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.

Sunday 19 September 2021

Wednesday 15 September 2021

A Villa in Portofino - what's the connection to the war?


The plot of A Villa in Portofino begins in the Second World War – with a love story between a young Welsh girl and an Italian POW. It’s not a time slip or a saga, the war is just where it begins, an explanation for how my heroine Megan comes to inherit a fabulous if neglected villa and a massively overgrown garden in Italy. And if you could see my garden at the moment you’d have an idea where the ‘inspiration’ for that came from.

I wanted to explore the idea of family secrets and this was helped along by the numerous stories of ordinary men, and some women, who were only revealed to have done extraordinary things in the war after their death. The book does not have that kind of revelation in it, but I was able to use the dislocation of war to kick the whole thing off.

The other inciting inspiration was something I came across in my PhD studies. A tiny fact that I knew I had to use somehow. As the war progressed and more and more men were either called to the services, or to war work making armaments, labour for other things became scarce, not least in the Cardiff city graveyards. They even allowed women to become grave diggers – for the duration – which gives you an idea of the scale of the problem. The tiny thing I found was a report from the Cemetery Superintendent in October 1944 that he had secured the services of some Prisoners of War to work in the cemeteries for a week and was hoping to renew this arrangement. Like so many fragments, that was it – no further record of what the men were doing and whether the Superintendent got his wish, but the idea stayed with me. And of course it bloomed into a way for a good looking Italian boy to meet and fall in love with a young Welsh girl while she tended her aunt’s grave.

This is where the author’s imagination steps in. I don’t know if the POWs would have had the chance to fraternise like this, although relations between Italian prisoners and the local people seem on the whole to have been fairly good – this area of Wales had a previous history of migration, as witnessed by numerous ice-cream parlours. Eduardo would probably have been grave digging, not gardening as I have envisaged – although there were frequent complaints about the state of the grounds, so the gardening could have been true. I’m claiming artistic licence though – it might have been possible – and that was enough to give me the starting point of my story.

Megan does not find out the details of her great-great aunt’s elopement until quite late in the book, so you are getting a sneak preview.  And the love story between an Italian boy and a Welsh girl sets the scene for a brand new love story when Megan inherits and sets about restoring the villa and its garden.


Wednesday 8 September 2021

Why Portofino?


Choosing a location for a new book is a strange and serious business. As my current series of escapist romantic suspense is the ‘Riviera’ series I do have some parameters to work on – although they can be stretched, as you will find when the current WIP hits the bookshelves.  But that is another story – literally. I have plenty of scope to choose from when sticking to the more orthodox interpretation, given that ‘Riviera’ can be French or Italian and that there are a number of spectacular locations to explore. I will admit Portofino was not high on the radar when I began playing with an idea for an abandoned villa, an overgrown garden and an unexpected inheritance. 

The place is gorgeous, no question. I say that on the basis of a brief visit off a cruise ship many years ago. The memory stayed with me – and yes, there is a reference in the book to a similar visit. This book has quite a lot of me in it. It would still not have occurred to me as a location, except that as part of an on-line festival that my publisher organised I did a fun twitter poll to let readers chose a possible location for the new book. I threw in Portofino on the basis of that memory and because I wanted a location on the Italian side of the border. I was confidently expecting Cannes or Monte Carlo to be the winner, but guess what?

At this point author sits down and thinks. The result – yes, why not? And I have to say I have greatly enjoyed it. Research visits were out of the question, but very strong memories and some really helpful video on YouTube made it come alive. I hope readers will enjoy it as much as I did.

Wednesday 1 September 2021


 OK - the edits are done, unless the proofer comes back with something drastic. I hope not. I have a reasonably happy editor and a blank diary. Well - that's not quite true. I have a new manuscript that I want to get my teeth into, but I also have CHORES. Like dealing with whatever is making the floor in the kitchen stick to my feet, or my feet stick to the floor, whatever is your preference, and a mountain of ironing, not to mention cleaning and cooking. I have a new freezer on order and I have to eat the contents of the old one before they can deliver it, and there are bills to pay and I have blogs to write and other pre-publication stuff to deal with. 

So, it's going to be a while before I can re-acquaint myself with the WIP.

It's also September which for very personal reasons is my least favourite month of the twelve, and not just because it is the start of autumn and then all down hill to winter - cold and dark. 

But there is one bright spot - the chance to hold on to summer for a while longer. Publication day for A Villa in Portofino on 21st September. 

Something to look forward to. How am I going to celebrate? Not sure yet, but publication of my sixth book will still be an event, culmination of a lot of work - mine and the team at my publisher. Book seven might be on hold for the moment, but A Villa in Portofino is going to be a lot of fun in the meantime. 

And if you're holding on to summer don't forget this short story collection from Choc-Lit and Ruby authors, with proceeds to MIND.