This month we’re absolutely delighted to have published Alice Éclair, Spy Extraordinaire! A Recipe for Trouble – a beautifully written adventure full of daring action and delicious cakes. And today we’re very excited to be sharing a guest post from Sarah!
I’m so excited about seeing Alice’s first adventure A Recipe for Trouble heading out into the world and for everyone to meet Alice Éclair.
Alice Éclair is Paris’ rising star in the world of patisserie, and also its youngest spy. In A Recipe for Trouble she faces her first big mission – to track down a package of secret papers on board France’s most luxurious train, the Sapphire Express, and to uncover the spy from a train full of passengers, all of whom seem to be hiding secrets.
Alice really started way back in the 1980s when my brothers were given a book on how to be a spy, which I quickly borrowed (I say borrowed, they say stole) and spent the entire summer reading up on secret codes and writing messages with lemon juice (something I recently discovered one real spy actually did!). It was all very exciting and I’ve always wanted to recapture that, so writing Alice’s adventures is a way of being back in my childhood, imagining that I’m on an important secret mission.
I often get asked if I chose to make Alice a star baker because I’m good at that myself. I wish I could say yes, but a decent chilli cheese scone is pretty much where my talents start and end. I wanted her to be creative, though, and I realised that giving her a talent that would get her invited into places that she might not otherwise be able to go (like luxury trains and posh manor houses) would mean that I had a reason for her being at the centre of the action. It also makes it a lot of fun for me, finding ways to combine her baking with her spying so that they work together, and I hope that is fun for the reader too!
I set Alice’s first adventure on a train quite simply because I’ve always wanted to write a book set on a steam train. I absolutely love them. In Wales, where I live, there are lots of narrow gauge steam trains that were used for the coal and slate industries or for Victorian tourism and I love visiting them. It’s like stepping back into the past. There’s something very magical about a steam train, and they are the perfect setting for a detective or spy book because trains give you an environment where everyone is trapped in a small space and can be observed in great detail, and they also give you a deadline for your detective or spy to solve the mystery – everything has to be wrapped up before the train reaches its final destination.
A Recipe for Trouble is set in-between the wars at a time when the importance of espionage was increasingly recognised and when some writers and thinkers began to find themselves in danger and were looking for places of refuge. Although Alice and her fellow spies play an important part in helping people with their feats of daring do, I also wanted to highlight the work of some individuals who found ways to help refugees that were less ‘dramatic’ but that led to thousands of people escaping to safety. In reading up on the history of espionage in the 1930s I came across passport officials and diplomats who pushed through visa applications or even forged documentation to help people get to safety. I think it’s important to remember that all of us can find ways to be brave and do the right thing, even if we can’t be a spy who hangs off the side of a moving train.
Although I’m not as brave as Alice and I certainly don’t have her baking or decorating skills, I do recognise myself in her curiosity and her love of puzzles and word games. I think I have written myself into her lack of confidence too. She often doubts herself and feels out of place, especially in glamorous situations. But she rises above it and is willing to take on a challenge and I think that’s important too. We can’t all be naturally confident, but if we’re willing to push ourselves, often with a little help from our friends, we find we are capable of much more than we think we are.
I really hope that readers find in Alice a character that they can root for and that everyone discovers that there are few things more fun than cracking a cipher while eating a chocolate macaron or two.
Thank you, Sarah! You can order a copy of Alice Éclair, Spy Extraordinaire! A Recipe for Trouble from Waterstones here, Bookshop.org here, or Amazon here.
Read the first few chapters below: