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 Résistance 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.
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Blog: Jan’s Journey into Writing https://janbaynham.blogspot.com