In Pursuit of Fame - Part 1


Why does an otherwise normal person decide to commit their life to writing a book?

The answer to that question would form a vast mound of paper because we all have different reasons for setting pen to paper. For Daphne du Maurier, a foremost writer of the last century, it was to escape the unhappiness of a loveless marriage. For me, it was being forced to replace a sparkling career with the more mundane aspects of domesticity – cooking, cleaning and ironing. Maybe it was the tedium of housework that led me to writing for children, for whom the joys of domesticity, housework to you and me, remain undiscovered, somewhat like the river Nile, until they are at least 21. 

Nevertheless, regardless of what we give as the reason for days spent peering into a notebook, typewriter or pc, the pursuit of ‘fame’ although strenuously denied is the most obvious goal, even if the words ‘and fortune’ do not accompany it. If someone says to me, I write only for myself, my retort is likely to be: ‘I confess the lady protests too much,’ something Shakespeare used about Hamlet’s mum in Hamlet. I mean, if they genuinely do only write for themselves, the book can live on a shelf or in a drawer – like Fagin’s ‘guilty secret’. (Dickens) It does not need the Internet.

I concede that the word ‘fame’ maybe too strong. Maybe recognition is more apt; the recognition of your peers who think it pretty damn good. That, for any would-be writer is the Everest of accolades.      However, if in doubt as to your motives, apply the litmus test: why should someone buy my book? And does it matter if they don’t?

If your answer is: Like hell it does. Then, like the rest of us, you are seeking at the very least recognition as a writer, plus a wish and desire for fame.

Unfortunately, writing fame like snow leopards has become an endangered species, and far easier to achieve in, say, the last years of the nineteenth century than in these early years of the twenty-first. Maybe there were fewer aspiring novelists vying for the prize. For the vast majority, the idea of putting pen to paper was as bizarre as journeying to Mars is for me, especially for those for whom attendance at school happened only to others. Besides which, the word ‘leisure or spare time’, a basic requirement for any aspiring writer, had not yet formed part of their existence.

As for leisure pursuits … nope! And what the hell are those? People were either sleeping or working … no time for fancy embroidery or petite pointe unless it was an occupation to put bread on the table, in which case it was likely to occupy every waking hour. Candidates for writing fame grew from families who had a bob or two to spare, and who were able to educate their children and keep them at home without the family starving to death.

Although it is fair to say starving in a garret in Montmartre did become the in-thing for artists around this time. Never the most dependable of men, a good dose of cold and hunger went a long way in their search for fame and fortune, which brings up the point: how did they manage to live in squalor and never pay rent and yet spend all night in a bar drinking copious amount of brandy or wine? Be that as it may, once fame and fortune struck it was for many artists already too late to jettison the attic in favour of something warmer and more comfortable. Sadly, all too often the cold and damp, not to mention cheap liquor, resulted in TB which took them off at a very young age. (Look at La Bohême and La Traviata).

Surprisingly, this garret business did not apply to writers, mainly, as stated in a previous paragraph because writers needed a smattering of education which had to be paid for. In this regard the Bronte sisters might well be considered cool. Their father’s income was, or would have been, sufficient to keep them all handsomely had not their brother run up huge debts. However, having been fortunate enough to belong to the gentry who actually believed in girls being educated, and living in a picturesque part of Yorkshire, they were able to decide on a writing career as a way of providing for themselves, even if they did have to pass themselves off as men.(What a long way we women have come!) Indeed, it is likely there are more writers currently starving in garrets or basement flats than there were in the 19th century, although modern writers are often cushioned by a modest handout from the government, which presumably keeps the proverbial wolf from the door.

     But I digress.

Even twenty years ago, becoming a household name as a writer was more readily achievable than it is today. However, if you want someone to blame for this downturn, I suggest you turn your attention to successive laws that have limited our working week in order to give us some much needed leisure time, adequate pensions that allow us to sit at home and twiddle our thumbs at the young age of 60 or 65, and Tim Berners Lee who created the Internet some twenty-eight years ago. (The jury is still out as to whether in the long run this will be considered evolutionary progress or a step backwards.)

As a result of this cataclysmic social change, a series of brilliant thinkers invented the play station, mobile phones, Facebook and virtual stores. Amazon sells its books in our sittingroom, children have become addicted to interactive games, independent bookshops have mostly disappeared, and the invention of Ereaders has given rise to free publishing on the web.

