Who’s Who: Book One
Writing a series of books that drew on so much information gave me the chance to read and write about some amazing characters from history.
In the Team Veritas section of the site you can read about the characters I made up to include in the adventures…but this is the part of the site where you can find out more about some of the amazing characters I included who really lived….and had a major impact on history and therefore the plots of my stories. So I don’t give too much away, there’s a separate ‘Who’s Who’ for each of the books in the Secret Breakers series, so if you don’t want to know any spoilers, don’t venture too far away from the books you’ve read already! You should be safe here though as this is where we look at some of the characters who inspired what I wrote at the very beginning of the adventure!
In the Team Veritas section of the site you can read about the characters I made up to include in the adventures… but this is the part of the site where you can find out more about some of the amazing characters I included who really lived….and had a major impact on history and therefore the plots of my stories.
So I don’t give too much away, there’s a separate ‘Who’s Who’ for each of the books in the Secret Breakers series, so if you don’t want to know any spoilers, don’t venture too far away from the books you’ve read already! You should be safe here though as this is where we look at some of the characters who inspired what I wrote at the very beginning of the adventure!
“So I don’t give too much away, there’s a separate ‘Who’s Who’ for each of the books”
Without Wilfred Voynich there would be no Secret Breakers! He is the book collector who first discovered the coded manuscript that now shares his name and is stored in Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University. It was reading his story that first sparked my imagination and set in motion the incredibly long series of events that would lead to the writing of my stories.
He was born on October 31st 1865 into a Polish Lithuanian noble family. His early life is full of interesting tales about his involvement in political debates and revolutionary actions and in fact, because of his acts of rebellion against his government, he was sent away to prison in Siberia where he had to do hard labour for two years! He escaped and fled to London where he met and married Ethel Boole who was the daughter of a famous English mathematician. With Ethel he set up bookshops selling rare books, first in London and then as trade increased, in New York.
Voynich was obsessed with old books and when he discovered the coded manuscript in Mondragone castle in 1912 he was sure he had found his way to incredible fame and fortune. He tried desperately to get the manuscript deciphered but the coded pages would not reveal their secrets. Voynich died before his wife and so the manuscript passed first to her and then, when she died, to a friend who donated it to Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. It is registered as MS 408… but will always be known by those most excited by it, as The Voynich Manuscript! I’m thrilled to have been able to write about the manuscript he found and I had in my mind always, its connection with a man who’d taken on his government because he rejected the way they treated people but was also a man who truly loved books. A revolutionary inspired by stories….I think Voynich sounds like an interesting hero!
Alan Turing and John Tiltman
Neither of these men appear in the beginning of the story but reading about them and the lives they led, had a major impact on me as I was putting together my ideas for Secret Breakers. Both these men were in fact, two of the most amazing Secret Breakers who ever lived!
Alan Turing was born on June 23rd in 1912 in London, England, but sadly, he only lived to be 41 years old. 2012 is Alan Turing’s centenary year as he was born exactly the same year that the Voynich Manuscript (MS 408) which is so important to the plot of Secret Breakers, was discovered in a castle in Italy. Turing’s incredible mental powers led to him being viewed as the ‘father’ of computer science and of artificial intelligence. He was a master of codes!
Turing trained at Cambridge University and was employed to work at Bletchley Park in the GC&CS from 1938. He was based in Hut 8 at Station X and it was his work on code breaking that led to the deciphering of the German enigma code during World War Two.
He had many eccentric habits while working at Bletchley Park. The other code-crackers used to call him ‘The Prof’ and he was often seen cycling to and from Station X wearing a gas mask during the summer months. (This was to protect him from pollen as he suffered from very bad hay fever!) He loved to ride his bike but the chain was broken. Instead of fixing it, he used to count how many times the wheels revolved before the chain fell off…and then jump off the bike each time at this exact turn of the wheel, catch the chain and reposition it on the axel! (I think perhaps all this reading about Turing on his bike helped me decide to give Hunter a unicycle in the Secret Breakers stories!) Another habit I took from Turing and included in the stories, was his obsession with chaining his mug to the radiator pipes to make sure no one stole it! ‘Sicknote’ does this and the rest of the team are never brave enough to ask him why…but now you know!
