Welcome To The Spotlight – Amy McAuley


I’m so excited to welcome Amy McAuley to the spotlight today! I first met Amy on LiveJournal in the children’s writing blogging community many years ago, and became a fan of hers after reading her debut novel, Over and Over You (Roaring Brook Press/2005). It’s been a long wait for her second novel, but let me tell you, very much worth it! Stay tuned below to win a signed copy and very cool bookmark of Amy’s newest book – released in the U.S. today!

Violins of Autumn by Amy McAuley (Walker/June 19, 2012)

At age 17, Betty lies about her age to become Adele Blanchard, agent for the Special Operations Executive during WWII. She and Denise, another agent, drop into Occupied France to join other agents to sabotage Hitler’s troops while awaiting the arrival of Allied forces. From the moment Adele hits the ground, nothing goes as smoothly as planned, and yet, she bravely soldiers on, keeping her head and focusing on her task. She and Denise manage to rescue a downed Allied pilot, and while romance is the last thing Adele expected, she and Robbie form a special bond. Adele’s missions to carry top secret messages in Paris put her at risk at every turn, and Denise’s job as a radio operator is all-important in communicating with Britain. Will Adele be successful in her missions?

From start to finish, this book is a page-turner. There’s not one dull moment! McAuley brilliantly weaves in historical facts, never making the story feel like a history lesson. I was rooting for Adele the entire time. I could have never been so brave. This is a piece of history I was completely unaware of, sadly, and I am happy to now know about the brave men and women of the SOE!

Spotlight on Amy McAuley:

What was the initial spark for Violins Of Autumn, and what was the journey to publication like?

The initial spark for Violins came to me from my husband. He’s a war buff, so we have many military books around the house. He came across a short but fascinating article about Sonya Butt. In 1943, at the age of nineteen, she joined the Special Operations Executive (SOE)—a top-secret organization I’d never heard of before. Within months of joining SOE, this young woman had trained as a spy, learned armed and unarmed combat, and parachuted into German-occupied France under the cover of night. My husband showed me the article and said, “This has to be the idea for your next book!” It didn’t take much convincing for me to realize I *had* to write a book about these young, daring women. When you consider the time period, it’s all the more incredible that they went through the exact same grueling physical training, psychological testing, and practice interrogations as the male recruits. The women of the SOE volunteered to drop behind enemy lines to aid the French Resistance, courier and transmit highly confidential military information to the Allies, sabotage rail-lines and communications, and spy on German activities—all while pretending to be ordinary French women! It’s astounding to me that they chose such a dangerous path.

The book’s journey to publication was long and bumpy, but in hindsight I wouldn’t change a thing. In 2004, the book sold to the publisher of my first book, Over and Over You. But after my editor left her position, that publisher dropped Violins of Autumn. Even though my book was orphaned, I had a strong gut feeling that things would work out even better in the end. For a few years after the rights reverted back to me, my agent submitted the book without much success. Editors really liked it but didn’t love it. When the manuscript landed at Walker, Stacy Cantor Abrams saw something in it, so she passed it on to another editor, Mary Kate Castellani. And finally, the manuscript was matched up with its perfect editor. Mary Kate not only pinpointed all the areas that needed major overhauls, she had amazing fixes to the problems. It was such a huge relief, after all that time, to have a fabulous editor there to guide me and the book.

Such intrigue! The courage of these agents amazes me – and Adele is a true heroine! I imagine you had to do a lot of research for this book. How did you know when to stop researching and when to start writing? How did Adele emerge to be the person (because she feels so very real) she came to be in the book?

Yes, every female SOE agent I researched showed formidable courage. Their true life stories are remarkable, to say the least. So, I bristle when a review of Violins calls out the believability of the story or questions the credibility of Adele’s strength and courage in the face of interrogation. It’s an insult to the real young women Adele is based on. Women like Odette Sanson, who was arrested after being betrayed by a double agent. During her years in French prison and a German concentration camp, she was beaten, burned, had her nails pulled out, and she endured long stretches of solitary confinement in complete darkness. Despite that, she never once cracked or gave up her fellow agents. When the concentration camp was about to be liberated, a German commandant tried to use her as a bargaining chip. However, she forced him to hand over his weapon to her and surrender to the Allies!

As for research, I’m glad I didn’t fully comprehend how much research it would take to write this book. If I’d known, I might not have written it at all! From the beginning to the final copyediting stages, I never stopped researching. I started out with very broad research—learning about the SOE, and events of WWII, and daily life in France and Britain. And then throughout the years of revision I was able to zero in on more specific details to research. Research always seems to lead to more research!

Before the manuscript reached my editor, Adele’s character was one of the biggest problems in need of a fix. She was coming off as too mature and her “voice” was too adult. I worked on Adele’s character quite a bit over the years. Of course she needed to be daring from the get-go, or else she wouldn’t have joined the SOE in the first place, but she also needed to be more vulnerable and unsure of herself and her situation. At the end of the book, Adele is essentially the same girl she was when she parachuted into France, but at the same time she’s changed and grown so much.

Have you been to Paris? If so, what is your favorite memory? If you haven’t, what is the number one thing you’d love to do there and why?

No, I’ve never been to Paris. Some day! It’s really hard to choose one thing I’d love to do there. I think what I’d probably want to do most, in spite of my fear of heights, is look at the city from the top of the Eiffel Tower. I’m fascinated by aerial views of world cities. I’d also love to visit the Louvre. And I’d like to walk the city, like Adele does in Violins. It’d be fun to spend the afternoon walking, people-watching, and snapping photos.

For more about Amy, check out her web site!

Win a copy of Amy’s book! To enter a drawing to win a signed copy of Violins of Autumn and a cool bookmark, follow the instructions below! If you’re reading via a feed, please click here to comment.

1. Comment on this post, and for fun, answer question number 3 above. Please include an email address so I can contact you if you win! I went to Paris for the first time last year, and while I have many fabulous memories, one of my favorites is sitting at a sidewalk cafe with my husband, sipping wine, and people-watching!

2. Leave your comment by midnight EST Friday, June 22nd. Winner will be announced on this blog and will be contacted by email on Tuesday, June 26th.

3. Entrants must have a U.S. or Canada mailing address.

Good luck and thanks for stopping by!


20 responses »

  1. Am so looking forward to reading this book! And if I were to go to Paris, I would definitely want to go to the Louvre! 😀

  2. Beautiful looking book, I love the retro hair and outfit. Thanks for the giveaway.

    I haven’t been to Paris yet but when I go I must visit the wonderful Shakespeare and Company bookstore. It’s one of the most famous in the world and has been a destination for great writers since its early days.


  3. Oh! This book sounds wonderfully intriguing! I’m definitely adding it to my to-read-soon list and adding my name to the book give-away with fingers crossed! I have been to Paris a number of times; on my own twice, on my honeymoon (!!!) and then we took our girls when they were 7 and 9. I have so many great memories, but one that stands out in my mind As funny is the second time, I had gone as a buyer for a French Country store I worked for. It was the day I was leaving and I’d bought a very nice bottle of wine to bring home to my dog sitter ( this was in the days when you could carry a bottle of wine on the plane) and right outside the wine store, it slipped and fell to the snow covered ground. In a matter of seconds, there were at least 5 Frenchman on their knees pretending to lick the spilled wine off the sidewalk!

  4. Hmm. That’s an interesting question. I haven’t been to Paris, but if I went there, I think the thing I would most like to do is sit and enjoy pastry at a table outside a cafe while watching and listening to people as they pass by. (But a close second would be the Louvre since I’m an artist.)

    P.S. Did I mention that I love WW2 fiction?

  5. I like the sound of this book- you sold me!

    My husband I visited Paris on a day trip from London during one winter. We went to the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, did some shopping, and ate at a cafe. Even though I would love to go back sometime, it’s also nice to visit through books in the meantime 🙂 Your trip to Paris sounds lovely.

    Thanks for the giveaway and informative interview!
    readingdate @ gmail

  6. Thanks for the giveaway! The book sounds great!

    I was in Paris twice. The first time I was alone and the rain didn’t stop, so I couldn’t walk around comfortably. I didn’t enjoy it much.

    In 1985 I went with M, who is fluent in French and who knows Paris very well. I liked it much better as a result. My favourite memory from that trip is sitting at an outdoor cafe and watching a French man who was sitting alone at another table. While we ate our lunch, over about an hour, this average-looking man was visited and greeted affectionately by about six gorgeous, tall, French women. We wondered what was so special about him. My guess is that the women were models and he was a model’s agent or a talent scout.

  7. This sounds like a great book. I can tell from the depth of research and character development that this will be a memorable read.

    If I went to Paris, I would definitely agree with the pastries-and-people-watching plan. But to justify sitting down and eating those delicious croissants, I would have to force myself to do some serious shoe and purse shopping first.

    Thank you for the give away and one way or another, I want to read this book.

  8. Congratulations on the book! It sounds fascinating.

    I’ve been to Paris and enjoyed visiting the Eiffel Tower.


  9. This book sounds SO GOOD. I have been waiting and waiting for it to come out.

    I have never been to Paris. I want to see the Eiffel Tower.

  10. I’ve always been intrigued by WWII so am so excited to finally get to read the book! I remember Amy talking about it on LiveJournal.

    Yes, I visited Paris once, for three magical days. I fell in love with Notre Dame the moment I stepped inside. During a second visit to the cathedral, the Friday morning service was in progress, and as I was leaving the bells started ringing – it felt like Notre Dame was wishing me farewell.

  11. I’ve never been to Paris, but if I were ever lucky enough to go, I’d LOVE to visit the Louvre. Imagine seeing the Mona Lisa in person! Venus de Milo! And Musée d’Orsay of course, to see Van Gogh. And see a classical ballet at Palais Garnier, see the Eiffel Tower, the gargoyles on Notre-Dame’s rooftop, Arc de Triomphe, the Grand and Petit Palais, the Musée Rodin, and browse Paris’s bookshops. I am a librarian after all!

  12. Great interview! I am SALIVATING for this book to come out! It cannot come fast enough!
    Anywhoo…Paris. Where would I visit? Gosh, that’s a hard question to answer. But since I’m a WWII junkie, it would be all over–everywhere something happened in WWII, I’d be there. =]

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