Did you know a million books were published on Amazon last year alone? I mean, what sort of odds can you give fame against that: a million to one against?

I still prefer the old-fashioned way of publishing a paperback because that may have a chance of finding its way onto the shelves in a bookshop or library. I remember vividly doing book-signings in Waterstones for one of my children’s books against the background of The Hunger Games, and seeing teenagers dragging their parents to the relevant shelf and exhorting them to read it.


(They probably still do this, but display the cover of the book to their parents on a mobile or computer screen.)

  Of course fame is still possible as a small percentage of writers on Amazon have proved. Lightning does have a habit of striking in strange places – look at Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey.

So … write your book and hold onto your dream of achieving recognition and fame. It’s a wonderful dream to have but the likelihood is it will remain just that, a dream, unless you do something about it.    

And I mean something with a capital S.



First published in Fashion Magazine in 1969, Barbara Spencer embarked on a highly colourful career spanning three continents in which she was caught up in riots, wars, and choosing Miss World. An award-winning children’s author, Barbara is now writing fantasy/magical realism for an older audience.


Don't Stop the Carnival


My mother, a sedentary sports fanatic, introduced me to cricket just as she did to tennis, watching a doubles exhibition match between Ken Rosewall, Lew Hoad, Rod Laver and Jaroslav Drobney.

     So on a hot day in summer, we went to  Edgbaston to watch the test match between England and the WI. I even remember my dress, a lime green cotton with a stand-up collar. We arrived to find Peter May and Colin Cowdrey dominating the crease and the play, and there they stayed, dispatching the ball chased by forlorn-looking fielders in all directions. What in my ignorance I didn’t know, was that this was a highly unusual occurrence – it was normally the other way round. On our boundary were two young fielders, Collie Smith and Garfield Sobers, and equally as bored with the proceedings as the WI crowd, they exchanged jokes with the crowd, thus earning my undying support and devotion. As far as I was concerned the English players were the most wicked of wicked forcing those young boys to chase ball after ball all day.

      Ten years later, with my passion for West Indies cricket and cricketers still intact, with countrywide visits to matches cancelled for the winter, I was buying a plane ticket to Barbados to watch the '68 series.

     The word groupie had not yet been invented and being a strictly brought up young lady, I wouldn’t have known it even if it had been. But I guess that’s what I was. Wes Hall, who became a good friend, said they always asked girls which one of the team they wanted to meet! It saved problems later. When he brought the team to England in the 80s I took my own daughter to Gloucester to watch the match and we met up. Later I drove him back to Bristol. He asked me, did I ever sleep with you? I hadn’t but I guess it was the exception.

     Anyhow, I travelled out on Boxing Day, as did the team and reporters. I swapped my seat for one next to Lance Gibb from Guyana, who taught me how to spin the ball. On my other side was John Snow, the England bowler, who asked if I had ever met Jeff Boycott. In learning that I hadn't, 'Be warned,' he said, 'Jeff only talks about three things: Cricket, Yorkshire and Jeff Boycott.'

     It was true. I met him a couple of days later at the Kensington Oval in Barbados. Admired and loathed for his resistance, in equal measure, it was his dogged determination in Jamaica that contributed to the riot on the 4th day. And our being tear-gassed.

     In the three months we had spent exploring the islands, including St Lucia where you were greeted by the management of the hotel with a tube of insect repellent - it should have been armour, the sand flies were pernicious - or Dominica in which only daylight landings were allowed because there was a huge mountain in the way; or maybe Antigua in which the only water was desalinated, and there was not much of that either - the taps gurgling impotently when you turned them on - or Puerto Rico, dirty and smelly with a hotchpotch of traffic lights and unemployment, or Trinidad, so humid one felt the sky had fallen in, being tear gassed in Jamaica came under the heading of light relief.

     As I said, it was the 4th day, the three previous ones a haven of nothing apart from the pitch cracking, which had my sister and I, the partisan crowd, blaming the English, and the English supporters, both more numerous and vastly richer, blaming the WI team.

     For the many cricket fans outside the ground, listening on their transistors, two hours of commentary involving the words, 'Botham pushes forward', was too much. With righteous anger, they decided to liven up the session with a few well-aimed bottles, and these equally swiftly grew into stones. The ringside audience, well natured and enjoying the carnival atmosphere joined in. 

