Hi Heloise, thank you so much for being my host today and inviting me to talk a bit about my new release, Eleventh Hour. It’s about spies, a subject close to my heart.
We all love a good spy yarn, don’t we? Whether it’s Daniel Craig as Bond in the modern world or an old school yarn on paper with someone like Richard Hannay defeating the ungodly with a combination of his trusty service revolver, a pen knife and a stiff upper lip. They are both beloved clichés and I really wanted to produce my own low tech version of a spy story. This, of course, required a lot of background reading and to say I was startled at some of the stories I came across is an understatement. Whether any of them are true, of course, is another matter. We have to accept that spies first and foremost have to be consummate liars, with the ability to keep their cover stories straight in their heads and a facility for thinking on their feet. However there are some delightful tales that I really wish were true, even if they may have been exaggerated.
Before the WW1 intelligence had been gathered on an ad hoc basis by whoever was available. Huge successes were achieved by characters as diverse as Sidney Reilly, who spied for Britain but also picked up pay cheques from Russia and Germany, and exercised a self-awarded licence to kill with cold efficiency and Sir Richard Francis Burton, poet and philosopher, who collected intel between translating the Kama Sutra and 1001 Nights and infiltrating the male brothels in Karachi to obtain blackmail material to pass on to his handlers. Perhaps the most inspiring of all is McMorrough Kavanaugh, an Irishman, a magnificent horseman and a crack shot, who spied for England and explored some of the hairier places on the North West Frontier of India despite having been born with no hands or feet! But there was no real system and after the Great War Sir Mansfield Cumming – or C as he signed his documents – took control and organised it along much more modern lines. It was while he was in charge that Military Intelligence Section 6 – MI6 – came into being. His offices at 2 Whitehall Court, are proudly marked by a blue English Heritage plaque
C was an incredible character in his own right. He had a monocle, walked with the aid of a swordstick and had his own personal tank. He had a passion for fast cars and a wooden leg, claiming that he had acquired one as a consequence of the other. He claimed that during a high speed chase he crashed his car and had to cut his own foot off with his pen knife to escape before he was caught by the enemy. He claimed a lot of things! But it is on record that he used to like to test the nerve of prospective spies by taking them out in his car and seeing how well they coped with being a passenger. He also used to startle people in meetings by stabbing himself in the wooden leg with a paperknife. C had no illusions about his men. He had to accept volunteers because MI6 was not supposed to exist, and some were genuine patriots, some were out for what they could get and others were bumbling incompetents. “All my men are blackguards!” he complained after one spectacularly failed mission. But he did his best with what he had and inspired Ian Fleming’s depiction of Bond by insisting that spies should be able to do whatever it took to get the job done. C rejected the stuffy and puritanical attitudes of the Victorian and Edwardian eras, preferring that his men be, in the idiom of the time “gay dogs”. His men were also encouraged to improvise. Far from home and out of touch with their handlers, there would be plenty of times when they ran out of supplies and had to make do with whatever was to hand. For instance, C delighted in the discovery that semen makes an excellent invisible ink! However after a year or two of enthusiastic use – every man is his own fountain pen was one of his sayings – he had to recommend that it only be used with caution because the recipients of the notes complained of the smell.
Thank you for being such a great host xxx
Heloise: ROFL!!! You’re welcome any time!!
Borrowed from the Secret Intelligence Service cipher department to assist Briers Allerdale – a field agent returning to 1920s London with news of a dangerous anarchist plot – Miles Siward moves into a ‘couples only’ boarding house, posing as Allerdale’s ‘wife’. Miles relishes the opportunity to allow his alter ego, Millie, to spread her wings but if Miles wants the other agent’s respect he can never betray how much he enjoys being Millie nor how attractive he finds Allerdale.
Pursuing a ruthless enemy who wants to throw Europe back into the horrors of the Great War, Briers and Miles are helped and hindered by nosy landladies, Water Board officials, suave gentlemen representing foreign powers and their own increasing attraction to each other.
Will they catch their quarry? Will they find love? Could they hope for both?
The clock is ticking.
Published by Manifold Press
68,000 words/ 248 pages
Publication 1 August 2016
Elin Gregory lives in South Wales and works in a museum in a castle built on the edge of a Roman fort! She reckons that’s a pretty cool job.
Elin usually writes on historical subjects, and enjoys weaving the weird and wonderful facts she comes across in her research into her plots. She likes her heroes hard as nails but capable of tenderness when circumstances allow. Often they are in danger, frequently they have to make hard choices, but happy endings are always assured.
Current works in progress include one set during the Great War, another in WW2, one set in the Dark Ages and a series of contemporary romances set in a small town on the Welsh border.