My guest today is the wonderful Kate Quinn, a fellow Romaphile who has diverted from Rome to venture into the world of women spies in WW1. Kate is a native of southern California. A lifelong history buff, she has written four novels in the Empress of Rome Saga, and two books in the Italian Renaissance, before turning to the 20th century with The Alice Network. All have been translated into multiple languages.
What or who inspired you to first write? Which authors have influenced you?
I’ve always had the urge to tell stories, who knows why. My mother has a history degree, so I grew up hearing fascinating historical tid-bits as bedtime stories rather than fairy-tales; because of that, I gravitated naturally toward stories grounded in the past. My role-model authors for hist-fic have been Gwen Bristow (great story-telling, clean clear prose), Judith Merkle Riley (who showed me that historical fiction can be funny) and Bernard Cornwell (most thrilling historical action writing ever).
What is the inspiration for your current book? Is there a particular theme you wished to explore?
I wrote The Alice Network after stumbling across a reference to the historic ring of spies which operated during World War I, headed and masterminded by a brilliant woman nicknamed the Queen of Spies. I was astounded that the entire network wasn’t more well known, and wanted to pay homage to the incredible courage of these women who risked their lives to spy on the Germans. It’s fundamentally a book about women in war, and what they can accomplish when they join forces and refuse to be beaten.
What period of history particularly inspires or interests you? Why?
There are so many I find fascinating! Ancient Rome, Renaissance Italy, Tudor England, World War I & II, the Roaring 20s…I suppose what they all have in common is that they are periods with both tremendous advancements in art or culture or science, but also tremendous upheaval and turmoil and violence, which makes great grist for novelists.
What resources do you use to research your book? How long did it take to finish the novel?
I wrote The Alice Network in a year, which is fairly standard for me. I couldn’t travel to Europe to research the places visited in the book—it was a year with a lot of upheaval; extended travel wasn’t possible—so I relied on every online source and written source I could find to aid my research. I was lucky enough with The Alice Network to work with the modern-day descendants of several actual spies who worked for the real network during WWI, and whose archived letters gave me invaluable insights.
What do you do if stuck for a word or a phrase?
Tear my hair a while, then find another one and keep going.
Is there anything unusual or even quirky that you would like to share about your writing?
Something fun I’ve started doing with the last two books is playing with scent to get into a new writing project. For my last Rome-set novel about Emperor Hadrian, I spritzed a citrusy perfume called “Nuits d’Hadrien” (and as a result, lemon trees popped up everywhere in the book!) For The Alice Network I picked a scent called “Code” because I figured my lady spies would like it. It’s silly, but it’s fun—and there is something about linking the sense of smell to work, because after a while I associate the new scent with “Ok, time to get cracking on that word-count.”
Do you use a program like Scrivener to create your novel? Do you ever write in long hand?
I am a recent Scrivener convert—now I have no idea how I would work without it. I haven’t written longhand since I was a teenager; my thoughts race way too quickly for my hand to catch up!
Is there a particular photo or piece of art that strikes a chord with you? Why?
I love historic photographs. Look at a picture of the Queen of Spies who headed the Alice Network, and you see a tiny woman with a big lace collar and a corseted waist and poofed Edwardian hair…she looks as fragile and decorative as a china shepherdess on a shelf. Then you take a closer look at her eyes, and they’re sharp and humorous and hiding so much.
For the current WIP I have a photograph of Lake Baikal I’m using as inspiration—a huge, mysterious lake on the very eastern edge of Russia which I decided was my heroine’s birthplace.
What advice would you give an aspiring author?
Find and befriend other writers, because your writer friends will keep you sane.
Tell us about your next book.
My next book is another 20th century dual timeline, like The Alice Network. It involves an English war correspondent turned Nazi hunter teaming up with a Russian female pilot from the all-women night-bomber regiment known as the Night Witches, tracking a Nazi murderess who fled to America post-World War II…even as a budding teenage photographer in Boston begins to suspect there is something very wrong about her father’s new fiancee. I’m about 2/3 done and enjoying it hugely!
In an enthralling new historical novel from national bestselling author Kate Quinn, two women—a female spy recruited to the real-life Alice Network in France during World War I and an unconventional American socialite searching for her cousin in 1947—are brought together in a mesmerizing story of courage and redemption.
1947. In the chaotic aftermath of World War II, American college girl Charlie St. Clair is pregnant, unmarried, and on the verge of being thrown out of her very proper family. She’s also nursing a desperate hope that her beloved cousin Rose, who disappeared in Nazi-occupied France during the war, might still be alive. So when Charlie’s parents banish her to Europe to have her “little problem” taken care of, Charlie breaks free and heads to London, determined to find out what happened to the cousin she loves like a sister.
1915. A year into the Great War, Eve Gardiner burns to join the fight against the Germans and unexpectedly gets her chance when she’s recruited to work as a spy. Sent into enemy-occupied France, she’s trained by the mesmerizing Lili, the “Queen of Spies”, who manages a vast network of secret agents right under the enemy’s nose.
Thirty years later, haunted by the betrayal that ultimately tore apart the Alice Network, Eve spends her days drunk and secluded in her crumbling London house. Until a young American barges in uttering a name Eve hasn’t heard in decades, and launches them both on a mission to find the truth …no matter where it leads.
Many thanks, Kate. Can’t wait to read The Alice Network and your next book about Night Witches!
Buy Kate’s books via the following links: