Viola Bayley

NB: Brief sketches of Rye writers appear in Literary Rye –> Writers in Rye.   Fuller accounts of more of them, this being an example, will be added from time to time.

With thanks to Julia Makin via Peakirk Books  for much of the information.

Viola Bayley (1911 – 1997), daughter of an artist, was born at Rother Cliff, a large gabled house situated just off Rye Hill on the outskirts of Rye, overlooking the town and Romney Marsh. She was educated at home, at a school in a house opposite Ypres Castle, at Effingham in Bexhill, a drama school in Hampshire — wanting a career in dance and on the stage – and qualified as an elocution teacher. However on a visit to India at the age of 22 she met an officer in the Indian Police, Vernon Bayley, whom she subsequently married in Playden. They spent some years living and travelling in India where the first two of their four children were born. During WWII Viola worked in the RAF cipher offices in Delhi and then as private secretary to the Governor’s wife. Two autobiographical works Early Years and Memories of India describe her life before the family returned to Rye in the winter of 1945-46 to begin restoring the house where she had lived as a child.

Soon however her husband joined the Foreign Office and thus began the years of postings and travel to destinations such as Paris, Stockholm, the Lebanon, Turkey & Cyprus – with the house in Rye waiting for them in England. These years added to the rich store of material already accumulated as she emerged as an author of plays, short stories and stories for young children.

In 1951 Viola wrote The Dark Lantern, a mystery thriller for older readers, set on the Dorset coast. The book set very favourable reviews and established her as ‘an excellent story teller, with an entirely convincing background of reality. . .’. She now concentrated mostly on books for older children and began a collaboration with the publishers J M Dent and Sons, who were to publish all ut one of her books.

One of her most successful early mystery thrillers was Storm on the Marsh (1953) whose inspiration and setting was Rother Cliff, with its semi-isolated position and imposing views over Rye and Romney Marsh. The story involves the Halland family—said to be modelled on Viola Bayley’s own children, especially Buster, based on her youngest son, Julian with his ‘cheerful untidy self’, many ‘grazes to bandage’ and ‘whose appetite had never known defeat except in the throes of severe measles’. Also featured are a mysterious housekeeper and Camber Castle and its environs.

Viola’s writing career was taking off. Noel Streatfeild, writing in Collins Young Elizabethan, was effusive with praise for ‘an author new to me who writes so well it should not be long before she is in the most favourite class’. In 1955 J M Dent reprinted Storm on the Marsh as part of its Literature of Yesterday and Today series of textbooks for secondary schools. These books have the original unabridged texts and illustrations, followed by several pages of questions and exercises for study and discussion. The Dark Lantern, Paris Adventure, Kashmir Adventure and Shadow on the Wall were also reprinted in this series. Among the many other Adventure titles, all based on places she had lived or visited, were the Lebanon, Corsican, Turkish, Swedish, Italian, Scottish, Welsh, Austrian, Caribbean, Adriatic and Greek Adventure books, many of which were translated into German, French, Dutch and/or Swedish. She also wrote for the Children’s Club and other magazines.

After the death of her husband Viola Bayley continued to live at Rother Cliff. In the early 1980′s a visit to South Africa inspired a further book, Shadows on the Cape. In retirement she moved to a house in the centre of Rye, on the corner of West Street and Mermaid street, opposite Lamb House, where she worked for a time as a volunteer.

She is remembered as ‘one of the best authors in her field’ by the Times Literary Supplement and numerous fans.

First posted in Literary and Artistic Rye, Notable People on 12th June 2012
Last updated: 27th November 2012