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Nightfall in New York

When I started writing my Taylor & Rose Secret Agents series, I knew immediately that travel would have a key part to play. My detective heroines, Sophie and Lil, had already had adventures all over Edwardian London in The Sinclair’s Mysteries. Now it was time for them to explore new territory.

Sophie and Lil are — perhaps unusually for a middle grade series — in their late teens when we rejoin them in Taylor & Rose Secret Agents. They’ve grown up a lot since we first met them in The Sinclair’s Mysteries: now they are independent young women, who run their own business, have an impressive range of detective skills, and are even employed by the British government, as agents of the mysterious Secret Service Bureau. They’re ready for new horizons — and new adventures.

In this, I took some inspiration from my own experiences at a similar age. After finishing my A Levels, I set out with a group of friends on an adventure of our own, inter-railing around Europe, visiting cities including Paris, Rome and Amsterdam. We’d planned the trip over many lunch hours, spreading out our map of Europe across the floor of the sixth form common room. I still have the diary in which I documented our travels, stuck with tickets, photos and receipts in a variety of currencies. I have many fond memories of the trip, including all the things that went wrong — from getting off a train at the wrong Italian station in the middle of the night, to falling asleep on the beach in Nice and getting the worst sunburn of my life.

I loved travelling with my friends, but I also remember the excitement of venturing off alone, wandering around the markets of Barcelona, or taking a solo expedition to see the ceiling of the Paris Opéra. I distinctly remember how adventurous it felt to find my way around an unfamiliar city with a map, picking up words in different languages, and taking train journeys through the night, arriving in the morning in a new country.

The Taylor & Rose Secret Agents books are set in a very different time — over 100 years ago, in the years just before the First World War — and Sophie and Lil are far from teenage backpackers. Instead, they’re secret agents on undercover missions, with attaché cases full of secret papers and Edwardian spy gadgets. Yet I hope their adventures evoke some of that same sense of discovery and the joy of setting out independently to explore somewhere new.

In the first three books, Sophie and Lil travel to three of my favourite European cities — Paris, St Petersburg and Venice. For their final adventure, Nightfall in New York, they go further afield — right across the Atlantic, to New York, where they find themselves with not only a new city, but a whole new continent to explore.

For the previous books, I’d been able to take research trips, sometimes following in the footsteps of my 18-year-old self. Writing about New York in a pandemic, when travel was impossible, felt very different. Yet I hope reading Nightfall in New York will still give young readers the feeling of what it might be like to set out into streets of New York for the first time, alongside Sophie and Lil. Perhaps that’s especially important, when for most of us, real-life travel is out of the question? Most of all, I hope it will remind young readers of the joy of exploring, travelling and discovering new places — and perhaps inspire them to plan to one day set out on some intrepid adventures of their own.

By Katherine Woodfine

Katherine Woodfine’s Taylor & Rose: Nightfall In New York is published on 8 July 2021 (Farshore, £6.99, paperback)

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