   It was all very friendly, I hasten to add, and livened up the cricket no end. A bottle reaching the stumps had the teams sprinting for the dressing room. Even the commenters were enjoying themselves, commenting: ‘these guys are so accurate they should be picked for the next test.' Next moment, the riot police arrived. Loathed, feared and hated, in their smart uniforms they looked very much the part. Sadly apart from the knife-like creases in their shorts, they weren't the brightest in the knife box especially regarding the direction of the prevailing wind. They tossed tear gas at the rioting crowd and the wind obligingly blew it back and into the pavilion; gassing players, guests, and me and my sister.

     Instantly, we were blinded, unable to breathe or speak our mouths and eyes burning. Gary Sobers and Wes Hall, experiencing tear gas in India, and knowing the drill, fought their way into the mass of screaming, crying, heart-pounding, plus a few vomiting, VIPs. While Wes passed out wet towels, Gary took us by the hand and led us down to the dressing rooms, where the taps were flowing water so we could  staunch the burning. 

     Sadly, not the end of the incident, when riot police began beating up a small boy, lining up to hit him with their batons, Wes Hall plus my sister went racing out into the yard to stop them!

     As one might say, a memorable visit. Next stop Barbados.

     Already several miles out of my comfort zone, Barbados had yet more surprises up its sleeve. There I saw a ghost … called locally a yuppie. Absolutely, most definitely, no doubt abut it at all. I was renting a room in a very old house just outside Bridgetown. The children who lived next door warned me … they had seen it … this dark grey presence. The house also possessed at least one very much alive mouse, which ate part of the bar of chocolate I had just bought. This was reposing in a paper bag, not two inches from where I was sitting on my bed – and I didn’t even hear it. Not so much as a crackle.

     It also had a hotel. Not Sandy Lane which I visited several times – although it wasn’t as posh or as expensive as it is now. I mean the Atlantis in Bathsheba on the east coast, where everyone lived on a diet of fish, and no one bothered to get sick or die. The woman from whom I bought oranges, often walked into Bridgtown to the market, over 10 miles, catching the bus back.  She was 83. 


   Anyway, Enid Maxwell, big wig in government, decided to offer me a job as manager and I somewhat foolishly accepted. How hard can it be, I said?

     Three months later I was discovered praying in the refrigerator, ‘please God don’t let anything else happen today.' The refrigerator in question happened to be very large, easily big enough for me to get inside, and for lobsters to get out.

     They have been brought up from the beach, that morning, by Reggie, a sweet boy who gardened, at least he did unless it was raining, when he positively could do no work in case he got his hair wet. In those days, over on the east coast, it was widely rumoured getting your hair wet resulted in either death or pneumonia.  Anyway, when asked to put the lobsters in the fridge to keep them quiescent … he didn’t. 

     Oh, did I forget to mention that the larder was kept locked and I had the only key, otherwise the food walked, especially tins of evaporated milk. Had I been paid as badly as the staff, I would have resorted to stealing too.

     Anyway back to the lobsters.

    If Reggie had put them in the fridge, he had obviously not latched the door, unless one of the lobsters happened to be a relative of Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon. When I entered the larder to collect them, they were climbing walls, literally, except for the ones that had gone to earth under the heap of yam or bluggo on the floor, which is hairy and dark brown. Somewhat like the rats that also lived in the larder. 

     If that had been a single incident, perhaps resorting to prayer might well have been considered overkill, but considering I had maids who lay down on the beds chatting when I wasn’t actively standing over them, and we had to wash sheets by hand in cold water in the yard, and on a Sunday when everyone came to the Atlantis for lunch, we began the day at 6 am picking rice.

     Have you ever picked rice? It came in from Guyana in sacks, with tiny stones among the grains. Before we could cook it, these had to be removed by hand – a job for four of us sitting around the table most every day, and especially early on a Sunday when we served a gargantuan buffet lunch for 30 or so people that took siestas on our newly washed sheets.

     Despite all that, I was happy in Barbados. Back in Bridgtown, I wrote my first magazine article for which I was paid the princely sum of £25, moved out of my haunted house into a beautiful flat with a frangipan tree in the garden, that scented the washing; worked for Deanie Skinner, who ran a secretarial college, and was most courteously asked to leave the island by the Chief of Police within 14 days because I had no work permit.

      So there we are. Did Barbados have any silver linings? Of course, remember I wrote a book, A Fishy Tail. 



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