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Archive of ‘Taylor and Rose Secret Agents’ category

Secrets on the Shore: Exploring Rye

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This month has seen the publication of the first ever Taylor & Rose mini adventure, Secrets on the Shore. Set in the town of Rye, it tells the story of Sophie and Lil’s first case for the Secret Service Bureau, which features smugglers’ secret passages, mysterious sea-mists, and sinister strangers…

I wanted to write a little something about what inspired me to set this story in Rye, which is a real town in the South of England. Rye is a place that I first encountered it in the pages of some of my favourite children’s books – in particular, Malcolm Saville’s Lone Pine series, which I’ve talked about here before. Written between the 1940s and the 1970s, Saville’s adventure stories are no longer very well-known today and are mostly out of print – but I devoured second-hand copies of them as a child, poring over the maps that always accompanied each book Although I’d never been there myself, I particularly loved Saville’s stories set in Rye. These featured two of my favourite members of the Lone Pine Club, Jon and Penny Warrender, who lived at The Dolphin, a mysterious old inn full of secret passages, hidden rooms, and old smugglers’ tales.

elusive grasshoppergay dolphin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I didn’t get to visit Rye myself until I was grown up, but when I did, I immediately recognised its narrow cobbled streets and the black-and-white façade of The Mermaid Inn (the inn where Saville used to stay, which inspired The Dolphin). The steep, crooked streets of the little town and the wild, windswept marshes and shoreline feel like classic children’s adventure story territory: it’s no wonder that Rye and the Romney Marsh have inspired not only Malcolm Saville, but also Enid Blyton (whose Five Go to Smuggler’s Top is supposed to have been based on this area) Monica Edwards (whose fictional village of Westling was modelled on Rye Harbour) and even John Ryan, the creator of Captain Pugwash.Another of my favourite children’s authors, Joan Aiken, lived in the town – whose residents have also included authors like Henry James, Joseph Conrad, HG Wells, GK Chesterton and EF Benson.

With such a rich literary tradition to draw on, I couldn’t resist setting a story of my own in Rye. Secrets on the Shore was especially inspired by a winter visit, when I stayed at The Mermaid Inn, sleeping in a bedroom that was supposed to be haunted. Though like Lil and Sophie, I saw no ghosts, I did find myself haunted by the idea for a new mystery featuring lonely marshes, boats lost in the fog, a crumbling ruined castle, sinister strangers, and of course, plenty of adventure…

If you ever find yourself visiting Rye, then make sure you pay a visit to The Mermaid Inn which also inspired the fictional Smuggler’s Rest in Secrets on the Shore. You can sit beside the roaring fire in the wonderfully-named Giant’s Bar, where you can look out for the hidden entrance to a real-life secret passage! Take a walk out past the ruins of old Camber Castle and along the shore to the Rye Harbour Nature Reserve where you can see all kinds of bird life, and you’ll see where Sophie and Lil carry our surveillance of the coast – and spot a spy or two.

Buy Secrets on the Shore now for just £1.99 from the Kindle Store or from the Kobo Store

Secrets on the Shore: A Taylor & Rose Mini Adventure

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It’s World Book Day week and I have some very exciting news to share for fans of The Sinclair’s Mysteries and Taylor & Rose Secret Agents. This week the first ever Taylor & Rose mini adventure has been published – say hello to Secrets on the Shore!

Secrets on the Shore is my first ever e-book novella. Set in the town of Rye, it tells the story of Sophie and Lil’s first case for the Secret Service Bureau, which features  smugglers’ secret passages, mysterious sea-mists, and sinister strangers… Check out my Secrets on the Shore Pinterest board if you want to get a bit more of a sense of what this book is all about.

The story is set between the end of the Sinclair’s Mysteries and the beginning of the Taylor & Rose Secret Agents series – so if you’ve ever wondered what Sophie and Lil got up to in between, this is definitely the book for you!

Here’s a bit more about the new mini adventure, which as always comes with gorgeous illustrations by Karl James Mountford.

It’s time for a marvellous mini adventure with secret agents Miss Sophie Rose and Miss Lillian Taylor!

Sophie and Lil are on their very first case for the Secret Service Bureau in this thrilling e-book novella. The travel to the seaside town of Rye where – despite its sleepy appearance – they have evidence that a band of German spies are up to no good. Disguised as birdwatchers, our two brave detectives navigate smugglers tunnels, come up against mysterious sea mists and decode a secret message to get to the bottom of what’s going on…

Buy Secrets on the Shore from Amazon (yours for a mere £1.99!)

Announcing… Villains in Venice!

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It’s time to reveal the title and cover for the third book in the Taylor & Rose Secret Agents series! I’m thrilled to present Villains in Venice!

The gorgeous cover for this new Italian adventure for Sophie and Lil has once again been illustrated by the marvellous Karl James Mountford – doesn’t it look stunning?

In the follow up to Spies in St Petersburg, Sophie and Lil’s adventures will be taking them to the winding streets and canals of wintertime Venice. Here’s a little more about the book:

After the dramatic events of their mission to St Petersburg, Sophie and Lil know the truth – there’s a double-agent at work at the Secret Service Bureau.

Whilst Lil pursues a dangerous line of enquiry in London, Sophie must set out on a new mission to Venice, following a twisted trail to discover long-buried secrets. But there are villains lurking amongst the city’s piazzas, canals and crumbling palaces, and in the shadows an old enemy lies in wait…

Villains in Venice will be published by Egmont in August 2020 – but you can pre-order your copy now from Waterstones.

Behind the Scenes: The Edwardian Lady Detective

ladydetective1When I first started writing the Sinclair’s Mysteries, while I loved the idea of Edwardian girl detectives, I had a feeling that it was unlikely that my heroines Sophie and Lil had many real-life counterparts. Although I’d come across works of fiction like Revelations of a Lady Detective, and The Female Detective published in the mid-19th century I suspected that real lady detectives at this time had in fact been few and far between. And although many new opportunities were opening up for women in the early 20th century, I couldn’t somehow imagine that there were really many young women who had the opportunity to work as professional detectives as Sophie and Lil do in my stories – never mind setting up their own detective agency. However…

Reader, I was entirely wrong.

In my research for the Sinclair’s Mysteries and Taylor & Rose Secret Agents series, I’ve discovered that there were many women engaged in detective work both in London and further afield in the late 19th century and early 20th centuries. In fact, one of the first lady detectives Kate Warne got a job at the famous Chicago agency Pinkerton’s as early as 1856. By 1894, Henry Slater (head of one of London’s largest detective agencies) was advertising Slater’s Women Detectives and at around the same time, Moser’s Ladies Detective Agency was set up by his rival, the ex-Scotland Yard inspector Maurice Moser. Meanwhile, Kate Easton was one of the first lady detectives to set up her own agency in London, which she established in 1905, declaring: ‘Blackmail, divorce, evidence, robbery, I undertake it all; I have touched everything except murder.’

Meanwhile, although women could not officially work for the police in the UK, Scotland Yard had been quietly hiring lady detectives to help with their cases as early as 1899. And across the pond in the USA, Isabella Goodwin was hired as New York’s first woman police detective in the 1900s, investigating burglars and swindlers; whilst Frances Benzecry worked as a detective for the medical societies of Brooklyn and Manhattan to expose fake medical pracitioners.

Anyone who has read the Sinclair’s Mysteries and Taylor & Rose Secret Agents will be interested to hear that another place women detectives could often be found in the 1900s was in London’s department stores! Stores like my own (fictional) Sinclair’s would frequently hire women to help prevent shoplifting, as women detectives were better able to blend in with the customers. When it opened in 1909, Selfridges hired a detective named Matilda Mitchell as the head up its very own ‘secret service’. She and her staff helped to catch thieves and frustrate the efforts of gangs like the ‘Forty Elephants’ who would sweep into the shop and cause a rumpus, while others quickly stuffed furs and expensive trinkets into outfits fitted with pockets especially for the purpose.

maudwestI recently read a fascinating new book The Adventures of Maud West, Lady Detective by Susannah Stapleton which explores the intriguing story of one of these early lady detectives, Maud West, in more detail. I was especially interested to discover that Maud had a surprising number of things in common with Sophie and Lil!

Maud reportedly set up her own detective agency in 1905: she had a number of both male and female detectives working for her, and an office in Bloomsbury. She had a particular eye for publicity, placing advertisements in the press (‘Maud West, Lady Detective. Are you worried? If so, consult me! Private enquiries and delicate matters undertaken anywhere with secrecy and ability’) but also writing colourful newspaper stories about her cases, seeking out publicity stunts, and circulating pictures of herself in various disguises.

According to her own accounts, her detective work involved everything from unmasking blackmailers to foiling jewel thieves to infiltrating dangerous gangs. She frequently used disguises, changing her appearance with wigs and make-up, and often dressed as a man, occupying rooms in a hotel as a ‘titled Englishman’ and following her suspects ‘into their clubs, playing baccarat beside them at the Monte Carlo Casino. She would reportedly disguise herself as ‘a shabby old scrubwoman’ at 5pm before being at the Ritz elegantly dressed for dinner by 7pm. She even claimed to have been involved in catching foreign spies, and just like Sophie and Lil, apparently worked for the British intelligence services during the First World War.

Something else that I was particularly intrigued to discover about Maud is that just like Sophie she appears to have started her career as a shop assistant – possibly even working in millinery – and that just like Lil she may have spent some time on the stage.

Later, her two daughters also came to work for her as detectives. One newspaper reported that her daughter Vera (described as ‘a pretty fair-haired girl of 17’ when she first started working for Maud) was such a clever young detective that she was dubbed ‘Miss Sherlock Holmes’.

It seems that my idea of Edwardian girl detectives was not so very far-fetched after all!

Check out my other ‘Behind the Scenes’ posts exploring the historical background of the Sinclair’s Mysteries and Taylor & Rose Secret Agents

Five Children’s Books Set in St Petersburg

Following on from my list of children’s books set in Paris, I wanted to put together a new list to celebrate Taylor & Rose Secret Agents: Spies in St Petersburg!

There are obviously lots of children’s and young adult books set elsewhere in Russia, or that are inspired by Russian folk tales. However, these five all have scenes that are set specifically in and around St Petersburg (or Leningrad) itself.

 

WOLFWILDERThe Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell, illustrated by Gelrev Ongbico

Deep in the snowy woods, Feo lives in a wooden house, with her mother – a ‘wolf-wilder’ who helps to re-wild the wolves that foolish men have tried to tame. Feo has grown up amongst the wolves, and could howl before she could talk. But when the Russian Army appear and kidnap her mother, Feo’s life is turned upside down. Now she must travel through the harsh winter landscape to St Petersburg to try and rescue her mother, teaming up with some unexpected new friends she meets along the way. This is an enchanting story from Katherine Rundell, with wonderfully atmospheric illustrations from Gelrev Ongbico.

 
eggspoonEgg & Spoon by Gregory Maguire

In this reimagining of the classic story of The Prince and the Pauper set in Tsarist Russia, Elena lives in the impoverished Russian countryside. Her future is bleak, until the night that a grand steam train stops unexpectedly at her village’s abandoned station. Aboard is Ekaterina, a girl who looks just like Elena, although in every other way she couldn’t be more different. Soon the two girls have switched places and Elena is on her way to St Petersburg – beginning an extrordinary adventure that also features a Fabergé Egg, the mythical Firebird, a prince in disguise, and the famous Baba Yaga herself.

 

rendezvousRendezvous in Russia by Lauren St John

In this instalment of Lauren St John’s engaging Laura Marlin series, young detective Laura, her faithful husky Skye and her friend Tariq have left behind their Cornish home for another adventure abroad. This time they’re joining a film crew in the faraway city of St Petersburg. But once on the set of ‘The Artistocratic Thief’, a new movie about an art heist, they find themselves mixed up in a real-life mystery.

 

ravensThe Raven’s Children by Yulia Yakoleva, translated by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp

Set in 1938, during the time of Stalin’s purges, this is the intriguing story of 7-year-old Shura. He leads a normal life in Leningrad, going to school, playing with his friends, and fighting with his big sister. But then his Mama, Papa and baby brother Bobka suddenly disappear without trace. The neighbours are saying they were enemies of Stalin, who have been taken away by the mysterious ‘Raven’. Desperate to reunite his family, Shura sets out to hunt down the ‘Raven’  – but there are strange adventures ahead.

 

wolfprincessThe Wolf Princess by Cathryn Constable

On a school trip to St Petersburg, Sophie and her friends get aboard the wrong train. They are rescued by the beautiful and mysterious Princess Anna Volkonskaya, who takes them to her winter palace and mesmerises them with stories of lost diamonds and a tragic past. But as night falls and wolves prowl, Sophie discovers that secrets – and dangers – are lying in wait for her in the crumbling palace …

 

9781405287050Finally of course I have to mention Taylor & Rose Secret Agents: Spies in St Petersburg! In the second in the Taylor & Rose Secret Agents series, it’s 1911 and Sophie  is missing in action after an explosive Secret Service Bureau mission in Paris. Lil decides to take matters into her own hands, setting out  to track her down in misty and mysterious St Petersburg. But can they uncover the identity of their true enemy – and can they trust anyone, even the Bureau itself?

 

If you have a favourite children’s book set in St Petersburg I’d love to hear about it – leave me a comment below!

If you enjoyed this list then do also check out my other Taylor & Rose inspired booklists: