Blog tour: A Beautiful Spy

Welcome to the blog tour for A Beautiful Spy by Rachel Hore! If like me, you’ve been captured by the idea of this beautiful woman with a double life, do read on to find out what secrets the author can reveal…

Hi Rachel! First of all, I would like to congratulate you on the publication of A Beautiful Spy! Can you please briefly tell us what it is about?

A: Thank you. Briefly, it follows the story of Minnie Gray, a young typist who is recruited as a spy in 1931 and finds herself living two very separate existences. Not even her close family are allowed to know of her undercover work spying on dangerous British Communists, and this puts her under terrible personal pressure. But if she puts a foot wrong in her intelligence work her very life may be forfeit.

Did you have the plot entirely figured out when you started writing the book or did it take an unexpected turn as the characters grew on the page?

A: The novel is based on the real-life spy Olga Gray, who spied for British Intelligence in the 1930s, so yes, the plot was largely laid out for me. Where the facts about her are known I tried to follow them. Fictionalizing Olga as ‘Minnie’ gave me artistic licence to imagine the bits I didn’t know, especially the character’s inner thoughts. I tried to root all that I wrote in my knowledge of the period, but there were still moments when the character came to life as I wrote her and spoke for herself, sometimes unexpectedly, and I love it when that happens.

What kind of research did you have to carry out to write this novel? In general, is research something you enjoy or a mere means to an end?

A: I read secret service documents about Olga Gray which are kept in the National Archive in Kew, in particular, accounts that her spymaster Maxwell Knight (‘M’) wrote about her surveillance work. These gave me tremendous insight into their working relationship. Several books written about ‘M’ that included information about Olga were also enormously helpful. I visited some of the places in London where I set scenes and took photographs, such as the outside of M’s Knightsbridge flat. Many of the settings I knew already, having been a Londoner. The internet obligingly provided old photographs of others. My favourite piece of research was taking coffee in the Ritz. The £9 bill was cheap at the price as it informed two important scenes in my novel.

If this novel was going to be turned into a film, who would you cast in the role of Minnie?

A: Aha, I would LOVE it if it were to become a film. I’m torn between Rosamund Pike who would provide Minnie’s toughness, but Carey Mulligan could represent her more tender side well.

Without giving too much away, can you tell us about a scene in the book that you love or that was particularly difficult to write?

A: Funnily enough the prologue was the most difficult to write. It features Minnie looking back on her life, but I couldn’t get it right. In the end it didn’t get written until after I’d got the proofs!

Is there anything that didn’t make it into the final version of the book?

A: Quite so much brandy and whisky! I realized that my characters would otherwise have been drunk most of the time!

If you are already working on your next writing project, would you mind giving us a little anticipation of what we are to expect?

A: I’m a bit squeamish about describing work-in-progress in case what is in my head vanishes into thin air! I’ve also, in common with most writers, got a little problem doing on-site research at the moment, so I’ve chosen places to set the next book that I already know well: World War II London and Norfolk, and Occupied France.

What are you reading at the moment?

A: I’m currently reading the proofs of ‘The Stranger From Berlin’ by Melissa Amateis, which Simon & Schuster are publishing in the spring. It’s the page-turning story of a German émigré in 1940s Nebraska, USA, who has a secret past. I’m also reading ‘The Bell in the Lake’ by Lars Mytting, which is a wonderfully written historical fantasy set in a remote Norwegian village whose inhabitants are horrified that the new pastor wants to replace its beautiful ancient wooden church.

Due to the popularity of social networking websites, interacting with readers – be it via Twitter, Facebook Instagram etc. – is becoming increasingly important. How do you cope with these new demands on authors and do you think that they somehow disrupt your writing schedule?

A: There’s a great deal of pleasure to be gained from interacting directly with readers. It’s a great privilege. But, yes, it does take up time and I have to be organized about how and when I use social media. I do try to reply promptly to people who get in touch, but mornings in particular are precious writing time. I’ve never got to grips with software that schedules promotional tweets etc – something else I must learn!

What one piece of advice would you give to aspiring writers?

A: Read Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’. It’s full of brilliant advice.

Thank you for your time!

A: It’s been a pleasure. 

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