Wednesday 18 March 2020

A Conversation with Magical Realism author, Barbara Spencer #mustread #Fantasy @BarbaraSpencerO

A Conversation with Magical Realism author, Barbara Spencer

Please give a warm Coffee Pot Book Club welcome to Barbara Spencer.
MA: It is lovely that you could drop by and chat with me today. Before we begin, please tell my readers a little about yourself and how you became a writer.
BA: Everyone’s writing journey is different, and mine possibly more than most. When challenged by some enterprising primary school child, ‘Did you always want to be a writer’ my reply invariably was, ‘No, a tap dancer.’

And that’s been my adult life, absurdly bizarre, from flying into Amman in a sand storm, travelling on a Laker flight that almost ran out of fuel over the Atlantic, to being part of the committee who choose Miss World.

It didn’t start like that, the neglected third daughter of parents who were throwbacks to the Victorian Era, when the adage, ‘spare the rod and spoil the child, was in vogue, maybe there was no rod but there was no spoiling either. Neither interest nor encouragement accompanied my childhood footsteps; the public library both my friend and mentor. My sisters shared a similar view and they now live in Australia. Sadly, it is 50 years since the four of us, my brother too, last met up all together.

However, with a passion for both cricket and cricketers, in 1968, my footsteps turned to Barbados in the West Indies, from which I returned via sojourns in Grenada, where I worked for a number of years, New York – ditto – also the Middle East, Greece and France, returning to the UK some fourteen years later.

I usually tell my young audiences it was six years and add, ‘Do you think my mother was worried by then,’ receiving enthusiastic nods of agreement by way of a reply.

But it was in the UK, sitting by a poolside watching my daughter, a competitive swimmer, plough up and down, that I began to write. I also became a swimming teacher and judge but, as my daughter is so fond of saying: ‘After chasing around the world for as long as you did, Mum, teaching swimming and learning to tap dance doesn’t quite cut it.’
After my first book, such a great part of my life story became tied up with schools. Even my name, settling on Barbara Spencer when I should have been Agatha Arbuthnot. As I told my young audience: ‘Because A is always on the top shelf in a book store and S is on the bottom.’

And also, huge involvement with Waterstones. In 2010 after my YA thrillers Running and Time Breaking were published, I became a regular Saturday signee at branches in the lower half of the country, and these two books remain staunch favourites on library shelves even after ten years.

MA: Such an inspirational story, Barbara. What inspired you to write The Year the Swans Came?

BS: So why ‘The Year the Swans Came’ and what is it about?
In my blog, A Writer’s Inspiration, I go on to answer this particular question and talk about the setting for the book. Suffice to say that every character has become a personal friend.

On the surface, the novel is about a friendship between two families who live next door to one another. But look a little deeper and you will stumble over secrets and mysteries. This is the blurb:

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.

MA: As you know, I have read The Year The Swans Came and awarded it The Coffee Pot Book Club Book Award. It is such a hauntingly beautiful story, and I was wondering, how did you come up with your setting and your characters?

BS: It is a terrible cliché but they pretty much fell into place, as if they were waiting in the wings for me to call them out onto the stage. The same thing happened in Running, the character of Sean Terry of the American Secret Service, was not dreamt up by me. He sort-of took over.

As did Zande – my hero or is he the anti-hero in The Year the Swans Came? You will need to read the novel to find out.

Throughout the writing process the character was called Yöst, but it became very apparent this didn’t suit. So, he became Xander, which was immediately hi-jacked and onto the stage walked Zande, (pronounced Zan-de) who single-mindedly set about fashioning the story as he wanted.

Unrestrained, every girl’s eye flew to him and stayed. He knew it and had expected it although, as he made his way across the courtyard, there was no unseemly swagger. He had no need, his walk as graceful and lithe as a panther’s. As if the door’s opening had been a signal, boys not yet left for home drew themselves to their full height, becoming as alert and edgy as beasts that sense a rogue male in their territory. Fingers of angry air began to invade the forecourt and warnings, like arrows loosed from a bow, were hurled at his feet.  

Is there to be a sequel? There wasn’t. There is now.

MA: There are many books in the genre, magical realism. Can you tell us three things that set your novels apart?

BS: Is magical realism different from fantasy? I believe so. Whereas fantasy has no limits or boundaries, magical realism is set in our world, obeys is laws, but it has a twist; which leads me very nicely to The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey, The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden, and The Miniaturist by Jesse Burton.
What sets The Year the Swans Came apart from those books?
Obviously, the century: this is not the distant past when anything could happen but a time that remains within touching distance. Although I refer to incidents in the Second World War, the novel is set in 1951, when daily life is both recognisable and familiar.

The subject matter: in which I have introduced into something quite modern. something as ancient as time itself – a legend that comes to life.
And lastly, the awakening of love. Familiar perhaps but not for my narrator, Magrit Bader. This is something to be wondered at. 

 MA: Once last question… Can you share with us what you are currently working on?

BS: The sequel, because I want to know what happens! And I am finding it a most exciting journey. Hopefully to be published at the end of the year. Also, the 3-book series, Children of Zeus. In the same genre, this series compliments the storyline begun by The Year the Swans Came, and leads you further into the world of Zande, Yöst and Tatania. 

MA: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to chat with us today!

If you would like to find out more about Barbara's The Year The Swans Came then you know what to do... SCROLL DOWN!

The Year the Swans Came
By Barbara Spencer

Ruth and Maidy have been best friends for as long as they can remember. Stunningly beautiful, rich, and wilful, Ruth has always insisted she will marry Pieter, Maidy’s eldest brother, 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 enigmatic and mysterious Zande?

Follow Ruth and Maidy’s cursed tale of love as they discover what happened to Pieter, how the appearance of Zande will affect the rest of their lives, and just how much destruction Ruth’s beauty can cause.

Pick up your copy of
The Year The Swans Came

Barbara Spencer

In 1967, 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. Eventually, she settled in Somerset to bring up a family. In 2010, the publication of Running, her new teenage thriller, has taken Barbara countrywide. Passionate about the importance of books in today's society, Barbara is happiest working with young would-be writers and is frequently invited into schools to talk about creative writing.

Connect with Barbara: Website • Facebook • Twitter.

1 comment:

  1. I cannot wait for the sequel to The Year the Swans Came. I must find out what happens next.


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