking experiences. There is a good balance between detailing events without being too graphic. A must-read for anyone who works with children and young people to raise awareness of the shocking abuse some children endure and gain an insight into the lives some children lead. A real page-turner
AUTHOR PROFILE: This is difficult because for legal reasons the name Tracy Back is a pseudonym. The real me is an advocate for childhood sexual abuse survivors and I like to help others where and when I can. I’m in my youth, well, early *cough* fifties but I still think I’m quite youthful. I’m easy going and approachable and love to interact with readers of my book. Some of them have become very good friends.
Since the publication of Never a Hero to Me I caught the writing bug and followed it up with a second one, Never a Mother to Me. Afterwards I found that I had laid my ghosts to rest. I then turned my writing arm to fiction and wrote Things Fall Apart.
AUTHOR COMMENTS: Following the publication of Never a Hero to Me the response was unprecedented. I didn’t expect any feedback but I took my time in conversing with the readers. Some just needed a listening ear and others requested information on groups and forums. Survivors of childhood sexual abuse never ‘get over it’ and triggers and flashbacks are a life time reminder. Some of those I spoke to didn’t/couldn’t cope with their past so I decided to help and present them with a book that details how other survivors find ways to cope. This is great timing because Coping Mechanisms is due to be published very soon.
A respected man
A world blind to what he was capable of
A terrified little girl . . .
I looked out of the lounge window, fascinated by the torrential and persistent rain battering the glass. I was feeling pleased with myself, proud that I had finished my homework easily and quickly despite only being at my new school for three weeks. At five years of age, in a strange country with many people speaking a language that I could only understand a few words of, the Army school was a welcome haven for me. In Singapore, I had been in school for a little while, but had never been such a big girl that I was given homework. It feel terribly grown up to bring home my tiny satchel with a reading book, writing jotter, and a note saying what I needed to do for the next day.
The house we lived in wasn’t particularly homely – Army accommodation never was – but, in my bedroom, I had my few toys, my beloved golliwog, and some books. I didn’t want to be in there at the moment though. I had homework to do, and I needed an audience for that as much as anything. I wanted my family to see how grown up I was with my reading to do and numbers to learn. I had my family around me, and I was so sure that I would make friends and have a lovely time here. I had a simple, childlike belief that everything was coming together for me; little did I know how quickly it could all fall apart.
My Dad had been in the Army since before I was born and I didn’t know any different kind of life. We were in Germany, but the camp was really like a little Britain, isolated from local culture and local life, a version of home even although it was hundreds of miles away. I was born in Malta in 1962 where we stayed for a couple of years before going to a base in Germany. After that, we went to Singapore, but I remember very little of my first four or five years, nothing more than snippets really. We were never settled, it could change at any point, but that was just life.
As a child, you absorb so much of what has gone on in the past, of what your parents’ lives have been like, of what their expectations are, without ever being explicitly told and I knew that my Dad had an important job which meant that we often had to move about. I knew this had ‘always’ been the case (in my mind, ‘always’ wasn’t a concept that made much sense – I was five years old and the time between one birthday and the next seemed to take forever) and it was just the way things were. All around me, other children were living the same lives of anonymous houses and a determination not to put down roots, but school was making everything seem much more settled, much more permanent.
I had spent so much time looking forward to attending classes. All summer, I had been counting down the days, asking my Mum how many sleeps it would be until I was there. She was exasperated, or perhaps just bored, with my constant enthusiasm, but I was thrilled that every day was a step closer. I would look at my school bag every night before I went to bed, line my shoes up neatly for the hundredth time, and dream about the wonderful time I would have.
For the first two days of my life as a schoolgirl, Mum had taken me and my big brother Gary to class in the morning. The school I was now at, my very first big girl school, was nearby to living quarters and, after those first mornings, she decided it was safe enough for us to go alone. She wasn’t wrong in that sense – for children, Army bases are probably one of the most secure environments they could ever be in. I didn’t have the slightest inkling at that stage of where danger would really lie, or of how close to home it would be. I would have liked Mum to have kept taking me to school for a little longer, but she told me that I was a big girl now – which I always like to hear – and that I didn’t need her. That didn’t feel quite right, I did need her, but she wasn’t the sort of warm, cuddly mummy I saw with other kids at the school gate, so I wasn’t too surprised when she stopped taking me there so quickly.
