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
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.
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.
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.
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