ARCHIVE: Author Barbara Spencer – Why I Wrote Broken

ARCHIVE: Author Barbara Spencer – Why I Wrote Broken

I am known as an author of YA thrillers and children’s books, and it was a complete surprise to find myself writing ‘Broken’ which is for adults. I had just completed the time-slip novel, ‘Time Breaking’. An instant success which took me to many book-signing events at Waterstones, I decided to use the same time-slip format for my next novel but with a male lead rather than a female. Unfortunately, and I plead total ignorance as to why or how it happened, my pen took off and instead of sending my hero back in time, I found myself investigating rivers and monasteries, peat moors, rhynes and clyces. The result was ‘Broken’ although even that was not what I originally intended. Throughout the writing and editing process, it was always ‘Me and Mrs Jones’, taken from the wonderful version of the song recorded by Barry White.

Two songs are mentioned in the book and although I tried to get permission to quote from them, I didn’t succeed. So, after much soul-searching, I changed the title to ‘Broken.’

So why did I write it?  Mary Anne Yarde who wrote The Du Lac Chronicles, featured here, mentioned growing up with the myths and majesty of Glastonbury. The background to ‘Broken’ is modern Glastonbury, where I happened to be living at the time I wrote it, and its neighbour, Street, although I was born far away in Cheshire and spent a great many years ducking and diving wars on three continents before moving to the West Country.

There are many, many sides to Glastonbury, not only the colourful feast of myths and magic that bring tourists to the town from all corners of the world, but also its religious significance as home to St Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury, over a thousand years ago. And don’t forget Joseph of Arimathea. According to legend when Joseph arrived in Glastonbury with his twelve companions, he climbed Wearyall Hill and planted his staff in the ground whilst he rested. The following morning the staff had taken root and it grew into the miraculous thorn tree.

Even in modern Glastonbury myths abound which, hopefully, will remain in existence for another two thousand years; such as the rumour that Jesus Christ had lived there, a resident kindly pointing out the house at the end of the High Street where he had lived. It’s also a well-documented fact that some people cannot climb the Tor, pushed back by its powerful ley lines.

Sadly, though, the history of this small area is not always so wondrous. There exists a seedy downside in which drugs and messed-up families prevail, keeping both police and social services on their toes. My daughter swam for Street Swimming Club and when driving her to the pool for training we would pass groups of youngsters sitting on the kerb, and on our return journey two hours later, we would pass the same children on the same kerb, there being neither buses nor anything to do in a small country town apart from staying in with mum and dad to watch telly.

Although ‘Broken’ is an adult read, the main character is Jem Love, a fourteen-year-old schoolboy, who tries to keep his family together after his mother overdoses. The Mrs Jones from the original title belongs to Katrina Jones, a hard drinking, wise-cracking, social worker, with problems of her own; and there is an unforgettable third character, my all-time favourite, Spooky Jarvis, Street’s most famous hooligan, who runs foul of the law as often as he has birthdays.

It sounds dire, doesn’t it? But I can promise you ‘Broken’ is anything but dire. It is funny and outrageous, uplifting and full of hope.

No stranger to classrooms, Barbara was born in Bowdon, in Cheshire, and grew up in Birmingham, where she attended King Edward VI School for Girls, Camp Hill, together with her two elder sisters. She began her career teaching in a secretarial college in Barbados and Grenada, spent several years jetting round the world, and lived in New York before being relocated to Greece, France and the Middle East.

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

     A qualified swimming teacher and judge, Barbara gave her time and expertise to Street & District Swimming Club, where she taught children to swim three nights a week and watched her own daughter train or compete the rest of the week.

     ‘This is where I began to write – while watching my daughter swim up and down the pool for hours on end. I needed something to do and while swimming may be magical if you are taking part, it is not quite so interesting if you are watching. Writing seemed a brilliant way of passing the time. In 2006, after several years writing stories, Scruffy was published

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