Wednesday, 20 October 2021

Artistic streak

 I make no secret of the fact that my books are escapism - that's why I write them and that's how I want the reader to enjoy them. It's inevitable that the things that I get pleasure from find their way into the books - sunshine, food, beautiful surroundings, glamourous locations - in the case of A Villa in Portofino that includes an artistic element, as the book feature both poetry and painting. 

Chatterton's birthplace.
with plaque.
The wicker figure was
an art installation 
I'm not a poet or a painter, so the depictions came out of my imagination. While I enjoyed creating my precociously talented boy poet, you won't find any of his verses in the book. I wouldn't dare. I hope no one is disappointed about this. I enjoyed fabricating the subject of heroine Megan's doctoral thesis, who is loosely inspired by Thomas Chatterton, who was born and lived his early life in Bristol. Chatterton was born in a house close to St Mary Redcliffe church in Bristol and was possibly buried in the churchyard there. He was only seventeen when he died in London of poison, usually said to be suicide but possibly an accident. He was greatly admired by the Romantic poets Byron and Shelly as a lost genius.

My poet - Cosimo - is Italian and while Megan's doctoral thesis concentrates on his poetry there is a considerable mystery surrounding the poet himself, who might just be connected to the villa. It's one of several mystery threads that I enjoyed concocting. 

Alcinda's paintings came right out of my imagination. It was a little uncanny how clearly I could see them - first the series based on the overgrown garden of the villa and then a new group using Gideon as a model. I've no idea where Alcinda came from as a character and the paintings are equally mysterious. The idea of the gallery where she exhibits arose from a visit to Portofino many years ago, when I bought a print from a gallery - a watercolour of the village, which I love, but nothing at all like the art that Alcinda produces. It was the start point though and Alcinda and her art grew from that. 

I wish her paintings did exist because the ones in my imagination are spectacular. But the verse and art that lives in the imagination always is. 

Wednesday, 13 October 2021

Three women

 Last week, looking at the family surrounding Megan, I pointed out that the book had a strong female presence, although many of those characters only appeared in the background. I thought this week I'd look at three women who actually appear on the page. 

First off has to be my heroine. On the surface Megan is quite reserved, independent and self contained, although the reader sees below that surface and knows her uncertainties. Her cool demeanor is her protective armour. She has adapted to the knowledge that she has no close family, and the discovery that she had an aunt that she might have got to know is distressing and fuels her need to uncover the details of Olwen's life. Her academic qualifications are quite new, and she hasn't yet grown into them, or got used to having them. During the course of the book she develops as her own woman, and understands that this is what she is doing, which is important. She is very clear sighted and analytical, which I attribute to her academic training. Under Gideon's influence a warmer, more relaxed persona gradually appears as she reaches out to him and to make friends in her new home. It was lovely to watch her emerge as she falls in love - although she is careful about admitting that is what is happening. Gideon is the perfect man to bring out the best in her - able to let her unfold into her full potential.

Alcinda - friend to both Gideon and Megan.  Where she came from I have no idea. She just walked off the page at me and that was that. She behaved to me exactly like she did to everyone in the book! Exceptionally talented artist, moody drama queen, self confident, opinionated, bossy, volatile, with an unexpectedly perceptive and empathetic side to her nature. Or maybe it's not so unexpected, considering her artistic talent. She's a powerhouse, all surface emotion and a good foil to Megan. When she arrived on the scene I knew she was one of those supporting characters who might be in danger of taking over the book, but she never actually did that.  Maybe I'm better at keeping control of my personnel than I realise. 

Gabriella - my villainess. There was never any doubt that it would be a villainess, although when I started the book I was not going to identify her, making her one of several possible candidates surrounding Megan. That proved far too complicated and anyway she was not having any of it. She was much too entitled and conscious of her position and importance to let me hide her away. I had a very clear idea of a woman in her fifties, trapped in a time warp of what she considered to be good taste and correct behaviour.  She never considers anyone's wishes but her own, but she an isolated and rather lonely figure. Had she succeeded in taking the villa from Megan I'm not sure what would have happened to her, once she lost the driving force of her obsession. 

Three very different women. I enjoyed writing all of them.   

Wednesday, 6 October 2021

Full supporting cast

 A Villa in Portofino was complicated book to write. Managing five generations of a family got very hectic and my editor and I went round in circles several times trying to figure out how many 'greats' were needed in the relationships. Not sure I'm going to be doing anything like that again in a hurry. 

