February 11, 2013
Prolific romance novelist Jessica Blair is a man
by Nick Davies
The UK’s Daily Mail reported last week that, in a gender-bending surprise, the author of twenty-two romance novels who goes by the name Jessica Blair is, in fact, an 89-year-old gentleman named Bill Spence. When he got into the romance novel business, Spence was told by his publisher that if he wanted the books to sell, he’d need a female nom de plume.
Long before he delved into the world of bodice-rippers, Spence had been an author under his own name. After returning from Africa, where he served in the British Royal Air Force’s bomber command, he wrote his first book, a war novel called Dark Hell that was published in 1959. Spence went on to write thirty-six westerns between 1960 and 1993, working on them on his own time when he wasn’t at work at Ampleforth College’s catering department.
When he eventually approached his publisher with a romance novel, Spence said, “They said they liked it and would love to publish it but under a different name.” And he hasn’t been at all bothered by having a woman’s name on his work: “You do not say no to publishers. I was just very glad I had found someone who wanted to print my books … I suppose some men may suppose their masculinity had been questioned, but it has never bothered me.”
He explains that when writing “Jessica’s” novels, “I have got to think in a female way and I have got to think about the period I am setting the book in.” His latest, In the Silence of the Snow, was published this month by Piatkus in the UK.
Nick Davies is a publicist at Melville House.