“Code Name Verity” author Elizabeth Wein answers readers’ questions

An exclusive interview offering insight into Wein’s textual universe and writing process

Bella Pedraza, Editor-In-Chief

Elizabeth Wein, author of “Code Name Verity.”

Q1: What is the most important thing you want readers to take away from CNV?

A1: I would say the importance of taking responsibility of your own actions as well as a celebration of friendship. I knew I was writing this adventure story and I didn’t realize was how important friendship was going to be in it. And that for me writing it became this celebration of every friendship I’ve ever had. I put a lot of different experiences I’ve had with different people in it, and kind of payed tribute to my friends.

Q2: Did you come across any specific challenges while writing the book?

A2: The biggest challenge was the timeline. I wrote the whole of the first section without putting any dates on it. I wrote it as if it were Verity’s confession, by the time I had written about two thirds of it started to get really really confusing. When I got around to writing Maddie’s story it got worse because the events had to match up. I had to create an actual timeline of everything that happened in the book as well as events in the war. Getting the timing right was definitely the hardest thing. Writing a book is hard! However, this one was something that I really needed to tell.

Q3: How has living in Scotland affected CNV and/ or your other books?

A3: Since I’ve been living in Scotland I’ve actually found I really like writing about Scotland. There was actually one point in the Verity manuscript where she is says she doesn’t want to write about anything else she wants to write about Scotland and was because I was just sitting there thinking I want to write about Scotland. It was very convenient for me to make her a Scottish character because I didn’t have to research about her background. I have all of these things going on around me and it’s a beautiful place to live. People here have a very strong national identity and it definitely influences me.

Q4: Did you come across anything particularly interesting in your research for CNV?

A4: Anytime you are doing research you keep running across things that you can’t include but really wish you could even though they are completely irrelevant. A good is example is the women who worked for the SOE, I discovered some amazing women; they all had these amazing adventures. Some of these people were just so interesting that I actually went and read books they had written. One thing that really egged me on to write Rose Under Fire was that so many of the women who worked in the SOE ended up being sent to the concentration camps, and although I wasn’t really dealing with that in Code Name Verity it just really felt like the untold story of the fate of these women. So I ended up writing another book entirely about that.


Q5: At what point did you decide Julies fate?

A5: Right in the beginning. I knew what Julie’s fate was going to be before I started writing. I was actually kicking around for a way to write about the air transport auxiliary but I needed a plot to go around it . I was trying to think of a way to tell this story and make it interesting and I got the idea to have the story told by someone else who was captured and being asked for information. When I was thinking of a plot, that was the moment I decided what was going to happen to Julie. I just had the bare bones of a plot and that means you not really emotionally invested in the characters as you start writing them. I realized very early on that in order for the story to work, they were going to have to be best friends. Therefore I had to write about how they were going to be best friends and their characters developed throughout the book. As I was writing the whole of Julie’s story I was writing as Julie and I was inside her head. I was writing in the present and she didn’t know her future and so writing her character I was never without hope. It was one of the reason it worked. For me it was actually quite devastating, I thought “oh my gosh I can’t believe I’m doing this”. If I hadn’t known what was coming I don’t think I could’ve done it. I was because the whole book was constructed getting to that point I was able to do it.

Q6: How did you go about choosing all of the allusions used in the novel?

A6: When including “Kiss me Hardy” in particular, I was thinking about famous last words and I sort of just stumbled across it in my research. As I was writing the beginning, when the airfield was first being bombed, I had her say it then and that’s the point where you think “this could be a theme” and if it becomes a theme it could be used as code at the end. How things come together is kind of organic, it’s not something you can track, but it does all come together as your putting the book together. It’s like putting together a jigsaw puzzle.

Q7: What character do your relate to the most?

A7: I would say Anna Engle. She was supposed to be a straight up “bad guy” and I think whats effective about her turning out not to be. I would love to be like Julie; I would love to be heroic and speak three languages fluently, and all the things she is, but I am not. I don’t really think I could be as nice as Maddie, she is too nice. Anna Engle is someone who I think is a lot like me. She is doing her job and she is a victim of circumstance. She’s grown up in Germany united under Hitler, she completely indoctrinated. She’s smart, she’s interested in the world, she has this different outlook, and she’s stuck. She’s in Europe in the war and she’s doing this really horrible job and she’s being treated like a slave. I thought what is it going to take to make her kind of break out of this system, and that is what she did. I think that’s more like what I would do. I would do it quietly, I would feel like I had to do something but it would take me a long time to get there.

Q8: Who do you feel the real antagonist in CNV?

A8: I’m not sure I know the answer. I think that the honest answer is, I don’t treat men very nicely in the book. The honest answer would be men are the true antagonists. I would argue, however, I would argue Jaime is a nice man. The reason he is a nice man is he is willing to empower women. I think he redeems men throughout the book. All the men throughout the book are really self-serving and powerful and they abuse their power. The english intelligence officer takes advantage of Julie, Paul takes advantage of the fact no one can say no to him, and Von Linden is pretty obviously the principle antagonist. However, the bad guys in my book who redeem themselves are those who do accept responsibility for their own actions.

Interview has been condensed and edited. Conducted by Bella Pedraza, Editor-In-Chief.