Backstory was important in the book too, as part of the plot. Heroine Megan knows next to nothing about her Great - Great Aunt Olwen (her grandmother's aunt) who has left her the villa of the title, but she is keen to find out. I had a lot of complicated unravelling to do as she puts together the story - clues and red herrings and imperfect memories - the kind of thing that happens in a lot of families. Like doing a jigsaw puzzle, where a lot of the pieces are sky, and at least three come from a completely different box...

The other thing about those five generations was that there was no room for all the back stories - Megan's parents and her grandmother could only really have walk on parts where explanation was needed to move the story on. It wasn't until the book was finished and I was at the copy edits stage that I began to wonder again about all those people I had created in order to give Megan's life a framework. There was never any place for detail of that kind in the book, so I had a collection of somewhat ghostly figures, the supporting cast who were essential to the plot, or to making Megan who she was, or both. They all gave me very strong impressions of their chief character traits though - enough to clearly make their impact on Megan's story, despite appearing only briefly on the pages. 

The great great grandfather, whom I christened the patriarch - he never had a name - was very much of another era, a man of decided views who had been through two world wars and expected to rule his household and be obeyed in all things. Rosalind, Megan's grandmother, was born in 1949 - a teenager in the swinging sixties, the first of her family to go to university and have a career - I was very certain of that- although for reasons of plot she also has a baby - Megan's mum - at the age of twenty two, so the career would have probably been on hold for a while. A strong woman who had probably lived a full and interesting life, but to Megan was simply Gran - the person who represented love and home. I  like to think her strength has had a subtle influence on Megan and the subsequent decisions she makes about the villa and her new life, although she may not be fully aware of it. Megan's parents came over as rather feckless in respect of family matters - more interested in their careers as archeologists than in their daughter, although her choice of an academic career was surely influenced by them, and maybe some of her insecurities - striving for their notice and approval? Looking at it now the men in the family, great-great grandad aside, are pretty nebulous. The story comes down through the female line - which didn't really occur to me when I was writing it. It's a book with a strong female presence - including having a villainess rather than a villain. 

The weight of complex family history had a part to play for hero Gideon too, and for of my villainess, Gabriella. Unlike some authors I never set out to have a 'theme' as such, although books do sometimes acquire them behind my back. I did know that family history would be a vital part of A Villa in Portofino, but now it is completed that sense of family is much stronger than I anticipated, so it looks as if the theme that the book chose for itself is family. Maybe the friend who told me that I had written a romantic suspense family saga was onto something.   

Wednesday, 29 September 2021

Welcoming a special guest - Ruby author Jan Baynham


Today I have a special guest on the blog. I’ve invited Jan Baynham, who is a friend and fellow member of the Cariad writing group, to talk about the way the events of the Second World War still have an influence on romance writing today. Jan's new book, Her Nanny’s Secret, is one of her trademark historical dual time line stories, beginning with dramatic events in the war that send the echo of secrets down to the 1960s.  In my new book, A Villa in Portofino, a clandestine war time romance is the inciting incident for an inheritance that changes my heroine’s life.

Considering that the war ended nearly eighty years ago, it still has a huge place in the British psyche – the way that the newspapers headline the need for ‘Blitz Spirit’ in times of crisis is just one example. Maybe this will continue until all those who lived through it are finally gone? I don’t know about that, but it is still a very popular setting for romance and family stories like those Jan writes, much loved by readers.

Perhaps this continued fascination is not so surprising? The Second World War was the first in hundreds of years that had an impact not just in the numerous theatres of war, but also at home, because of the invention of the bomber aircraft. In this war the folks at home were just as likely to face death and danger as the soldier on the front. The nightly ritual of securing blackout curtains to avoid showing a light and becoming a target was a constant and universal reminder of war in town and country. It was also a time of dislocation. Thousands of young men, and some women, who would probably never have travelled further than fifty miles from home in normal circumstances found themselves in North Africa, in Italy, in France – where Her Nanny’s Secret is partially set. At home other young women too were on the move – into the services and to factories for armament manufacture or into the traditionally male jobs that were now vacant. This dislocation, and the sense of threat and urgency, must have coloured all kinds of relationships – but possibly particularly romantic ones  - and that gives us writers our inspiration. 

I’ll hand you over to Jan now to tell you about what she did with that inspiration in Her Nanny’s Secret.

Thank you, Evonne. My novel opens in 1941 when WW2 is raging in Europe. The main character, Annie Beynon, lives in a tied cottage with her father, Ted, who is an agricultural worker on the Cefn Court estate owned by the wealthy Pryce family. Although rural mid-Wales was unscathed from the horrors and devastation of bombing raids, the impact of the war was felt in many other ways. Ted Beynon had already lost two of his sons in active service in France so it was understandable when his youngest son, Reggie, enlists, he is scared he will lose his life, too.

