2017 Blog Tours Clare Harvey Guest Post Simon & Schuster
Blog Tour: The English Agent - Guest Post by Clare Harvey
Today I'm delighted to welcome historical fiction author Clare Harvey to the blog, as part of the Blog Tour for her latest release, The English Agent.
I have a confession: I never actually studied history at school. As an author of historical fiction this is something I probably shouldn’t be sharing with you…
You see, I had a history teacher who not only was close to retirement and slightly worn out with this teaching lark, but was clearly a frustrated artist. I remember having to draw endless pictures of castles, and being told ‘vertical lines are always vertical’ and ‘remember which side your light is hitting when you do your shading’. Realising that I wasn’t learning much history in history lessons, and thinking that I’d rather learn drawing skills from an actual art teacher, I swapped History for German in my third year of secondary school, and that was that.
Fast forward thirty-odd years: I decided to write a book about women soldiers in WW2. I’d just discovered that my mother-in-law had been an ack-ack girl in London during the war, and I thought it was a fascinating basis for a story. At the time I was taking an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Nottingham, and I remember my tutor describing my intention to write historical fiction as ‘brave’. I took no notice of his misgivings. After all, didn’t I have parents who’d been alive during the Second World War? I’d grown up reading Carrie’s War and When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, and watching Dad’s Army on TV. How hard could it be?
I had a lot to learn.
Anyone who has actually studied History would probably a little more methodical than I was. My approach was to try to get as much information from as many sources as possible, as quickly as possible. I started with Pathe News clips and contemporaneous films such as The Gentle Sex (a wartime propaganda film about women in the army). I scoured Amazon for obscure autobiographies and self-published memoirs. I trawled the Imperial War Museum’s sound archive for interviews. I pored over picture books detailing wartime life, and watched ‘Woeful Second World War’ episodes of Horrible Histories with my children. I visited a WW2 re-enactment day, where I tiptoed about apologetically in the mud, almost too nervous to tell people that I was a writer (I hadn’t been published then, so I worried that nobody would take me seriously – luckily they were all really nice and supportive). I even talked to my mum, who was just a toddler at the outbreak of war, but luckily has an elephantine memory! The more I learned, the more gaps in my knowledge I discovered. I began to think my Creative Writing tutor had a point.
However, my somewhat panicky ‘scattergun’ approach to historical research seemed to work. My debut novel The Gunner Girl won the Joan Hessayon Award in 2016, so I thought I must have been doing something right, despite my lack of academic rigour. I used similar methods when researching my new book, The English Agent, although I added in some ‘optical research’ (a term which makes it sound better than ‘swanning off’, which is what some people seemed to think when I announced I had to visit Paris as it was essential for the book!)
Optical research is important, and if I possibly have the opportunity I do it (sometimes time and money constraints mean that I have to use the internet and my imagination instead, of course). When you are actually in a location you engage all your five senses and discover practical details: what sound do your shoes make on the ground? What does the horizon look like? How long does it take to walk up a certain street? Etc. All of this really helps to get the texture of a place and is invaluable when writing scenes.
Which brings me back to my old history teacher. When I think about all those lessons drawing castles, considering how they looked when the light hit them, and where the shadows would be – is that so very different from the ‘optical research’ that I find so useful when I’m writing historical fiction?
Perhaps I should have taken more notice of my old history teacher, after all?
The English Agent is out now in hardback, paperback and e-book.
You can catch up with Clare Harvey here:
Photos show Clare researching The English Agent in a trip to Paris in 2015.
About the book:
Title: The English Agent
Author: Clare Harvey
Published: February 23rd 2017 by Simon & Schuster
Having suffered a traumatic experience in the Blitz, Edie feels utterly disillusioned with life in wartime London. The chance to work with the Secret Operations Executive (SOE) helping the resistance in Paris offers a fresh start. Codenamed ‘Yvette’, she’s parachuted into France and met by the two other members of her SOE cell. Who can she trust?
Back in London, Vera desperately needs to be made a UK citizen to erase the secrets of her past. Working at the foreign office in charge of agents presents an opportunity for blackmail. But when she loses contact with one agent in the field, codenamed Yvette, her loyalties are torn.
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