How many of us remember our school days, when we dipped our toes into the fascinating world of Greek and Roman myths – and then promptly forgot them when we stepped out into the real world?
I certainly had until I visited Holland in 2010. Wandering around museums I was struck by images of Leda and the Swan and looked up the legend of Zeus descending to earth as a swan.
Even then the idea of writing magical realism didn’t occur to me. Having written thrillers for both Children and YA’s for a decade, why should I do anything different?
But then, whilst taking a trip through the Dutch countryside, the tourist coach visited an island, which, twice a day, was connected to the mainland by a causeway. The houses on it were tiny, wooden buildings separated by narrow alleys, little wider than rat runs. Suddenly, there I was in a different century, a different person standing in a place of darkness. I sensed people moving in the darkness and something else ... fear! Ideas stormed in, pictures flashing before my eyes of stately Dutch homes, canals and in the midst of this ... a legend of something – something that didn't belong to our world.
And so, The Year the Swans Came was born. And
with it a heroine, Maidy, which means ... little unmarried one. A shy quiet
girl who looks on and sees everything.
Excerpt: "Maybe I could fit into Ruth’s pocket for I remained a little squiddy thing; tall enough perhaps, but slight and finely built, with a mane of dark hair that tumbled in an unruly mass down my back whenever dampness crept into the air. Very different from my brother and sister; a comfortable plumpness clothes Berthe’s limbs, leaving them rounded and shapely, and Hans will resemble Pappy one day, short and stocky, although now he possesses the slight form and energy of youth.
Ruth would never fit in anyone’s pocket. With a figure like the hourglass of sand that sits on our mantelshelf, her skin is flawless and lightly touched with sun, as if she inhabits a distant land in which the sun shines every day."
This is the burb:
Ruth and Maidy are best friends. Slightly the older, Ruth is stunningly beautiful, rich and wilful, and has always insisted she will marry Pieter, Maidy’s eldest brother, only to have him vanish the year swans first visit the city. Feared as cursed and birds of ill-fortune, six years later, on the morning of Maidy’s sixteenth birthday, they return.
For Maidy they usher in love and the return of her beloved brother, Pieter. For Ruth only destruction as she captivates every boy around, including Pieter and the enigmatic and mysterious Zande.
Excerpt: "By the by, we did meet before,’ Zande continued, nothing in his voice now except friendship and maybe a certain curiosity, as if I puzzled him.
‘I don’t remember.’ I kept my gaze focussed on the rivulets, watching them break into a kaleidoscope of sparkling colour as they washed across the pebbles on the shoreline.
‘You were angry then, too.’ He squatted down on his haunches by my side, his dark curly head on a level with my arm. ‘Why did you tell me your name was Magrit – it’s Maidy, isn’t it?’ He plucked idly at a daisy, inspecting its tiny petals closely.
‘Maidy is only a nickname for friends.’
‘May I be a friend?’
The words were softly spoken and, once again, they sounded sincere. You could never doubt. I felt my breath desert me."
What can I say about the novel: besides telling you that loads of people have now read it and loved it and are haranging me for the sequel. And yes, that will be out in March 2021.
So to answer your questions: is it descriptive – yes; romantic – definitely; magical – absolutely; tragic – yes.
Is that it?
Of course not, because the writing of The Year the Swans Came has spawned another legend – The Children of Zeus. A prequel to The Year the Swans Came, this 3-book series is set in France in 1934, and travels to Holland just before the onset of WWII.
About Barbara Spencer : 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.
Award Winning Author
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