An Interview with Jane Thynne
Why did you choose to portray the Nazi bridal schools as a work of fiction as opposed to writing a biography on the bizarre ritual?
Probably because I love writing fiction! I came across the bride schools when I was researching my first Clara Vine novel, Black Roses, and I was looking closely at the lives of women under the Third Reich. I subsequently visited Schwanenwerder Island, where the Berlin bride school was based, and as soon as I saw it was just a few doors down from the Goebbels villa, an idea was born.
How did you gather your research for The Winter Garden?
Newspapers and women’s magazines of the time are very useful. There’s not much written about the bride schools, but for some reason photographs of young women exercising in gym slips seemed to be immensely popular with newspaper editors. I have also read a library full of non-fiction about Nazi Germany.
What inspired you to include Diana and Unity Mitford in the book?
How could I not! As soon as I began writing about an Anglo-German actress in 1930s Berlin, I knew the Mitfords would come into it. They are a huge interest for me – I’ve read everything all of them have written. The idea of the Germans trying to grapple with these eccentric upper class women and wondering if all English people were the same was just too funny for words. But that conflict also encapsulates something very deep about WWII, which was the Nazi regime’s fatal failure to understand British core values.
As a writer of mainstream novels, do you sense the market is becoming a lot more open to historical fiction which incorporates popular culture and figures from the inter-war era rather than expecting such topics to feature only in biography and academic books? (i.e. Z: A Novel and Mrs. Hemingway).
Definitely. The use of real people is very much in vogue, probably because readers like to feel they have learned something as well as being entertained. For this reason, I think writers bear a heavy responsibility to get the facts right when using historical characters. With the Nazi women, I was lucky because many of them wrote memoirs, letters and diaries. With the Mitfords, of course, it’s all there.
Do you find this genre gives you a lot more freedom to manipulate (real life) characters and situations to accommodate your plot?
History is the furniture of my fiction, and I while would never move the furniture, it’s fine to look down the back of the sofa. I never alter historical events, and I feel pretty strongly that you shouldn’t. Even though it goes under the guise of fiction, people are going to take your historical background as fact, so you need to respect that. In the same way, with characters, I’ve always tried to use things they actually said. Goebbels diaries have been immensely helpful in that regard.
Can you describe your journey to publication with the Clara Vine series?
I was lucky in that Black Roses was picked up very quickly by the wonderful Suzanne Baboneau at Simon & Schuster. When I told her I wanted to write a series, she commissioned more. Clara Vine has now sold to America, Canada and France, as well as to TV.
Will there be a sequel?
A War of Flowers, set around the 1938 Munich crisis, comes out next year.
And last but not least: who is your favourite Mitford girl?
It has to be Nancy. She is both hilarious and subtle with a keen sense of the ridiculous that has been the hallmark of English novelists from Jane Austen and Dickens to P.G Wodehouse.