Barbara Swanson writes:
An angel, three witches and numerous ghosts; bombs and doodlebugs; sultans, sailors, spies and Sikhs; prisons, ex-pats and wild, wild parties; danger and loss; cruelty and fear, heartache and betrayal, cancer… oh my goodness, was that me or a movie? Did I really ride that roller-coaster of a life and, if so, how on earth did I survive? Now, from the peace of my country cottage, I look back down the long pathway of the years at the dramas which have littered my existence and ask myself whether it all really happened. Well, of course, it did and my story has just been published in a memoir called Swansong.
I might never have written this book if I had not gone to California in 2007 to visit my daughter, Aeone, a composer of film and television music. She took me to see a dear friend of hers who was a well-known Tarot reader. Her name was Norma Margot and, as she interpreted the cards’ ancient message, it was as though she had known me all my life, for everything she told me rang true. Finally, she looked up at me and said: “It looks as though you are going to write a book, an autobiography. It will be published in 2010 and will be a great success.”
“Well,” I said to Aeone as we drove home down the palm-lined freeway, “that’s the only part of the reading that definitely won’t be happening.”
“Why not?” she asked. “For one thing, I know I wouldn’t be able to remember everything that’s happened in my life and for another, even if I did, it would never, ever take me three years to write.”
But on the long flight home, with plenty of time to think, I decided that I would give it a go. After all, I had lived through dramatic times and perhaps owed it to my grandchildren to record my story.
And so it was that, on the 14th July, 2007, I opened my laptop and typed the hopeful words ‘Chapter One’. Then I sat back and waited to see what would happen. Could I write one chapter, let alone a book? Would I get writer’s block? What was that Granny said? I need not have worried, for far from staring with a blank mind at a blank screen, the past came flooding back, memories tumbling over one another with crystal clarity. I could hear the voices of those now dead, see their faces and feel the agony of long gone pain as scene after scene rolled out like an old film: the cruel stepmother, the eccentric grandmother, the gay teachers, the handsome sailor, the philandering husband, the mother-in-law from hell, the passionate lover, the gifted child, the dying child… From the dark days of WWII and the cruel sadnesses of my childhood to the time when I finally struggled free and found lasting love, it was all there.
However, unearthing the past can be very painful and some of the saddest episodes just had to be left behind until I found the inner strength to confront them, forcing myself to write, tears pouring down my cheeks until the most heart-breaking recollections had been unearthed. On the plus side, countless memories were so funny that I cried tears of laughter as I typed.
As for the book taking three years to write, well it did. Instead of retiring to a summerhouse in the garden to write from dawn to dusk whilst minions refreshed me with cups of tea and dainty sandwiches, life intervened as life does and it was indeed 2010 when Swansong finally emerged in its printed form. In fact, with a strange symmetry, the book returned from the printers on the 14th July, three years exactly from the day I started it. Now, as Swansong goes out into the world, I reflect on my blessings and know that what brought me through the darkest of times was the power of love between my two extraordinary daughters and me. And that was all that mattered, for - as those lads from Liverpool so famously sang - ‘all you need is love – love is all you need’.