I had long been thinking of writing a spy series set in the Cold War, partly because my father, who died when I was three, was a spy during that time. That began to change during the pandemic when I saw ordinary people doing so many extraordinary things above and beyond the call of duty. Their attitude reminded me of how people behaved during WW2 which made me think instead of spies during that era and, in turn, ignited The Silence Before Dawn.
The book is partly a love letter to the ordinary women and men whose courage in the face of overwhelming odds was extraordinary. They operated undercover, often alone, fighting one of the most ruthless enemies this world has ever seen. They died alone too. It was that quiet, lonely courage that called out to me across the years. You know some of their names. Others are less familiar. I devoured all their stories, not just those of SOE agents but the members of the Resistance and of the American OSS. They had one thing in common – a strength and spirit that was all too human. At a time when we need genuine heroines and heroes more than ever, these people inspired me as I hope they will inspire you.
While writing it, I had to overcome odds in my own life that, although nothing like those faced by the characters in the story, still felt insuperable. Thinking of them, and drawing on their courage, kept me going. As I explored the stories of the real-life characters on whom they are based, and the events that are often little-known but pivotal to the peace we enjoy today, I realised that this had to be a series. There was just too much to tell, too many tales of daring and acts noble and otherwise to share. I was also in love with my characters and remain so, flaws and all.
The split-second choices they had to make were truly life or death. I tried to imagine how I would act in the same situations, remaining composed enough to pretend the radio equipment I was carrying strapped to a bicycle was actually an x-ray machine while being questioned by the SS or marching in to demand the release of my men from a police station, claiming that the Allied invasion was imminent. I have based scenes in the book on both of those incidents and many more I discovered through poring over first-hand accounts, documents and notebooks, sometimes translating from the French, that allowed me to see things through the eyes of those who had actually lived and died as résistants and secret agents.
Aside from SOE, there were also spies operating from the OSS, the precursor to the CIA, MI5 and the CIC, or American counterintelligence corps. Underpinning all their actions were their separate agendas which became more apparent as the war progressed. I wanted to give a flavour of that while keeping the pace of the story going and the reader on a rollercoaster ride that gives a sense of the turbulence through which my characters lived.
I didn’t want to flinch from the cruelty that was inflicted on them either. They endured torture and violence on a scale most of us cannot imagine. The vast majority never cracked, giving their fellow agents the time and opportunity to get away. That loyalty and friendship was also something that I wanted to bring out for my readers. It was the kind of intense camaraderie you can only forge under extreme circumstances and, of course, led to love affairs as well. War was a time when people fell in love fast, never knowing if there would be a tomorrow. My characters reflect that along with the friendships that often lasted a lifetime.
As such, I wanted them to form their own, separate clandestine unit, divorced from any of the official ones that were operating at the time so I could give them even more freedom to take enormous risks and dare where others could not, or would not, go. There were, in fact, several clandestine units like that, which meant I could stick to historical accuracy while making the series even more of a cracking read. I also wanted to honour the people who are important to me so named several of the characters after them while others were nods to some of those who gave so much to free France, and the rest of the world, from the horrors of war.
Apart from them, I always kept my dad, and my fabulous Scots‑Irish mother who ran hospitals in the jungle in Sarawak as well as in Hong Kong, in my mind as I wrote. They and the people I met as a child never failed to inspire me, pioneers who thought nothing of crossing oceans to serve in distant lands and who never spoke of what they had done in war and peacetime. They really don’t make them like that any more but I hope I brought them to life again through The Silence Before Dawn and the other books in the series. And then there is the real-life love story that lies at the heart of it. I wrote this book for someone in particular as well as for all of you. It’s the love story that forms the thread that runs through all of the books, culminating in what might be either heartbreak or happiness. You’ll have to wait for the rest of the series to find out. It all begins with The Silence Before Dawn and I hope you love it as much as I loved writing it.
(c) Amanda Lees
About The Silence Before Dawn:
Nazi-occupied France, 1944: I tear open the envelope, extracting a sheet of folded paper. I read it, my heart cracking with every word. There is no mistaking the name of the man who betrayed us. Jack. My beloved fiancé – and now, a traitor.
For months, Marianne’s resistance network has carried out courageous missions from a remote farmhouse in southern Provence, aiding the Nazis’ downfall. But one fateful night, they are viciously ambushed as German soldiers storm in, scattering, capturing or killing every last person there.
Mourning the loss of her friends, Marianne will need every ounce of courage to survive. Not only has her life as a secret agent been critically compromised, but her heart has been shattered. Because Jack, her darling fiancé and fellow spy, fled in the chaos – and is accused of being the traitor who betrayed them.
Desperate to believe Jack’s innocence and that their love was true, to her horror Marianne discovers he has been seized by the Butcher of Lyon, a Nazi more brutal and ruthless than any other. Now it is more imperative than ever that Marianne finds Jack – before he reveals the names of every undercover agent in France, or before he is murdered for remaining loyal.
So Marianne sets out on the most dangerous mission of her life, and the most personal. With her tight-knit group of fellow women agents by her side, she risks everything to rescue Jack. Can she save her fiancé before it’s too late – and change the fate of the war in the process? Or is she blind to the heart-breaking truth, and simply sacrificing her own life?
Based on true stories of the fearless women secret agents – and their tales of bravery, betrayal and love – this is the first book in the heart-pounding, heart-wrenching and totally addictive World War Two Resistance series. Perfect for readers of The Nightingale, All the Light We Cannot See and Ellie Midwood.
Order your copy online here.