She passed the responsibility over to Gary, who was a few years older than me. He wasn’t exactly delighted to be in charge of his little sister, but he had no choice in the matter and, for the next few days, took me on his own. I didn’t like that, for he used our time together to nip my arms, pull my hair and push me into puddles. I soon realised that he was only doing this to show off in front of the boys he hoped would be his friends, but I hated it and needed it to stop. I had made friends quickly and knew that some of the other girls walked to school on their own. After my first week, I collared Mum in the kitchen one night to test the waters.
‘Mum?’ I began.
‘What now?’ she sighed, continuing to peel potatoes for dinner.
‘I’m a big girl now, aren’t I?’
‘Why? What do you want?’ she asked, narrowing her eyes at me as she turned round.
‘Well, Sophie and Debbie in my class don’t have big brothers . . . and they get to walk to school on their own.’
‘So?’ she queried, concentrating on the potatoes again now that she knew I wasn’t after anything that would cost money or time.
‘So, can I walk to school on my own? I’d be good. I’d be careful. I promise. Please, Mum? Please?’ I begged.
I was putting in more effort than required.
‘Do what you like,’ she muttered.
I was delighted that I had managed to get Mum to agree that I could go with the others, as it served the dual purpose of getting Gary away from me and making me feel even more grown up. I wasn’t too bothered by the fact that she didn’t seem particularly interested in what I did because, just as I accepted we might move at any time, I also accepted that my Mum wasn’t the most loving person in the world. Of course, I would have preferred things to be different, but I was well aware that she had other things on her mind. The thing was, Mum wasn’t very well. I had no idea what was actually wrong with her, but I wasn’t the only one – I knew from listening to snippets of her conversations with Dad when she came back from the medical centre that the doctors were clueless too.
She was often sick and I would hear her vomiting at all times of the day and night. Sometimes the sound would wake me up at night as it was so loud and she would moan in pain when it happened. I had also seen these weird lumpy things on her body, like boils, and knew that her skin hurt a lot of the time. She would rub horrible smelly stuff into it that she told me was paraffin oil, and the stench of it filled our house. When she was unwell, she would tell me that she couldn’t be bothered with me, and Dad would say that I had to leave her alone, so I knew that she might be in pain or feeling unwell when I asked her about walking to school on my own and maybe that was why she had seemed so disinterested.
Whatever the reason, by the time I was sitting at the table, with my books and jotter in front of me, I was glad that I had been allowed to walk to school with Debbie and the others, because it was all part of becoming grown up. Gary wasn’t able to get at me when I was with other people, and, to be honest, he wasn’t that interested as he could go off with his friends when he no longer had to take care of me.
I was concentrating so hard on my work that my tongue was poking out between my lips and my eyes were screwed up – I couldn’t really read yet and numbers were still a bit tricky, but I was determined to try really hard. I got distracted by the weather and, as I watched the rain pour down the window, all of these changes were floating around in my
head, making me feel so happy – until I heard Gary guffawing over my shoulder. Quickly, my thoughts were dragged from how proud I would be to hand in my work to a sense that my brother knew something I didn’t.
‘What is it, Gary?’ I asked. ‘Why are you laughing at me?’
He snatched up my homework book from my lap, and sniggered. ‘You’re stupid! Anybody would laugh when they saw how stupid you were.’ He waved the notebook around in front of me, dangling it in front of my face as he ridiculed me. ‘You don’t know how to use capital letters or anything – the only thing you’ve got right is your name. And that’s stupid, just like you.’ I looked over to my Dad, sitting in front of the telly, oblivious to everything that was going on. He wouldn’t intervene, but I didn’t want him to anyway, he wasn’t the parent I needed. With tears welling in my eyes, I snatched my book back from Gary and rushed to find my Mum.
I’d tell on him. I’d tell her how awful he was to me, and she’d sort him out. I knew that she was in her bedroom, so I rushed there from the lounge, full of hot tears at how Gary had spoken to me, with a need for my Mum to make it all right. I barged in, the words all ready to tumble out – and froze. My mother was bent in half over a basin, vomiting violently. Her body was convulsing in pain and the sickness was coming fast. As always, I had no idea what was wrong with her, but knew that she was so ill that she was in no state to deal with my childish disputes. She looked up weakly, but had neither the strength nor the ability to even talk to me, promptly bending over the basin again and retching once more.
I backed out of the room, full of concern for my Mum, but also worried. This had happened so many times before, but there seemed to be a violence to the sickness now that I hadn’t been aware of previously. Mum had taken ill the week before and, as young as I was, even I couldn’t help but notice that she seemed to be getting worse as time went on. Ordinarily, she was pretty and well-groomed, a tall woman with long, blonde hair and a radiant glow to her skin. But on this evening, her locks were lank, her skin pallid, and she was terribly thin. My mum was only twenty-eight, but tonight she looked more than twice her age.
