Creating Kitty: the real spies and resistance members who formed my character – Part 2

Behind the Scenes of Writing and Publishing Historical Background Features Kitty Larsson


The truth is this, in all of my research into resistance fighters I’m going to say that roughly 90% of the time, those who executed heroic acts proceeded to die tragically. Few of them either lived to tell about their deeds, nor were they elevated to celebrity status. Of course their courage and daring is rare—otherwise their feats would not be considered extraordinary.

One such hero was Christine Granville, recruited into SOE’s Section D in 1939. She was with the Jockey circuit and worked as a courier. She did manage to escape France in time, and it is her story that inspired Kitty Larsson’s escape over the Pyranees and into Spain.

Maria Krystyna Janina Skarbek was the daughter of a Polish count (a family with a long history of saving their country from invaders). Krystyna was self-assured, selfless, fiercely loyal and extremely persuasive. If you’ve read The Diplomat’s Wife books, this should sound familiar. She could also keep secrets, a skill that would serve her well in her clandestine work later. Krystyna also had a way of warming to the simpler ways of life, and preferred unpretentious people. I did not even know this before I wrote the characters for Kitty’s “gang”. The “gang” was my way to pay tribute to Vienna’s underground in the 1930s and to bring to light the persecutions that went beyond the Jewish population. When I read this trait about Christine Granville (Krystyna), I was not surprised however. This and more all made sense.

It was expected that she would become a society girl, much like Kitty was expected to marry well and be a piece of decoration in book 1. But when Krystyna’s father died, she took a job with Fiat in their office above the company’s garage. The rising exhaust fumes however ended up scarring her lungs. It was something that would later save her life when she was trapped in a Spanish prison while trying to escape to England. If you’ve read An American Wife in Paris, you will already realize that this is the anecdote I used when Kitty tries to save her friend in the Spanish prison they are in.

Kitty Larsson marries Dr. Edgar Ragatz in my fictional series, and his character was inspired by a couple of Austrian and German men who really did take steps to work against the NSDP (the Nazis). So I was surprised once more when I read Granville’s (Krystyna’s) SOE profile. Her second husband was a “romantic figure” according to Nigel Perrin’s blog (author of The Spirit of Resistance: The Life of SOE Agent Harry Peuleve). Jerzy Gizycki was “an impressive and worldly character: physically imposing, moody, and short-tempered” as well as a Polish diplomat! Finding things out like this after I’ve written a book just make me wonder whether sometimes writing really isn’t divine sometimes.

When the British set up Section D, it was to sabotage Germany’s war efforts. Krystyna’s life crossed paths with those who would eventually recruit her to conduct clandestine work from Hungary, to Poland, to Egypt, and France. Krystyna eventually became Christine Granville and gathered an amazing amount of experience in various operations, one of which was so ridiculously treacherous that, when she managed to get out of it, it left England questioning whether she was not a double agent.

When the war ended, Christine was restless, unable to find the kind of work that she was accustomed to: constantly in danger, doing something important and meaningful, and with the love of her life, who had not survived. It is the history of her final years that gave credence to the threads in Kitty’s story in book 3.

I highly recommend Nigel Perrin’s blog on Christine if you want to know more, or read The Spy Who Loved: the Secrets and Lives of Christine Granville by Clare Mulley. Granville is said to have even been the inspiration behind Ian Fleming’s character Vesper Lynd in the James Bond novel, Casino Royale (pub. 1953)!

See? I’m not the only one who was impressed by her!

Book 1

Available as an ebook, paperback and audiobook

Book 2

Available as an ebook, paperback and audiobook

Book 3

Available as an ebook, paperback and audiobook

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