Join Alice Éclair in her extraordinary spying adventures, A Recipe for Trouble, A Spoonful of Spying and the latest book, A Sprinkling of Danger, by author Sarah Todd Taylor.
Sarah was brought up in Yorkshire and Wales surrounded by books and cats. She discovered the theatre when she was a teenager and was instantly hooked, appearing in over 20 musicals in her hometown as well as helping out backstage. In her spare time she likes to sing opera in wonderful dresses, and she shares her home in Wales with her husband, two guinea pigs and a hamster.
Alice Éclair: Spy Extraordinaire - A Sprinkling of Danger (Nosy Crow)
Turn back the clock, step into Paris in the 1930s, and join Alice Éclair in her extraordinary spying adventures, A Recipe for Trouble, A Spoonful of Spying and her latest mystery, A Sprinkling of Danger! With cakes to bake, mysteries to solve and friends to help, Alice is always on the case! We asked author Sarah Todd Taylor to tell us more about Alice Eclair: Spy Extraordinaire!
Review: "Joining Alice Eclair on another action-packed spy mission was joyous!"
"Bringing Hollywood to France seemed like a natural decision. On a film set, everyone is pretending to be someone they are not, and that felt very apt for a spy book."
Q&A with Sarah Todd Taylor
1. What brought you into writing mystery adventures for children? Was this what you loved reading as a child?
Oh yes, I grew up with the Secret Seven and Famous Five and then when I was older I loved to watch the Miss Marple stories and all the other Agatha Christies. I have always loved puzzles too. I love to do crosswords and brain teasers. I think one of the fun things about mystery stories is that they give your brain a good work out as you try to solve the mystery before the main character does.
2. Can you tell us about your Alice Eclair adventures, and what makes Alice such a great spy? Why did you decide to make her a baker?
Alice leads a double life. She spends most of her time making the most incredible cakes for her mother's cake shop, but she is also France's youngest spy and is often off on exciting missions, chasing down enemy agents or uncovering secret plans. She's very loyal and brave and I think her greatest strength is that Alice is a listener, both in terms of paying attention to what is going on around her, but also in terms of learning from the experiences of other people
Alice is a baker because I needed her to be at the centre of action so she has to be someone who would naturally be invited to the sorts of event where important people might be. As a baker she is on hand at banquets and official events where spies might be, listening in without ever being suspected. She finds ways to use her special baking skills in her spycraft, whether it's working out plans using icing or planting listening equipment inside showstopper cakes, so she's very inventive. It's been wonderful fun creating all the cakes that Alice makes and thinking up increasingly inventive ways that she can combine her baking with her spying.
"The inter-war period also felt like such a rich backdrop for stories about espionage. The spy agencies of both England and France were very active across Europe."
3. Why did you decide to set the series in Paris, and between the wars?
I have always loved the 1920s and 30s. They are decades when the arts, engineering and science were advancing at an astounding rate and I wanted to bring all that creativity and excitement to life in Alice's stories. I loved writing book two, A Spoonful of Spying, which is set at a great World's Fair, as it was an opportunity to really showcase that. The inter-war period also felt like such a rich backdrop for stories about espionage. The spy agencies of both England and France were very active across Europe and it's an important time period for the development of spycraft.
4. What happens in the latest book, A Sprinkling of Danger, and why did you want the backdrop of a film set in a palace, at Versailles?
In A Sprinkling of Danger, Alice is sent to spy on the director of a film that is being set at the gorgeous palace of Versaille. France's agents are being betrayed and Alice's fellow spy, Claude, who we met in book two, suspects that the culprit is the film's director. He suspected he was a spy in the first world war, but couldn't prove it.
Alice's loyalties are challenged as she tussles with whether Claude is holding a grudge for no good reason. She's also in more danger than she has ever been in before, cut off from Paris in the middle of a snowstorm and with someone in the palace intent on harming her. She also has the challenge of having to work with a very uncooperative spy called Pierre, who seems determined to ruin her career. All in all, there is very little time for getting starry eyed over the actors on set, which is a good thing as the lead, Catrine, appears to also be hiding secrets.
I fell in love with Versailles when I visited Paris and I have been longing to set a book there. Bringing Hollywood to France seemed like a natural decision. On a film set, everyone is pretending to be someone they are not, and that felt very apt for a spy book and gives Alice an extra challenge.
5. How much research did you need to do into Versailles, before you could write the book? What details do you have to be careful about in terms of accuracy?
I had been to Versailles before I started to write Alice, so I drew on a lot of my memories and photos and read several books to get the look of the palace cemented in my mind. The geography of the palace was important as Alice spends most of the book there, so working out which rooms would be used for what was important, though I had to cheat a little and invent a kitchen, as the original kitchens were out in one of the courtyards and had been demolished by the time Alice's adventure is set.
I have a PhD in history, so history is very important to me and I try to get as much right as possible, mostly because it really helps to make Alice's world convincing, but sometimes you have to tweak a few small things. For example, Alice's radio is a little smaller than it might have been in real life, but I tried hard to think about things like range of her signals and how she would use it.
"Once I know what her main puzzle is and what the red herrings will be (the 'extra' mysteries), I draw up a 'map' of the book writing out chapter by chapter which clues will be laid out in which chapter."
6. How carefully do you need to plot your mystery stories - and all the red herrings?!
I have to plot everything out in detail. I start with the 'feel' of the story and think for a long time about what the world will look like, what Alice's big challenge will be and how she might change as a character. Then, once I know what her main puzzle is and what the red herrings will be (the 'extra' mysteries) I draw up a 'map' of the book writing out chapter by chapter which clues will be laid out in which chapter, what Alice is doing, how much time has taken place and, most importantly, whether there is cake. If a character hasn't appeared for a few chapters or all the clues are bunched up together, the book might be unbalanced. And if there isn't enough cake - well that needs amending INSTANTLY!
7. Do you have further adventures planned for Alice?
There is one more adventure for Alice which will be released next June and has more secret codes in it than any of her previous books, so I had great fun writing that. After that, I am working on a new series, but it's very early days so far, so all I can say is… watch this space. There may be less cake involved, but there will still be mysteries and possibly some more codes to crack.
8. If you could visit any of the places that Alice has been for her adventures and at that time, where would you go?
I almost picked the Sapphire Express, because I love a steam train, but I think I'm going to pick the setting for her second adventure. I would have loved to see the World's Fair (or the Paris Exposition, to give it it's proper name). The whole of Paris became a huge exhibition centre filled with pavilions from all over the world showcasing the very best in engineering, fashion, craft, food and art. It sounds like it was a wonderful event and there would have been so much to see. I would have loved to get a trip on the land-train, too.
9. Alice's special skill is baking - what is yours, and if you could choose a special skill, what would it be?
I love sewing. I like to make patchwork quilts and sometimes I make a special one for my book launches. I think if I could choose a skill it would be playing a musical instrument. I love singing, but I would love to be able to play the piano.
10. And when you have a day to relax, how are you likely to spend it?
I love catching up with reading, or making something with my sewing machine. I've got plans to do a big quilt of Alice falling down the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland, so I'm trying to learn how to do spiral quilts at the moment so that I can design and make that.
Sarah Todd Taylor introduces Alice Eclair: Spy Extraordinaire!
Sarah tells ReadingZone what inspired her Alice Eclair stories, why she set these adventures in Paris, and what happens in the first two books, A Recipe for Trouble and A Spoonful of Spying.