25 March 2014

My Tuesday Talk Guest - Cue Music... the James Bond Theme...

It was with great sadness that I learnt, in late August 2014, that the wonderful M.M. Bennetts, author of this delightfull guest post below, had passed away. I had no idea, when working on this post with her that she was so ill. She was a wonderful, helpful, kind, and very funny lady. I wish I had known her as a friend beyond the pages of social media.

~ ~ ~ 

Today I have the wonderful M.M.Bennetts as my guest... and a couple of secret agents...

May I please, before I go any further, thank you for having me today, Helen. It's such a treat to be here with you. You know, when you invited me, I just thought, it's Helen, I have to do something special! What can I do? And because you are who you are, I really wanted to do something fun! But do I know anything fun? I'm such an old fossil and sober-sides...and I have this reputation of researching until the cows come home--which isn't inaccurate really.

And then I knew! Spies!
I mean, how cool and sexy is that?  Napoleonic spies!

The heart of my novel, "Of Honest Fame" and a little bit too a subplot in my earlier work, "May 1812."  Excellent! So not exactly tight black leather trousers, a Beretta and James Bond, but chaps in amazing frogged uniforms with great sideburns, ya? Still cool. And I had at the outset what I considered this irresistible catchy line going about in my noggin about "there are no rules..."

And then...well then, I came face to face with the real story. (One of the great things about history is, it's not what we think it is...it never is in history, is it? There's always a surprise just waiting to pop out and say "Boo!")
What I found when I actually did the research, rather than conjuring it up, was that not only were there no rules, but the rule book hadn't even been imagined. And it wasn't so much rules/no rules/secret service who operated efficiently but undercover or anything like that.
It was, at best, a huge platter of scrambled eggs. Runny ones. Slopping all over the place.
I couldn't believe it! No one could! 
You cannot make this stuff up!

The first real spy I encountered as I got stuck into the research was one Scots physician who spied privately for Wellington in Spain and was paid privately by him. (Clearly one needs one's own private secret service. Why didn't I think of that?) Obviously, as a physician in an impoverished country he was welcome all sorts of places and he and his servant travelled miles and miles by donkey and learned lots of useful information. (I could so use this! I'm in heaven.)

Then he got captured by the French and escaped.
But then for reasons he didn't decide to communicate, he opted to do a spell in France, so he got himself some American papers (the Americans were French allies at the time) so that he could live safely there, which he did for a bit.
(Bearing in mind, that at this point, he had not deigned to let Wellington know where he was or what he was doing. Not even a postcard. He just decided to do it. And I'm looking at this and thinking, "You what?)

And then, he decided to trickle off home.
But, did he do so through London, so that he could Jamesey Bondy debrief before the contemporary M on the situation in France? 
No, he decided he wanted to go home; he wanted a rest. So he scarpered off home to Scotland and told nobody. They thought he was dead. He wasn't; he just didn't want to anymore, so he just trolley-lollied home.
(You what? You just went home? Okay... Are you kidding me?)

And when he did decide to let the authorities for whom he allegedly worked know, did they cut up stiff?  No, they didn't. It was all, "My dear chap, so glad to hear you're well...

And I'm sitting there reading this stuff and thinking, "Are you kidding me?"
They weren't. There it was in early 19th century copperplate.
You could not make it up.

Then there's this other chap. This fellow was a commissioned officer in the Royal Navy and like all officers in the Navy at this time, he has vowed to intercept the French and interrupt whatever they're doing at any point and at any price. And of course I know that one of the main sources of counter-intelligence against the French is being performed by the Royal Navy who stop every vessel they can, seeking information--and merchants and fishermen know lots.

Whoa! This is going to be great, I think. I am definitely onto something.
The problem with this guy is that, I think to put it mildly, he's an adrenaline junkie. Or maybe he just can't count.

The French have invented a telegraph system to send information about the Continent between Paris and all the troops everywhere and they've built all these telegraph towers along the coast and they're changing their code books regularly (their cyphers were excellent and mostly unbreakable and they didn't have computers either...)

So what does our man decide to do against these heavily guarded towers with cannons and troops all around them? He decides it would be fun if he carried out his own series of raids. Yes, he may have only had a schooner and somewhere between fourteen and twenty guys on board, but hey, let's have a go. Why not?

So off they go, raiding these towers, capturing the code books and destroying them and popping as many French troops as they can. And this somehow doesn't get them all killed.  He only had fourteen guys! Were they nuts? Don't answer that.
Obviously, when it all came out back home in Britain, he was a big hero. He was probably also bonkers.

The final sideplate of breakfast gone hideously wrong is a fellow--who I've come to admire beyond words--from Russia. Now this chap was so tall and beautiful that at 15, Tsar Alexander made him an imperial page. By the time he was in his twenties he was a colonel, looking very spiffing in his white, frogged uniform, and had been sent to the court of Emperor Napoleon in Paris. Where he charmed the silk stockings off of everyone. Literally.

He was embraced in the Bonaparte intimate circle. Napoleon loved him, really loved him.
Yet when he wasn't doing the kissy-kissy at court, he was charming and carousing his way about Paris, bribing the stuffing out of everyone, including the Minister of Secret Police, Joseph Fouche, as well as the Foreign Minister, Talleyrand.  (He what?)

He also chatted up--quite successfully it would seem--an officer in the heart of the war ministry who had previously worked for the Russians, and who every month printed a secret book detailing absolutely everything about every French regiment of Napoleon's army. And this Frenchie gave the thing to our Russian beauty who'd then spend the night copying the thing out before returning it in the morning.
Not only that, he got hold of their commissariat lists, he got an in with everyone at court who may or maybe does not like Napoleon.
(I'm not making this up!  I couldn't!)

And still our little Corsican emperor is enamoured.  (Is overt the new covert or what?)
So, by 1811, when Napoleon is casting about thinking what a cheery idea it would be to invade Russia--he likes a bit of challenge--the Russians know absobloominglutely everything! And from the get-go they're already planning how to defeat our French conquerors-to-be.

Anyway, off the vast Grande Armee staggers to mass all along the border of Russia, with Napoleon claiming he's having to do this because the Russians aren't being good friends, isn't that sad and naughty?  And back in Paris, they come up with a plan to prove that the Russians are perfidious four-flushers, so they hit on this lowly (probably not cute) clerk in the Russian embassy who they say has been stealing all these papers! Shock, horror! And which excuse they use as proof that the Russians are not true allies. The clerk was executed.
Our Russian Adonis waltzes back home and gets his title upped to Prince and General.

And still Napoleon believes that our gorgeous, tall, blond and blue-eyed boy is one of his dearest friends on earth. (Can anybody be that dumb?  I mean, you cannot make this stuff up! Which is probably why I write fiction--no one would believe the real stuff, would they?  Unbelievable!)

So that's the real story.
Lots of which obviously I couldn't use when I wrote "Of Honest Fame."
I was wanting to write something serious and tense and historical thrillery...Not Mr. Bean in breeches and top boots!
But I do love it all...Can't help myself really...

Helen: Oh I loved this post! My own character, ex-pirate Jesmiah Acorne of the Sea Witch Voyages often gets involved in undercover-type tricky situations. Reluctantly, I might add. It's his own fault though - he's good at getting in and out of trouble!

Both M.M. Bennetts' historical novels, May 1812 and Of Honest Fame are available through www.amazon.com or www.amazon.co.uk

Website : http://www.mmbennetts.com/

There is a wonderful tribute to M.M.Bennetts HERE 
(photograph below from this post)

M.M. Bennetts
29 July, 1957 - 25 August, 2014


  1. Isn't this great information? And put so humorously, as MM always does. Very enjoyable! Thanks.

    1. Yes! It was great to have such a good laugh! :-)

  2. So very pleased you enjoyed it!

  3. Thanks, Helen, for hosting on MM's blog tour.

    1. it is always a pleasure to have lovely people here on my blog - as guests or visiting readers!

  4. Helen, I had to check three boxes! Funny, I like this, and interesting. What a marvelous post and thank you Lady Helen for bring this to us.


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