You think you know it all and then this happens. I’d done the research. I’d studied how spies from SOE operated in the second world war. I’d assimilated that research and created Anna, my main character. I’d finished the novel three times and even persuaded an agent to take me on when I walked into the Trondheim Museum in Norway and realised I’d missed a really important trick.
As a novelist you sit in front of a computer and try to imagine what it’s like to be one of your characters. I had imagined what it was like to operate a radio behind enemy lines in Normandy in 1944. I knew it was every agent’s most vulnerable moment. The Gestapo could trace radio waves. As an agent you needed to be quick. You needed to be accurate. Two signature codes had to be sent to identify yourself. Only one code and London would presume you’d been captured and tortured and your set was being used by the Gestapo. I knew all that. So I sat at my desk and conjured up a scene about Anna being in radio contact with London that I thought was fool-proof. To give authenticity I made Anna listen out for approaching vehicles. A chance encounter in Trondheim told me how stupid that was.
Behind the glass in the museum was a waxwork of an agent using his radio to contact London. On the desk was a pistol with the safety catch off! I stared it before I realised. Of course. No agent could listen out for approaching vehicles. To receive information from London they had to be wearing earphones. How could I have missed that! Because they were wearing earphones they had to be able to defend themselves when the gestapo burst through the door. Hence the gun with the safety catch off.
I learnt the detail and slipped in into the final version. It was an object lesson to me about how any amount of research can only take you so far. But it was more than that. The girls who worked for SOE in the 2nd World War had been brought up for marriage and motherhood. Instead they found themselves, like Anna, behind enemy lines, their lives dependent on the instant ability to stop de-coding an incoming message turn and fire at whoever came through that door. My respect for them grew.