True-life stories

In the course of researching The Secret Fire, I  was privileged to meet several remarkable people, all  in their 90s, who had direct knowledge of secret British wartime operations.

Among those I met were Pearl Cornioley, a formidable woman who parachuted into occupied France as a courier for the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) and ended up commanding more than a thousand French resistance fighters; Arthur Staggs, a tough Cockney who became radio operator for SOE’s “Farmer” network in northwestern France; and Jean Overton Fuller, the close friend and first biographer of SOE radio operator Noor Inayat Khan, on whose tragic Paris mission I partly based the story of Rose Arden in “The Secret Fire.”

I interviewed them in order to ensure the detail and atmosphere of my story were as authentic as possible, and to root the more mystical aspects of “The Secret Fire” as firmly as I could in the grittiness of real life, especially in the many scenes set during World War Two.

In addition, I sought out eye-witness accounts wherever possible of events described in the book, including the V-1 Aldwych attack, and visited key sites such as the V-1 launch complex at Morbecque in northwestern France.

Pearl Cornioley and Arthur Staggs survived their missions, though only just; Noor Inayat Khan did not. Their pages on this site are intended as a tribute to their extraordinary courage, and give, I hope, a glimpse into their remarkable personalities.

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