Catherine McCullagh grew up in Tasmania, Australia, with a love of bushwalking, reading and history. She initially trained as a history and languages teacher before embarking on a twenty-year career in the Australian Regular Army as a teacher, linguist and editor of military doctrine and military history. She then left the Army and established herself as a freelance editor, specialising in military history. Fifteen years later, inspired by the extraordinary stories that surrounded her, she embarked on a new career, this time as a writer. She has published three non-fiction works: Willingly into the Fray, a narrative history of Australian Army nursing; War Child, a poignant wartime memoir which she ghost-wrote for Annette Janic; and Unconquered, the remarkable stories of athletes who competed in the Invictus Games in Sydney in 2018.
Catherine’s first historical novel, Dancing with Deception, was published in 2017 and, along with War Child, was highly commended at the ACT Writing and Publishing Awards. Her second historical novel, Secrets and Showgirls, followed in 2021, and was shortlisted in the Society of Women Writers Book of the Year award. Her third novel, Love and Retribution, was published in January 2022. Dancing with Deception was re-released in November 2022 in response to the current trend in World War II historical fiction which shows no sign of abating.
A fourth historical novel, Resistance and Revenge, is due for release in May 2023 and represents an entirely new direction. Unlike Catherine’s earlier works of fiction, this novel belongs to the realm of alternative history and is based on the premise that Britain lost the war, was invaded and endured a brutal two-year occupation.
Catherine McCullagh continues to write and is currently working on a second alternative history novel, also set in occupied Britain.
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Marisa Carnarvon is an enigma to her family. In 1938 she turns her back on her family’s money and status and leaves her comfortable pre-war Sydney lifestyle to become a nurse in a London city hospital. Against the backdrop of looming conflict, she moves to a Red Cross hospital in Paris in July 1939, totally unprepared for the challenge of life in an occupied city.
In June 1940 the Germans invade Paris and the young nurse is soon pressured by the leader of the local resistance cell to work for the fledgling movement. Her life is further complicated by the arrival of a new Gestapo chief who is keen to establish a friendship with her – or more if he can. Increasingly the young nurse treads a fine line between the two, desperate not to betray the resistance and conscious all the while that she is supposedly neutral.
As the fighting threatens to escalate, Marisa’s position becomes increasingly precarious as the resistance hunts for a traitor in the organisation. Suspicion falls on one of the hospital’s doctors and he is murdered, throwing Marisa into the resistance firing line.
The story reaches its climax with a substantial twist featuring betrayal, murder and ultimately love as Allied forces close in and the liberation of Paris draws ever closer. In the final chapters of the book, a secret is revealed which turns the traditional battle of good and evil on its head and reveals a masterpiece of deception.
Dancing with Deception
In occupied Paris, a young Red Cross nurse finds herself caught between the resistance and the Gestapo ...
Book Excerpt or Article
Marisa had heard the commotion and wandered to the entrance of Ward 17 to determine its source. One look was sufficient for her to realise what was taking place. She knew that her ward, with its artfully constructed hiding-places, would probably survive the careful scrutiny of the Germans. But she couldn’t be sure that they weren’t acting on a tip-off, the advice of a paid informer of which Paris boasted a disproportionate population. She sent her junior nurse to the cafeteria to alert Grace that the Germans were searching the hospital before helping Sophie move the three wounded resistance fighters in her ward into the carefully constructed cages under beds that were mercifully vacant. Another look down the hospital corridor told her that the search party was approaching. She peered back towards the line of beds, checking that the three resistance men in the cages were well hidden, then turned to stand squarely in the entrance to the ward. As she did, she caught sight of Friedrich, emerging from the previous ward with the furious Matron trailing in his wake. She held her breath, her confidence ebbing and her mind now searching desperately for a way out. She studied the young Gestapo chief as he moved. His dark suit was immaculately tailored, his blonde hair fresh against his handsome features. He moved with a deftness that was almost calculated — he strove to appear casual, almost nonchalant, but all the while he scanned carefully. This was a man who missed nothing. Marisa swallowed hard and thought fast, her gaze fixed on the young man. He turned to his left and she saw it: a drop of blood at the end of his white shirtsleeve. She fixed her gaze on the red drop … had she imagined it? No, another, larger drop was now spreading slowly over the edge of the sleeve.
Friedrich emerged from Ward 16 and paused, ready to turn towards the entrance to Ward 17. As he turned, a clear voice cut through the fracas.
‘Forgive me, Monsieur …’
Friedrich turned towards the voice. A young nurse stood in the entrance to Ward 17, facing him.
‘Monsieur, you are wounded.’
She walked deliberately towards him, her eyes fixed on his face. Brilliant blue eyes the colour of the ocean looked into his and soft, full lips opened slightly as she addressed him again.
‘Your arm, Monsieur,’ she gently took his arm and lifted it to show the bloodstained cuff, ‘you have a wound that needs immediate attention. If you will come with me now, I can bind it for you.’
Friedrich was mesmerised. He studied the exquisite face that looked up into his. Perhaps this was a clever ruse, which would mean that the hospital certainly had something to hide. In any case, he was fascinated by this beautiful creature and wanted to study her a little longer. He turned slightly towards Werner and Daimler who stood close by, watching intently as the scene unfolded.
‘Christian, I think we have trespassed sufficiently on Matron’s goodwill for today, please take the men back to the headquarters.’
A snappy ‘Jawohl!’ from Werner and the men turned to leave, the echo of thumping boots ricocheting along the walls that edged the hospital corridor.
Friedrich turned towards Matron Colquhoun with a slight incline of his head.
‘Matron, I thank you for your forbearance and the excellent cooperation of your staff. My office will contact you in the near future with some suggestions for additional protective measures for your hospital.’
He gave a curt little bow then turned to Marisa with a smile.
‘Mademoiselle, I am in your hands.’
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