Author of novels often appearing on the New York Times best-seller list, Jacqueline Winspear was 48 when Maisie Dobbs, her first novel of acclaim, was published. The Kent, England, native emigrated to the United States in 1990 and now lives in Marin. Since her publishing debut Winspear has produced a novel a year, all but one of them (The Care and Management of Lies, 2014) featuring the 1920s and ’30s investigator Dobbs. This month Winspear celebrates release of her 15th novel, The American Agent, another Dobbs tale, set in World War II London during the Blitz. Also coming to bookstores this month: the paperback edition of Winspear’s 2018 novel To Die But Once and a collection of readers’ favorite passages from the entire series, titled What Would Maisie Do?
For those who’ve yet to read your novels, please introduce Maisie Dobbs.
Maisie Dobbs is an ex–World War I nurse who becomes a psychologist and investigator after the war. She is someone of deep intuitive and intellectual ability who blends in well in almost any social milieu, given her working-class background and her society connections.
To date, a central theme of your Maisie Dobbs series has been World War I. What inspired that?
The earlier books were set against the aftermath of World War I. However, A Dangerous Place (2015) is set during the Spanish Civil War, followed by the Nazi threat in Journey to Munich (2016). The American Agent is the third novel set in World War II. The inspiration for my work is how ordinary people are impacted by war in ways we might never imagine.
Is there some, a lot, or a little of Maisie Dobbs in you? I don’t think there’s much of her in me — but I’m probably not the best person to ask.
Do you consider your novels to be mysteries? Or historical novels? Or a little bit of both?
My novels are considered “cross genre” and are very much character driven — indeed, the series as a whole could be seen as a saga, a longer continuing story following a cast of characters over time as they are impacted by the events of their lives and of the era.
With The American Agent set in 1940 and following two previous novels set in World War II, how long will the Maisie Dobbs series continue?
Oh, that’s a secret!
Please share the research techniques and sources involved in the writing of The American Agent.
Over the years I’ve built an inventory of information on the period I write about. For The American Agent I drew upon family stories of the Blitz to give a sense of time and place, and I listened to and studied reports filed by war correspondents in London during World War II.
Writing a best-selling novel every year for 16 years is indeed a grueling task. How do you manage it?
I’m disciplined when I work — it’s that simple. And set against the work of, say, nurses, doctors, military personnel in war zones or people working in refugee camps, there’s nothing grueling about it. I’m very fortunate in my work.
In addition to your novels, you also write a newsletter that’s available to readers. Tell us about it.
The newsletters focus on the background to my novels — for example, when I published The Care and Management of Lies, my newsletters covered issues such as food in wartime, the postal service to and from Flanders, etc. For The American Agent I’ve written about the Blitz in World War II Britain, and I’m currently writing about American “warcasters” based in Britain during World War II. As well as fiction, I write articles and essays for publication — just recently I wrote about women working in fire management in the western U.S., and I’m currently writing an essay about writers focusing on war as a theme.
What attracted you to Marin? And how do you spend your time when not writing?
I first visited Marin in 1982, looked at Mount Tam and thought, “This is where I belong.” For recreation I hike, ride my horse, watch movies at the Rafael or plays at MTC — and we have great bookstores. It’s all here.