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?
No.
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.
        
       ‘Secret?’
        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
www.barbaraspencer.co.uk
Connect with me on:
Twitter: @BarbaraSpencerO
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The Year the Swans Came – Winner of  a Chill with a Book – Readers Award January 2019
Discovering Diamonds Review – March 2019








Amsterdam - The Perfect Setting for my novel, The Year the Swans Came



My book here on Amazon

I first visited Amsterdam early in 1960s when it was a quiet sleepy city bursting with flowers and charm. Everyone pretty much spoke English - at that time German was never heard in the streets. We stayed in a B &B which, incidentally, appeared in the novel Turning Point, a futuristic thriller and the sequel to Running. Still there was nothing futuristic about our visit; my sister bought great armfuls of flowers and each day we visited the cake shop in Splot. In the evening we strolled the streets leading to the Blue Note, a Night Club, where the vocalist sang Yesterday, and other Beetles Classics, and very sweetly replied he was married to any of us teenagers, including me, who gazed at him with adoring eyes. There, I also fell in love with a student I met at the club, who took me back to my B & B on the back of his bicycle. His name was Gerard Bader (only a single r) which I coopted for my novel.




I always wanted to set a book in Amsterdam, and the idea for Children of Zeus series began right there when I took my granddaughter for a visit in 2010. (Incidentally, we were celebrating the publication of Running at the time. The storyline for that took three years to evolve, and  wouldn’t have happened at all if I hadn’t dropped into the local garage and spotted a Suzuki 1000cc motorbike.)



There are so many strings that led to the writing of The Year the Swans Came and the trilogy Children of Zeus. Agents played a large part because it was an agent who suggested more, which ended in my writing The Click of a Pebble, (Bk 1 of the trilogy, Children of Zens : July 2019). No wonder it took so many years to evolve. I gathered all the memories of my first visits, very few motor cars, the dark furnishings of the B & B, push-button light switches on its stairway that gave you just enough time to reach the top of the next flight before clicking off, cobbled alleyways and decorative bridges, and added them to the souvenirs of my visit in 2010. 



These memories included the Keukonhoff, a bus ride into the country, where windmills were obligatory, and a tiny island where fishermen lived, the passageways between its houses no wider than rat runs. We saw furniture being lofted up the outside of a house because its internal stairs were too narrow, and of course we dawdled over old bridges, visited the flower markets and ate cream cakes, although not from same cake shop in Splot. We also visited the Anne Frank House, where we learned about the plight of the Jews in the war, and the crippling starvation meted out to its citizens; also museums, where scenes of windswept barques dominated, and I noticed a painting of Zeus, dating from 1610 and another of Leda and the Swan. Lastly, I read the myth of the Angel of Mons. 

The finishing touches - it just happens my favourite book is: Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier which is set in 17th century Delft.


So what is the Year the Swans Came really about. Certainy an introiguing mix of fact and fantasy with a tag line: Love is a precius work of art on a damaged canvas. 

If I had to say which of my books is it closest to, I would suggest Time Breaking, because both are first-person. Other than the first person, they are very different Time Breaking is set in England in1648. Especially the style of writing, The Year the Swans Came is not for young teens. This is a top teenj/adult crossover.

This is the review from Catherine Kullmann who explains it far better than I ever could:


*****As Maidy Bader anxiously awaits her sixteenth birthday, the day on which ‘overnight girls become adults, eligible to be courted, and to marry’ her thoughts return to the past and most importantly to her elder brother Pieter’s sixteenth birthday, the last he spent with his family. No one speaks of him or why he vanished. Life goes on as it always did in the unnamed country. The unnamed invaders have left and those deportees who could, have returned. Among them are the Bader’s neighbours, the Endelbaums. Their beautiful daughter Ruth, who is Maidy’s best friend, has had to give up her hopes of marrying Pieter. Slightly older than Maidy, Ruth is the belle of the college the girls attend while Maidy stays more in the background.
On Maidy’s birthday, everything changes. Maidy begins to emerge from her chrysalis. Pieter returns as suddenly as he departed, but gives no explanation for his long absence. Ruth immediately claims him, but she is also intrigued by the four strangers, handsome young men, who suddenly appear at the college. She takes their attention and interest as her due but Maidy is surprised to find herself sought out both by gentle Jaan and the strangers’ leader, the charismatic and mysterious Zande. And Pieter is desperate to marry Ruth and complete his apprenticeship with his father, a maker of mirrors.
But all is not as it seems. This is not a college romance. Unimaginable secrets swirl beneath the surface of daily life and all too soon the unwitting Maidy and Ruth are drawn into the vortex of an ancient tragedy that threatens them all anew.
I was blown away by this book, enthralled by the beautiful writing, the slow build-up of the mesmerizing story and the wonderful characters. Magical realism of the highest order.


Catherine is quite correct, both the country and the invaders remain unnamed. And as I have said, it is Amsterdam. And there my next problem arose. It you name a city, readers will be on the look out for errors in the descriptions. No, such and such a street runs left! If you pick up a copy of the novel, you will discover a map at the front. Compare it with Amsterdam and you will see it is skewed – welcome to magical realism.

Lastly - In strict chronological order, The Year the Swans Came which takes place in 1951 should be Book 4. The Click of a Pebble begins the series in late summer 1934 and takes us to 1948 or 9.

For that you can blame my good friend Katie Bowes, the New Zealand author. She said, ‘After reading, Swans, everyone will want to know more about Zande and how he got to be Zande.’ So read The Year the Swans Came and then the trilogy, Children of Zeus, when all will be revealed. By which time, with luck, I will have completed Book 5 which brings it all to a conclusion.

My book on Amazon



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




About Barbara Spencer:
In 1967, considering herself to be destined for a life of mediocrity, Barbara Spencer hi-tailed it to the West Indies to watch cricket, the precursor to a highly colourful career spanning three continents, in which she was caught up in riots, wars, and choosing Miss World. No stranger to schools and book-signings at Waterstones, after twelve years writing adventure stories for children and thrillers for young adults, Barbara began writing historical fantasy for an adult audience. Her first novel The Year the Swans Came was published in 2018.
    
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