LARA Prescott’s debut novel, The Secrets We Kept, a thrilling tale of secretaries turned spies, is in production with the Oscar-nominated producer of La La Land and has been translated into 29 languages. What’s more it was picked by Hollywood star Reese Witherspoon for her famed book club.

The novel, which Lara will discuss at Ilkley Literature Festival, is inspired by the true story of the CIA plot to infiltrate the hearts and minds of Soviet Russia - not with propaganda, but with the greatest love story of the 20th century: Doctor Zhivago.

Set at the height of the Cold War, it follows a mission to smuggle Boris Pasternak’s iconic novel out of the USSR to help make its way into print around the world. “I am named after Pasternak’s heroine, so I’ve always had a lifelong love with both the novel and film,” says Lara. “I’ve read it numerous times.”

In 2014 Lara’s father sent her an article from the Washington Post uncovering how the CIA helped spread the novel from behind the Iron Curtain, where it was banned. “After that point I wanted to find out everything I could about how during the Cold War the CIA believed books could be used as weapons, and this book was seen as the greatest weapon”

The interest was fuelled by her job, working on political campaigns in Washington DC. “I was writing ad copy and social media posts and very aware of how words can change hearts and minds. The fact that Dr Zhivago was used in this way was something I found irresistible.”

Her parents were in love with the book for the same reasons as Lara: “You have the love story but also this great war and political story, and the lessons Pasternak imparts by talking about the dangers of group think.”

The premise is how a book can change the world. “There isn’t any other form of art in my opinion that can connect a person for days or weeks with another person, they can walk in the shoes of someone they’ve never met, or a place they’ve never been. And those seeds a book can plant, of this is how it really is to walk in someone’s shoes, can be extremely powerful. Also, there can be literature that can lead people down the wrong path. There’s a saying that all books are a form of propaganda, that’s never my intention as a writer but depending on your viewpoint you can see it that way.”

When it comes to the rise of fake news are we living in more dangerous times when it comes to propaganda? “I think the danger lies in the speed in which people can be exposed to propaganda and have their minds changed that leads them to vote or act a certain way. With the speed of a Tweet or Facebook post or YouTube video you can have millions of people seeing it within minutes. During the Cold War they thought of using books and literature as part of a long game. The advances of communication has made it a very dangerous thing,” she says.

The trend of shows like Killing Eve and true stories of female spies being reported is, she says, fascinating. “Stories I read during my research were so fantastic I couldn’t believe they weren’t in my school history books or that there’s not monuments to these women spies because they did so much for the US during World War Two and throughout the existence of the CIA.”

Lara’s novel will appeal to anyone “fascinated with the CIA story and women spies” as well as fans of historical fiction, spy thrillers and Dr Zhivago.

* Lara Prescott is at St Margaret’s Hall, Ilkley, on Saturday October 5, 3.30pm. Visit or call (01943) 816714.