Friday, 24 February 2017

The English Agent - by Clare Harvey + Author Interview

My review

Before starting this review, it might be important to say that I barley read historical fiction. I struggled with this genre, because we had to read so many if these books in high school. I don’t want to just not read them at all, that’s why I give one a chance from time to time, I’m very glad I did with this one.

The story is told from two perspectives: Edie and Vera. It’s all about the Secret Operations Executive (SOE) and the English Agents during the second world war. It’s very interesting to read about what these women experienced in these times. The feelings really come through, Clare Harvey really understands to create an emotional and thrilling storyline. This book is full of tension, which is great.

You can see that she put a lot of effort and research into her writing, the characters seem so autentic and inspirational. This book is a very fascinating read and I have to say that I might read more ooks about WW2 again, because the topic is always interesting.

What disturbed me a little bit are the jumps in the story, that’s a bit confusing for me. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed this book, following the characters and reading about their memories.

Clare Harvey is a very talanted author and definitely plan on reading more of her books.

Author Interview

1.    Did you always dream of being a writer?

     Funnily enough, no. I know most writers say that they always wanted to write, penned their first novel aged nine, and so forth. I loved writing and was a massive bookworm, but (aside from some atrocious attempts at poetry as a teen) it never occurred to me to write a book because that was something that ‘other people’ did. I think it just seemed so incredibly glamorous and out-of-reach, like being a news anchor or an astronaut, so I didn’t even try until much later in life. In my twenties I briefly had a nannying job for the author Betsy Tobin, and around the same time my brother-in-law’s best friend Jamie (the author James H Jackson) signed his first publishing deal, and that’s what made me realise that ‘real people’ were writers, and maybe I could be one, too.

2.    How did your writing career develop?
     I began writing my first novel when I was on maternity leave with my son, who’s now 14 (which gives you an idea of what a long apprenticeship I’ve had to my writing career!). It had a sniff of interest from an agent, but in the end wasn’t taken on by the agency. Of course I was gutted, and vowed to write another, better book, but then I had twins, the army was posting us all around the world, and my soldier husband kept getting sent away to various war zones. Life became a bit manic for a while, and the writing went on hold. In the end it took an MA in creative writing and three submissions via the Romantic Novelists Association’s New Writers’ Scheme to finally write a book that I felt was happy with. And that was the manuscript that became my debut novel, The Gunner Girl.

3.    Your newest novel is called The English Agent, what is it about?

     The English Agent is about two women in key positions with the Secret Operations Executive (The SOE, forerunner to today’s Special Forces), at the height of World War Two.
     The chance to work with the SOE helping the resistance in Paris offers a fresh start for Edie, who’s traumatised and disillusioned by what she’s been through during the Blitz. Codenamed ‘Yvette’, she’s parachuted into France and met by the other two members of her SOE cell. But surrounded by enemies, who can she trust?
     Back in London, SOE agent handler Vera desperately needs to gain UK citizenship to erase the secrets of her past. Working in charge of agents presents an opportunity for blackmail. But when she loses contact with agent ‘Yvette’, her loyalties are suddenly torn.

4.    What was your inspiration for the book?

     The main inspiration was my husband – or, rather, his job. His final army posting was supporting the Special Forces (he wasn’t SAS or SBS himself, but he did spend two years as their ‘tame engineer’). Every Sunday night he’d pack up his bags and I would not know where he was going to be the following week. He might say he was going to be ‘in the UK’, in which case I’d have a rough idea of where he might be, and I could contact him on his mobile, but often he’d say ‘I’m overseas this week’ and I’d know I couldn’t ask where (because if he told me, he risked imprisonment, as he’d signed the Official Secrets Act). Then he’d come home again on a Friday, sometimes suspiciously sun-tanned, and with a sandy passport – and I could never ask where he’d been or what he’d been doing in the working week in between. So with that going on in the background I began to wonder: did the Special Forces exist in WW2? If so, what did they do? I’d been surprised when I discovered that there were women soldiers on active service in the Second World War, and this revelation was what had spurred me on to write The Gunner Girl. Could there have been women recruited into special forces-type roles, too? The answer was yes, and this led me onto some fascinating research into the women agents of the SOE, and, ultimately, onto writing The English Agent.

5.    Can you tell us more about the main character(s)?

Vera Atkins is SOE’s F-section agent handler in London. She’s a fiercely intelligent, glamorous, woman-of-a-certain-age. The real life Vera Atkins was a stepping-off point for my fictitious character: a fascinating woman, not least because there was a huge conflict of interest right at the heart of her situation. As a so-called ‘enemy alien’ she should have been in an internment camp, not working at the highest level of Britain’s war machine.Edith Lightwater or ‘Yvette’ as she’s known, is an upper class girl who’s also desperate to escape her past, although for entirely different reasons than Vera. She’s young – only nineteen – and in awe of her agent handler. Anyone who’s read The Gunner Girl will remember her as Edie, the posh one. After I finished writing The Gunner Girl, I knew Edie’s story wasn’t over, so with The English Agent I gave Edie her own storyline (and perhaps the happy ending she deserves? You’ll have to read the book to find out!)

6.    Where and when do you write your stories?

     Words seem to flow best either when I’m close to sleep (either late at night or first thing in the morning) so I quite often write in bed. I also like writing in cafes or in public places (trains are good) if I have the chance – there’s something about being surrounded by the hubbub of humanity that helps with the flow. Editing, however, is best done sitting down at my desk in the quiet or with some classical music playing.

7.    What do you do and enjoy when you’re not writing?

     I’ve got three school-age children (a 14-year old and twin 11-year-olds) as well as a German Shepherd and a father-in-law who lives in a detached annexe in our back garden. So I don’t get a huge amount of free time as there is always cooking/clearing up/dog walking etc. to be done when I’m not writing. However, I do manage to run, do a spot of yoga, and go to the gym. And I love life drawing (there are some wonderful burlesque life drawing events that take place at a club in Nottingham every couple of months), but I rarely get the chance to go.

8.    If you could switch places with a characters from a book, who would it be and why?

     I’d switch places with Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird. She’s the best – and I’d get to have Atticus Finch as my dad.

9.    What books have influenced your life most?

     I was just about to answer this with: The Camomile Lawn by Mary Wesley and Life after Life by Kate Atkinson, when I realised that you’re not asking which books have influenced my writing, but which books have influenced my life – which is an altogether different question…
     There are only two books I’ve read that I can honestly say have had a lasting influence: The seven habits of highly effective people by Steven R Covey and How to talk so kids will listen and listen so they’ll talk by Faber & Mazlish. I realise that neither of these are literary in any sense, but they are both brilliant, and have helped me make better life choices.

10.What are you working on at the moment?

     I have just finished writing The Night Raid, a story about what happens when a woman war artist, Dame Laura Knight, comes to paint the munitions workers at a Nottingham gun factory. She forges a deep friendship with two of the women she paints, but also uncovers a shocking secret about her own past. It’s been great fun to research and write - I can’t wait for it to be published in hardback in the autumn. And I’m just about to start work on another exciting project, but I’m going to keep that one under wraps for now!
11.What do you enjoy most about writing?

     The best thing about writing is getting to do my dream job, every day.

12.Pick three authors you want to have dinner with and tell us why.

     I would have Kate Atkinson, in the vain hope that some of her immense talent would magically rub off on me, perhaps via a knife handle or the stem of her wine glass. I’d also love to have Mary Wesley (author of the Camomile Lawn books), because not only did she write great stories, she was around in WW2 and could advise me on period details in my own novels. And I’d want Joanna Trollope, too, because she’s just brilliant at dissecting personal relationships and turning them into stories we can all relate to, so I’d want to pick her brains about plotlines and character’s motivations. And could I have Jane Austin, too? Please! (I have to say, though, with these three doyennes at my dining table I’d probably be too nervous to speak, and just sit back and drink in their words.)

13.Imagine The English Agent would be turned into a movie, who would you cast for the main characters?

     I think I’ll have Rachel Weiss as Vera Atkins: an intelligent and glamorous woman in her prime. For ‘Yvette’ I’m not sure. It would have to be some young unknown actor, who would of course catapult to stardom after having been cast in the movie blockbuster of the year (oh, come on, a girl can dream!)

14.Your debut novel is called The Gunner Girl, can you tell us more about it?

     The Gunner Girl is an interweaving story of three very different young women and one remarkable wartime friendship of shared hopes, lost loves and terrible danger. It was inspired by my mother-in-law’s time as an ack-ack girl in WW2 and written whilst my husband was serving with the British Army in Afghanistan. I was thrilled that The Gunner Girl won the Joan Hessayon Award for new romantic fiction in 2016.

15.How do your own experiences influence your writing?
     I think you can’t escape an element of autobiographical reference in your writing (which I have to say is somewhat embarrassing when you realise that both your parents and your father-in-law have read your debut novel, including all the ‘purple prose’ bits…). Perhaps it’s because I prefer to write from a very close third person viewpoint that writing often feels a bit like acting. In the way that actors draw on their own lives to get into character, I would say I do the something similar when I’m writing a scene.

16.Coffee or tea?

     Both (coffee at 9am and about 2pm but tea the rest of the time – if I have more than two cups of real coffee a day I start to look a little like a startled horse and am best avoided.)

17.Paperback or e-reader?

     Paperback, always.

18.Mountains or the sea?

     Both (Table Mountain in Cape Town, please).

19.Summer or winter?

     Summer – I’m a total lizard (I am writing this dressed in top, tank top, jumper, cardigan, and a woolly hat!)

20.Sweet or salty?

     Both – salted caramel please!

The English Agent
By Clare Harvey
Simon & Schuster paperback | 23 February 2017 | £7.99

From the author of The Gunner Girl comes another impeccably researched WWII novel, a story of intrigue, drama and romance following the intertwining lives of two young women in wartime London and Paris

How far will two women go to survive a war? 

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.  

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…


Clare Harvey is an ex-army wife. The Gunner Girl, her debut novel, was inspired by her mother-in-law's experience during WWII and written while her husband was on active service in Afghanistan. She has travelled widely and worked all over the world, doing voluntary work in Tanzania and as a journalist and tutor in Nepal, Germany and Northern Ireland. She hitchhiked from Zanzibar to Cape Town, and went on to work for an overseas charity before falling in love with a soldier. She now lives in Nottingham with her family. Find out more on Facebook - - her website or on twitter @clareharveyauth.

‘This beautifully written, pacy and impressively researched story binds together a group of flawed individuals in an intricate and fascinating drama, full of heart-stopping moments. Clare Harvey writes with a directness and an honesty that pins you to the page’ Kate Furnivall, author of The Liberation

‘The sense of period, the descriptive prose and the superb writing make The English Agent a real page-turner. Clare is certainly a gifted storyteller’ Ellie Dean, author of Shelter From the Storm

‘Heart-warming, enjoyable and full of surprises. I loved it’ Elizabeth Chadwick, bestselling author of The Summer Queen

‘Clare Harvey is an exceptional new talent…The story is brought to life by razor sharp dialogue, an eye for period details and a taut plot which never becomes sentimental’ Kate Rhodes, journalist and author of the Alice Quentin novels

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