Sunday, December 13, 2015

What We're Writing — Susan Elia MacNeal and THE QUEEN'S ACCOMPLICE

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Hello Reds and lovely readers and happy holidays! So thrilled that not only has MRS. ROOSEVELT'S CONFIDANTE made the New York Times Bestseller list at #7, but also made the bestseller lists of USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and the San Francisco Chronicle. Out less than two months, it's already in its third printing! 

To celebrate, I'm doing a MRS. ROOSEVELT'S CONFIDANTE giveaway, to three people who leave a comment. (Kiddo will choose.)

I'm also over the moon to announce that actress Daisy Ridley, who plays Rey in Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens, has bought the film/TV rights to the series! Fingers crossed and I think Ms. Ridley would make a fabulous Maggie Hope!

I'm also delighted to let you know that not only have I turned in THE QUEEN'S ACCOMPLICE (Maggie Hope #6) into copyediting, but the kind folks at Penguin Random House tell me that the pub date will be sometime in the fall of '16.

And the Big News is — I've just signed another contract with PRH, for a three-book Maggie Hope deal. Maggie's adventures will continue! 

So, for the last year, I've been writing THE QUEEN'S ACCOMPLICE. I have to say it's the most technically difficult novel I've ever written, as well as the most fun. In it, Maggie teams up with her old friend Mark Stafford from MI-5 and also a new colleague, Detective Chief Inspector James Durgin from Scotland Yard. 

The three of them work to solve the case of a serial killer dubbed by the press as "The Blackout Beast" — based on the real-life Blitz serial killer (they called the "sequential murderers" then) known as the Blackout Ripper. 

I enjoyed (is that the right word?) learning more about forensic science for this novel, especially the history of fingerprinting. Must once again give a shout-out to the Forensics: Anatomy of Crime exhibit at the Wellcome Collection in London, as well as the accompanying book by Val McDermid.

Here are some of the things on my desk I've been using while writing THE QUEEN'S ACCOMPLICE. This is a notebook I received from Kiddo and Hubby last December, and those are the first notes I ever made on the novel.

And here's a Punch and Judy postcard I picked up in Covent Garden (the historic home of Punch and Judy) last year. The puppet show (and its inherent misogyny and violence) plays a major part in the novel.

I also used print-out of a vintage map of London, to plot the locations of the bodies found.

And here's a chart I made, to keep track of the Blackout Beast's victims. Yes, sometimes you have to get off the computer and write things out by hand. (And yes, I have terrible handwriting.)

I used a lot of books (as usual) for research. MAD BOY was something I just read for fun, but learned about a drug, "Calm Doggie," that was used to tranquilize dogs during the Blitz. According to the book, people took it as well. Just the sort of detail I love to thread in!

In THE QUEEN'S ACCOMPLICE, we also meet back up with ballerina Sarah Sanderson, now with SOE, and Hugh Thompson, Maggie's MI-5 (and romantic) partner — Hugh and Sarah are at Beaulieu, the SOE's "finishing school" in preparation for being dropped behind enemy lines in France.

And, of course — given the book's title — I did plentiful research on Queen Elizabeth, or, as we now think of her, the Queen Mum.

My publisher asked me not to blog from THE QUEEN'S ACCOMPLICE at this time, but I can't wait to share in the new year!

In the meantime, please enjoy this excerpt from MRS. ROOSEVELT'S CONFIDANTE:

The President’s private office was painted battleship gray and glossy white, softened by puddles of light from glowing green Tiffany lamps. Tall mahogany bookcases were crammed with models of ships. A massive oak desk stood in one corner, its blotter covered in stamps and collectors’ albums. Burning logs popped and crackled behind the grate of a marble fireplace, and a shabby Persian rug was spread in front. Layered on top was a lion-skin rug, head intact and fangs gleaming. “From Ethiopia’s Emperor Haile Selassie,” the First Lady explained. “We call him Leo the Lion.” 
     “The first warning shot against the Empire,” John muttered under his breath.
     The President was already holding court, seated in a streamlined wheelchair made from a regular dining chair. He was in position behind a small brass cart, mixing drinks, Fala at his feet. Churchill, looking every inch the English bulldog, made his way around the room, hand extended, saying, “How-de-do? How-de-do?” Fala was busily inspecting the Prime Minister’s shoes and trousers, then sat back on his haunches as if to say, Yes, he passes my inspection.
     “Welcome to Children’s Hour!” the President called to Mrs. Roosevelt’s small tour group as the P.M. stooped to rub Fala’s furry head. “It’s my tradition of having cocktails at the end of the day!” he explained. “And today I daresay you all deserve one.” He looked sideways at Churchill. “Or perhaps two.” The bar cart was crowded with different colored bottles of gin and French ver- mouth, Kentucky bourbon, Tennessee whiskey, rum, tonic, and various bitters. As the President took a sip from his glass, he closed his eyes in delight. “Oh, yummy—that’s good.”
     Maggie took in the scene before her. She knew all too well that the Prime Minister’s usual drinks were sherry, whiskey, brandy, and champagne—and only rarely a Martini, but with no vermouth, only “a bow toward France.” As she saw the generous amount of vermouth Mr. Roosevelt poured into the jigger to mix with his gin and how graciously Mr. Churchill accepted the cocktail glass from the President’s hands, she realized for the first time exactly how much the Boss would sacrifice to get on with the American leader and how strong was the Franklin-Winston bonhomie.
     John nodded in approval. “An Anglo-Saxon alliance, to meet the problems of the world. Well done.”
     President Roosevelt flashed his thousand-watt toothy grin. “Forgive me if I don’t get up,” he joked, then wheeled himself over, Fala following with a wagging tail. “My adviser Harry Hopkins, you already know, of course,” he said, indicating a gaunt, chain-smoking man. “And this lovely lady is Grace Tully, my secretary—and Lorena Hickok, Eleanor’s friend. Oh, and let me introduce Frank Cole, my right-hand man.”
     Frank Cole was a thoroughly average-looking man with wide-set eyes behind heavy black-framed glasses and a rumpled suit that suggested moneyed eccentricity. Giving him a long look, Maggie realized there was something off: one of his eyes was a bright green, while the other was a true hazel. “Who’s Frank Cole?” she whispered to David when she could.
     He sipped his Martini and nearly choked. “Heavy on the vermouth and—horrors—I believe a splash of Pernod.” He shook his head. “Frank Cole is the economic specialist for the State Department who then became a rather successful journalist. Outspoken supporter of the New Deal and the Roosevelts. And, from what I hear, FDR’s odd-job man.”
    Maggie took a small sip of hers, which had two Spanish olives speared to a toothpick with tiny U.S. and U.K. flags. She peered at the fine print: made in japan. Oh, dear. “Odd-job man? What sorts of jobs?”
     David shrugged. “How should I know?”
     “But what about Mr. Hoover?” Maggie pressed as the First Lady pulled out a record and placed it on the phonograph.
     “No, Cole has nothing to do with Hoover. He answers directly to the President.”
     As the record crackled and then began, Marian Anderson’s rich contralto voice filled the room, singing Handel’s “And He Shall Feed His Flock.” More guests arrived—including General Sir Alan Brooke, Chief of the Imperial General Staff—and the President exclaimed, “Oh, how perfectly grand!” 
     As Fala shook hands with all of them on command, a waiter wheeled in a silver trolley, piled high with caviar and toast points, a carved roasted turkey, smoked clams, sliced green apples, and cheeses.
Mr. Roosevelt looked around the room and, spying empty glasses, called out, “How about a little dividend? Another sippy?” He began to make more cocktails, this time something called a Haitian Libation, made with rum, orange juice, egg whites, and brown sugar. “Ah, the sweet music of the shaker!” he called. “Who’d like to try one?”
     Despite the President’s questionable cocktails, Maggie did find herself liking him. It was impossible not to admire his unflagging energy, his irrepressible confidence, his effervescent charm. As more drinks were poured and plates were passed, she seized the chance to look around his private office. The room was large, but still warm and homey, stuffed full of clutter: shelves of gold-tooled leather-bound books, stamp collecting albums, intricate ship models, and silver-framed photographs of the children at various ages. A black-and-white Ansel Adams photograph of the Rocky Mountains hung in a place of prominence.
David and John perched next to Maggie with their cocktail glasses. David bent over to whisper, “Do you think they’re going to serve us hot dogs for dinner? I hear that’s what they offered the King and Queen when they visited.”
     “Hot dogs are a picnic food,” Maggie replied sotto voce. “Not likely to be served at the White House in December. Although we can try to get you one from a street vendor.”
     “I’d like that,” David returned courageously. “I’ve never had one, you know.”
     As Roosevelt and Churchill chatted and laughed, John murmured, “What kind of accent does the President have?”
     “Hudson Valley Lockjaw—Dutchess County via Amster- dam,” Maggie whispered back. “With just a faint tinge of Old Money.”
    “Old . . . by American standards.” John took a sip of his Martini and nearly choked.
     “There, there.” Maggie patted his back. “I know it’s a lot to get used to—landing in a foreign country.” John was silent. “Well, isn’t it?” Maggie wasn’t about to give up.
     “Rather heavy on the vermouth” was all he would say.
     “So, Mr. Cole,” said the Prime Minister, standing nearby. “What is it exactly that you do for the President?”
     “This and that,” Cole replied. “I’m a newspaper columnist by trade, but I do enjoy being Man Friday.”
     Churchill studied him. Then he raised his glass. “If that’s your story, Mr. Cole, then stick to it.” 

