Back in March, I reviewed a fabulous romantic thriller set in pre-WWII Germany. Black Roses by Jane Thynne is the story of Clara Vine, a young actress who goes to Berlin to pursue a film career and ends up as a British spy and confidante of Magda Goebbels, the infamous First Lady of the Third Reich. I loved reading the book and was delighted to find out that it was the first of a planned trilogy.
So please join with me to welcome Black Roses author, Jane Thynne, to my blog.
Annabel: The years immediately preceding WWII are proving to be fertile ground for novelists at the moment. What was it that drew you to that particular period in time?
Jane: Auden might have described them as ‘a low, dishonest decade’ but to me the 1930s were one of the most fascinating periods. The world was poised between two ideologies – Communism and Fascism – and everyone knew war was round the corner unless frantic efforts were made to avert it. In Berlin, the thrilling, mind-expanding Weimar excess had produced a vibrant artistic atmosphere, until the Nazis arrived. The world of espionage, referenced in Black Roses, was just getting going, and the British were building a secret service, with all the daring, ingenuity and risks that involved.
A: The Nazi wives are fascinating – it was interesting to see their different characters coming through in the novel, but Magda Goebbels is something else! She way she picked Clara to be her confidante showed how insecure she was underneath the ice maiden exterior though. Was it difficult to write her softer side?
Jane: As soon as I came across Magda, I knew there was a novel in her. Her appointment by Hitler to head the Reich Fashion Bureau was ironic because she was addicted to French haute couture, but when I discovered that she had been engaged to a leading Zionist, the contradictions in her life really cried out for exploration. She was a moody, nervy, unhappy woman, and while I wouldn’t say I sympathised with her – she was a convinced Nazi – it was hard not to empathise. Her husband was a monster, and she laid bare her unhappiness in letters, which were a great help when I was writing.
A: I really enjoyed the relationship between Leo and his boss in Black Roses. It reminded me somewhat of that between George Smiley and Control in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. How did you research the spy-craft? What did your husband think of you invading his territory?
Jane: I’d never thought of myself as a spy writer, but the more I researched the tradecraft – mostly from memoirs – the more fascinating it became. It was the early days of the secret service and all those Le Carré tricks – Dead Letter Boxes, Brush Contacts, surveillance techniques – were around, but there was more life and death urgency than in the later, somewhat jaded Cold War period. As to my husband’s territory . . . His name is Philip Kerr and he’s written ten books about a 1930’s Berlin detective, which means we can talk for hours about the period. Our children are well used to Nazis round the supper table! But my emphasis is far more on the female side of the Third Reich – the social and domestic side. In fact we’ve even done events together, each focusing on a particular area.
A: I haven’t asked about Clara yet. Obviously, having a right-wing father was instrumental in her being accepted in Germany even though she rejects his politics, and she seems so independent even before she goes to Germany. I wondered whether she’d have known the Mitfords in London – were they in any way an influence?
Jane: How perceptive you are, Annabel! Clara does indeed know the Mitford sisters from her life in London and in the next novel, published in February, Diana and Unity make a significant appearance. They epitomised the part of the English establishment that was impressed by Hitler and wanted to appease his territorial ambitions. That faction was pretty influential in British politics of the time, and if things had gone a different way – if for example Edward VIII had not abdicated over Wallis Simpson – then the Great Alliance Hitler dreamed of between Germany and Britain might have prevailed.
A: Finally, knowing that the next book in the trilogy, The Winter Garden will have scenes set in Munich in Bavaria, I wondered will we be seeing Clara modelling a dirndl?
Jane: Munich was the crucible of Nazism, and in 1937 they staged an exhibition of ‘Degenerate Art’ – featuring masterpieces by Klimt, Klee, Picasso, etc, that was intended to denigrate those artists, but had people queuing round the block. An urgent mission takes Clara to Munich where she sees this exhibition, though she doesn’t actually wear traditional Bavarian costume. However, in A War Of Flowers, which I’m currently writing, set in 1938, Clara finds herself in more nerve-shredding circumstances, which do, indeed, require a dirndl!
Thank you so much for answering my questions Jane, it was fascinating to hear about some of the inspirations for the trilogy. Very best wishes with the book, and I can’t wait to read The Winter Garden next February!
The paperback of Black Roses is published on Thursday 24th October by Simon and Schuster; (buy at Amazon UK), I highly recommend it.
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- Jane’s husband, Philip Kerr, writes the highly regarded Bernie Gunther spy novels – I bought the first three in an omnibus edition (buy at Amazon UK) – I’m looking forward to reading them.
- You might like to see my own ‘Dirndl’ moment, which I wrote about in a post back here.
- Jane’s blog tour continues for the rest of the week – see the destinations below.