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.