Please leave a message in the comments to be considered for the MRS. ROOSEVELT'S CONFIDANTE giveaway!


  1. Bestseller lists; film/television rights; more Maggie Hope books . . . what exciting and wonderful news! Congratulations!

    I think it's nice to know that sometimes the computer cannot replace something that's handwritten.

    I enjoyed reading the piece from "Mrs. Roosevelt's Confidante" and I am really looking forward to reading Maggie's continuing adventures in "The Queen's Accomplice."

  2. I would like to congratulate you also!!!!

    I would find it fantastic if I could win the book Mrs. Roosevelt's Confidante, and hope that the fact that I do not live in the U.S. count against me.

    Loved the excerpt...!

  3. So many congratulations, Susan! Wow, wouldn't a movie be the best? Or a TV show? And I'm so pleased the series will continue. Love the excerpt, too. I'm woefully behind on your series, having read only The Prime Minister's Secret Agent (which I loved). Must remedy that!

  4. It's interesting to see the Office of the President as it was in President Roosevelt's tenure. I also loved the poster of Punch and Judy as sponsored by the Peek Freen Co. We ate Peek Freens years ago. Congratulations on the movie deal.

  5. I love it the books. KUdoes to the author for all the success. Cannot wait for the movie!

  6. What a marvelous list of good news Susan! We congratulate you! now off to share the news and spread the word about the giveaway...

  7. Wow, that is a BOATload of fabulous news! Congratulations!!
    And of course the excerpt is so intriguing. Pernod: feh.

  8. Susan, you're on a roll! Wow! Can't wait to get my hands on your latest Maggie Hope. And isn't it great that a Daisy Ridley has the good sense and taste and foresight to snatch up Maggie Hope?

  9. Aw, thanks, you guys! I'm basically thrilled THE QUEEN'S ACCOMPLICE is into copyediting and I have a bit of a breather over the holidays.... Knock wood..... Next research trip — Paris! Anyone have any advice?

  10. So many bits of exciting, wonderful news. Congratulations! Well deserved, enjoy. Thoroughly enjoyed the excerpt and so happy the series will continue. I read of lot of books as filler but yours and the rest of the Jungle Reds' books are those I mark my calendar and wait for. Happy Holidays!

  11. I don't have any advise about Paris, since I've never been. It's on my bucket list, along with completing an outfit that will allow me to join the 501st (THE charity Star Wars cosplay group). I just wanted to come by and congratulate you for all the awesome news! You deserve it; there's a lot of work and heart in your novels.

    Mattie, tell your mom you both deserve extra holiday sweets!

  12. Such great news, Susan, and so well deserved.

    I'm reading Mrs. Roosevelt's Confidante right now, so don't enter my name, but happy to get the chance to tell you how much I'm enjoying it. So glad to know there will be many more adventures for Maggie and her pals.

  13. Congratulations on all the wonderful news! Research sounds fascinating. Thanks for sharing.

  14. You and your family have been through some tough times, and these successes are wonderful for you. The insights into your next book are fascinating. I've enjoyed the Maggie series from the beginning. You are keeping it fresh and intriguing. Thanks! H.Harra (airieanne on FB)

  15. So much good news, Susan. I'm so happy for you and would love to see this as a TV seizes or a movie!

  16. Congratulations, Susan!!! Your words transport me back in time and through a different world. I become Maggie Hope's companion on her journeys. Thank you for my time machine!

  17. Susan, so much good news!!! And so well deserved!! Thrilled that there are three more Maggie books in the works, and of course would LOVE to see Maggie on film! Yay!!

    Love the excerpt, too--one of my favorite scenes in the book.

  18. Wow, Susan, congratulations on all this fantastic news. It's a win-win for you and your readers alike. I love hearing about all the backstories and research the Reds do and this posting was no exception. I've already read Mrs. Roosevelt's Confidante, so don't enter me in the giveaway. It was a great read.

    And to see Maggie Hope on film --- stupendous! Can't wait to hear developing details on that score.


  19. Congratulations! I have the first Maggie Hope book sitting at the top of my to-read pile. I'm excited to get started on your series.

  20. This is all so great--SO GREAT!! The Maggie books are wonderful and so are you. And this is..thrilling. THRILLING!

  21. I can't believe I missed this - its going onto my Christmas list immediately! Just in case one of my kids or my husband needs another idea. I love Maggie and all the great historical figures she gets to rub elbows with!

  22. Lots of good news. Congratulations! I love all the detail in FDR's office cocktail hour. And the snarky remarks. Even better! Where can I get some Calm Doggie? I could use some of that right now. I think the Maggie Hope books will translate very well to film. Any chance she could run into Christopher Foyle?

  23. I really like mysteries about this period in history.

  24. Just to clarify -- there's no guarantee of a movie or TV series, just that Daisy Ridley now owns the rights. It's up to her — and may the Force be with her!

    Thank you so much for the kind words. It's been a hard few weeks here and the support is much appreciated. Could have used some Calm Doggie myself....

  25. Congratulations! What wonderful news. So well deserved. Your novels are captivating, memorable and unforgettable. When I read your books I am transported back to England, Scotland and Britain and that era which is my Ultimate favorite ever. Your books give me great enjoyment since I was born in the 1940's and feel nostalgic for that time which was profound and important in so many ways. But to tell the truth I admired Sir Winston Churchill and his courage, speeches and writing. Maggie is the best heroine ever. Many more books which I look forward to enjoying. Best wishes. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com

  26. Yes, please! I've been loving this series. Congratulations all around on the wonderful news.

  27. So much to be excited about in your post, Susan! First, for me, is that Maggie Hope will continue, and, of course, why would she not, as her placement on the best seller lists screams brilliant. Selling the film/TV rights has to be an achievement of which you're proud and giddy about. Congrats on that, too. And, I love that you share your resources with us, describing their importance and contents. Calm Doggie? These are the fascinating details that have made a loyal fan out of me. I have Val McDermid's Forensics, but I haven't read it yet. I'm thinking maybe I could do that in bits and pieces?

    Since I already have read the amazing Mrs. Roosevelt's Confidante and have a copy, you can leave me out of the Matti-chosen prize, although it would be quite the honor to be picked by such a cool kid.

  28. Maggie Hope series continues makes my day. Your talent, creativity and writing is exceptional and the fascinating Maggie Hope books are amazing for their characters, story, details and authenticity but most of all for providing me with the best ever entertainment by far. Congratulations on the books, and hopefully the T.V. and movie rights as well. What a great excerpt. elliotbencan(at)hotmail(dot)com

  29. Just ordered up your newest book on my Kindle. Old eyes need large print. (An aside to Deb - How is the vision these days. I have an appointment in January and am hoping it is time to get rid of these cataracts) OK, back to Susan. Depending on what you will be researching in Paris, my advice is this. By all means see the Louvre and the Musee d'Orsay, take a ride on the Bateau Bus as dusk to see the lighted monuments, but then do this. Forget the tourist attractions, make reservations for dinner at Le Florimond in the 7th, google it, has a website in English. Then take a walk along the Avenue de la Monte Picquet, stop at Cafe Terrasse for a drink or a cafe creme, and watch the people. This is my absolute favorite neighborhood and where we always stay. It is real. You know what I mean. Real people, real Parisians, living their real lives. Look up at the lighted windows and see the interior of their homes. Can you tell Paris is my favorite place in the world? And if you see an old American broad with platinum blonde hair, say bon soir. It is probablly me.

  30. By the way, if ever I have an English bulldog, I will name him Churchill.

  31. Anyone who hasn't read Mrs. Roosevelt's Confidante is in for a big treat! I'm ordering all the novels in the series that have gone missing from my guestroom bookcase! (I've obviously converted quite a few people to dear Maggie.) Phyllis

  32. Fantastic news about the best seller lists and the option for movies!
    Well done and well deserved!

  33. I love the way you bring me to a time in history I had only heard of. Your research is exquisite. I like those visions, the historic pieces with their personal snippets, most of all.

    Congratulations, and best wishes that projects go forth that will see Maggie Hope on film or a brilliant TV series. Perfect project for Daisy Ridley. Nice going!

  34. I live in Canada so I am probably not eligible for the book but I just have to say how much I enjoy this series! I have told everyone about it! I am learning things and being entertained for hours! Thank you SO MUCH for so many hours of enjoyment.

    PS - Now I want to visit Scotland as well as England. I have put it on my bucket list!

  35. Congratulations on all your exciting news! The best sellers lists are nice, but expected (you are that good!). But the chance to see Maggie on the screen, big or little?! To quote Frank Z
    "Wowie zowie!". Thanks for the excerpt. I've yet to reach the top on my library's hold count.


  36. Congrats Susan. On all fronts. As I've read through the Maggie series I've always thought it would make a great PBS Masterpiece series. Hopefully, Daisy Ridley is able to get it done!

    I'm in the process of reading your latest book, and it's wonderful as always.

    Happy Holidays to you and your family.

  37. Love your books! This series has really captured me. Thanks for sharing what you use as you write. Can't wait to read Mrs Roosevelt's Confidante.

  38. Love the Maggie Hope books. I find I'm really enjoying historical mysteries, especially those showing women working within and around the restrictions set on them by the male establishment. I'm looking forward to reading Mrs. Roosevelt's Confidante (one way or another!).

  39. Congratulations!!! I know it must be nerve wracking, waiting for a new contract. Three more books is great! And a film rights sale, too! And all just in time for Christmas.

  40. I have just recently delved into the Maggie Hope series via audiobook and they are spectacular!! I have honestly never been interested in the WWII time period, but this series has single-handedly changed my mind completely. I especially loved "Princess Elizabeth's Spy" for the simple fact that it makes you feel like you have intimate knowledge of the current Queen of England. That book sparked an interest that has led me to scour Wikipedia for information about the Queen's childhood and the actual history of her family and her reign. In all of the Maggie Hope books, I wonder exactly how much of the elements are based on truth from meticulous research and how much of them are stories. The character development is superb - the fact that Maggie isn't perfect, that she hurts, she bleeds, she's depressed, she has very different relationships with two very different's so realistic, raw and truthful. Fantastic series, I hope you never run out of material to write about and that Maggie becomes a literary legacy!