Why I wrote Swans?


To those of you who listen regularly to my musings I hope over the past three or so months, I’ve managed to keep you royally entertained. Long may it continue – I hear you shout.

Nevertheless, the be-all and end all of a author’s life is to sell books and just at his moment, despite its brilliant reviews and being presented with an Historical Fantasy award my latest novel, The Year the Swans Came is currently playing to an empty theatre – in other words it’s not ringing the tills at either Amazon or Waterstones. My daughter, a totally impartial critic who tells me equally when I write well as when I write rubbish says – but Mother, no one knows about it. 

That is of course true. For the past twelve years my books have been placed in the children’s section or the YA section of the library or bookshop.

And of course I haven’t exactly helped my career by changing genres.

I mean who, in their right mind, with twelve books under their belt, four of which are mystery-thrillers for teens, decides to change both genres and age of readers?

I do or do I mean I did!

Even worse who publishes Book 4 before Book 1? Guilty as charged.

Nevertheless, despite a career liberally splattered with disasters, this week I want to talk about Amsterdam and the writing of Swans.



I first visited Amsterdam early in 1960s when it was a quiet sleepy city bursting with flowers and charm. Everyone then pretty much spoke English - at that time German was never heard in its streets. We stayed in a B &B which, incidentally, appeared in the futuristic thriller Running.

Still there was nothing futuristic about our visit, my sister bought great armfuls of flowers and each day we visited a cake shop in Splot. Then in the evening we strolled the streets leading to the Blue Note, a Night Club, where the vocalist sang Yesterday, one of the Beetles classics, and very sweetly said 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.

I always wanted to set a book in Amsterdam, and the idea for the Children of Zeus series began right there when I visited with my granddaughter in 2010. We were celebrating the publication of Running, and a celebration was badly needed. 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 - w2hich incidentally is the hero of the novel.

There are so many strings that led to the writing of Swans. Agents played a large part because it was an agent who wanted more, (rather like Oliver in the Charles Dickens novel of the same name). This led directly to my writing the trilogy Children of Zeus. And so I gathered all the memories of my first visits, very few motor cars, the dark furnishings of the B & B, the push-button light switches on the stairway that gave you just enough time to reach the top of the next flight of stairs before clicking off; the cobbled alleyways and decorative bridges, and I added them to the souvenirs of my visit in 2010. 

The Keukonhoff, a bus ride into the country, where windmills ruled and where we explored a tiny island where fishermen lived, the passageways between their miniscule houses little 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 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. And museums, where scenes of windswept barques dominated, and I noticed a painting of Leda and the Swan, dating from 1610. Below is the sculpture of the same subject.

Lastly, I read the myth of the Angel of Mons which I used in Book 2 of the trilogy, Children of Zeus - An Ocean of White Wings. 

No wonder the series has taken 8 years to evolve.

The finishing touch - 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 it really about – Apart from all the things I have just mentioned, it's a place where historical fiction and fantasy become entwined. If I had to say which of my books is the closest to it, that would be Time Breaking. A time-slip novel, which switches between modern day and the England of 1648, it is also first person narration, and its genre, magical realism. And which is my personal favourite?  

Time Breaking whilst I was writing it. Then its characters were my constant companions, with me night and day, and I was as equally involved in their problems, their joys and successes, as they are. But after I have written the words The End and sent it out to the publishers, the characters wave goodbye and go their own way as I go mine - towards writing a new book.

However, as regards The Year the Swans Came because of the style, it’s definitely not for teens. Twenties, thirties plus is my reckoning.

What is it about? If I tried to tell you I would stutter and stumble and make a real hash of it. I tried that once when an agent rang asking the story of A Dangerous Game of Football. I sounded like an idiot, no wonder she didn’t offer to represent me.

Don’t worry. I’ve learned my lesson. 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 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.

Of course for me, the most important bit, which had me dancing around the house are the final 3 lines of the review. 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.


But to return to earth: Catherine is quite correct, both the country and the invaders remain unnamed. And as I have said, it is Amsterdam. In itself a problem. If you name a city in your novel, readers will set about comparing their knowledge with your writing; eager to point out any slips in the topography, and no doubt I would be the recipient of a dozen emails: such and such a street runs left not right! 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.

So why is Book 4 now Book 1?

Blame Katie Bowes, the New Zealand author for that. She said, ‘After reading, Swans, everyone will want to know more about Zande and how he got to be Zande.’ 

It’s a very different story although part of the same – my hero Yöst is quite definitely my favourite character. Written in the 3rd person it starts with the massacre of the carinatae, slaughtered for the crime of being different,  in which only Yöst, Zande and a little girl survive. 



Arthur Rosch - post extraordinaire

I haven’t met Arthur Rosch. He is from California and me, from a tiny corner of the UK. Never mind about that – just look at the image above! Wow! If that doesn’t get you reading what will? It certainly did me and when I remember the fun I had hosting guests on my site – although they were all authors – I thought it was time I undertook a new journey and one likely to prove equally an inspiration.

A journey with poetry.

Philistine is the word I would use to describe my knowledge of poetry but other words come to mind too – total envy plus a heartfelt wish that I could manipulate words in such a way that a line of maybe five words has the same relevance as an entire page in a book.

And so my own journey begins with … an outpouring of questions as to what drew Arthur Rosch to writing poetry. And his response!  Read on and discover as I have done how poetry came to the rescue of someone living at the extreme edges of life..

