How Ellie Marney got the idea that sparked ‘The Killing Code’

By Ellie Marney

About ten years ago, I watched a BBC Television production called The Bletchley Circle, an historical drama about four women who worked as codebreakers at Bletchley Park during WWII, and how they regroup a decade after the war to solve a mystery. I was completely fascinated by the story and the historical setting, and by the characters and personalities of the women themselves. What would it have been like to work at Bletchley? To be the keeper of government war secrets during such an intense era? To live and work in such a hothouse environment?

As a young adult (YA) author accustomed to thinking about things in relation to YA fiction, I immediately wondered what the story would be like if the protagonists were teenage girls. I dived into research around Bletchley Park, and the codebreaking women who worked there – who made up 70% of the workforce, as I discovered. And I was excited to realise that many of the codebreakers at Bletchley were very young – the average age of the Bletchley girls was nineteen years old – which gave me a narrative entry point.

From Bletchley Circle to Arlington Hall

I became even more excited when I looked across the pond, and read about the young women who worked in Allied codebreaking in the US. I found out about Arlington Hall, the centre of US Army codebreaking efforts to defeat Japanese Imperial Army codes – and how it used to be a ‘Junior College for Young Ladies’. In other words, it was a girls’ school. My fertile imagination soon supplied a cast of teenage girls who would live and work and codebreak at Arlington Hall … and then (because my imagination is also very into crime stories) the girls would become involved in the hunt for a killer … and then two of the girls might fall in love …

Writers have peculiar brains; we pilfer morsels of info from multiple random sources to weave together into a complete story. But if there’s something I’ve learned in nearly ten years of being a published author, it’s that ideas come from everywhere, so if you find something of interest you should pursue it. Almost inevitably, something in your research will resonate and simply demand to be turned into a story.

A copy of Ellie Marney’s novel, The Killing Code

Follow your curiosity

It’s also important to follow the thread of your interest while it’s ‘hot’. My magpie brain is prone to lighting on things and then flitting away, so while my curiosity is piqued and my interest is high, I try to maintain momentum. And I suppose that’s another way of working out if something is really worth pursuing – if the topic is still resonant, if it continues to be intriguing even after a few days (weeks? months?) of research, then this is a good sign for the story you’ll create from it.

I always jot things down while I’m researching, and maintain a file of tabs and bookmarks – because there’s nothing more irritating than realising you’ve lost that quote or line you need for your work in progress! While I’m jotting and bookmarking, I like to begin thinking about connections between things, and how they might inform a narrative.

It’s the nature of being a writer to latch onto a topic of interest and never let go – maybe this tendency is what you might call an occupational hazard. But it’s certainly a hazard that I’ve managed to put to use in a constructive way in my writing work. And if you have a tendency to obsess over niche areas of interest, then perhaps – like me – it’s something you can take advantage of.



Author bio

Ellie Marney's path to publication was a winding one – after writing all her life, it wasn't until she had all her children that she gathered the courage to begin submitting short stories to competitions. But in 2010, she won the prestigious Scarlet Stiletto Award, through Sisters in Crime Australia, and this proved to be the springboard that launched her into a career and onto the bestseller list. She signed with a publisher for her first novel, EVERY BREATH, in 2011, and has continued releasing YA crime thrillers almost every year since – and in 2021, her book NONE SHALL SLEEP became a New York Times bestseller. She's hoping lightning can strike twice with her tenth novel, THE KILLING CODE

TW/IG: @elliemarney
Tiktok: @elliemarneyauthor

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