The American Agent is the latest Maise Dobbs novel from Jacqueline Winspear. It was published by Allison and Busby on 26 March 2019.
Jacqueline kindly answered a few of my questions.
1. Tell us a little about The American Agent.
The novel opens in early September 1940 with excerpts from American journalists in London at the time, followed by a report by Catherine Saxon – an American correspondent who is later found dead in her rooms. Psychologist and investigator – and former WW1 nurse – Maisie Dobbs accepts the case, working alongside a representative from the US Department of Justice – which takes the story into the early wartime relationship between the US and Britain. In her personal life, Dobbs is in the process of trying to adopt a young orphaned evacuee –and as a volunteer with the auxilliary ambulance service, she’s facing the devastating personal outcome of a terrible bombing.
2. What inspired the book?
Several things, but first it’s always the next stage in the life of Maisie Dobbs. I am not only writing a series – with each novel combining the personal lives and development of continuing characters along with a mystery to be solved – but something akin to a “saga” where the characters grow and change over time, as we all do, based upon the events of our lives. The novel was also inspired by my regard for women war correspondents, and an interest in how radio was used as a propaganda tool during the Second World War. Then there’s war itself – I wanted to draw upon the resilience shown by people facing the German bombing strategy known as “Blitzkrieg” which had already been used to great effect in Spain (during the Spanish Civil War) and later Poland, the Netherlands, France and Belgium. I wanted to weave those themes like threads in a tapestry to create the The American Agent.
3. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you?
Just the words “plan-plan-plan” are enough to extinguish the creative spark in me, though I do create a map. I know most of my story before I begin writing, so I use a large “Post-it” poster to draw an arc, upon which I add the major landing points in the story. Then I start writing. By about page 30, I begin my notebook for the novel in progress. At the end of each day I write a few paragraphs regarding what might happen next – and I’m using the visual arc of the story to guide me. But that’s it – I leave room to “dance with the moment” and for the narrative to weave itself as much as I develop the story. I might leave the map, but there’s always a place to return to.
4. Is there anything about the process of creating a novel that still surprises you?
There always has to be something of a surprise – it’s important to keep on my toes creatively.
5. The American Agent is the 15th novel to feature Maisie Dobbs. What are the benefits and downsides to writing a series?
It’s all benefits. Writing a series is a very organic process – getting to know characters over time, and allowing them to reveal more of themselves with each challenge, personal or professional.
6. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?
I’m not good at relaxing. In addition to fiction, I write feature articles, chiefly on women’s history, and women in politics, creative life, or a specific field of endeavour. I’m currently working on a feature about women writers from India, which means I’m interviewing some amazing women writers about their work. I like to “cross train” – to try different literary forms. It keeps the creativity muscle flexible. My “getaway” is my horse – I train 4-5 days each week in the equestrian sport of dressage. It takes me out of my head. I hike almost every day – if you spend a lot of time at your desk, you have to get moving! I love indie films, the theater, and of course reading.
7. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?
A very, very long book on mythology with stories from around the world. The myths of old can keep you occupied for quite a while.
8. I like to end my Q&As with the same question so here we go. During all the Q&As and interviews you’ve done what question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?
Over the years I have been asked every conceivable question regarding my work. If there’s something I want to say, I’ll generally weave it into an answer somewhere.
About the book
When Catherine Saxon, an American correspondent reporting on the war in Europe, is found murdered in her London digs, news of her death is concealed by British authorities. Serving as a linchpin between Scotland Yard and the Secret Service, Robert MacFarlane pays a visit to Maisie Dobbs, seeking her help. Accompanied by an agent from the US Department of Justice-Mark Scott, the American who helped Maisie escape Hitler’s Munich in 1938-he asks Maisie to work with Scott to uncover the truth about Saxon’s death.
As the Germans unleash the full terror of their blitzkrieg upon the citizens of London, raining death and destruction from the skies, Maisie must balance the demands of solving this dangerous case with her need to protect the young evacuee she has grown to love. Entangled in an investigation linked to the power of wartime propaganda and American political intrigue being played out in Britain, Maisie will face losing her dearest friend-and the possibility that she might be falling in love again.
About the author
Jacqueline Winspear was born and raised in Kent and emigrated to the USA in 1990. She has written extensively for journals, newspapers and magazines, and has worked in book publishing on both sides of the Atlantic. Her acclaimed Maisie Dobbs crime series, set in the aftermath of WWI, is beloved by readers worldwide, who can now also follow her Maisie Dobbs Blog: Inspirations from an Extraordinary Generation.
*I was asked to host a Q&A to help promote The American Agent. I received a copy of the book but have not received any payment for hosting the Q&A*