Meet Guest Author, Barbara Spencer…

However did I end up here?

That is a question I frequently ask myself. Was I destined to become an author? If so the gods in heaven weren’t on my side that day.

‘Oh, but being a writer… it’s so romantic,’ are the words I hear on all sides.  

That’s so far from the truth, the truth isn’t even in the same room. To begin writers need huge confidence, something they rarely possess; an ability to cope with criticism without flinching; patience, a capacity for hard work plus a delusionary nature which allows you to ignore the dust in the house by calling it ‘interesting’.

So how did I end up as a writer?

I blame my mother who introduced me to cricket when I was eighteen. Up until then, my life had been pretty ordinary. School which involved playing tennis and chess for the school team, and piano lessons at home … nothing that would actually set the world on fire. Cricket did that. I even remember the dress I wore; it was lime green.

So why was a game cricket so earth shattering, other than it being a test match between England and the West Indies? Because it changed the direction of my life. Not immediately for I was only eighteen, but slowly and gradually as I listened to matches first on the radio and then watching on television. By my early twenties I was using my Saturdays and Sundays to travel to matches throughout England.

By the summer of 1967 – that when the tsunami took place. Deciding I couldn’t wait until next summer, and having saved some money, I travelled out to Barbados in the West Indies to watch a Test Match Series … and never returned! At least that is what I tell schoolchildren when they ask. Yes, of course I did return, but not until the 1980s when I returned to England to bring up my daughter.

In the interim, I worked first in Barbados and then as headteacher in a secretarial school in Grenada, before moving to New York. Still my favourite city on earth, there I spent two very happy years, mostly I confess at Lincoln Centre listening to opera or at a theatre on Broadway watching a musical or a play. At the time I was working for a US company who then transferred me to London before sending me to Greece.

What fascinating years those were. I was present at the Black Power Riots in the West Indies, the overthrow of the military junta in Greece and the war in Lebanon. Our hotel in Beirut, the Phoenicia, which was later bombed, was ringed by soldiers, tucked behind gun emplacements made from sandbags. With pot shots being aimed at anything that moved, I left Beirut sitting on the floor of a taxi cab to avoid being shot.

As my daughter is fond of telling me, ‘after that, Mum, teaching swimming and learning to tap dance doesn’t quite cut it.’

Had I done any writing by then? Only magazine articles for which I was paid the grandiose figure of £25! But shortly after returning to the UK, I did begin to write for children because … as my daughter is fond of saying: after all that excitement, tap-dancing and watching me train for swimming doesn’t exactly cut it, does it Mum?’

Following the publication of ‘Scruffy’ I began visiting schools and giving talks and honed my craft attending courses on story-telling and editing. And then, wanting to spread my wings, I began to write thrillers for YA’s – Running, Time Breaking, Turning Point and Kidnap and those took me to book-signing events in stores and of course more and more schools.

Then in 2015, exhausted from coping with the traffic in our overcrowded country, I decided to quit. That’s it, it is time to get out into the real world and meet people. My swan song was ‘Age and the Antique Sideboard’. Written for the over fifties, they were short stories and blogs from my adventures. And then, planning a quiet retirement, one morning in 2015 I picked up a notebook and wrote a paragraph.

Why? Because I had read ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ and wanted to write something similar that was equally intensewith memorable characters. As a result of that paragraph, I changed my style, genre and age group.

There are five books which form overlapping series’, a three-book and a two-book series. Written for an adult audience, they are historical fantasy or magical realism, set mainly in Holland and France before and after WW2. In the final book, book 5, which will be published at the end of March, the two series finally merge together.

Have I succeeded in creating memorable characters? You will have to answer that – I can’t.

Oh, and by the way, I still don’t possess any confidence and I can’t cope with criticism. But I do work hard and I definitely ignore the dust.

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