Kate. Oh Bobby Bub, I bet that grandpappy of yours was a right royal rogue in the 1950s. A damn handsome fellow of course like yourself and with the same penchant for stylish headgear, no doubt.
But to be honest, the reason I chose the year 1953 for my book was that it was a year when the future of Europe was balanced on a knife edge.
And yes, you’re right, it is the latest period I have chosen as a setting for a book – but it is a moment in history that fascinates me. The start of the Cold War. A crisis point of tension and danger when Americans and Russians were at each other’s throats as they battled for nuclear dominance. I was transfixed when I delved deeper and discovered just how close that apocalypse came to exploding into life in the beautiful marshy plains of the Camargue region in south-west France,
But there was another trigger for the inspiration behind this book – that of the bonds that hold a family together in the face of a conflict that is driving them apart. At the heart of The Guardian of Lies I explore the bond between a brother and sister. My own older brother passed away several years ago but I still think of him daily, and it is this brother-sister relationship that kept intruding into my mind each time I picked up my pen to write.
This is the story of a young French woman, Eloïse Caussade, who tries to track down the Soviet agent who attempted to murder her brother in a car crash in Paris. But nothing is as it seems, so she leaves Paris to return to her father’s bull farm in the Camargue where her brother is recuperating from his injuries. There she finds herself trapped between two worlds that are on a collision course. One is the quiet rural life that is the world she believes she has outgrown and to which her childhood friend Léon still belongs. The other is the tense and dangerous existence of those caught up in the Cold War between America and Soviet Russia, a world in which lies, spies and murder entwine to drag Eloïse into their dark web. She cannot ignore the blood in the barn or the fire in her father’s stables. Her family is being targeted and she has to find the killer. But she has a lot to learn about herself and with the help and love of her friend Léon, who is now the local police chief, she battles to discover the truth. The Guardian of Lies is a fast-paced thriller but also a powerful love story.
Kate. Who says it isn’t? I admit I didn’t actually bump into any while I was cruising Arles’ colourful market for the gorgeous local lavender soap, but I know you hamsters are cunning critters and might have been lurking in the shadows, watching my every move. After all, The Guardian of Lies is a spy thriller, right? While I was checking out the bars in the back streets of the ancient city – in the interest of research of course – and watching local artists at work at their easels, I swear I could hear the scurrying of scratchy little feet over the cobbles and tiny French voices squeaking about world domination. La domination du monde.
So don’t give me this guff about “it ain’t home to hamstahs”. I got ears.
Kate. Well, yes, that’s easy. I confess that I do set my stories in countries that I’d love to visit on a research trip. So far I’ve used China, Russia, Singapore, the Bahamas, Italy, France, Germany and Egypt (which included an awesome ride in a hot-air balloon at dawn over the desert) as the backdrop for my books. Oh, how I suffer for the sake of my art! But I have a mighty hankering to see more of Africa. You know, I’ve never been on an African safari and I’ve always wanted to do so.
That would be quite some research trip, to get to view the Big Five – lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant and Cape buffalo – in their natural habitat would be truly mesmerising. Unforgettable. I’m sure I could weave a thrilling story around a moment of conflict over land and resources within the Masai Mara game reserve in Kenya. Ivory poachers. Political corruption. Loss of natural habitat. Romance and murder against a ticking clock as they fight to save the elephants. Bring it on. Maybe even a colony of hamsters endangered by the waste disposal of a local chemical plant. Hey, Bobby Bub, how about coming out to do the research with me?
Kate . Yes, definitely. Look at us. One of my major inspirations for The Guardian of Lies was my terror at what I see happening in the world today. We are in the grip of another Cold War between America and Russia, though now they fight their battles on the bloody land in the Middle East, not on American or Russian soil. The fingers of seeming psychopaths hover dangerously close to nuclear buttons.
The threat is ever present, so I wanted to take a look back to a time in 1953 when the world was on the brink of a nuclear war between Soviet Russia and America, when both countries were frantically trying to amass information on each other’s military secrets and nuclear developments.
Spies and counter-spies lurked in every walk of life, in government, industry, laboratories and education. They were everywhere. Sound familiar?
This atmosphere of suspicion, lies and fear only intensified in 1953 when the USA decided to construct a series of eleven nuclear air bases in France to create a formidable line of defence/attack against the Soviet threat. This struck me as a fascinating and revealing moment of brinkmanship that we should be examining closely now. I believe an important part of the job of a historical writer is to make the past more accessible to today’s readers. To offer them the chance to learn from the mistakes of those who came before us. I hope this book will encourage people of today to take a closer look at those into whose hands we place immense power. To think again. And to demand a safer world to live in.
Kate Well, now, BB, what a humdinger of a trip this is going to be! Get your shades on and don’t forget your cute shorts, because it gets hot down there. We’d start with fancy croissants and a few laps of the pool at our beautiful old hotel, L’Hotel du Forum, in the ancient heart of the city of Arles. What? You’re not a swimmer? You don’t like getting your fur wet! I thought all hamsters could swim, but okay, I get it, you’re not a lemming. Calm down. Let’s head out instead to explore the magnificent Roman remains that are the focus of the city.
The massive Roman amphitheatre is the place to start. It’s breathtaking. It was built in 90 AD with seating for over 20,000 spectators to watch the chariot races and bloody hand-to-hand battles. I can picture you clashing swords with Gladiator Hamstah Dickens in the arena with blood-curdling yells. And then we’d wander down to admire the beautiful brickwork on the Roman bathhouse and take to the stage in the Roman theatre, where we could act out a romantic scene from Antony and Cleopatra.
After that let’s take a breather at the gorgeous little Van Gogh café in the shady Place du Forum. The artist Vincent van Gogh used to hang out there and made it famous by creating a wonderful night-time painting of it.. We’ll down a glass or two of vino and a platter of plump Camarguais olives, then we’ll head off on safari in an open Land Rover to explore the unspoiled marshland of the Camargue, a protected area that is stunning. Here the white horses and the scary black bulls roam wild among the tamarisk tress and the saltwater lagoons. But watch out for the mozzies – they’re nearly as big as the bulls. The area is bursting with abundant birdlife – white egrets, plovers and avocets – which we can observe through binoculars.
What’s that you say? You can’t find binoculars to fit your cute button nose?
Aw, don’t fret. Instead we’ll take a romantic stroll around the water’s edge of the étangs just as the evening sun is sinking and the pools seem to catch fire. We can watch hundreds of skinny-legged flamingos lifting into the air with unexpected grace, a ribbon of pink and black trailing across the vast sky as they leave their feeding grounds to roost for the night.
Ready for something to eat? Okay, it’s back to Arles for dinner at the superb Hotel Jules César – a 7th century ex-nunnery – its décor all dolled up now in bright knock-your-eyes-out Christian Lacroix colours. (Arles was Lacroix’s home town.) Fancy a cocktail? Champers with apple brandy? Great choice. Then I recommend their fab signature dish of Risotto de Langoustines, followed by a Crêpe Soufflé au Grand Marnier. To die for! And if you fancy kicking up your heels, tossing aside your jolie French beret and dancing the rest of the night away, there’s always the Irish pub which has live music and vino till you drop. Santé!
It’s been great chatting with you guys today and I can’t wait to read the great opus that will one day emerge from the Master. Thanks for having me over and for not scaring the hell out of me this time. Hugs to ya, BB. xx
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1953, the South of France. The fragile peace between the West and Soviet Russia hangs on a knife edge. And one family has been torn apart by secrets and conflicting allegiances.