Why did I become an author?

 

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 night.

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? 

Amazon: https://books2read.com/u/49ZpRw

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







 

 


The Golden Age of Reading

 


One of the bednefits to growing old is an ability to glance back over one's shoulder at a huge span of time to which is added a certain amount of gloss as if a duster and spray polish have been used. Nevertheless in terms of literature whereas the early naughties mostly belonged to JK Rowling, the rest especially the years from 2008 to 2015 were undoubtedly the golden age of reading as far as young adults were concerned.

And my thrillers Running, Time Breaking and Turning Point were part of this, and their suceess took me, almost every Saturday, into a Waterstones store where I had been invited for a book signing. 

Living in the county as I do, most often that meant a 6 am start to catch a train from Bath. (Lovely in summer but not so pleasant in the winter when trying to cross the Mendips in surroundings solid ice and the windscreen completely fogged up. Even so, I much preferred to drive particularly if it was a straight forward run and the store not too far away, perhaps Plymouth on the south coast or Cheltenhamm in the Cotswolds, becasue then I could set out at a more reasonable hour with my trusty thermos flask full of coffee at my side to make sure I arrived by 10.30 for an eleven am start. 

Why the golden age of reading for YA's? Because these were the years teenagers read and loved books. Of course that was before mobile phones destroyed both their concentration and an ability to get out of bed before noon, to visit the town shops including Waterstones. And stores catered for this mass of young people - vast bays set aside marked YA rather than the paucity of shelving that you find today in stores and libraries .

I remember on one occasion, a girl spent 3 hours in Waterstones and read an entire book - and no she didn't buy it.

The phenomenon orginated with a series of amazing writers who picked up the vampire ball and ran with it. Yes, maybe vampires had been around since Bram Stoker's Dracula in 1897, but in a very modest and low key way. Then in 2005 Stephanie Meyer stepped into the limelight with Twilight followed by a swarm of YA fans. But it was Cassandra Clare who first brought Shadow Hunters to our attention, and Maggie Stiefvater who introduced the shape-shifting wolves in Shiver. And let's not forget The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins!

Seated in a chair in the middle of the store, I was ideally placed to watch teenagers drag their reluctant parents over to the shelf which had The Hunger Games on it. 'You have to read this,' they exhorted. And parents did and they loved the series equally as much as their children had. That is the astonishing thing about YA books, they appeal to all ages.

At the same time Rick Riordan was introducing us to Percy Jackson and the gods of  Mount Olympus and Anthony Horowitz to Alex Rider, and Barbara Spencer to Scott Anderson.

If you haven't yet read Running the first thing you should know is that it is as true today as it was then, with the UK reduced to island status and EuropeTop Dog - the big banana - the bossman. And a computer virus, Styrus, so powerful it can penetrate any computer and steal its secrets. Of course everyone wants to get their hands on it, especially those who want to rule the world and  don't much care how they go about it. (But you need to read Turning Point to find that out.) (And by the way, I dedicated the book to my daughter because she sat up all night reading and I hadn't given her the last chapter! I won't mention her language on that occasion - that too is the subject of another story!)

 



This is the blurb:

A Boy. A Missing Computer Scientist. A Secret so dangerous it must stay hidden from the world.

 Scott Anderson has a secret so big he daren’t share it even with his best friends; Jameson, Travers and Mary. He and his dad are American. If you’re American, you don’t talk about it. If you don’t talk about that, you don’t talk about any of the other secrets that haunt your life – that your dad’s really a computer scientist and people are searching for him.

 When Bill Anderson disappears, Scott is determined to find him. He has already lost his mother. She disappeared in the California earthquake, when ninety percent of the world’s computer scientists were killed; a tragedy for which America is held responsible. But there’s little for Scott to go on, a scrap of paper left in a printer and a poster pinned to the wall.

And now someone’s looking for Scott, too.

 

I found my Saturday forays into the world of Waterstones quite thrilling and between signing copies of my books, I would chat to customers or sift through the books on the shelf. And it was at a book signing that I met two of my cover artists: Jessica Carreras and Katie Beltrami. Aimee Hibberd who designed the cover for Running, I met in a field. Don't ask - that's the subject of another story.

 

I stil find it sad that most teenagers bow  to peer pressure when they reach secondary school and they stop reading. 'It's not cool,' is the reason they give when I ask. And their teacher will say, quietly, when no one is listening, 'Some do still read but they won't admit it.'

How sad, if only they knew as I do that as you go through life and age ... and we all age ... reading becomes the most delightful and satisfying of occupations - especially at night in bed. Then it's wonderful.

 *******

 Sale:

December 10 - 17, Running is only 99p/$0.99c. on Amazon.

 

Christmas Offer - If you prefer paperbacks  ...  Author Signed copies are  On Offer at £6 and £7 inc. UK postage, direct from website https://www.barbaraspencer.co.uk.

Until  December 30 only.

 


Barbara Spencer
Award Winning Author
www.barbaraspencer.co.uk
Connect with me on:
Twitter: @BarbaraSpencerO
Facebook: facebook.com/BarbaraSpencerAuthor and Facebook.com/BarbaraSpencerOBlog spot: barbaraspencerauthor.blogspot.com