Susan Elia MacNeal is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Maggie Hope Mystery series. The first novel in the series is “Mr. Churchill’s Secretary.” It was nominated for the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award for Best First Novel and the Mystery Readers International’s Macavity Award for Best First Mystery Novel. “Mr. Churchill’s Secretary” was also declared one of Suspense Magazine’s Best Debut of 2012, Deadly Pleasures’s Best Paperback Original of 2012, and chosen as one of Target’s “Emerging Authors” series.
MacNeal says that she’s not trying to send a message in the book, but focus on the story. “I really just want to tell a good, entertaining story, so that readers can put down their own troubles for a few hours, and become caught up in this world and these characters. However, if people learn something about World War II history along the way, I’m thrilled. Likewise, I love it when people learn something about the contribution women made to the war effort, especially the incredibly brave women of the SOE (Special Operations Executive) which parachuted secret agents into enemy territory ‘to set Europe ablaze,’ as Winston Churchill said.”
“Mr. Churchill’s Secretary” was nominated for other awards not mentioned above. A book with this many award nominations doesn’t come without great inspiration. MacNeal described that inspiration in detail. “I was in London in 1999, and one of the places I explored was the Cabinet War Rooms, the bunker from which Winston Churchill, his colleagues, and staff ran the British war effort during World War II. I remember I was there in the morning, and it wasn’t crowded at all. There are a number of places where you can do a 360 degree turn and everything looks exactly as it must have during the war. And I had this surreal time travel experience—for a brief moment I really felt as though it was 1940. I could hear the telephones ringing, smell the cigarette smoke, feel the undercurrents of tension and fear. It was a powerful experience—and I knew that I wanted to write about it.”
MacNeal describes the Maggie Hope series as “a bit like Nancy Drew, set during World War II, for grown-ups.” She added, “The series is about a young woman who finds herself in London as World War II breaks out, and ultimately becomes a spy for the SOE—the Special Operations Executive, a covert black-ops organization. While Maggie discovers secrets about enemy plots and plans, she’s also discovering mysteries in her own family’s past.”
The series, which currently includes three books, has proven so popular that Random House asked MacNeal to write two more books in the series in addition to the 2014 release she’s currently working on, “The Prime Minister’s Secret Agent.” Other books in the series include “Princess Elizabeth’s Spy” and “His Majesty’s Hope.”
In doing research for the Maggie Hope series, MacNeal has realized how difficult war can be. She said, “As dramatic and suspenseful and nail-biting as my books are, the reality of war was even more implausible and insane and crazy-sounding. World War II was fought on many different fronts, and the British spies and secret agents pulled off incredible coups. I don’t think it’s surprising at all that Ian Fleming, who worked for MI-6 during the war, planning any number of top-secret missions, ended up creating James Bond and writing thrillers. Reality really is stranger than fiction.”
The “instant success” of “Mr. Churchill’s Secretary” is attributable to MacNeal’s perseverance. “It’s been an amazing year,” she said. “Mr. Churchill’s Secretary has been nominated for the Edgar, Macavity, Dilys, and Barry Awards. But it’s a year that followed over twelve years of research, writing, and then many, many rejections by both literary agents and editors. It wasn’t an easy road, but I suppose I was just too stubborn to give up.”
How did the Edgar nomination affect MacNeal as a writer? Rather than adding pressure, she feels that she now has less pressure. “I feel like I have more freedom—and being published wasn’t just some sort of cosmic fluke. It feels like a blessing and benediction from the mystery writing community. I remember putting on lipstick for the Edgar awards ceremony, and my eight-year-old son asked me if I was nervous. I said no—because no matter who won, I’d be genuinely thrilled—because honestly I felt like Cinderella invited to the ball.”
The sequel to “Mr. Churchill’s Secretary” was “Princess Elizabeth’s Spy,” a New York Times bestseller that was chosen by Oprah.com as their “Mystery of the Week” and one of their “7 Compulsively Readable Mysteries (for the Crazy-Smart Reader),” as well as Target’s “Emerging Authors” series. It was nominated for the Macavity Award’s Sue Feder Historical Memorial Award. His Majesty’s Hope made the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists and was chosen as one of Target’s Emerging Author Series. Visit Susan Elia MacNeal’s website at www.susaneliamacneal.com for more information about her or her books.
Terry Ambrose writes both mysteries and suspense novels. In addition to his two different series, he also writes a column for Examiner.com about real-life scams and cons. Learn more about him on his website at themysterywriter.com.