Interview: SA Laybourn

Jen:  Today we welcome SA Laybourn to Romancing the Book.  SA, will you share a short bio with us?
SA:  S A Laybourn is a grumpy widow who lives in Wiltshire with her teenage son and two cats. She works as a freelance editor and occasionally writes stories. She loves to cook but wishes she didn’t make such an appalling mess in the kitchen. Her ambition is to walk through an airport without tripping over someone’s suitcase and breaking a bone. She also writes gay romance under the pseudonym of S. A. Meade.

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Jen:  Tell us about your newest release.
SA: A Kestrel Rising is a sweet romance set in England during World War Two. It follows the fortunes of Ilona who joins the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. She endures heartbreak and loss before falling in love with Francis, a fighter pilot. The story was originally intended as a sequel to a novel I’d written set during the Great War. I had fallen love with the place I’d created and the characters and wanted to revisit them. Sadly, that first story was so boring that I ended up ripping it to bits and turning it into my debut romance Christopher’s Medal.

War puts courage and love to the test.

It’s 1939, a lone Spitfire roars over her family home, and Ilona Lowe, entranced by its grace and power, finally knows her place in the fight against Hitler. She joins the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, is stationed at RAF Catterick and embarks on an all-too-brief love affair with a Bleinheim bomber pilot who is killed during the Battle of Britain.

Heartbroken, but determined to carry on, Ilona returns to active duty where she encounters Francis Robson. He’s arrogant—some would even say reckless—and another pilot. Yet he’s worth the risk.

Their love isn’t easy. Francis harbors jealousy about her former lover while Ilona’s posting at an RAF bomber base feeds her nightmares about Francis’ safety. She can see the escalation of stakes as his missions grow ever more dangerous, the enemy more desperate. Ilona must put her courage to the test because she knows that loving Francis means letting him let him fight on, regardless of the terrible price they both may pay.

Here’s a short excerpt:

“Can we go for a walk?” Francis whispered in her ear. “I need to talk to you.”

“Yes, all right.” Her pulse quickened. She wasn’t sure whether it was from excitement or apprehension.

He rose and helped her with her chair. “We’re just going for a little walk before it gets too dark.” He held out his hand and Ilona took it, ignoring Lily’s raised eyebrow. They strolled along the quiet lane while the swifts called out in pursuit of midges and bats emerged in the silvery dusk. They walked close, their shoulders touching.

“Is everything all right?”

“I’ve been thinking, Ilke. This war isn’t going to get any easier or any less dangerous, especially if we finally manage to get onto the continent. If anything happens to me, my parents get a telegram, as next of kin. I don’t want you to have to get a letter from your parents or my grandparents telling you the news. I don’t think that’s fair on you, because you deserve more than that”—he offered her a sad smile—“my constant friend.”

Ilona swallowed, trying to dislodge the lump in her throat. This wasn’t a conversation she wanted to have. She fought with memories she didn’t want to remember.

“I’ve had a word with Harry,” he continued. “I’ve made him promise that if anything happens to me, he’s to come and tell you himself. After all, he’s my wingman. He’ll know more than anyone will. Plus, he has a car, so he can drive here sooner rather than later.”

“You would do that for me?”

He trailed his fingers across her cheek. “I think it’s only fair, don’t you? You’re very important to me. You’ve kept me sane these past few months.”

Ilona stared at him numbly.

“Are you all right?”

“I…I think so. I just don’t know what to say. I don’t want to think about anything happening to you.”

“Neither do I, but I thought it would be best to be prepared, just in case.”

Her mind was a tangle of thoughts. Old hurts rose to the surface and she pushed them away but quick tears betrayed her and she dashed at her eyes with her hand.

“Ilke.” He drew her into his arms. “I didn’t mean to make you cry. I’m sorry.”

Ilona let him hold her, not caring that they were standing in the middle of a quiet lane in the gathering dusk while bats fluttered overhead and the waning moon crept above the shadowed rooftops. He moved his hand through her hair and his lips brushed her temple, a light, fleeting touch. “It’s all right,” he whispered. “I’ll do my best not to hurt you.”

“I know.” She sniffed.

He put his hand under her chin and kissed her. It was sweet, languid and stirred up things that she had long forgotten. Ilona responded with equal deliberation, letting her hands drift to his face to feel the warmth of his skin against the evening chill.

He kissed her palm and sighed. “I could do this all night, Ilke, but you do realize that we’re standing in the middle of the road, it’s getting dark and there is a blackout. We will likely be run over.”

Jen: What kind of research did you do for this book?
SA: A lot and it was great fun. There is so much information available that it was hard not to get carried away. I did get a little carried away and went a little overboard in the first draft. Luckily, a beta reader pointed out that I’d gone a little overboard on the fighter plane stuff so I toned it down. My dad was a huge help. Not only had he been around during World War Two, but he’s a transport buff. He was able to tell me whether, say, there would have been a bus service from Mildenhall to the wilds of Norfolk. One of his friends restores war birds for a living and if I had tricky questions, he was able to ask his friend. I found some very useful online resources, including the BBC’s ‘The People’s War’ and a brilliant site devoted to the Eagle Squadrons.

Jen: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
SA: Pantser all the way. I have a beginning and an end and somehow I muddle my way from one end of a manuscript to the other. With the historical stories, the events dictate the plot and this makes me happy. I love having that guiding hand.

Jen: How do you remember ideas that come to me at odd times?
SA: My sister gave me a lovely red notebook for Christmas about six years ago. I jot all my ideas down in there along with research notes, and character names. I have enough ideas to keep me out of trouble for ages.

Jen: What’s next for you?
SA: I’m mulling over another historical romance set in upstate New York and Montana during the 1970s. My alter ego is balking at the amount of research involved in writing a gay romance set in 19th century Japan.

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