I’ve been a bit delayed getting this post out but we had a great time last week at West Barnes Library with our first in-person author event since January 2020. It was so nice to have an audience! David Young and Amanda Lees came to talk about their new WW2 books. Death in Blitz City is set in David Young’s hometown of Hull. After London, it was one of the cities most badly bombed during the war. The Silence Before Dawn is based in France, in particular, near Lyon. Amanda Lees wanted to focus on the female spies from the SOE who were sent to France to work with the Resistance.
I wish I could tell you everything that David and Amanda said but my brain is like a sieve these days. So, I’ll give you some of my personal highlights from the evening. One question I asked was about research and if there had been any surprises. David Young includes American GIs in his book and he was amazed to discover that the Americans had their own prison in the UK during the war. More than that, they dispensed their own justice against their soldiers and even borrowed the British executioner from that time – Albert Pierrepoint – to carry out executions.
I also wanted to know if our authors had any personal connections to the topics they were writing about. Amanda told us that her father had worked in the intelligence service but as he died when she was young, she doesn’t have many stories about him. However, when she was older, one of her first acting jobs was in ‘Allo ‘Allo, where she played a French Communist. Perhaps not the most realistic way to experience WW2 but an experience nonetheless!
Another question was about how careful an author needs to be when writing about real events and people from history. For David, the main bombing of Hull took place in 1941 but the American soldiers didn’t arrive until 1942. So, he had to think carefully about when to set his story. He also features two real people from that time (can’t say any more about that) but was careful in how they were portrayed. Amanda’s book is set later in 1944 and there were lots of events happening that she needs to fit her stories round. Although she’s looking at the female spies from SOE, her characters aren’t based on anyone specifically. However, she does include Klaus Barbie, the infamous Butcher of Lyon.
The last thing we did was a WW2 TV theme quiz. I was kind this time and gave the authors advanced notice. I did my best to give clues where they were needed but the audience gave much better ones! Huge thanks to David and Amanda for being such good guests.
You can buy David Young’s book, Death in Blitz City, here. The Silence Before Dawn by Amanda Lees can be bought here. Hopefully we’ll be back in the new year with some more authors.
About the Authors
East Yorkshire-born David Young began his East German-set crime series on a creative writing MA at London’s City University when Stasi Child – his debut – won the course prize. The novel went on to win the 2016 CWA Historical Dagger, and both it and the 2017 follow-up, Stasi Wolf, were longlisted for the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year. His novels have been sold in eleven territories round the world. Before becoming a full-time author, David was a senior journalist with the BBC’s international radio and TV newsrooms for more than 25 years. He writes in his Twickenham garden shed and in a caravan on the Isle of Wight. The Stasi Game, his sixth novel, is available to pre-order now. You can follow him on Twitter @djy_writer
Blurb for Death in Blitz City
1942. HULL, EAST YORKSHIRE – It is the most heavily bombed city outside of London, but for the sake of national morale the Hull Blitz is kept top secret.
Newly posted Detective Chief Inspector Ambrose Swift cannot believe the devastation he finds. But for Swift and his deputies – Sergeant Jim ‘Little’ Weighton and Women’s Police Auxiliary Kathleen Carver – it’s murder, not the war, that looms large.
When a series of sadistic killings is blamed on locally-stationed American GIs, Swift soon discovers not all is what it seems. The stench of racism and corruption goes to the very top.
But finding the real killer will prove just as dangerous as the falling bombs. Because powerful forces cannot let the war effort be undermined – not even by the truth . . .
Amanda was born in Hong Kong and survived both a convent boarding school and a Jesuit boys’ school before being summarily ejected from the latter.
She gets her thirst for adventure from her parents who met in the jungle in Borneo where her mother had set up a hospital and her father, a former Gurkha Intelligence officer and Oxford-educated spy, was probably up to no good.
She is the author of the bestselling satirical novels Selling Out and Secret Admirer (published by Pan) which have both received critical acclaim and have been translated into several languages.
Her major YA thriller trilogy, Kumari, Goddess of Gotham, was nominated for the Guardian Children’s Book Prize and the Doncaster Book Award. It also featured as Redhouse Book Of The Month and Lovereading4kids Book Of The Month.
Amanda has a degree in drama and her first telly job was as a member of the Communist Resistance in ’Allo ‘Allo. This involved running around with a dachshund tucked under one arm and deploying her best cod French accent. It has all been dramatically downhill since.
A broadcaster as well as an actress and novelist, Amanda appears regularly on BBC radio and LBC and was a contracted writer to the hit series Weekending on Radio 4.
She researched and edited the leading directory for banks, The Banker’s Almanac, for Euromoney publications while also covering stories of shady dealings in the City for them. She has written for, or contributed to, The Evening Standard, The Times, New Woman, US Cosmopolitan, Bulgaria’s Vagabond and Company Magazine as well as numerous online publications.
Amanda has conducted a love coaching phone-in from the sofa of Richard & Judy and wooed the viewers on Channel 5 Live. She won an award at the Hungarian Gyor Film Festival for a short film she produced, a psychological thriller called Pros and Cons. She is currently working on a new crime thriller book series.
As well as Eastern European Mafiosi and the ex-head of the KGB, Amanda numbers serving and retired Police Officers, FBI agents, members of the Special Forces and distinguished forensic scientists among her dubious but well-qualified contacts. From Aconite to The Zodiac Killer, The Crime Dictionary is her latest book and made good use of those contacts.
Learn more at: http://www.amandalees.com
Blurb for The Silence Before Dawn
Nazi-occupied France, 1944: I tear open the envelope, extracting a sheet of folded paper. I read it, my heart cracking with every word. There is no mistaking the name of the man who betrayed us. Jack. My beloved fiancé – and now, a traitor.
Flames engulf the farmhouse. Nazi soldiers are everywhere, shouting, guns blazing, scarring the night sky with their searchlights. It was supposed to be a safe place to hide after our resistance missions. And now it is gone, and my friends and I must run. For our lives.
But then I gasp as I spot Jack, my fiancé and fellow spy, on the other side of the burning building. Hands up in surrender to the German officer standing at his side. He’s the love of my life, but more than that, he knows everything that keeps our undercover work secret. And if Nazis make him talk, they could find, capture and kill every last one of us.
I have to save him. And there are only a few people I trust to help me – the women fighters I’ve come to rely on as sisters, tougher, more clever, stronger than any man. But when one of them uncovers evidence that Jack may have actually been the person to betray our hiding place, my heart is torn from my body.
I don’t want to believe it. But I realise that either way, I still have to risk everything to stop Jack revealing what he knows – whether that’s under torture, or treacherously smiling, with a glass of whiskey in one hand.
What is the truth? Who can I believe? And how far will I have to go in order to save, or destroy, the one person I trusted with my heart?