Today is Publication Day!
Initially, I hesitated to write a story set during World War 2, unsure what I could bring to it that would be unique. And then it dawned on me that few had written about the war from a neutral Irish perspective. Luckily, all I had to do was delve into my family and local history and Her Secret War, the first novel in the Sarah Gillespie Series, was the result.
Essentially, the stories in the series are about spies and fifth columnists, a subject covered in some depth by Tim Tate in his book, Hitler’s British Traitors. This was the source for much of my background information and threw up a few plot ideas too (always a bonus!). [Buy Link: Hitler’s British Traitors]
My mother and her sisters left rural Ireland to work in Britain during WW2. One aunt followed her boyfriend, who had joined the RAF, and she worked in a munitions factory. Another aunt wanted to study nursing, and my mother was a ‘clippie’ (bus conductress) on the Birmingham buses. Neither book is their story, but there are glimpses of their experiences hidden throughout the fiction. The German attack on North Strand, which opens the first book, happened only a few miles from where I grew up. As a young child, I passed the bombed-out sites regularly, knowing nothing about them. I was in my late teens before I heard about the bombing and the relevant history.
For me, the greatest challenge was getting up to speed on day-to-day life. I knew a lot about the overall timeline and events of the war, but it was the nitty-gritty details of life on the Homefront which would ground the stories in reality. Thankfully, there is an enormous amount of material out there, from eyewitness accounts and books to newsreels.
My heroine, Sarah Gillespie, is Irish, and the first novel in the series begins with the infamous bombing of neutral Dublin by the Luftwaffe in May 1941. The opening chapters take place during the bombing and its aftermath before the story moves to England. Like many Irish, Sarah has family living in the UK. They welcome her to their home when her own family is killed. Without giving away the plot, Sarah’s nationality leads to complications, and she is forced to decide where her loyalties lie. The complex relationship between the Irish and their ex-colonial masters interests me, and I explore it to some extent in both novels.
Her Last Betrayal continues Sarah’s story. She is now employed by MI5 and must work with a new colleague, a US Naval Intelligence officer, who is hostile and suspicious of her motives. There mission is to track down IRA members who are facilitating British fifth columnists and Abwehr agents entering and leaving the UK. Just as they appear to be making progress, one of the MI5 team is revealed to be a German mole. Their mission thrown into chaos, Sarah and Tony must learn to trust each other if they are to survive.
Again, I referenced Mr Tate’s excellent book only to find that the port used by the IRA was only alluded to as being in South Wales. I knew the UK National Archives document reference number, but the text in question was only available to view in person, not online. Due to Covid, I could not travel to Kew to look at it. So, in the meantime, I had to make an educated guess (Fishguard seemed likely as it connected Cork and neutral Lisbon at the time—a possible route).
As the deadline for finalising the book approached, however, I panicked and took a chance and messaged Mr Tate directly through social media. A few weeks later, he responded and emailed all the information I needed. But, as it transpired, the identity of the port used by the IRA for smuggling people in and out of the UK, remains a mystery. The document Mr Tate had seen only mentioned South Wales. And then the bombshell: the British Secret Service had destroyed the other file which identified the exact location. Although disappointed, at least I had an answer. And let’s be honest, a bit of mystery is music to the ears of a writer of espionage tales!
Her Secret War was published in October 2021 and is available in all good bookstores and online. Her Last Betrayal is published today, 14th April 2022 and is available in all good book stores and online. I am currently working on the third novel in the series, as yet unnamed.