Please help us welcome author Elin Gregory to TNA today. She’s dropped by to help us celebrate our 5 Year Blogiversary, and she’s offering a giveaway of her fantastic historical spy thriller, Eleventh Hour.
Many thanks to Lisa for inviting me to take part in this fantastic celebration of The Novel Approach, one of my ‘go to’ places for finding quality recommendations to increase the size of my immense TBR pile. But you can never have too many books, can you? Lisa and team’s reviews have led me to making the acquaintance of some outstanding authors and many, many happy hours of reading. Thank you all and here’s to another five years!!
Just for the heck of it I am adding a guest post about the early days of the British Secret Service, which wasn’t nearly as slick as one might think from its depiction in the James Bond films.
From the earliest times there have been men and women who risk their lives by sneaking into enemy territory to try to see what’s going on there and establish how much of a threat there is. There are even spies mentioned in the Bible, reconnoitring before invading Palestine and establishing a safe house in Jericho. The Romans had their speculators, men who could sound out possible supporters in territories ripe for annexation and spy on enemy forces. Sir Francis Walsingham had an enormous network of spies in the 16th century, and the European powers cultivated promising young officers who might prove to be good players in The Great Game. But it wasn’t until the 20th century that anything like a formal secret service was established in the UK.
Partly this was due to a lordly assumption that the Brits didn’t NEED to spy, they were just that good, but it was coupled with a very damaging attitude that spying was ‘not playing the game’ and that we shouldn’t stoop so low.
Between 1900 and 1909 a series of intelligence disasters, including the discovery of a very highly placed German mole in the Foreign Office, finally convinced the powers in charge that some kind of overview was needed. Army intelligence didn’t speak to Navy and the fledgling air force reported to whoever it felt like. Someone needed to draw the threads together. A small room in the War Office, designated M05, was allocated and two Captains, one of the Staffordshire Regiment, invalided out of service due to his ill health and the other from Naval intelligence, were asked to form a formal Secret Service Bureau. Not a promising start yet they outstripped all expectations.
Plagued by illness from strenuous service, Captain Vernon Kell had served all over the world and absorbed languages like a sponge. He had a formidable intelligence that didn’t hesitate to use whatever means were available to fool the enemy. He even employed criminals, even ones in jail, to produce what is now called disinformation, sending out forged letters with inaccurate figures via the foreign powers own ‘letter boxes’. He was also sensible enough to involve the police and worked with Scotland Yard to bring foreign spies to justice. His organisation eventually became MI5.
Kell’s opposite number, head of the infant MI6, was Madison Smith-Cumming, later known as C. He 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. His wooden leg became a secret service legend, as he never told the same story of its loss twice. Amongst other version, 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. 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. With such an original at the helm it’s no wonder that there was a ramshackle, make it up as you go along vibe to many of their operations. C had to use whoever volunteered and while some were genuinely talented patriots others were venal or fools. “All my men are blackguards!” he complained after one spectacularly failed mission. But they did enjoy some success and he encouraged technical innovation.
Concealed weapons, waistcoat button cameras, even exploding pens were possible. The dainty little purse/ camera /single shot pistol ensemble above was designed to be carried by a lady spy at a formal event.
C’s operatives 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!
About the Book
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?
About the Author
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. It certainly provides more than enough inspiration for her writing.
“The button from a military jacket found in an orchard, a 16th century Venetian coin found between the cobbles of a Welsh street, a carnelian from a Roman signet ring – one can’t handle them without wondering who lost them, how much they regretted it and what kind of disaster was sparked off by the loss.”
Although Elin usually writes on historical subjects, she has also written contemporary and historical paranormals, science fiction, crime and a Western, none of which have, as yet, been published. She likes her heroes hard as nails but capable of tenderness when circumstances allow.
Elin’s first published stories appeared in the British Flash and Tea and Crumpet anthologies produced by the UK Meet team. Her historical novella, Alike As Two Bees, and her first novel, On A Lee Shore, were published in 2012. Elin still can’t quite believe it. However, there are always new works on the go and she is currently editing a novel about the British Secret Service between the two World Wars, finishing one set in 6th century AD England and contemplating one set during the Second World War.