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November 19, 2012

Tribute to a spy princess

When Ada Blackjack returned from the Arctic, the only survivor of an ill-fated expedition, she was uncomfortable being called a hero. “Brave?” Ada would say whenever people would praise her courage. “I don’t know about that. But I would never give up hope while I’m still alive.”

A number of real-life female spies inspired Velva Jean’s harrowing and heroic journey as a secret agent in Becoming Clementine. One of them was a beautiful and courageous Indian princess named Noor Inayat Khan.

On November 8, seven decades after her death, a statue was unveiled in London. The statue bears tribute to the courageous Princess Khan– Britain’s only female Muslim war heroine– who was the first woman radio operator dropped into France by the SOE.

She was the descendant of Tipu Sultan, the 18th century ruler of Mysore. Her father was Indian, her mother American. Noor Inayat Khan grew up in luxury and comfort, playing the harp and writing stories. She later studied child psychology at the Sorbonne.

At the end of 1940, she and her family fled France (escaping to England by boat) before the government surrendered to Germany. Khan joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force as a wireless operator, and was recruited by the SOE in 1942. She was sent back to Paris a year later. There, under the codename Madeleine, she sent vital messages to London while trying to evade the Germans. In October 1943, she was arrested and tortured, but she refused to talk. In September 1944, at Dachau, she was executed by the SS. She was thirty.

England’s Princess Royal dedicated the statue at Gordons Square not far from the house where Noor was living when she left on her last mission. Sir David Richards, the Chief of Defence Staff, said at the November 8 ceremony, “We owe our freedom to women like Noor Inayat Khan.”

In an era when most women were expected to stay at home and tend to the house and the children, women like Noor Inayat Khan were ahead of their time. Standing in Gordons Square, Princess Anne said she hoped the new statue will “remind people to ask: Who was she? Why is she here? And what can we achieve in her memory?”

Noor, like the thousands of other women who spied in World War II, simply did what she had to do in a terrible time under extraordinary circumstances. She would probably have shared Ada Blackjack’s discomfort at being called brave. Her last word, as the German firing squad raised their weapons, was simple and unyielding: Liberte.

September 25, 2012

Happy Birthday, Becoming Clementine!

Becoming Clementine is out today, and it’s a strange feeling. Truman Capote once said, “Finishing a book is just like you took a child out in the back yard and shot it.” As horrific as that image is, I understand what he means. For months and months, I’ve researched and outlined and written and edited. I’ve lived and breathed and slept this book. And now it’s out there, beyond my reach, making its way around the world into the hands of strangers.

The first time I ever saw one of my books on a bookstore shelf– The Ice Master at Brentano’s in Century City, California– I wanted to scoop up every copy and race back home. As I was standing there, thinking this, a man walked over and picked up the book, read the inside flap, thumbed through the pages, and then set it down again. Suddenly, I stopped wanting to run away with the books. Instead I wanted to grab that man and drag him back over and make him buy it. How dare he put it down!

Five books later, the experience really doesn’t get any easier.

So: deep breath.

Welcome, little book.

Be safe.

Be well.

Be still my nerves.

Please order and like and spread the word!

February 9, 2012

The Women Who Spied

Filed under: writing — Tags: , , , , — jennifer @ 6:58 pm

Three days after handing in the copy edited manuscript, I am still recovering. I’m back at work on Velva Jean in Hollywood (that’s not the title, by the way), but I’m still feeling a little too depleted to write anything vaguely coherent.

So for now, I wanted to share some of my research for Becoming Clementine. As most of you know, it’s the third book in the Velva Jean series, in which she learns to spy. (Have I mentioned how challenging but fun it was to research this book?)

Women spies run in my family, although none of them, to my knowledge, spied in World War II. They spied in the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. One of these women, Jane Black Thomas, was a Revolutionary War hero and South Carolina’s first feminist. She not only spied for the Patriots; she single-handedly fought off—with a sword—a battalion of Tories to protect a crucial supply of ammunition and the family home. Is it any wonder I’ve always been intrigued by spies?

I came across this video last spring. It’s long, but it’s fascinating! (The first female spy featured could almost be Velva Jean…)