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!
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!