Thursday, 24 October 2013

Black Roses Blog Tour

I am currently reading (and thoroughly enjoying!) Black Roses by Jane Thynne. It tells the story of a young actress called Clara Vine who travels to Berlin in 1933 in the hope of being cast in a feature film and becomes involved in a circle of Nazi wives including Magda Goebbels. She meets an undercover British intelligence agent called Leo Quinn and is recruited to spy on her new friends. Clara is soon caught in the battle between duty and love.

The publishers approached me to ask if I would like to host a day of Jane's Black Roses blog tour and the answer was a resounding YES! Below Jane explores the rise of the females spy, I'm sure you will agree it is fascinating stuff!

When I was at university, one thing everyone secretly hoped for was the discreet tap on the shoulder from an aged tutor - the legendary invitation to sherry that was supposed to signal a job offer from the British secret services. Stories abounded as to just who had received the call – a Bulgarian girl in my year who spoke seven languages was said to have been approached – but it never happened for me.  Nowadays, though, the covert sherry invitation is way out of date. Current recruitment for MI6 takes place via full page national newspaper advertisements, and the one thing they make abundantly clear is that the intelligence world is not an all-male preserve. The most recent advert bears a picture of a sexy, twenty-something woman sitting in a cafĂ© with a cappuccino, with the caption, ‘As for the white, male stereotype, the truth is we don’t care what sex you are.’

Jane Thynne
In film and fiction too, the female agent is having a field day. Characters such as Carrie Mathison in Homeland, Eva Delecktorskaya in William Boyd’s Restless, and the CIA agent Maya in Zero Dark Thirty, are all part of a surge of interest in women spies, not to mention non-fiction accounts of SOE heroines like Christine Granville, Churchill’s favourite spy. As part of my research I asked certain people ‘who should know’ whether there was any quality that made women especially suited to espionage, and they told me that women’s superior powers of empathy are exceptionally useful when it comes to recruiting and communicating with agents in the field.

Yet none of this occurred to me when I wrote Black Roses! Set in 1930s Berlin, my heroine, Clara Vine, is an Anglo-German actress who is drawn into Nazi high society and comes to spy on them. The book came about because I was always fascinated by the Nazi wives, and how it would feel to be married to a man who gradually became a monster. The wives were close up to the action, they were privy to all the feuds and gossip, of which there were plenty in the Third Reich, and they had some pretty dramatic secrets of their own. It was stumbling across the explosive secret of Magda Goebbels, wife of Hitler’s Propaganda Minister, that inspired me to write the first in the Clara Vine series.   

And the idea of a woman like Clara spying on the private lives of the Third Reich wasn’t far-fetched. Pre-war, there were several English visitors who moved freely in German high society and agreed to spy on their hosts. They performed a very valuable service because British intelligence had been caught on the back foot by the Nazis’ seizure of power, being up until that time totally obsessed with the threat of Communism. The British establishment was divided, and while many senior figures like Winston Churchill realized the threat of the Nazi regime, others were intent on keeping Britain out of Hitler’s European wars. So the information which those visitors to Germany brought back about Hitler’s true intentions was invaluable.
As a novelist, I discovered that an actress/spy also proves the ideal protagonist, both because the metaphor of role-playing is an obvious one for a spy, but also because espionage involves those same qualities of close observation and heightened perception that writing does. It could be said that all writers, in a way, are spies, carrying their secrets close throughout the narrative, observing the way people speak, and act, and conceal their feelings, and above all trying very hard to weave a convincing tale.
Thanks so much to Jane for taking the time to write this feature and to Rik at Simon & Schuster for arranging this. Please check out the rest of Jane's blog tour below:


Saturday, 12 October 2013

What Matters in Jane Austen?

I suppose you could say I'm a bit of a Jane Austen fan. I love all her novels especially the witty style of her writing and her colourful characters. I thought I knew all her work pretty well, but this amazing book explores and contrasts all Austen's writing in a brilliant way and I found out things I either did not know or had not noticed before.

