The final book in Mary Balogh's New York Times bestselling Survivors' Club series, Only Beloved, is our May Top Pick in Romance. The series follows seven wounded veterans of the Napoleonic Wars who have returned to England to heal at the home of George, the Duke of Stanbrook. Only Beloved gives the generous and kind George the happy ending he so deserves. We asked the Welsh-born Balogh about bringing her touching and popular series to an end.
Describe your latest novel in one sentence.
After years of grief and loneliness as a widower, the Duke of Stanbrook decides to seek happiness with an unmarried music teacher he met briefly a year ago.
Most romance novels feature young lovers in their 20s and early 30s. For the final book in the series, what made you decide to write a love story between an older couple?
I really forced it upon myself. When I invented the Survivors' Club, I needed a character who opened his home as a hospital for officers. It somehow made sense to make him an older man rather than a young man who should perhaps have been away fighting himself, and so the Duke of Stanbrook was born. He is a very central character to the series, though, and was always going to have to have his own story. I would not pair him up with a young woman, so there had to be an older female character worthy of him. And then there is also the fact that I think there should be more love stories for older couples. Many avid readers, after all, are older people, and love and romance are not exclusive reserves of the very young. I am an older person!
What’s the biggest difference between writing a romance about an older couple and writing about a younger one?
It's the level of maturity. The Duke of Stanbrook is 48 in his book; Dora Debbins is 39. They have done a lot of living. They have gone through a lot, suffered a great deal, dealt with their sufferings, settled into productive and dignified lives. I wouldn't say they no longer feel passion (they do!), but they show it in a more considered, realistic way than is often the case with younger characters. There are fewer fireworks and ups and downs of emotion, but a slow burn can be just as hot.
What’s your favorite thing about George, the Duke of Stanbrook?
He is a man who lives love. He is the one who opened his home as a hospital for the Survivors and others, and he was utterly devoted to their care and wellbeing. Even after the three years are over, he is still totally supportive of his friends and absolutely unselfish. Yet he has deep wounds of his own. His only son died in the wars, and his wife committed suicide a few months later. Some of his neighbors believe he killed her. He never talks about his past. He listens, but he keeps his secrets and his pain locked up. My favorite thing? All through the series he is a hero just waiting to happen! I could hardly wait to get to his book.
Only Beloved is the seventh and final book in your Survivors’ Club series. What will you miss most about this series?
The seven characters, six men and one woman, who comprise the club, are a very close-knit group. And they are strong people, having been variously and severely wounded during the Napoleonic Wars before spending three years together recuperating and fighting their way back to physical and emotional health. I loved taking them one by one and pairing them up with suitable heroines and hero so that they could settle back into happy lives and love again. Characters like these become real people to me, and it is sad to say goodbye. However, there is a certain satisfaction in having completed a body of work and being able to turn to a new challenge. There are numerous other characters and stories out there just waiting to be discovered, after all.
Has your childhood in Wales influenced your writing at all? And if it has, how so?
I have written a few books and novellas set in Wales (Longing and The Escape, for example), and my love of the country, the landscape, the language, the music, the spirituality carried me onward through those stories. I was perfectly at home writing those books because I knew my subject. I think a Welsh love of music and language shows itself in all my books, though. And the Welsh are a passionate people. My books are character-driven and passion-driven. That does not necessarily mean they are driven by sex. The passion of love includes sex but encompasses so much more.
To come at the question from another angle: I grew up in post-World War II Wales, in a city that had been almost flattened by bombing. We had very little, and our outdoor playground was the bombed buildings. Food, clothing, almost everything was severely rationed. We had few belongings, few toys. But did we feel deprived? Did I? In no way! I firmly believe that it was my childhood that ignited my imagination. With my few toys, I created rich imaginary worlds. I played in those worlds, and I wrote long stories about them as soon as I could read and write.
What’s next for you?
I am working on a new eight-part series, the Westcott family series. It is based on the premise of an earl dying without a will. His son automatically inherits the title and properties and fortune, but his widow and two daughters are well provided for, too—until, that is, a 25-year-old will surfaces, leaving everything except the title to the wife and daughter no one knew anything about. And that first wife died four months after his second marriage, rendering that union bigamous and the three children of the marriage illegitimate. His only legitimate daughter grew up in an orphanage unaware of her true identity. The first book, Someone to Love, is her story—Anna Snow, who is in reality Lady Anastasia Westcott. Grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins are also involved in the turmoil—one cousin inherits the title. The series will tell the stories of the various Westcotts and how they reshape their concept of their family as they deal with its new realities.
Author photo by Sharon Pelletier