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Monday, July 31, 2017

Author Interview - Susan Elia MacNeal

Today we have Susan Elia MacNeal, author of the smash hit Maggie Hope series set in WWII.   Read my review of newest addition to the series, The Paris Spy (click here) including a book giveaway!  Please welcome Ms. MacNeal.

1)  What drew you to write a historical mystery and why the WW2 era?

 You know, I never planned on writing a historical mystery. But I was writing fiction when I went to London with my husband (who was there as Bear for the Disney Channel show Bear in the Big Blue House). I ended up going to the Churchill War Rooms, the underground bunker where Churchill and his staff ran World War II. It was a powerful, transformative experience — and I just knew I had to write about it.

2)  What is your work schedule like when you're writing and how long does it take you to write a book?

I usually write every morning from about 8 or so to noon. After lunch, I do a little more and also answer emails and whatnot. When I'm starting a new novel it's harder, because I don't know my characters and setting as well. Towards the end, I put in really long days because the people and the world seem so familiar. It usually takes me a year to write a book for my editor, and then more time as it goes through editing and copyediting.

3)  What in your background prepared you to write not just mystery novels but historical intrigue?

 I have a B.A. in English from Wellesley College and also studied history. But basically I just love to read and learn. I knew about World War II, of course, but more of the big battles and also from an American perspective. I had to educate myself about World War II in London, which I did with books, videos, and talking to people in the UK who lived through the war.

4)  Who is your favorite Mystery character (by another author)?

 I'm a huge fan of Flavia de Luce, Alan Bradley's heroine. The Favia series starts with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. I'm also currently obsessed with Ann Cleeves, who writes the Shetland Island series. The first book is Raven Black. I'm also reading and rereading a lot of P.D. James, currently on An Unsuitable Job for a Woman, about private investigator Cordelia Gray.

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Thank you Ms. MacNeal for that interview and joining us today.

Now, please read further if you are interested in the women Churchill utilized as spies in Nazi occupied countries in his full out effort to stop Hitler's advance.  It is this effort that the Maggie Hope series highlights and is built upon.  Here is a clip on the SOE training.

I am fascinated by the story of Eileen Nearne, one of the SOE spies for the Britain during World War II.

She died at 89 years old, poor and alone in September of 2010 in England.  When her small apartment was being emptied, her wartime medals (Croix de Guerre by the French government, and appointment as a Member of the Order of the British Empire) were discovered and her secret was out.  She had no family or friends to pay for her funeral and was about to be cremated, until the news was spread that she was a war hero.  The public flooded local officials to help pay for her funeral and to attend her services.  The Royal British Legion placed a flag on her casket.  There was even a French official in attendance at her funeral to honor this incredible brave woman.  Her eulogy was given by Adrian Stones, Chaiman of the Special Forces Club.

It turns out she was only 23 when she was sent into occupied France since she spoke fluent French. She was one of 39 (some report 57) British women who were parachuted into France as secret agents by the Special Operations Executive [SOE is featured in The Paris Spy], a wartime agency known informally as “Churchill’s secret army.”  She was caught by the Nazis using her radio to send information.  She endured torture but maintained her cover story, but was still sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp in Germany.  She managed to escape and resumed spying.  In all, she was captured three times by the Nazis, and either convinced them she knew nothing, or escaped.  The New York Times reported that after the war, she suffered emotionally from the toll of her experiences.

Then there is Nancy Wake who escaped France, but her husband didn't make it and was executed by the Gestapo.  So Nancy joined the SOE (featured in The Paris Spy) and returned to France to coordinate the 7,000 person strong Resistance attacks, led a raid against Gestapo headquarters and German gun factories.  When wireless operator codes were destroyed in a Gestapo raid, she cycled (autos were banned except for Nazi's) over 71 hours on sheer determination - through multiple Nazi checkpoints - to replace the codes so orders and weapons drops could resume.  She became the Gestapo's Most Wanted.  She was awarded the George Cross medal by Britain, the Medal of Freedom by the USA, and the Médaille de la Résistance, the Croix de Guerre – three times – and the Légion d'Honneur by France.  Nancy died in 2011, at the age of 98.  She has had books written about her and movies and documentaries made about her.

Movie Trailer:

The 1958 black and white movie "Carve Her Name with Pride" was about Violette Szabo, who even has a museum about her work as a spy. She was another SOE agent and was trained in fieldcraft, night and daylight navigation,  escape and evasion, uniform recognition, communications, cryptography, extensive weapons training, and demolition. She provided critical information on the factories producing war materials for the Germans that were critical in determining Allied bombing targets.  On her second mission during the Normandy invasion, a Nazi roadblock resulted in a shoot out and while racing across fields she severely hurt her ankle and provided fire cover so her partner could escape and carry out the mission.  She was captured and interrogated by the SS for four days, then taken to Gesatapo HQ in Paris and tortured.  As allied forces were sweeping France, Violette was moved to Ravensburck concentration camp in Germany where she reportedly helped to save the life of Belgian resistance courier Hortense Daman.  She was eventually executed at the age of 23 and received many medals posthumously.

I shared these to highlight how the character of Maggie Hope is based on real life heroines and the plots borrow much from the history of the actual SOE and their mission.

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