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Silent Melody

Growing up in post-World War II South Wales taught Mary Balogh that everyone's reality was not the same. German bombers had leveled much of the port city of Swansea, where Mary's family lived. In the aftermath, as the city awaited to be rebuilt, Mary went out to play in the rubble with the other children, her young imagination free to roam among the piles of ash and stone.

"I would play in the bombed-out buildings. It was a strange and wonderful place-barren and unstructured. Children have a strange perception of things. It was fun. I think perhaps it helped trigger my imagination. As a child [in those circumstances] you had to have a good imagination until something substantial came along."

As Swansea moved toward the next half of the century, Mary entrenched herself in the classics at the University of Wales where she majored in English Literature. After graduation, looking "for a bit of adventure," she accepted a job at an elementary school in Kipling, a prairie town in Saskatchewan, Canada.

When pangs of homesickness grew strong after two years, Mary decided she would return to Wales. But fate intervened, turning her plans upside down. "I received a phone call from a gentleman I'd never met," she said. Robert told Mary he saw her around (Kipling has a population of 1200) and wondered if she would accompany him to a town dance. "I had a one-way ticket home and all my trunks packed," but said she'd consider it. Mary told her landlady about the young man. It turned out her landlady knew his family quite well, they were farmers from the edge of town, and encouraged Mary to accept Robert's offer. "It was love at first sight, " said Mary. "He was tall and good looking and had those lovely, smiling eyes." Mary did go home-for a summer visit. Unable to forget Robert, she returned to Kipling and married him the next summer.

But a quirk of fate occurred again. One morning when Mary opened a Kellogg's Cornflakes box, she pulled out a Harlequin novel. The promotion, A Gentle Possession by Anne Mather, hooked her and after reading it, she decided to try her hand at writing a romance. "Up to that point, I had never read a romance," she said. "I was rather looking down my nose. I cynically thought of it as a way to get rich quick." She wrote two contemporaries and sent them off to Harlequin. "I was rejected as I had thoroughly deserved to be. I didn't get down to the business of writing."

Then Mary discovered Georgette Heyer and something clicked. "I was totally bowled over." Now in her 30s and a school principal with three children, Mary said she thought, "This is it," and penned her first Regency, this time pouring herself into it. A Masked Deception was published by Signet in 1985. She soon quit her job to write full-time. Forty-four Regencies, 8 historicals and 22 novellas later, Mary is still going strong.

Her new book, Silent Melody, a sequel to 1995's Heartless, may be the ultimate leap for her as a writer. Set in Georgian England, the heroine, Emily, is a strong-willed deaf mute with an artist's temperament. "It was definitely a challenge to work within an absence of dialogue and give the impression that one is communicating," she said. "A few people were dubious at first...[but] readers wrote me saying they were upset Emily and Ashley were left hanging."

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