The American Agent—and The Blitz in 1940

Greetings Everyone!

It's been a while since I wrote to you in a newsletter. As you've no doubt noticed, I try to limit my newsletters to the end of the year and just before publication of a new book. And there's a reason for my schedule—I like to wait until I have something to say that might interest my readers, because otherwise there's a risk of joining the never-ending stream of online and broadcast chatter. But now there are a few things for me to chatter about.

First up—the new book in the Maisie Dobbs' series, THE AMERICAN AGENT, will be published on March 26th, 2019.


Isn't that an amazing cover? Andrew Davidson, who creates the artwork for my books, has outdone himself this time. As many of you know, the cover image begins with an email "conversation" with Andrew—I send him my ideas for the cover, along with a synopsis of the work-in-progress. Then Andrew gets to work on a series of draft sketches, which go to Archie Ferguson, the creative director working on my books. Quite a few people have to approve the selected image, and as soon as that part of the process is complete, Andrew sets to work on the wood-cut from which the cover artwork will be printed—and from the moment he takes up his tools and touches the wood, we're at the point of no return, because you can't tinker around with a wood-cut. Here's a photo of Andrew removing the precious original print from his vintage press. Years ago he told me that he had always wanted to work on an image of the Blitz, and asked if he would ever have the chance with my series. I told him he would—but not yet. This year I was able to write and say, "Now's your chance to create that Blitz scene."

Andrew Print from Press

I love this photo, not least because I really loved creating prints at school and later, when I studied art. In fact (tooting my own horn), when I was twelve, my print of a lion in the jungle was selected for the Sunday Times Children's Art Exhibition at the Royal Academy in London. Sadly, my print was lost years ago—I think my parents might have accidentally thrown it away.

THE AMERICAN AGENT is set in London during the Blitz. Today many people think "the Blitz" refers to the bombing of London's cities throughout the war, or they think it was the only bombing of Britain during the years 1939-1945. In fact, the Luftwaffe began bombing Britain from the summer of 1940 onwards—the Battle of Britain began in June 1940. Initially, airfields and other strategic locations were targeted, with some residential areas being hit. The first "blitzkrieg" raid came on September 7th, 1940. It was a complete escalation of attack, and different from other raids given the strategic nature of the strike, the sheer number of aircraft involved—both fighters and bombers—and the V-formation employed. The skies darkened as they flew overhead. It was devastating for the civilian population of London and other cities later targeted around the British Isles—Liverpool, Southampton, Portsmouth, Coventry, Leeds, to name a few. Those bombers flanked by fighter aircraft swooped in time and again, day after day, night after night, and they did not stop until the May 10th, 1941. Bombing continued throughout the war, but not in that formation, and later on civilians had to endure the terror of V1 (known as the "doodlebug" or "buzz bomb") and V2 rockets in addition to random bomber attacks.

Children in the Blitz

Over 40,000 civilians were killed during the months of the Blitz, some 20,000 in London alone. Then there were the tens of thousands injured, many of whom suffered life-changing wounds. Children were orphaned (while they were based in London, American war correspondent, William L. White and his wife adopted two children orphaned in the Blitz), and there were men who came home from the army to learn their entire family had been wiped out. The first two years of the Second World War had taken more British civilian lives than military.

The Blitz

In the midst of that maelstrom, America was receiving news from London-based US correspondents writing for the newspapers and magazines back home, and especially from the 'warcasters' (as they were called), broadcasting from the BBC in London. At the outset, American support for coming to Britain's aid was low—no one could be blamed for not wanting another European war, and even the US ambassador to Britain was an isolationist who had predicted that Hitler would be in Buckingham Palace within two weeks of war being declared. But at the same time, many Americans realized that Britain was holding the line against Hitler's onslaught, and she was doing it alone. Correspondents such as Edward Murrow began to turn the tide of American opinion, going into the streets of London as people ran for cover, and talking to them in the shelters, recording their experiences of seeing people they loved killed, of being bombed out their homes and losing their livelihoods.

Ed Murrow at Oxford Circus

THE AMERICAN AGENT opens with an American war correspondent named Catherine Saxon meeting Maisie Dobbs and her friend Priscilla Partridge when she joins their ambulance crew to report on the bombings. Later, after Catherine broadcasts her story to America, she is found dead at her lodgings. Maisie is asked to investigate, but she is required to work alongside someone who has recently been transferred to the US embassy in London—the man who saved her life in Munich.

I've drawn upon the many stories about living through the wartime bombing of London that I heard from my mother when I was a child, and other stories recounted in later years by my aunts, in particular. Certainly, investigating a murder in London during the Blitz would have been no easy matter—in fact, even the police had to let some things go.

I'll be telling you more about THE AMERICAN AGENT in the next newsletter—and I'll be introducing another book to be published at the same time, WHAT WOULD MAISIE DO? I'm so excited about both those books and cannot wait to tell you more about them—but perhaps not too much more. Some things are worth the publication day surprise!

What Would Maisie Do?

I'll be writing again soon,