The row between her father and Reggie still resounded in her ears. She could hear the panic in her father’s voice… The fear was there, fear that another of his sons was going off to war, never to return.

Husbands, sons, friends and lovers were leaving the village and loved ones didn’t know when or if they’d ever see them again. The war did not discriminate by social class. Lady Delia Pryce was just as fearful for her son, Edmund, as he undertook sorties over occupied France as a Squadron Leader flying Spitfires.

But this ... it’s the uncertainty. Not knowing if I’ll ever see him again. I couldn’t bear it. What if he doesn’t survive? Two children in the graveyard? No, I couldn’t bear it.

The uncertainty of whether servicemen would ever return home resulted in decisions that perhaps would not be made in peacetime. Couples in love grabbed precious moments together. This provided an ideal opportunity for me to write about a couple falling in love at a time when the future was uncertain.

 She realised that whatever the future held, she would never regret that moment…

‘Come back to me safe and sound,’ Annie said, but she knew, deep down, that was out of her hands. Too many young couples had had their dreams dashed in the cruellest of ways.

In the novel, I try to capture what living in a small Welsh village during wartime was like. There are numerous references to food rationing, the importance of adhering to blackout rules, how rural activities with Young Farmers’ clubs, horse shows, eventing and hunting all came to an end. Separation from loved ones was part of life. Listening to the wireless was how families kept up to date with world events and receiving news by letter was the only way of keeping in touch.

On the other side of the channel, people in Normandy were experiencing a very different war. The area was under German occupation and the French were suffering extreme hardship. We meet Odile who lives with her parents, eking out a living on their farm and who leads a double life as a member of the French RĂ©sistance movement.

 Odile was determined to do her bit. The movement was strong in her town, and the rural community she was a part of was a proud one. They would never give in or surrender. She told herself that every small gesture and undercover deed she could do for the cause was worth it.

One of Odile’s undercover deeds has a huge impact on Annie’s story and setting the novel in wartime makes it authentic, I think. At any other time, the situation would have been resolved more quickly. When the story moves to 1963, memorials to the war dead in both Wales and France are everywhere, testament to the futility of war with the names of so many young men who gave their lives for King and country. Odile’s role during the war is still remembered in the area of Normandy where she lived.

The secrets and forbidden love affair in Her Nanny’s Secret could have formed the plot of a novel set in any era, but by choosing WW2, I’ve tried to take the inspiration presented by the time to give added poignancy to Annie’s story. I hope that readers will enjoy the novel and not judge her too harshly.


Buying Links for Her Nanny’s Secret:




Author Links:

Twitter: @JanBaynham

Facebook: Jan Baynham Writer

Blog: Jan’s Journey into Writing




Wednesday, 22 September 2021

Living vicariously


One of the jibes thrown at romance readers by those who don’t approve of the habit – and sadly there are plenty of them around – is that books that promise a Happy Ever After are unrealistic – that readers are being encouraged to have impossible expectations, viewing the world though rose coloured glasses. Everything – including love – has to be serious and damned hard work.

My answer to that is why? Romance readers are just as aware that they are reading fiction as readers who enjoy horror or the hunt for a serial killer - but somehow those genres are considered more respectable. Murder trumps love any day. Just because a romance might be an idealised view of the world why can’t it be considered an aspirational example of hope and optimism – even if real life is often a triumph of hope over experience?

I never make any secret of the fact that I read for escapism and I write to offer that to others too. I can get plenty of real life off the ten o’clock news, I expect a book I read for pleasure to offer me something else.  Part of that escapism is the chance to live vicariously. The Riviera series – of which A Villa in Portofino is the latest - is about glamour and luxury as well as love and the scary suspense stuff.  I’m never going to be a millionaire, or married to one, never going to own a yacht or a villa in the South of France, my hotel stays are unlikely to be as luxurious as the ones I bestow on my characters, I don’t have designer clothes or jewellery or expensive art on my walls, but it’s great fun to imagine and indulge and doesn’t cost anything. It’s not just material goods; I can have sunshine, marvellous food, flowers and scent. It’s all part of the package. Writing the series gives me the chance to explore a lifestyle I’m never going to have in real life. I hope it give the reader the same opportunity. 

Tuesday, 21 September 2021

Publication day flowers


Publication day!!!

 At it's finally arrived. Publication day for the third in the Riviera series.

And there's a blog tour - catch up with me on these dates to find out more about the book.