I returned to the lounge, where Gary was perched at the window, smirking at me and seemingly unconcerned for my mother’s illness. My Dad was still sitting where I had left him, Senior Service cigarette in one hand, and a can of beer in the other. When he finished, the cigarette butt would join the many others which lay in a full ashtray and the tin would be thrown into an old cardboard box which rattled with empties. The beer cans were always there, a constant reminder of the fact that my Dad drank all the time, yet he never seemed to be drunk. I couldn’t understand this. When I watched television, men would drink beer and then reel around in drunkenness, often falling over, slurring their words, and having a great time. That wasn’t my Dad. That wasn’t how drink affected him. I had concluded a long time ago that my Dad must not drink as much as those men, because, apart from sometimes falling asleep in his chair, I’d never seen him fall prey to the funny antics of the drunk men on telly.
In fact, my Dad wasn’t a funny man at all.
However, tonight, as I came back from seeing my mother look like Death, from watching her retch her very insides out, I would realise just how bad his temper could be. His anger seemed to ooze out of him as he turned to me and barked, ‘for fuck’s sake, stop harassing your mother.’ I was shocked – I couldn’t remember Dad ever swearing at me before, even although he had never been particularly loving or warm. He was a man who believed in standards, he was Army through and through, but now he seemed to have forgotten that he was talking to a little girl.
I stood there staring at him, stunned by the bad words which had come out of his mouth.
‘What are you fucking gawping at?’ he snapped. ‘You know she isn’t well, you know she’s ill, and Christ knows when she’ll get any better.’ I’m not sure that I did know that. I did have an awareness that my Mum was often sick, and that she was being sick more often these days, but, at five years old, I never thought forward and I didn’t put two and two together. Sometime I felt sick if I ate too many sweeties, and I knew that my friends did too. I certainly hadn’t faced up to the possibility that there was something seriously wrong with my Mum that might not get fixed.
My Dad’s words snapped me out of my reverie. ‘Keep the fuck away from her,’ he told me. ‘In fact, clear up your rubbish instead of standing there being useless. It’s your bedtime, so hurry up for Christ’s sake. Get all of your shite out of the way – move it!’
The unfairness of it swamped me. ‘It’s not rubbish, it’s my homework!’ I said, desperately wanting to cry. My Mum was ill, my Dad was swearing at me, my brother was calling me names, and my world seemed overwhelmingly horrible. I grabbed my homework jotter and books from where Gary was sitting, ignoring the fact that he was sniggering at my Dad’s treatment of me, and ran down the hallway to my bedroom.
I threw it all down onto my dressing table and flung myself down onto the bed. Just as I did so, I heard a horrendous crack and saw flashes of light. This was a ghastly night and it was getting worse. I hated thunderstorms and felt a knot in my stomach as the night got threateningly dark. I could hardly see anything. Despite the ominous feeling, I knew that I had no alternative but to go back through to the lounge. ‘Dad! Dad!’ I screamed. ‘I’m so scared. What’s happening? When will it stop, Dad?’
He was as still as a statue as I stood beside his chair. I was a five-year-old child, terrified and desperate for some consolation. I couldn’t go to my Mum and my Dad was acting in a way that I simply couldn’t comprehend. He wouldn’t even look at me. ‘Shut up. It’s only a fucking storm. Now get your arse back into bed and stop being so bloody annoying.’
Tears were brimming in my eyes as I pleaded with him. ‘Can I stay up for a little while, just until it stops? Please? Please, Dad?’
He finally turned round and looked at me. It chilled me to the bone. His face was alien and his eyes cold, almost as if he had no recognition of the child before him. Looking back, and knowing what was to come, I believe that something had broken in my father that night. Given how my world was to shatter, beginning in only a few hours’ time, it was as if he himself was unable to react to how he was behaving. The swearing, the aggression, the lack of eye contact – all of these things were part of a personality which he may have used in his day to day life in the Army, but they were not part of the make-up of a loving father.
‘If I have to tell you one more time, you little bastard . . . .’ he muttered menacingly.
I could feel the atmosphere. I could sense the tension.
As my Mum writhed in agony in her own room, my own body felt a wave of fear. I was filled with a knowledge that this was a battle I couldn’t win. As I scurried back to my room, the storm raged outside – and the one which would rip my life apart was only just beginning.
LOCAL OUTLETS: WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: Amazon Author page whsmith Waterstones
PRICE: Paperback £6.99 ebook £3.99
CONTACT THE AUTHOR: