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!
FEMALE SPIESWhen 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 Nowadays, though, the covert sherry invitation is way out of date.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 café with a cappuccino, with the caption, ‘As for the white, male stereotype, the truth is we don’t care what sex you are.’
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: