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The Best of Our Spies
The Best of Our Spies

The Best of Our Spies

By: Alex Gerlis
Date: 16/02/2013 (Last updated: 17/02/2013)

MARINERS’ fans have good cause to resent the timing of the Second World War. Arguably, the team was approaching its peak when the war started. In 1938-39, the last complete season before the war, we’d finished 10th in the old League One and reached the semi-final of the FA Cup.

Normal league activity resumed in 1946 and we were to enjoy just two more seasons in the top flight, never to return

This didn't stop me being interested in the Second World War though. My novel The Best of Our Spies was published in the middle of December last year, just a couple of days before we beat Wrexham at Blundell Park. I tend to see life a bit like that: the proximity of major events in it to Town results. My wife doesn't think it is terribly romantic when I point out that we got married the day after losing 0-1 at Mansfield. It was not too bad though. We beat Chester City a couple of days after we got back from our honeymoon.

The Best of Our Spies is an espionage thriller based on real events in the Second World War. John Sergeant has described it as "a cracking read which reminded me of John Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps. The characters were lively and the pace brilliantly maintained." The idea for the novel first came to me when I was one of the producers running the BBC’s coverage of the 50th anniversary of D-Day, back in 1994 (when Town were a comfortable middle of the table side in the old Division One). It took me some time to get round to actually writing the novel; working full time and my kids being young were my excuses.

People often ask me when I write and for how long and what time of the day or night I prefer to write. There is no one answer: I write when I’m in the right mood to do so. However, the one time when I absolutely cannot write is when Town are playing. Writing fiction is essentially an emotional process and when Town are playing my emotional focus is on them. I live in London and tend to go to most games in the south, otherwise I listen via the internet. I wrote the first two drafts of The Best of Our Spies as Town were on that nightmare slide from League One to League Two and then to the Blue Square Premier League. I reckon I’d have completed the book much quicker if we weren’t going through such a terrible time.

I’m not going to mislead you and pretend that the book has a very special appeal for Mariners’ fans. If you get the book I’d like you to do so on its merits as a spy thriller. Having said that, the more eagle eyed among you may spot a link between some of the characters and the first names or surnames of Town players in recent years. Often, when a middle-ranking or minor character appears in the story I can find myself wasting too much time thinking up a name for them. You obviously try and avoid Smith and Jones and you don’t want too many Johns. The names have to feel authentic. This is where football comes in. Think of a Town player and use their first name or surname if it fits. Given that the Second World War is my genre, the ‘baddies’ in my novels tend to be foreign so that limits use of the football name trick. However, if someone scores a couple of goals against Town (which used to happen before our defence miraculously became rock-solid) around the time I need the name of hostile British character, there’s a good chance it will be them.

Some of The Best of Our Spies is also set in Lincolnshire. Obviously I don’t want to give too much of the plot away. One section of the book is set in the Boston area but there’s an earlier part which is set in north Lincolnshire. The location is an isolated farmhouse not too far from a railway line and it is where a secret agent is trained. I never say exactly where this is, as the character is meant to have no idea - they only discover they’re in Lincolnshire purely by chance so the exact location is meant to be vague. But I know more or less where it is and the location comes from the memories I have of driving from Lincoln to Grimsby at night. Even on a good day it is a journey that always seems to take longer than it should, but what is most striking is the seemingly endless and empty countryside you drive through. If you do get round to reading the book, look out for Chapter 13.

You can find out more about the book on my website: www.alexgerlis.com

If you are interested in purchasing The Best of Our Spies (either as a paperback or Kindle) you can do so via this link.

To win a copy of The Best of Our Spies enter the competition on the Forum

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