Does This Woman Look Like A Spy?

July 7, 2020 by · Leave a Comment 

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What reader isn’t fascinated by the idea of women secret agents operating behind enemy lines during WW II? What we now know about these unsung heroines is primarily due to the 1995 opening of formerly classified archives on the 50th anniversary marking the end of that terrible conflict.

In early phases of Allied clandestine operations, many female secret agents played the role of “Honey Traps” and “Madam Fifis”–goodlooking women recruited to use their charms to ferret out information from the enemy in ways most masculine agents could not. They also employed their persuasive “feminine wiles” to uncover bad-risk Alled secret agents-in-training working for our side! If these men proved indiscreet and unable to keep a secret, they were subsequently removed from their assignments before going behind enemy lines and possibly getting other agents killed.

One of the most skillful of all these American Mata Haris was Amy Elizabeth Thorpe, an American former debutant (seen here as a young bride of British diplomat Arthur Pack) working undercover for British Intelligence in Washington D.C. before and after Pearl Harbor.

I became obsessed with her incredible real-life story and used her as a prototype for my fictional heroine, Catherine Thornton, in my lastest novel, LANDING BY MOONLIGHT, published in late 2019.

My book opens with a scene based on this extraordinary “lady spy” persuading a French diplomat to break into his own embassy in D.C. and help her steal crucial naval communication codes from the collaborating Vichy French government. This, against all odds,they managed to do, allowing the Allies to learn exactly what Hitler’s forces were up to in the Mediterranean prior to invasions not only at Normandy, but also, eight weeks later, on the beaches of the South of France. The Allies were then able to conquer the north of Africa and from there, invade Southern Italy and eventually land in France, pushing north to meet up with General Eisenhower’s troops heading south from the landings at Omaha Beach.

“Betty” Thorpe and a handful of American women secret agents performed many largely unknown, heroic deeds that helped the Allies win the war. Don’t you agree that it’s far past time their stories were told?

(LANDING BY MOONLIGHT is available in print and as an ebook from all major online retailers and in bookstores through the Ingram Catalogue).

Adding to the Novelist’s “Idea Bank”

June 13, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

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Image 2Writers are constantly asked the perfectly sensible question: “Where do your ideas come from?” I certainly heard that often enough whenever I speculated aloud that I might do a new novel, That Summer in Cornwall, as a spin-off from an earlier book, A Cottage by the Sea. People would exclaim, “You’re going to do two novels in the same place with some of the same characters? Haven’t you run out of ideas by now?”

For me, the notion for a new book to which I’m willing to commit months–if not years–to bring to fruition usually comes from my garden-variety curiosity and from my previous life as a working reporter. Back in the day, whenever in my travels around town or around the world, I’d encounter something that set off an “Oh, what a good story!” mini-explosion in my brain, I would jot it down to tell my editor or the news director. Now I jot it down under “Ciji’s Book Idea Bank.”IMG_4676

Take this trip we’re on right now: first to Talloires, a tiny (pop. 500) village in the French Alpes where my husband is attending a board meeting for the MacJannet Foundation, a modest educational non-profit that awards prizes each year for “Global Citizenship” and grants college students scholarships to learn the language at the Tufts University European Center, housed in Talloires’ eleventh century priory.

IMG_4912Visitors arrive at this lovely spot on Lake Annecy, often by bateau at the charming landing dock you see on your left and enjoy the Michelin starred restaurants in the immediate region that are well-known to Foodies throughout the world.France June 2006 130

What is less well-known to most Americans, at least, is that little Talloires and the jagged mountains behind the village were a hotbed of the French Resistance in World War II. Those opposed to the Vichy “collaborators” and to Hitler’s invading armies holed up in the rugged back country and were deeply involved in the ultimate liberation of France in August of 1944, a mere three-and-a-half months after the landings at Normandy Beach.

Musée_Départemental_de_la_Résistance_Haut-Savoyarde_à_Thônes,_Haute-SavoieDuring the many trips we’ve made to Talloires over the years, we have always said, “We must visit the Resistance Museum this time,” and somehow competing events always cropped up relating to our primary purpose–to wit, the MacJannet Foundation meetings–and we never have seemed to get there…until this time.thones-war-memorial

Sunday, May 8th is the day celebrated in France each year marking the end of WW II in Europe and the moment when local French in and around Talloires and Lake Annecy were finally able to begin rebuilding their lives. Visiting the graves there of those who fought in the French Resistance and, among other heroic acts, helped ferry downed British and American flyers back to safe territory, prompted a number of ideas to swirl in my head. There were women who served in this effort, which intrigues me, and also disputes that fester still in these villages about local families that supported the Nazi occupation (or at least refused to join the Resistance) and some who even betrayed the resistance fighters, and the families that risked all to free themselves from the occupiers.

Hmmmm….the imagination boggles over the possibilities. Once I finish my Four Seasons Quartet series, I could–

And that, dear readers, is one way an author gets her ideas: get out and see the world!