Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Monday, September 28, 2009
Mr. Churchill's Secretary was inspired by a visit to the Cabinet War Rooms in London and its meticulously researched and wonderfully presented exhibits. One of the audio accompaniments was an actress reading the recollections of one of Churchill’s young secretaries, taken from the memoirs of Elizabeth Layton Nel. As I listened to her words describing working underground during the Blitz and walked the concrete corridors of those same War Rooms, I felt a shiver go up my spine — and knew I’d found an extraordinary setting for a novel.
Mrs. Elizabeth Layton Nel was kind enough to reply to my letter from her home in South Africa in 2004. I told her (in my own, probably dorky, way) how much I admired the work she had done, and also how much I enjoyed her memoir. She was gracious in her replies and generous enough to give her blessing to my using her “mistakes” (“right” for “ripe,” et al.). But she did caution me that in reality the secretaries never would have had any time for my protagonist's intrigues or romance. (!)
We’d planned to meet in London at the Cabinet War Rooms for the opening of The Churchill Museum in February of 2005 (I wanted to take her to tea). But, alas, a difficult pregnancy prevented my traveling to from New York to London. (The indefatigable Mrs. Nel not only made the journey, but was honored at the Museum’s opening, along with Queen Elizabeth.)
A widow since 2000, Mrs. Nel passed in October of 2007 and is survived by a son and two daughters.
Her inspiring and important memoir, Mr. Churchill’s Secretary, was first published in 1958 and, after many years, went out of print. A new edition of her book, Winston Churchill By His Personal Secretary Elizabeth Nel, was completed shortly before her death in 2007. And so her story, I’m delighted to report, is readily available to all once again.
Having a blog allows me indulge in the intersection of two topics I love: Winston Churchill and cocktails.
Sunday, September 27, 2009
"Susan Elia's CHURCHILL'S SECRETARY, to Kate Miciak at Bantam Dell, in a two-book deal, for publication in 2011, by Victoria Skurnick at Levine Greenberg Literary Agency."
All right, so the actual title is MR. CHURCHILL'S SECRETARY — and my name is Susan Elia MacNeal — but, still, pretty awesome.
Thank you, Victoria. Thank you, Kate. Thank you, Noel. Thank you, Idria.
And thank you, Random House, for sending not only a contract, but a (gasp) check! It even came with a cover letter on the cream-and-brown Random House stationery I remember so vividly from interning there in the early nineties. (And not only did I use the stationery, but I remember typing on it. Like, with a typewriter.) I even remember the floor with the contracts — although Random House long since been bought by Bertlesmann and has moved from East 50th Street to new digs in Midtown.
Still, remembering working on the stationery and now getting my own letter in the mail, it's a lovely full-circle kind of feeling.