Taylor & Rose – Visit St Petersburg with Katherine Woodfine

I’m delighted to welcome you all to the second stop on the blog tour to celebrate the publication of Nightfall In New York, the final book in the Taylor and Rose series by Katherine Woodfine. Following in Sophie and Lil’s footsteps, today I am handing over to Katherine as she takes us on a tour of St Petersburg and answers a few questions. Over to Katherine…

St Petersburg by Katherine Woodfine

Greetings from St Petersburg! With the final book Nightfall in New York being published on the 8th July, it’s the perfect time to revisit each of the previous books in the Taylor & Rose Secret Agents series — including the second book, Spies in St Petersburg.

The first Taylor & Rose book, Peril in Paris, was set in relatively familiar territory for both me and my characters. Paris is a city I’ve visited lots of times, and it wasn’t too far from home for Sophie and Lil. In Spies in St Petersburg though, we all took a step into the unknown. I’d never visited Russia before, so the city was completely new to me, and for Sophie and Lil, this book sees them travelling all the way to other side of Europe — and facing new dangers. When Sophie goes missing in St Petersburg, Lil makes up her mind to defy her orders from the Secret Service Bureau and instead set out on an intrepid journey to find her. But with enemies lurking on the city’s foggy streets, will the duo be reunited before it’s too late?

I was really excited to write about St Petersburg, but I knew a lot of research would be required! To help me, I spent a week in the city, visiting everywhere from the bustling Nevsky Prospket to the train station to the leafy Summer Gardens, all of which appear in this story. The finished book is full of details from that trip, whether it’s the colours of the buildings, or the tastes of Russian food. As follow the twists and turns of the adventure, I hope readers will feel that they too are discovering St Petersburg in 1911 along with Sophie and Lil.

On my trip to St Petersburg, I did a lot of walking, trying to make sense of the geography of the city and looking at all the details of the architecture. Afterwards, we worked out we’d walked about 10 miles a day!
As St Petersburg was new to me, I wanted to visit all the key real-life locations that appear in the story — such as the city’s amazing train station, where we see Lil and Carruthers arrive.
Like Sophie and the Count, I enjoyed a cake break in the Summer Gardens. I tried a lot of amazing and delicious lemonades on this trip, which seem to be something of a Russian speciality, flavoured with everything from this rose guava to sea-buckthorn or tarragon.
A visit to the city’s Fabergé Museum was particularly important in creating Riviere’s, the fictional jeweller’s that appears in the book. The beautiful objects I saw there helped me imagine the mysterious jewelled spyglass that is so important to this story.

Why did you pick St Petersburg as a destination for Sophie and Lil?

I’ve always been fascinated by Russian history, and I knew this would be a really interesting moment to see the city, in the final years of Tsarist Russia, when the tensions that led to the Russian Revolution were simmering. It felt like the perfect setting for the tense espionage adventure I wanted to write. What’s more, taking them to St Petersburg felt like an exciting step forward for Sophie and Lil, who in this story are much further from home than they’ve ever been before. In an unfamiliar (and dangerous) environment, we have chance to see them really putting their spy skills to work.

The story is set just a few years before the Russian Revolution. How do you bring such a different city and time to life in your writing?

I always enjoy the process of researching my books, but for this one, I immersed myself in even more research than usual. In particular, I did a lot of reading — both fiction and non-fiction — to try and learn as much as I could about the political and historical context, as well as the details of day-to-day life in the city at the time. But actually going to St Petersburg was hugely important too. Obviously it is very different today to the city it would have been over a hundred years ago, especially taking into account its tumultuous history in the intervening years. But spending time exploring and absorbing some of the atmosphere was so helpful in trying to evoke St Petersburg in this book.

In Spies In St Petersburg, we really get to see Lil in action. Which characteristics do you share with her, and Sophie?

I really loved writing about Lil in this story. She’s grown up a lot since we first met her in The Clockwork Sparrow, and here we really get to see how loyal she is, and how much Sophie’s friendship matters to her. She’s incredibly determined, very resourceful and ready to take anything in her stride. I wish I could say I shared more of her characteristics myself — in all honesty, I don’t think I’d make a very good secret agent! However, I hope I share both her and Sophie’s awareness of how special and important friends are. And of course, I also share their absolute commitment to taking a break for cake or buns, even in the midst of the most exciting adventure!

Wow! What a fabulous guest post – I am itching to visit St Petersburg for myself to try the different varieties of lemonade in between sightseeing! To hear Katherine read from Spies In St Petersburg click here, and you can see her Pinterest board here.

The final book in the series, Nightfall In New York is published on July 8th and is available to pre-order online or through your local independent bookshop.

Huge thanks to Katherine, and Nina at Farshore for inviting me to take part in the Blog Tour. If you missed the first stop last week, you can visit Paris with BookloverJo, and don’t miss Venice next week with BookMurmuration.