As many of you will know, Euphemia encounters plots and murders during the run-up to WWI. Her story is told in the ongoing Euphemia Martins Mysteries. Murder is often as well confined as a hermetically sealed flask that an alchemist heats over the fire. As the writer, I turn up the pressure on my characters through Euphemia’s actions until we reach a point that the situation breaks and the murderer is revealed. If Euphemia has done her work properly the murderer is caught, but if she has been illogical, rash or simply made one too many mistakes, the killer may get away to darken her doors another day.
Fairly early on in the series I introduced a minor character, who was more of a plot device, I felt, than a person: Fitzroy the spy. Fitzroy had other plans. Eventually explaining to me, and the readers, why so much of Euphemia’s situation is his fault. Eventually he initiated the capable Euphemia into the secret service – though to be fair at the time she doesn’t have much of a choice. In fact there are another four books coming your way that tell of Euphemia’s time as a spy. Fitzroy remains as difficult for me as he is for Euphemia. Spies are, by their very nature, outsiders. They know things that ordinary people don’t – often things ordinary people wouldn’t want to know. They live outside normal society in order to protect it. Of course we still have a secret service today, but during the times I am writing about, it was very different. A WWI spy was generally very much on their own, acting on their own initiative with no technological toys or instant global communication as we have today. Fitzroy is a product of that era, with his own family backstory, a temper he struggles to keep under control, a willingness to protect the Crown above all else and a decent enough nature that his work often causes him pain. Euphemia finds her own way to deal with the home theatre of war. For her, justice and doing the right thing are paramount, and she often comes into conflict with Fitzroy over this. She is idealistic. He believes he is pragmatic. They balance out.
But life moves on, and while the Euphemia series will continue, next year you will be introduced to Euphemia’s daughter, Hope, who joins the British Secret Service during WWII.
I will admit it. I like writing what happens to people during war. It fascinates me. You won’t find me raving over tanks and Bren guns – although I know a bit more about them than your average mother. What fascinates me is what war does to people, both on the front line and at home. It is the one time people are encouraged to kill others within the laws of their own country. If you spend a moment thinking about this alone – it is staggering. We have a society (or did in 1914 and 1939) dedicated to following values that sanctified life, that berated murder and violence in all forms – these values were enshrined in our most integral laws. Then a perceived threat arose that meant the great of the country decreed that these laws could be broken in defeating our enemy. Ordinary people were sent out to kill others.
War is a desperate time, when people under enormous pressure show who they really are. For us who are lucky enough to reside in countries at peace, it is barely possible to comprehend.
With our influencers, social media companies and celebrity complexes, life in the so-called developed world can be shallow. I know I’m often guilty of keeping my tongue between my teeth in company. I stifle my authenticity. I try not to do so, but it is so much easier to go along with social confines.
But in the theatre of war, all that is stripped away. Terrible atrocities happen and ordinary people are put in the most outlandish situations. I have two sons. I can try to imagine how I would have felt if I had had to send my boys off to war. The thought of that both horrifies and terrifies me. Yet, so many ordinary men and women, when faced with the darkness of WWII, found a way to face and to fight barely imaginable horrors; to be the light in Europe when for a long time there was so little hope.
That, of course, is the noble part, but that is far from all war is. In book one of my new series, Hope for the Innocent, we follow Euphemia’s daughter as she joins the British Secret Service.
Hope was born on the last day of WWI and named because her mother, Euphemia, hoped there would never be another world war. When there is, Hope, like many young people at the time, is keen to do her duty. In 1939, Britain doesn’t feel in danger. Some even call it 'the phoney war', but as Hope looks beneath the surface of the glittering world of the elite, she finds the evil roots of fascism are far closer to home than she could have dreamed possible. What Hope will face, and what she will find, is that few things in war are black and white. Trust is a scarce commodity. As life expectancy shortens life comes faster, love comes easier and loss is an everyday companion.
My parents were children, in London, during the blitz and that experience marked their lives forever. My mother’s father, an older man, suffered terribly during WWI, ending his days with his body ruined by a gas attack and his mind afflicted, having been pinned down as a last survivor, with his dead comrades around him for twenty-four hours. One uncle did something secretive in the desert, fortunate to come back, but with a lifetime souvenir of malaria. Another relative, too old to fight, worked as a fire marshal, standing on top of tall buildings to direct the fire service during the night raids, and helping pull bodies, dead and alive, out the wreckage.
The heroes of any war are those ordinary people who do extraordinary things. My admiration of them knows no bounds. I will never praise war in any form, but I will praise those who struggled to bring us the peace I am fortunate enough to enjoy today. There is something good and true in the human spirit that emerges from humanity in its time of crisis. Not from everyone, of course. For others, the opposite may be true. This is the journey of discovery Hope will be undertaking.
Meanwhile, Euphemia and her friends will continue on in their own timeline, battling murders and spies.
And you know what? As well as suspense and intrigue, both of these series will still have moments when you laugh out loud. Because if there is no joy or goodness during the darkest of times, why on earth would anyone press on – or even read about my heroines’ adventures?
Feel free to check out my website. Over the coming months there will be some interesting bits and pieces appearing.