John Tiltman is briefly mentioned at the start of the Secret Breakers adventures. I explain that Tusia’s Grandfather worked with him. Like Turing he was an incredible code-cracker, and he too had a nickname when he worked at Bletchley Park. He was called ‘The Brig.’ (Again, reading about all these nicknames, inspired me to have Hunter use names for different characters in the books. He calls Brodie – BB and Tusia – Toots). Tiltman was born in London on 25th May 1894 and he died in Hawaii in 1982.
It was in 1951 that Tiltman met William Friedman and his interest in the Voynich Manuscript began. It wasn’t until the late 1970s when Tiltman’s health began to fail that he stopped his serious attempts to decipher the manuscript so his obsession with the book lasted over twenty years. Reading about this link between English and American code crackers was just the sort of information I needed when putting my stories together. It showed me that workers in both the American and British Black Chambers had tried to break the secrets of the incredible book!
William and Elizebeth Friedman
So you know from reading the information above, that William Freidman was the American code-cracker who first introduced John Tiltman to the secrets of MS 408. I do talk about Freidman in the Secret Breaker stories and of course Robbie Friedman is one of William and Elizebeth’s invented descendants.
Friedman was born in 1891 and died in 1969. It was reading a story called ‘the Gold Bug’ by Edgar Allan Poe that first got the young Friedman interested in codes and ciphers. (This confirmed to me that Brodie’s love of stories was what gave her ‘secret breaking powers’ throughout the Secret Breakers adventures). Because of his interest in codes, Friedman went to work at a private laboratory in Illinois run by George Fabyan. The laboratory was called Riverbanks Lab and Fabyan, who had lots of money, funded all sorts of research, including many investigations into the sending of secret ciphers. (I’ll tell you more about George Fabyan when you’ve read Book Two in the series of Secret Breakers!)
Friedman met his wife Elizebeth when working for Fabyan and together they looked for hidden messages in the work of lots of famous writers, including Shakespeare. Elizebeth, who was born in 1892 and died in 1980, was the youngest of nine children. Like her husband, she got her love of codes from her interest in stories. She studied English Literature at university and after graduating went to work as a research assistant at Riverbanks Lab where she met and fell in love with William.
During World War One Riverbanks Lab became an unofficial American Black Chamber determined to crack enemy codes. Friedman continued to work as a code-breaker in World War Two but his health suffered badly and in 1941 he had a nervous breakdown which many believed was due to the pressure of his code breaking work. He did recover enough to make a visit to Bletchley Park, England in 1943.
The Friedmans spent over 40 years working on trying to break the secrets of the Voynich manuscript. They spent hours and hours with various members of ‘after work’ study groups working on the code. They really believed that making sense of the Voynich manuscript would one day be possible.
Leo Van der Essen
When I was at the very beginning of my investigations into the Voynich manuscript, I read the upsetting story about the burning of Louvain library. The version of the story I read, mentioned how one Professor had rescued a single manuscript from the flames and buried it in a metal box in a garden in Ghent. I was blown away by this story but for many years I couldn’t find out the name of the Professor or any more about him. I knew though, this brave professor had to be the link figure in my story between Voynich and the destruction of books and stories.
In my earliest drafts of Secret Breakers, the professor had to have an invented name as I had been unable to find his real one…but then I discovered a historical document, itself nearly one hundred years old. This was a report on the burning of Louvain University and it had been published by J.M. Dent and sons in London 1917. It is a very thin document…but reading it gave me the name of the brave Belgian professor who had tried so hard to rescue the manuscript from the flames. There is something incredibly inspiring about the idea of the manuscript being saved and buried and waiting to be found. My professor had a name and a real identity and I had found the link I needed for Secret Breakers to work as an adventure.
So….now you have met some of the main characters from my stories click here to discover more who are introduced as the series develops. It’s a mix of fact and fiction, invention and truth that weave together to give us the characters so important to the story!