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Popular British romance novelist 'Jessica Blair' proven to be an 89-year-old man

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
February 10th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Romance novels, read voraciously by women, are dominated chiefly by women authors. Harlequin, the United States' foremost publisher of romance novels, for years had a females-only author policy. Many men submitted such novels under a female pen name, to see their work published - since then, Harlequin has accepted works by male authors. It still comes as a shock to discover that popular British author Jessica Blair is in fact, an 89-year-old grandfather. 

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Prolific author Bill Spence is celebrating the release of "In the Silence of the Snow," written under his female pseudonym used on nearly two dozen books since 1992.

"Jessica Blair came into being when my publisher, Piatkus, accepted my first historical saga and declared that, for various reasons, they would prefer to publish it under a female name," Spence writes on his Web site. "And they suggested Jessica Blair."

While there is heightened interest in the longtime held literary secret, Spence says he has always been forthright about his secret identity. He revealed in a 2010 interview how the alter-ego came about.

"Well when I first wrote the first Jessica Blair novel, 'The Red Shawl', it was submitted under my own name," he told a podcast on the U.K.'s Southside Broadcasting. "The publishers said 'We like this book but we would like to publish it under a female name. Would you mind if we published it under Jessica Blair?' Well, you don't say no to publishers."

Spence agrees it was good for the success of the books. "The chief character is a woman, and ladies buy more books and read more books than men do," he says. "So it was a marketing ploy, really."

In order to come across as a convincing female author, Spence said he often double-checked his work with the women in his family.

"With all writing, I've got to be every character in my book, good or bad, male or female," he said. "You've got to be something of an actor, I suppose. I'm fortunate in that my wife, my late wife, and my daughters were all interested in my writing and I would give them pieces to read and say, is that ok from a woman's point of view, and they would say yes or no."

A father of four, Spence once served in the Royal Air Force and has been writing since 1950. He says he didn't devote himself to the profession "full-time" until 1977.

Despite his willingness to reveal the truth behind Jessica Blair, don't expect to see Spence's name on his books anytime soon. "I'm Jessica Blair now and the publishers want me to keep producing them," he said.

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