That question has me floundering, the reasons too numerous to set down on paper. After spending so much of my career travelling the world, perhaps, it was a return to some sort of normalcy in the UK – which I found deadly boring. But write what? Fiction, non-fiction, romance, historical. I dabbled with ghost stories and then popped a toe into the lake of historical fiction. This was a fictionalised story about Admiral Sir Samuel Hood, whose epitaph in the form of a carved-stone obelisk, rises over Butleigh, in Somerset. The novel in two volumes was described as, ‘beautifully written’ by those to whom I sent the first draft, and suitable both for YA’s and adults. Sadly it never got finished; there was just too many Hoods, all of whom it would seem at one time or another served on the same ship, and whether Admiral, captain or midshipman possessed first names of either Samuel or Alexander.
(Incidentally, did you know the word hoodwinked comes from Alexander Hood, Sam’s uncle.)
I did for a few months consider romantic novels but a series of unsettling relationships drove me away from that genre and so the safe option was to write for children.
That’s when my alter ego, Barbara Spencer took to the stage and after my first books, Scruffy and A Fishy Tail, which was set in Barbados, were published, I embarked on books for the 8 – 12 age group and then having honed my skills moved into YA fiction - thrillers. Running and Time Breaking have proved the most popular of these (so far) and are definitely worth a punt - especially Time Breaking which has been heroine taken back to 1648, the Civil War in England.
I might well have continued along that path had I not read, Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier and decided I had to write a book – a real book – an adult book.
After that, a whole series
of pointers drove me to Amsterdam, a city I had first visited in the 1960s, when it was a
quiet sleepy place bursting with flowers, cake shops and charm.
Now I saw it as a possible background for a novel. But not yet. I’m not one of those amazing authors who diligently take a notebook with them when they leave the house, making notes and writing descriptions of scenery. I’m one of those who wake up in the morning and say ... that sounds interesting. And then I brood over the idea for a while. In the case of Running, my teenage thriller, it was three years before the final piece of the jigsaw – a motorcycle – not slotted into place.
And it was not until 2010, on a visit to Amsterdam with my granddaughter, that I stumbled upon the legend of Leda and the Swan. I was not alone in my interest; artists of all persuasions have been intrigued by the legend of Zeus, who comes down to earth disguised as a swan, even Michael Angelo, and in the many museums of Amsterdam are hung these glorious paintings.
In her review of The Year the Swans Came, Catherine Kullmann, the novelist, refers to an unnamed country and the unnamed invaders.
This was a deliberate ploy on my part, wanting only to drop clues. If you need to blame someone, blame Daphne du Maurier, who I read and read, whilst writing my time-slip novel, Time Breaking. In the novel 'Rebecca,' although du Maurier names the county, she is more than cagey when it comes to her heroine. So, wanting to create more mystery, I simply loaded the novel with clues, setting the house where the Bader family live overlooking a river, with cobblestone alleys, bridges and canals, and referring to the neighbours as Meneer and Mevrouw, the Dutch equivalent of Mr and Mrs.
Nevertheless, this created a furore among my readers and become a talking point. Because it’s possible to change an E-book, that has been done, and I have admitted the novel is set in Holland.
And, yes, the unnamed invaders are the Germans.
"I am told they came at dawn. People stayed in their homes with their curtains drawn, yet still the sound of marching feet ransacked the silence, unending, unendurable, day after day, until even the sun ran away and hid behind the dark clouds of war. And in the dead of night, people ran away too. Deserting homes that had given them shelter through storm and tempest, to place their trust in a rickety old barge or sailing yacht that had never slipped its mooring in twenty years, praying it would carry them to safety. And in the early dawn, when the boots began thudding across the cobbles, hundreds of houses were left with their front doors open, almost as a gesture of welcome."
Strangely, it was a biopic about the film actress Audrey Hepburn that originally focused my attention on the plight of the Dutch during the Occupation; and of course, the terrible tragedy that befell the Jews. And in 2010, when my granddaughter and I visited the Anne Frank House, I knew that had to form the background to my story. And it does, Ruth, Maidy’s best friend, is Jewish. This is the blurb:
Growing up amongst the ruins of war, four siblings use the
bridges and cobblestone walkways of the old city as a backdrop for their games.
Pieter Bader, the eldest, wants to follow in the footsteps of his family,
designers of mirrors for royalty since the 17th century, while Maidy, the
youngest, dreams of becoming a writer. Around the smallest bridge in the city,
she weaves stories of swashbuckling pirates and princesses, who wear sandals
made from the silken thread of a spider web. Her best friend Ruth lives next door.
She dreams of marrying Pieter, only for him to vanish from their lives late one
Is his disappearance linked to the arrival of the swans, feared
as cursed and birds of ill-fortune? What will happen when they return six years
later, on the morning of Maidy’s sixteenth birthday?
And who exactly is the charismatic and mysterious Zande?
Follow Ruth and Maidy’s cursed tale of love as they discover what happened to Pieter, and how the appearance of Zande will affect both their lives, unleashing events as tragic and fantastical as one of Maidy’s stories.
And there's more ... but that has to wait for another week.
Where to buy The Year the Swans Came?
There’s also lots more information about my books on my website: www.barbaraspencer.co.uk
You can also connect with me on Twitter@BarbaraSpencerO or www.facebook.com/BarbaraSpencerAuthor