For example:

Did you know that just one married woman in all of Jane Austen's novel refers to her husband by his first name? (Mary Musgro
ve in Persuasion if you were wondering)

Most of the scandal or inappropriate behaviour in Austen's novel occurs in a seaside location. (For example Lydia Bennet running off with Wickham in Brighton in Pride and Prejudice)

There are a number of key characters who actually never speak throughout the course of the novels - they are quoted by others or summarised by Austen rather than having any speech quoted to them.

There are many more fascinating points explored throughout twenty key questions with the Regency viewpoints of age, money and behaviour explained in detail. Income is discussed a great deal in by characters in Austen's novels especially when discussing appropriate suitors. I have usually found this a bit difficult to understand not knowing the value of money during that time, so this book sheds some light on what the average income and inheritance money would be. Therefore Mr Darcy was indeed very rich!

The book also explores how Austen commonly used details such as the weather, card games, character blunders and blushing as plot devices.

I really enjoyed reading this exploration of Austen's novels and it has made me want to read all of her work again with a new perspective (not that I need that much encouragement!) Janeites across the land will love this book! Buy it!  

4:50 From Paddington

Another fantastic story from the Queen of Crime. Elspeth McGillicuddy is on the 4.50 From Paddington, when a train runs alongside her carriage. Through her carriage window, she sees a man strangle a woman and immediately alerts the train staff. But no body is found on the other train and she only saw the back of the man and knows that he is tall with dark hair. She tells her friend Jane Marple who becomes determined to solve the case. Miss Marple employs the services of a young woman called Lucy Eylesbarrow who has created her own famous and in-demand role of a home help. Together they work hard to find the body and solve the mystery...

I loved this story, there are so many revelations and suspects and the character of Lucy Eylesbarrow is a fantastic one. Once again I had no idea who the murderer was or why. I love Agatha Christie's humour and way of describing characters and I have no idea how she thought of so many different crime stories, colourful characters and brilliant names! Recommended!

Rivers of London

Rivers of London is the first book in a hugely successful series of crime novels set throughout London town. So far, so familiar. In the first couple of pages, a decapitated corpse has been found in an iconic area of Covent Garden, with the key witness being a ghost. Yep - that pretty much grabs your attention and sets the scene for this supernatural rollercoaster ride across the city.

Ben Aaronovitch's writing is fantastically funny, told through the viewpoint of a young mixed-race, slightly rubbish policeman called Peter Grant. While his colleagues are chasing down criminals, he is more likely to be reading a plaque on a statue at the crime scene. It is this gift and desire to know more which enables him to be able to see ghosts and become an apprentice to Inspector Nightingale - the last wizard in England.

As more random acts of violence occur, Peter becomes intent on finding out the cause of ordinary Londoners suddenly erupting in anger and having there faces split open. Along the way he acquires a ghost-hunting dog and meets vampires and the spirits of the Thames.

What makes this book really effective is that it describes parts of London really accurately, which makes the 'magic' in the book a lot more realistic. The juxtaposition between traditional magic and modern technology is explored really well and the characters are well-written are likeable.

I don't often read crime fiction, but this instantly intrigued me and is unlike anything I have read before. I hope the rumours of a television series are true, as this would work really well on screen. I will definitely be interested in reading the other three books in the series so far.

Find out more about the books at

The World According To Bob

This is the follow-up story to last year's huge success A Street Cat Named Bob. The first book was one of my favourite books of the year as it features a cheeky ginger cat and a truly heart-warming story set on the mean streets of London.

In this update, James takes centre-stage rather than Bob as he describes how important his feline friend is throughout his daily life - from suffering from illness to stressful situations on the street. This is surely one clever cat as we read stories of him attacking a potential mugger and giving James time to recover from a spell in hospital.

Fans of the original book will enjoy this second visit to Bob's world just as much as the first as it is full of humour and warmth. There are also some shocking and poignant moments such as James finding a man overdosing on drugs in his flat stairwell and the behaviour he experiences from members of the public. The chapter describing the duo's first book signing is a lovely moment and the final chapter will bring tears to any pet owner's eyes.

I love reading about James and Bob's adventures and the money that they have raised for animal charities is phenomenal. Theirs is a story that has captured hearts all around the world and it is one which reminds you about the important things in life.

Follow @streetcatbob on twitter for more regular updates on the pair and their charity work.