Loving Art: A Response to Questions from Barbara Spencer

by Arthur Rosch 2021

Why did I begin writing poetry? 

It was love, pure and simple.  I was madly, obsessively in love with a girl.  I was fifteen and I chased her across the country as she went to bible camp, music camp, all kinds of camps.  That summer was pure madness.  I was so in love that I began to write poetry.  She loved poetry and I was ready with the goods. I wish I still had those notebooks.  Well…maybe I don’t.  The important thing was that we high school students were creating a culture that valued the Arts.  Being a poet conferred status.  It was encouraged.  I wasn’t exactly one of the elite kids at school but I had a cauldron of creativity locked within myself.  I had been playing music since I was seven. Writing, of any kind, came easily to me.

The girl is long gone but the poetry stayed behind to make me warm at night.  I write books, I’m a novelist, science fiction-fantasy writer and memoirist.  Four of my books are published via Amazon, Smashwords, draft2digital and other platforms.

Usually as we grow up, our lives are filled with the mundane needs of earning a living. Was it a conscious decision on your part, to cling on to the creative instinct in you?

That’s a strange question, though provocative. 

It wasn’t UNconscious, to be sure.

And it was my creative soul that literally saved my life when I was in deadly peril. 

I got lost in my thirties and stayed lost for decades.  I lived among the addicts and the homeless; I was one of the people who barely exist on the fringes of society.  Had I not sensed that I was, somehow, gifted, I would most likely have died in a dumpster.

Come, Tears    –   Feb 3, 20-21`

Come tears, come.

I’ve been waiting for you.

I haven’t felt anything

for a long time.

Where did my feelings go?

Beaten out of me, perhaps.

Too dangerous to feel


Come tears, I need you.

I want my emotion

back, I want

that which I can’t do

without my soul, my feelings.

I welcome you, tears,

welcome sorrow, welcome

joy, welcome passion. Welcome.

Come, tears.  Do your work of excavation.

Be the small river that carves

a great canyon.

How do you link photography and poetry?

I’m a multimedia person, I love photography, music and dance.  I produce material in many media. The link between photography and poetry is that both are visual media.  I know that sounds strange. I consider poetry to be using words to create visual images that elicit emotional responses. Photo images are so immediate and visceral that it’s difficult for poetry to compete with video.  Combining the two, as in the book “Feral Tenderness”, satisfies my urge to do both: write and illustrate.  We live in an era where film and video dominate the landscape of the arts.  I’ve just begun to make video, and it sits on the horizon like a monster waiting to pounce. I find inspiration mostly by devouring the works of artists that I admire.  My list of musicians goes back to my teen days when I was learning to play jazz.  John Coltrane sits atop my personal hierarchy.  I love Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan: singer/songwriters who draw insight from their experiences.

The Reach

Do you also read?

I’ve been reading voraciously since I was six years old.  I remember being in the first grade and having a revelation about the way that letters in the alphabet signified sounds.  I learned to read in a single instant, though it took a few weeks to lead me up to that instant.  Then, bang!  I could read.  I loved it.  I always have.  Reading is one of the greatest joys of my life. I read everything!.  I love history, mystery, psychology and biology.  Favorite authors include Jack Vance, C.S. Lewis, Robert Crais, Ken Follett and Patricia Cornwell. I inherited the love of reading from my father and I’ve passed it on to my daughter.  We are READERS!

Which poets are on your reading list?

My preferences in poetry tend to begin in the twentieth century.  My favorites are Rilke, Lorca and e.e.cummings.  I am no expert in poetry.  Aside from Rumi’s timeless work I enjoy surrealism as it emerged in the 1920s.  I don’t know anything about Poetry. (Barbara says: I love the capital P placed as a sign of respect.) I know just enough to be able to read the works of our best poets.

Do you self-publish or use a publishing house?

I had a brush with fame in the late 70s.  A short story that I had written was awarded a major prize from Playboy Magazine. The prize garnered support from agents and publishers and I was suddenly in the spotlight with a huge opportunity.  Alas, the time was not right for me. 

My photography has had wider dispersion, including articles and photos in several issues of eDigital Photography and Shutterbug. I was an early adopter of technologies that I applied to astronomical photography.  That work achieved considerable popularity and earned some money. 

My “detour” into the darker aspects of life postponed publication of my books.  My connections to editors and agents vanished and I was ultimately given no choice but to self-publish. Even now I would prefer to be published by someone else.  The fact of publication by a third party validates a work in the eyes of the public.  Self published books are so numerous that the value of such filters looms ever larger. If I were famous I wouldn’t hesitate to publish my own work.  I’m not famous.  Readers need a clue to be motivated to read my stories.

I am now in my seventies and have never enjoyed such a vibrant period of creativity.  I’m amazed at the fertility that has invaded my spirit.  I began studying piano a year ago and that study has ignited my fervor for making new works.  I don’t worry about how I’ll create things. I’ll use photography, literature and music to form something new.  I can feel it taking shape but I don’t yet know what it will be like. I have the immense pleasure of learning a new skill during a later part of my life.  The joy of it; well, it’s fierce! It’s also right at my fingertips. 

Dons Market

Tachyons Feb 6 2021

The trajectories

of a trillion lives


in the rare glow

of countless stars

whose colors


to be worthy of the highest


Do you have a favourite poem? I do.  It’s difficult to chose one from so many.  But my poem, “Prophet” is at the pinnacle of my esteem.  It’s online at