Jennifer Ryan
Q&A with Jennifer Ryan, author of The Spies of Shilling Lane

Jennifer Ryan knows how to write vivid and engaging stories that take place during World War II. Her debut novel, The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir, was set in a small British village during that time period; now, her latest work, The Spies of Shilling Lane, travels out of the countryside and into WWII-era London.

We’re caught up with Jennifer Ryan to hear more about the audiobook and discover how she celebrates completing drafts!

Tell us a little about The Spies of Shilling Lane.
Set in the London Blitz in the Second World War, the novel is a thrilling, heartwarming tale of a woman whose daughter goes missing. Bombarding the espionage underworld, bringing along her daughter’s reluctant landlord, she takes readers on a page-turning adventure of hidden identities, coded messages, and secrets revealed.

Throughout the book, our heroine, Mrs. Braithwaite, continually comes back to the question that has been pressing her from the beginning of her journey: How do you measure the success of your life? Is success driven by class, wealth, or power within your circles? Or are you valued for the good deeds that you do, your kindness, generosity, and love?

June is Audiobook Month, and we’re celebrating! Do you have a celebration ritual when you complete a final draft?
Oh, yes I do! A small dance around my laptop, along with any children who are around—my desk is the dining table where they do their homework (we eat at the kitchen table!). Sometimes it’s like a little tribal stomp around the room, lots of arms waving in the air, my husband joining in, while the dog wonders what’s going on.

All that research, all that writing, all that focus, and then, suddenly, those magic words THE END are on the page, and you know it’s been so incredibly worthwhile.

Which characters from this book would you invite to a summer dinner party, and why?
Definitely Mrs. Braithwaite and Betty. The former because she is such a big character, and she’s really funny, too. She would bring gravitas, largesse, and humor to any event.

Betty because it’s just so fascinating that she’s a spy—and one of the first female spies to work in an official capacity. The Second World War provided so many new opportunities for women, and espionage was one of them. After the Nazi occupation of France, it became apparent to Churchill that Britain needed something beyond a traditional army in order to hold the Nazis at bay. The answer was espionage, but with all the men already busy, they had a manpower shortage. Although many balked at the notion of using women, it provided a simple solution to a recruitment problem, and young women like Betty were taken on. It must have been thrilling.

Is there a song that makes you want to get up and dance?
I have to go with a Second World War theme and say “Boogie-woogie Bugle Boy of Company B.” I have it on my phone and play it sometimes as I write, to conjure up the atmosphere of the era. It’s a great little dance number, and you’ll find me swinging into the kitchen, fingers snapping, to make a fresh cup of coffee.

And in honor of Audiobook Month, what’s your next audio listen, and what made you choose it?
Lost Roses, by Martha Hall Kelly. I adored Lilac Girls and couldn’t wait for her next book. She does meticulous research, and her use of incredibly fascinating historical detail makes for a riveting read. A friend already read it and told me that she thought it was actually better than Lilac Girls, which hardly seems possible. I met Martha Hall Kelly once at a book conference, and she was the most wonderful person you can imagine. I can’t wait!

Learn more about Jennifer Ryan’s audiobooks:

“This is a crisp and energetic book, a suspense story that explores our darker sides without drowning us. Ryan’s use of language is grippy and plosive…What truly stands out is the underlying tone of joy in Ryan’s writing; there’s warmth and care even in the darkest moments.”—NPR

“A cozy, entertaining historical spy story.”—Kirkus

Author: Jennifer Ryan
Read By: Various

“This superb cast fully succeeds in keeping listeners engaged with voices that embody the personalities of all the characters.”—AudioFile

As England enters World War II’s dark early days, spirited music professor Primrose Trent, recently arrived to the village of Chilbury, emboldens the women of the town to defy the Vicar’s stuffy edict to shutter the church’s choir in the absence of men and instead “carry on singing.” Resurrecting themselves as “The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir,” the women of this small village soon use their joint song to lift up themselves, and the community, as the war tears through their lives.