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Portrait Of The Spy As A Young Man by Edward Wilson

I am thrilled to join the blog tour of Portrait Of The Spy As A Young Man by Edward Wilson.



1941: a teenage William Catesby leaves Cambridge to join the army and support the war effort. Parachuted into Occupied France as an SOE officer, he witnesses tragedies and remarkable feats of bravery during the French Resistance.

2014: now in his nineties, Catesby recounts his life to his mixed-race granddaughter for the first time. Their conversations weave together the historical, the personal and the emotional, skipping across different decades and continents to reveal a complex and conflicted man.

Catesby’s incredible story recounts a life of spying and the trauma of war and hope for the future.



This is a prequel, as such, to the William Catesby series, although it can definitely be read and enjoyed as a standalone. From early infancy, Catesby's Belgium mother spoke to him in Flemish, his British father in English. His language skills picked him out as useful to the war effort.

I'm no lover of war or stories of the atrocities that are part of it, but this book is told from a young and innocent perspective. It is so much more than the act of war. Think war and espionage - then think again. This book is of one man's memoirs being memorised and scripted by his granddaughter. But even though he is now in his twilight years some of his tales and secrets still cannot be shared.

Wilson knows how to project an image into your mind. His descriptive words puts you into the scene and makes you hold your breath; sometimes with beauty, sometimes with fear.

I loved the references to the real-life figures and events that were fictionalised in this book as it added to historical genre, making it feel very authentic and a made it a fascinating read. For me, this novel has it all: war, espionage and romance all beautifully weaved together making this such a thrilling, interesting and enjoyable read. Highly recommend.

Many thanks to Sophie from Midas PR, Edward Wilson and Arcadia Books for inviting me to join the blog tour and my gifted copy of Portrait Of The Spy As A Young Man.



Edward Wilson spent his early days in the US before moving to the UK. A few weeks after graduating from university, Wilson was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the infantry. He did the basic infantry officer course followed by parachute training. On completing the Special Forces officers’ course he was then sent to Vietnam where he was assigned to A-105 at Nong Son, a ‘border screening camp’ in Northern Vietnam.  It was during that time that he received the Army Commendation Medal for Heroism for his part in rescuing wounded Vietnamese soldiers from a minefield. He also began writing his debut novel, A River in May.

After leaving the army, Wilson travelled widely in Canada and Europe, working in Bremen, Germany as a labourer in the AG Weser shipyard and later as a nursing assistant in the St. Jürgenstrasse Hospital. It was during this time that Wilson absorbed the knowledge of German language, life and politics all of which are an important part of his espionage novels.

Wilson has lived in Suffolk since 1976 which features in all his fiction. He has taught English and modern languages in Suffolk for the past 22 years and also turned to writing in 1997.

Edward Wilson is the author of eight novels:  A River in MayThe EnvoyThe Darkling SpyThe Midnight SwimmerA Very British EndingThe Whitehall Mandarin, South Atlantic Requiem and Portrait of the Spy as Young Man, all published by Arcadia Books. He has also written articles, reviews and for The Guardian, The Independent, Open Democracy, The Big Issue, Tribune Magazine,  Crime Time and  Norfolk Suffolk Life.


The inspiration and research behind Portrait of the Spy as a Young Man (in Edward Wilson’s own words)

‘With Catesby I wanted to create a character who wasn’t me, but in whose skin I felt comfortable. Like Catesby’ s mother, mine was a barmaid in her family’s bar near the docks who married a  merchant seaman. Like Catesby, my father died when I was too young to remember him.  Again like Catesby, I rebelled against the safe haven of university while others of our generation were sent off to war – so I finished the course quickly and left for the army. But the differences between us are greater than the similarities. I have been careful to give Catesby the attributes of an Englishman born in 1923 who is both uncomfortable but attracted by the life he encounters at Cambridge. He becomes a chameleon, not only one who can pass as a native speaker of different languages, but one who can adopt the accent and manners of different British social classes. He is obviously heading for a career as a spy.

My best research for this book was recollecting my training as a special forces officer in the late 1960s. Our training – preparing us to be dropped into Warsaw Pact Europe to create chaos and confusion – was similar to that, and largely modelled on, the training received by SOE agents in the 1940s. In fact, we had a given by a ‘Colonel Peach’ who did fight with the Resistance. And I have had – several times – the experience of being parachuted into a moonless night. All perspective vanishes.

I see ‘A Portrait of The Spy as a Young Man’ as a coming-of-age prequel. Although born into poverty in docklands Lowestoft, Catesby learns French and Flemish from his widowed Belgian mother. His gift for languages impresses his teachers and earns him a place at Cambridge. Not wanting to bask in the shelter of university while others are fighting and dying, Catesby leaves Cambridge after only two terms to join the army. His linguistic skills are quickly spotted by SOE recruiters – and MI6 too – and it isn’t long before Catesby finds himself parachuted into Occupied France. As an elderly Catesby relates his life story to his mixed-race granddaughter, we realize that the book’s narrative embraces Britain’s future as well as its past.’

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