Friday, 13 March 2020

Join author, Barbara Spencer, how history inspired her writing. #mustread #Fantasy @BarbaraSpencerO





Life in the time of…
By Barbara Spencer

Every author imagines life in another time – most in connection with a book they are currently writing. My brother’s favourite period of history is the 1930s; not sure about mine. I think the 1940s when, despite the outrage of World War II, to be alive then must have been amazing, and it is where I have set my series – Children of Zeus and my novel The Year the Swans Came.

Surprisingly though, I began my writing career with the latter part of the 18th century, just before the Napoleonic Wars. My daughter was at Butleigh Primary School, in Somerset, and each day I drove past a stone obelisk dedicated to a local man, Samuel Hood, who was born in Butleigh Wootton. A seafaring family and a real-live Scarlet Pimpernel, Sam Hood was cousin to Sir Samuel Hood, who rose to become a Viscount and First Lord of the Admiralty, HMS Hood was named after him, and it was his brother, Admiral Sir Alexander Hood, whose fame led to the word hoodwinked. My Samuel also became an Admiral but with such a profusion of seafaring relatives, my book was sunk not by cannon fire but by a plethora of Hoods. At one point you had a midshipman Hood, a Captain Hood and an Admiral Hood all serving on the same ship!

I have always regretted not completing it – perhaps I will once this series Children of Zeus is put to bed. I had a real soft spot for Sam, I was perhaps a little bit in love with him, because his exploits were every bit as exciting as those of Hornblower. Sadly, he died quite young, only 52, of fever in India. But boy, did he pack a lot into his life, he also lived in Barbados as did I and married a Barbara!

At that point I diverted away from historical tomes and wrote a series of children’s books, one of which jump-started my career both into Waterstones and into schools.



Scruffy was the story of an abandoned puppy who finds eventually a new home. Pure magic, the dozens of illustrations were by children. Published in 2007, copies can still be found in school libraries. But like Goldilocks, the Three Bears and Porridge, I didn’t find my true home until I began writing for YA’s with Time Breaking.


Occasionally, on the bus or train, you overhear conversations in which someone says, ‘Oh, I’d love to have lived in such and such a time.’ This is exactly what happens to Molly, my heroine who while visiting an old mansion, triggers a time chute into 1648, the final year of the English Civil War, where among other things she finds herself accused of witchcraft.

This is the blurb:

I so hate my life. Why can't I be someone else?’
But plunged into the nightmare world of the 17th century is not exactly what Molly had in mind when she said this.

Four books later, of which Running, my futuristic thriller, is the most successful, and still sells well, I have edged upwards into the five-book series – Children of Zeus, which is adult/top teen crossover.

And another conflict – this time between mankind and a race of shape-shifters, the carinatae.


This is the opening which introduces the entire 5-book series –

They set out in the dead of night. Not the witching hour between twelve and one, when ghouls and warlocks roam, but the hour between three and four, when souls depart their bodies and even monsters sleep.
The men have not slept. Gathering together early, they have sat out the hours in a low-beamed room lit by rushes and lanterns, supping at pale gold Jenever and beer that smells strongly of hops, in an effort to keep both demons and fear at bay. Another night and their drinking will lead to merriment and song with an accordion ringing out. Tonight, only a dull confused muttering breaks the silent air.
Around the hostelry, stinking of poverty and superstition cluster close-knit houses, their streets made not of stone but of water. Women wait too, in dark rooms lit only by candles – no one sleeping. Some are big with child. Others, the young and beautiful and innocent, are held captive, screaming into the implacable faces of the elderly to be let free, to be allowed to run … to warn.
Outside, clinging to tiny islands of stone on which houses perch, lurks the detritus of the fishermen; lobster pots and broken nets, oars resting against a wall, small skiffs tied up to the bank or upturned. Boats, their sails neatly furled, await the approach of early dawn before venturing out to sea.
Nothing moves in the darkness except fleetingly: a rat scurrying along a gutter pursued by the looming shadow of a cat. Silence falls and with it the sound of death.

Written in the first person, my main character is sixteen-year-old Magrit or Maidy. Had I written a Greek drama, she would have been the narrator, always on stage. Maidy becomes the cornerstone of the events of that summer even though she tries not to be. While this approach may well annoy some young moderns who want her to grab at life – this is how I have tried to write her – someone central to the story yet content to stay in the background.

The old city referred to is of course Amsterdam in Holland, although I never name the it, and the time is summer 1951. There are many, many themes running through the script: love, death, jealousy, selfishness, despair and concern, to name but a few.


And while in strict chronical order Books 1 – 3 should come first, readers and critics insisted, it should be: The Year the Swans Came.’

And the story?

Maidy, a young college student, dreams of becoming a writer. When given a homework assignment, she is challenged by Ruth, her best friend, to write about the disappearance of her brother, Pieter, who Ruth once upon a time dreamt of marrying.

She tells the story of her family and growing up among the ruins of war. Of her beloved Pappy, head of the House of Bader, who have been designing mirrors for beautiful women since the seventeenth century, of Margaret, her mother, whose superstitions dominate the family, and her favourite brother, Pieter, who disappears the night of his sixteenth birthday ... the year swans first visit the city.




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.



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See you on your next coffee break!
Take Care,
Mary Anne xxx