Magical Realism or Fantasy - You Decide

The Series: Children of Zeus
‘Where Historical Fiction and Fantasy collide

After a decade or more writing for children and young adults, I pretty much know my way around a children’s book. A couple of years ago, deciding I need a new challenge, I turned my attention to writing magical realism for adults.
But what is magical realism and how does it differ from fantasy? I think of fantasy as being set in a mythological world in which there are rules but maybe not the rules we subscribe to in our humdrum human world. Magical realism takes place in our world and follows its rules, except occasionally those rules are skewed.
Which is so exciting.
I had already found a story, plotted it and written the introduction. And yes, I admit, I’m a plotter not a pantser, using tables and graphs, blurbs and a storyline.
The title was never in doubt: The Year the Swans Came (See my blog – why I wrote Swans) only the names of the characters. 

I had called my main character: Yöst. But when I completed the first draft, I realised the name was  wrong. It didn’t fit. The character stalking his way through the story and dominating its action wasn’t Yöst – it was far too gentle a name. And so Xander was born, except the spelling very soon mutated into Zande. 

I had never planned to write for adults, considering adult relationships far too complex, yet in my very first novel for this age group, I created Zande, who is divine but unbelievably complicated. I promise, I’m not the only one to have fallen in love with him. 

But why is he like this? What has happened to tear this character apart? You will need to read the novels to discover that but meanwhile this is the blurb from The Year the Swans Came

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.

I first submitted this novel to agents in 2013. The agent Felicity Bryan. Loved the storyline and style of writing but she suggested I introduce the magical element earlier ... This created quite a problem. Not able to resolve it, I decided to write a prequel, which would explain all. On the way, I attended a lecture about ‘book titles’, when it was suggested that titles should come from the first page or pages of your novel – and so, The Click of a Pebble was born. 

And with it, yet another unforgettable character,Yöst, came into being. Plus a storyline so very different from anythng I have attempted before, I am still pinching myself that it came from my pen. It starts with a bang and ends with one too. 
Certainly in its hero, Yöst, I have unearthed a most memorable character, one who is likely to haunt dreams. And he is so very human, it is quite a conundrum to discover he isn't totally human. 

‘You must promise never to speak out about your heritage,’ his grandmother said, her old voice fearful and faint, ‘because people fear anything different.’
‘Fear us!’ Yöst laughed in protest. ‘We are too few to fear.’
‘It makes no difference. You are carinatae, descendants of Zeus, magical creatures …’

Naturally ... the writing of Click (as I call it) solved nothing. 100,000 words and three characters later, I had explained the magic but was no closer to ending Zande’s story than I had been at the beginning of the book. Instead, I had introduced a completely new story line with a raft of new characters, each one with a story to tell. This is the first review:

Joscelyn S Reviewer on Net Gallery. This was a great coming of age fantasy story. I really enjoyed seeing these young characters struggle to survive in the aftermath of the massacre that leaves them only each other to depend on. Their journey drew me in and had me reading this entire book in one sitting, I'm looking forward to reading more books set in this fascinating world.

And so I began Book 2, An Ocean of White Wings, hoping to settle the matter once and for all.
Has it?
It has taken a third book, The Drumming of Heels to bring the series to an official close and explain what happens to all three characters: Yöst, Zande and Tatania.
One last problem to solve.
The original book, The Year the Swans Came was set in Holland in 1951. I did try not to mention the country and only leave clues, using the terms Mevrouw and Meneer, but I got a slap on the wrist from reviewers, especially since I referred to the Germans in WW2 only as invaders and didn't name them. 

And so in Click of a Pebble I did place the story - the Bay of Biscay 1934, and the storyline carries us through as many countries as years, ending in 1948 again in the south-west of France.

I have now completed the third book of the trilogy, The Drumming of Heels, and this brings all their stories to a conclusion. Logically that must make the Year the Swans Came  Book 4, except I’m not sure if you can apply logic to magical realism. In any case, it was published first because of the secret in it.
        I felt the words ticking away inside my head like an unexploded bomb, ‘One that involves you all.’
        Zande got to his feet in one graceful move. ‘Oh, that secret.’
        ‘You don’t play fair, Zande,’ I burst out.
        ‘Why would I possibly change the habit of a lifetime and play fair?’ I watched his face; grim, his eyes hooded.
        ‘Because we’re friends.’
        ‘So be satisfied with that.’ 

(Excerpt: The Year the Swans Came)

Right – that’s it.
Tomorrow, I really ought to start writing the opening chapter of Book 5, the sequel to The Year the Swans Came.

PS:  What about Yöst? You will need to read the trilogy to see what I mean. I guarantee you will love him as much as I do. 

Persecuted throughout the centuries for their ability to shape-shift into swans and heavenly beings, three children, Yöst, Zande and a little girl, Tatania, are the sole survivors of the latest purge. Unaware of their real nature, Ramon, a gypsy farmer offers shelter on his farm in return for work. Striking up a close friendship with Rico, the only son in a house full of girls, it is Rico who helps Yöst through the first difficult year. As their relationship strengthens and deepens, Yöst begins to think of staying and making his life there as a farmer … forgetting that as carinatae, his date with destiny is approaching.

Barbara Spencer
Award Winning Author
Connect with me on:
Twitter: @BarbaraSpencerO
Blog spot:
The Year the Swans Came – Winner of  a Chill with a Book – Readers Award January 2019
Discovering Diamonds Review – March 2019