Secrets and Spies -Sarah Todd Taylor

This week Crime Cymru’s Sarah Todd Taylor’s blog opens with a slightly controversial sentence, but we’re going to run with it on this occasion ……

Secrets and Spies

Don’t tell Crime Cymru, but my latest series isn’t crime fiction – it’s spy fiction, but then they are so similar. Spies get better gadgets than detectives, mind you. I’m not the only children’s crime writer to also write spy fiction. The queen of children’s crime, Robin Stevens, brought out the first in her Ministry of Unladylike Behaviour series last year, charting the espionage adventures of characters from her best-selling Murder Most Unladylike series. Katherine Woodfine’s Sinclair Mysteries characters also graduated to spying in her excellent Taylor and Rose Secret Agents books. I took the decision to start with an entirely new set of characters for my own foray into espionage and leap forwards a decade from the world of the 1920s that I explored in my Max the Detective Cat books. Alice Éclair : Spy Extraordinaire is set in 1930s Paris and follows the adventures of thirteen year old Alice, talented pâtissière and secret spy as she chases down secret plans, foils kidnaps and faces up to betrayal and danger.

So what is it that makes the crime writer turn to espionage?

Well, at the heart of a good spy novel are all the elements that we love about crime fiction – a clever protagonist chasing down a dastardly villain, a tricky puzzle to solve and lots of red herrings to throw us off the scent. The main difference is that the spy is often trying to prevent a crime from happening rather than solving it once it has happened. The clues are often the same – fingerprints, items out of place, loose talk, secret letters. All of these can be used by a spy as well as a detective. There is just one extra thing that I have loved putting into my Alice books and wasn’t able to work into my Max series – CODES.

I have always loved codes, ever since I ‘borrowed’ a book on how to be a spy that was given to my brothers one Christmas (they may tell this story differently, but don’t believe them). I love the puzzle of them and the challenge in working out the secret language that lies behind each. I try to get as many codes into the Alice books as I can and write them so that my readers can solve them along with Alice. It makes school visits fun, too, as I can teach classes how to use a cipher wheel and how to create their own codes.

So maybe you can tell Crime Cymru that I’ve slipped into the world of espionage for my latest books. After all, there are definite similarities and I promise not to try to convert any other members (but, honestly, everyone, come over to our side – we have codes!)

Sarah Todd Taylor was brought up in Yorkshire and Ceredigion, where she now lives. Inspired  by a life lived with cats she created the Max the Detective Cat series of mystery books for 7 to 9 year olds. Sarah’s books are set in the theatres of 1920s London and she draws on her experiences of treading the boards on the Welsh stage to create the world of her Theatre Royal. When not writing, Sarah likes to spend time with her guinea pigs or sing opera. 

For schools visits, fun activities and more information all about Sarah’s books, please visit her website, Facebook page or Twitter account via the links below.