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...Her Penicillin crimes...


Turn off the main Westport to Louisburgh road at the sign to Craggam. Go 1.1 miles, rough road. New Jersey type new house with gold and black railings, on the right Then you see wood both sides of the road. The gateway to the lodge is over a cattle grid, also on the right, two big gateposts. 
                Those were Spy's directions in his email.
                I was there, at least to the gateposts and the cattle grid. No lodge. This was County Mayo, I should say, central part of the west of Ireland, a mile or two from the Atlantic coast. It was 9.15, Wednesday October 5, 2016. 
                Spy was Arne or 'Spy' Nielsen, American-born, lived on the move, where the story was, now forty nine, reported from war zones. He had been in Bosnia, Uganda, Columbia, Afghanistan, Iraq for five or six years, Syria. Fiji, Mongolia. He was a loner, never had a long term partner as far as I knew.
                A translator for him had been kidnapped when they recorded illegal logging for palm oil in a certain country. Spy had been told to get out or get killed.
                From the cattle grid a rough driveway ran across a meadow, a huge oak, cattle grazing. To the right was a river, peaty and flowing over boulders with big still pools, the kind of river that housed salmon before the wild stock was nearly made extinct by over-fishing and pollution.
Was the 'lodge' the substantial white house at the end of this tree lined drive?
               Well: I would try. Trees framed the solid house and the outbuildings to its left. In a tree-deprived part of Ireland, there were alders all along the river and young oaks to my left. Did the itinerant Spy who said he only had one spare shirt own all this? Or was he a guest here? Of whom?   Continue reading in PDF format...        


PROPOSAL & DISCUSSION.... Request for a literary agent and publisher.

The novels center on Nathalie Armstrong -- sharp, egotistical, beautiful and unhappy, a biochemist with an intuitive sense of the lines that need crossing to make the science happen.

The first is called Her Penicillin Crimes. Set in the hotbed of 1941 Washington, pre-US involvement in the war, it follows her involvement in complex harmonies and disharmonies of Anglo-American relations. She's the witness to huge American help to the UK, millions in lend-lease and she's the witness to a culture clash. What is a British gift of science becomes an American opportunity to legally ring fence and own. She works closely with Anglophile American columnist, Clayton Rutland, who describes this American behaviour, taking British secret work in radar and uranium fission for themselves as 'naked theft'. Sure she will not become what Rutland's British embassy colleague, Alan Zoete, calls 'vaginal currency', she does that to discover the biggest deception by FDR over Churchill, the innocuously named OSRD, secret, exclusive of the British except on pernicious terms and potentially the biggest war science research body in history.
           Battle hardened, sexually compromised, she wants no more of these 'errands' outside the scope of her normal work as senior assistant to Churchill's scientific envoy to the USA. Then Oxford work on penicillin is brought to the USA. Only she can see disaster looming -- the British will not get the money and the US will get the patent. The difference is that this is the subject in biochemistry she longed to work on in a 'normal' life. Persuading her to become involved drags her through memories of a young woman scientist's humiliation and not getting what she wanted -- research work in this new area of anti-bacterials. On and off about whether she should draw attention to this, then on and off about her ability to run a useful errand she does so -- investigates clandestinely, only to find that she is right. It is too late to  prevent a US government lab ruthlessly patenting essentially British work on the impossible-to-make yet wonder-curing drug penicillin. 'Theft by our people,' her mentor Clayton Rutland once again  declares at what he sees as chicanery and personal greed by US government scientists.
           It's edgy. She's getting information by cultivating sources of leaks and it's suspected by the embassy proper that she's working for the Americans. A niggling relationship with Felix Hampson leads to her interrogation and a brutal attempt to rape her. She wounds Hampson badly with the butt rather than the bullet of her handgun. She's pulled from these 'errands' -- yet she is behind a new idea, to try to kick-start stalled penicillin funding in the UK by a different and unorthodox approach.

The second is called Her Thirty Million. In spite of not working in the field academically, she has unique insights into the potential of penicillin and barriers to faith in it. Un-noticed and un-credited except by those who run her, she's a different chameleon now, has different cover as an RAF intelligence officer, is the biochemical outsider who is the insider. Set in 1943 Nathalie now once again crosses the British agent she has beaten up after he tried to rape her. She helps doctors in the US army understand the potential of penicillin -- not at all obvious then as it was near 'impossible' to make and excruciatingly painful to have administered. No US drug company was going to take the chance on capitalizing something so chemically weird -- the growth of a mould that was 80% impure.

She sees the money. She is a catalyst in the acquisition of the biggest war science research grant outside the A bomb, this $30 million. This involves her in stealing documents relating to the patent. She is caught in a complex double cross by the British agent, Felix Hampson. Murdering her mentor, he finds out and tells the FBI where she is -- and that she is stealing US penicillin secrets. She is. Explaining would betray those on whose behalf she is doing this. She is jailed, runs bail and changes her identity.

To some degree, this change of identity, her total anonymity, is a metaphor for the fate of many able women in science and espionage, in her case science espionage -- this during World War II. She's beautiful to some, 'too clever and horsey' to others, tempting and tempted, a line crosser with shifting loyalties, an enabler and a professional liar. Her intellectual genius is to put together from open and clandestine sources, the whole complex penicillin picture.

She's prostituted herself for information, was near raped and survived jail. It's not pretty. Yet, she's got humour, calls herself the 'moorhen', the species for which there is no 'moorcock' and which is dark -- she is light -- and lurks in the reeds. And she has a 'smile to run around ten blocks for' the urbane (and womanizing and then war wounded) Rutland says. 'When I was reporting in the Pacific and torpedoed in the frozen Coral Sea and dying of hypothermia, I thought about the Moorhen's smile -- or the 101 versions of it'.

How do we know? An encounter with a war reporter, Spy Nielsen, led me, Frank Gladstone, to meet a Californian, Francine Smithson who thought her grandmother was Mrs. Sonia Smithson, until she was not, until she was Nathalie Armstrong who 'died' in 1945. Francine's story, in its own way tragic, weaves into realizing that the grandmother who was really her mother was also someone else entirely. The mirror image (in all but intelligence and umph -- Francine says.... mirror image of her grandmother and mentor, she is also her chronicler.

The books are fiction based on a factual puzzle. Or two? By 1943 maybe 300 lives had been saved by penicillin, to the medical establishment as maverick as it was miracle to its few believers, starved of funds and a threat to the super-profitable and relatively limited sulpha drugs, the sulphonamides discovered in Germany in 1933. By D-day there was enough penicillin to save thousands of allied wounded lives. How: short answer, the totally secret $30 million grant which forced the US drug companies to capitalize where they could not see obvious profit and had no exclusive on US government patents.

In 1945 the first medical post-war Nobel Prize was for British work on penicillin. Yet most penicillin on the market, still not much, in Britain and elsewhere paid royalties to US pharmaceutical companies. The key to answering these two questions. By my proposal the Moorhen, Nathalie Armstrong. It is in Stockholm that she keeps her life, although with a new identity, and escapes her pursuer.

 Other writing: The heroic discovery of penicillin in London and Oxford has been covered extensively. There are several biographies of Fleming, Chain and Florey. Yet these books gloss over the bitter and complex struggle to get a small group of US army doctors to have faith in a drug that, with hindsight, seems obvious. That, as I say, was not the case in 1943. Penicillin was in a tangle of conflicting interests. Desire for its potential riches were great, money and action to try to unravel the chemistry of production lacking. And secrecy was crazy and obsessive. If you think you have the diamonds, don't tell the other guy. If you think you know why the diamonds are imitations, don't back down. It's a story of attitude, secrecy, national identities, greed and inaction. When I became interested in this around 2000, it was only three years since US papers on the US-UK dispute over penicillin were declassified.

The nitty-gritty of penicillin is in how it came to fruition as much as in how it was discovered. Someone got the scientific intelligence together and for that I have invented Nathalie -- expert, yet thwarted on account of her sex from academic work on the subject.

Her Penicillin

Fiction as fact/fact as fiction
<< UK-US penicillin documents declassified 1997--
Important women lost in the shadow of history>>>
(photo Estate Saul Richter©/permission applied for)



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