Monday, August 24, 2015

The Consummate Traitor: A Long Journey With a Purpose, by Bonnie Toews

The idea for my novel THE CONSUMMATE TRAITOR began when I read the biography of William Stephenson – INTREPID, CHURCHILL’S MASTER SPY – by the Canadian author William Stevenson. In it, he wrote about an agent code-named Trudi, who was a cousin of King George VI. She volunteered to persuade the atomic physicist Niels Bohr, who was working on atomic bomb experiments in Copenhagen, to defect to London. The Danish Resistance did succeed in helping him escape to England but “Trudi” was arrested by the Gestapo, interrogated and tortured. No one knows what happened to her. She was declared missing in action and presumed dead. Reading this, I wondered. “What if she survived? What would her story be?” The only possibility was to create another woman to replace her on the mission.

First, I needed to create a believable royal lineage and hope I didn’t pinpoint her actual connection. To do this, I studied the pedigrees of the British, Danish and Norwegian royal families. The result: Lady Grace Radcliffe. Then I needed to create her counterpart – a woman who could look like her, but be opposite in nature and upbringing. The result: Lee Talbot. Only through their friendship, do they become more like each other as time goes on. With these names and broad character traits, I then started detailed research on their back stories, the men in their lives, and how they would fit into a plot I loosely based on the real “Trudi” mission.

Research in the 1980s was not as easy as it is today. I spent months in the Toronto Main Library photocopying sections of historic books and maps. I read the diaries of Basques who endured the bombing of Guernica. I read William Shirer’s journals about Germany through the 1930s, and Churchill’s memoirs, as well. The more I read, the more the Holocaust haunted me. One day I broke down and wept because I could hear their silent screams.

I interviewed a former Nazi aeronautical engineer who sat on Hitler’s inner circle as a designer of Germany’s first jets. He described Berlin and the effect Kristallnacht had on him in 1938. To trace all the backgrounds and invent the details necessary to build the story for THE CONSUMMATE TRAITOR took me ten years before I was ready to start writing my novel. The writing of the novel took another ten years plus two revisions that evolved over the next eight years. As wartime records were released new information surfaced, and I had to change portions of the book because I wanted the details to be as authentic as possible. The traitor’s story, for instance, evolved in greater detail. Britain’s civilian spy agency – SOE – recruited so many homosexuals that this led to the later British scandal of double Soviet agents, such as Anthony Blunt, a confidante of Queen Elizabeth II.

When I was nearly two-thirds finished, two things happened. Both times I awoke at 3 a.m. The first revelation identified the traitor – I believe not knowing kept driving me to write, but then I had to go back through the story and drop hints so the reader wouldn’t be as shocked as I was! The second burst of inspiration led me to write a chapter I have always believed came directly from God. It shows the spiritual charge working in the characters. It was never a part of my outline, and yet it absolutely belongs in the story. I never rewrote it, and I’m convinced it’s the reason why writing this story has always felt like a mission I had to complete. Curiously, no reviewer or reader has ever commented on that chapter. If it was God’s purpose to include it, the reason is entirely His.

Rather than reveal that special chapter, I feel guided to leave it as the private message it seems to be for individual readers.

Award-winning business journalist Bonnie Toews covered the delivery of aid to Rwanda following the genocide in 1994 and observed first-hand why Harry Belafonte, then ambassador for UNICEF, called Canada’s peacekeepers “the best in the world.” Today, Bonnie lends her voice to the Canadian Veterans Advocacy on her Homecoming Vets blog. Her novel THE CONSUMMATE TRAITOR is in its second edition with Whistler House Publishing.

Bonnie has also embarked with her life partner John Christiansen on producing the BIBI &  BABU TRAVEL SERIES. These books are armchair adventures that adults or grandparents can enjoy reading and sharing with their children. Ten percent of the series’ royalties goes to the Kilimanjaro Orphanage Centre in Moshi, Tanzania.


  1. You absolutely amaze me, Bonnie! Thank you for being so open with your writing journey. I know there is more to come from your passion for history and story-telling.

  2. Wow, Bonnie, what a labour of love. This is why we have to love the journey and not just be rushing to finish. Your investment has led to a richer book. Thanks for letting us into the process.

    Tell us, for those times we get discouraged by the slowness of the process... how did you keep going when the journey looked too long? Did you want to quit, or was that not a temptation?