British author Jessica Blair released the 22nd book in her popular series of romance novels on Thursday, but the most surprising thing about the book might be the writer's true identity: Jessica Blair is actually 89-year-old Bill Spence.
The grandfather and prolific writer is making headlines this week after the release of "In the Silence of the Snow," written under the female pseudonym he has 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 website. "And they suggested Jessica Blair."
His latest book release has drawn wide attention to the surprising truth about the author, though he's been fairly open about his identity for years, explaining 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 at the time. "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 said he never minded his publisher's decision, and agreed 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 told Southside. "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 in the radio interview. "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."
The father of four, who once served in the Royal Air Force, has been writing since 1950 but 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.