Welcome Stephanie Graves: Pigeoneers, racing pigeons and a giveaway!

By Liz, happy to welcome Stephanie Graves to the blog! Stephanie’s third book in her Olive Bright Mystery series is out tomorrow, and she’s telling us all about the world of pigeoneers! I love this so much – I have always loved pigeons ever since NYPD Blue and Jimmy Smitts 🙂 Take it away, Stephanie!

First off, I’d like to thank Liz Mugavero and the Wickeds for inviting me! In case you’ve yet to run across my first foray into the mystery genre, let me provide a little background.

The first book in the Olive Bright mystery series, eponymously titled OLIVE BRIGHT, PIGEONEER, introduces a young veterinary student who’s returned home from London at the start of WWII. She’s biding her time in the village of Pipley, helping in her father’s veterinary surgery, caring for her family’s racing pigeons, and generally waiting for an opportunity to present itself for her to do more for the war effort than rolling bandages or knitting socks. It’s not long before she and her pigeons are conscripted to work for a secret intelligence organization codenamed Baker Street.

Pigeons may seem like an unexpected choice. Honestly, I thought so too. When I decided to transition from writing romantic novels to writing mysteries, I knew three things all at once: I wanted to set the story during WWII; my amateur sleuth would be young, female, and British; and she’d be a pigeoneer. Evidently, book one in the series had been fifteen years in the making before the research and writing had even begun. 

When my boys were young, I took them to see the animated Disney movie Valiant, which was loosely based on the role homing pigeons played over the course of the Second World War. The very notion that those birds could have carried messages, microphotographs, and other documents critical to the war effort fascinated me. But honestly, the truth—once I began to discover it—was so much more impressive than the fiction. 

In writing the series, my research has served as a crash course in all things pigeon. And at this point I can’t help but stare in admiration at random pigeons in the street. What’s so impressive? There’s their ability to home over long distances when released in unfamiliar places, using both their physiology and environmental clues, their stamina and tenacity in maintaining speeds over 60 miles per hour over hundreds of miles, through all sorts of weather. And finally, their long and storied history. 

Prior to WWII, they were used as messengers by cultures throughout history: Mongol, Greek, French, German, Egyptian. They were key contributors to the success of Reuters news service and a financial boon to the Rothschild banking dynasty, which capitalized on early news of Napoleon’s defeat. They were used extensively on both sides of the conflict during the Great War, but while Germany maintained their state-run pigeon service in the interwar years, Britain disbanded theirs. Which meant that when war was declared once again, the pigeons were offered up voluntarily. With 70,000 fanciers in Britain, many of whom were breeding and training their birds to participate in long distance pigeon racing—the royal family included—there was a ready supply of winged recruits.

All branches of the British Armed Forces used pigeons during the Second World War; the crews of Royal Air Force bombers and reconnaissance aircraft all included at least one pigeon, and lofts were prevalent in Europe, Africa, and the Middle and Far East. The birds were resilient and dependable throughout the course of the war, and their contribution did not go unnoticed. When the Dickin Medal was instituted to award exemplary wartime service by animals, thirty-two of the fifty-four medals bestowed for service during WWII were given to pigeons. 

But tucked away in a tiny village on the home front, Olive and her birds are simply carrying on, doing their bit. And I’m having a blast with both the research and the writing!

So readers – were you aware of the secret, heroic life of pigeons? Tell us in the comments for a change to win a signed, hardcover copy of Olive Bright, Pigeoneer (U.S. only).

Stephanie Graves is the author of the Olive Bright mystery series and four romantic novels written under the pseudonym Alyssa Goodnight. Her books have been featured in Entertainment Weekly, First for Women and Woman’s World. She lives with her family and two rescue pups in Houston. Visit her at msstephgraves.com to subscribe to her newsletter or find her on FB, Twitter, Instagram, or BookBub.

A COURAGE UNDIMMED, the third book in the Olive Bright mystery series, is out tomorrow!

British pigeoneer Olive Bright is proud of the role her racing birds have played in the war effort and has hopes of becoming an agent for the secret intelligence organization called Baker Street . . . but first there is a baffling murder to solve.

As the weather turns bitterly cold in the dark days of November 1941, fewer pigeons are being conscripted for missions into occupied Europe. In fact, Olive’s new commanding officer has expressed his doubts regarding her birds—not to mention Olive herself—and assigned her as escort to a visiting Naval Intelligence officer.

She’s none too keen on her assignment or her charge—the aloof and arrogant Lieutenant Commander Ian Fleming—but the last place she expects to accompany him is to a séance. Self-proclaimed medium Velda Dunbar—new to the village of Pipley—has drawn fascination and skepticism after a very public channeling of a doomed seaman aboard the HMS Bartholomew, which she claims has sunk. When the gathering results in murder, Olive must trust her instincts and not rule out anyone as a suspect—including the secretive Fleming—for one of the guests is harboring a hidden deadly agenda.

50 Thoughts

  1. Fascinating stuff, Stephanie! I knew pigeons were used in wartime, and it’s pretty amazing they can be trusted like that.

    Welcome to the blog, and all best for the new book.

  2. Hi Stephanie! I knew pigeons were using during the World Wars but didn’t realize the extent to which they were used until recently. Your series sounds so interesting! Congratulations on the release of Book #3!

  3. Stephanie, I am totally hooked and so excited to meet Olive. And thrilled to read about your research into the bird and the lives of people in England during WW II. Having lived in NYC for many years, I must admit pigeons do not get the respect or kindness they probably deserve – but I was always fascinated about their survival capabilities. And for their demand for space. There was one corner in midtown where at least 20-30 seemed to gather each day – everyone had to walk around them (they were not about to budge). Maybe I should have thought a bit deeper – that they knew they were proud, talented and unique and had a wonderful history of “service” and we SHOULD pay attention.

  4. I’m a bird lover, so anything birds fascinates me! I had read of pigeons homing Instincts and that they were used in the war, but I’m sure your research provides so much more information. Isn’t it Mike Tyson who raises them? They are such pretty birds!

  5. Hello! I had not heard of the pigeons role in WW II until I happened upon a novel that told the story. It was fascinating. I’m excited to start your series! Adding it to my Goodreads want to read pile right now. I wish you much success with the series.

  6. Congratulations on the release tomorrow!

    Being an old Army brat, I think we had more military history in our history classes than most – including the part animals played. We were taught about the heroics of the pigeons during the wars – being able to get into areas our soldiers couldn’t and how they helped to save lives. I’ve always found the intelligence in critters amazing. I think that’s why I study a lot of them in order to know their patterns and actions in order to photograph them better.

    Thank you so much for the chance to win a copy of “Olive Bright, Pigeoneer”. The series sounds absolutely amazing and one I would very much reading and reviewing. Winning a copy of this book would allow me to start out on the ground floor on the series. The era of these stories is one of my favorites. Mysteries, and most definitely historical ones, is one of my favorite genre. And stories where critters play a major part are especially a favorite of mine. Love all critters! I guess this is my they are my primary subjects when I have my camera in hand.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

    1. Congratulations on the new release, Stephanie! I’ve seen Valiant, and loved it. Such an underrated film. Cheers!

  7. Congratulations on the new book! I did hear about pigeons in WWII somewhere and your series sounds really good. Thanks for the chance to win this book.

  8. Congratulations on your third book in this series! I must confess that I was unaware of your series, and also don’t know much about pigeons…Thank you for informing us about this fascinating subject, and for introducing me to your series. I love reading mysteries that happen in small villages in England, and also happen during or after WWII. I am hooked now that I know you have 3 books for me to read. I wish you most success in continuing this series, and thank you for awarding one of us fortunate readers with a signed copy of “Olive Bright, Pigeoneer ” luis at ole dot travel

  9. Welcome to the blog, Stephanie. Best of luck with A Courage Undimmed. I’ve been watching this season of All Creatures Great and Small, which has led me to think a lot about the role of animals and vets as the series enters WWII.

  10. I didn’t realize how interesting pigeons were or their role in history. Congratulations on your third book in the series. I love reading mysteries.

  11. Congrats on the latest book, Stephanie. I was aware of the role pigeons played in the war, but I would love to learn a lot more. I love cozies that teach me something. Reading your series would be a fun way to learn.

  12. I did not know about the heroism of pigeons. That is fascinating. I will be sure to treat them with more respect from now on. Congratulations on the new release!

  13. No, I had no idea that pigeons had a secret, historic life! As a young child, I recall that pigeons were the only bird that did not seem intimidated by people. They did not seem overly friendly, but they walked around the sidewalks in the city where I used to shop with my mother. Later on in life, I noted that they could be somewhat of a nuisance as they soiled the roof of our home and also our lawn. Of course, I cannot blame it all on pigeons, as other birds and animals were probably involved, too! But now I know that pigeons have a higher calling!

  14. Sounds like an interesting book. I did know about pigeons being used in WWII, but not much more than that.

  15. congratulations on the new book. I did know that pigeons were used but you provided more detail here.
    fruitcrmble AT comcast DOT net

  16. I knew that pigeons were used to deliver messages, even in wartime. I didn’t know all those details. Thanks for the chance.

  17. How intriguing. I had not realized to what extent pigeons had been used during WWII.The research you did must have been fascinating.

  18. Happy early book birthday. Yes, I was aware of the pigeons helping with the war. Thank you so much for sharing. God bless you.

  19. Such a fascinating piece and treasure trove of info. I didn’t realize of their enormous war effort. And a coworker was just telling ,e last week about an uncle who raised homing pigeons. He would enter races and could tell by sight and sound when his birds were coming in overhead! Thanks!

  20. This sounds so interesting! As a huge WWII history buff, I have heard about using pigeons during the war, but have never looked into it. I am putting this on my reading list!

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