Interview by Annabel
A: Firstly, congratulations on A War of Flowers! It took the life and career of Clara Vine (Anglo-German film actress and British spy) to new and ever more thrilling heights. It was ‘good’ to see all the Nazi wives again. In their desperate need to confide they do provide a kind of stability for Clara, making her a trusted outsider in their circle. They must be ‘fun’ to write now, although Lina Heydrich is seriously scary. Do you feel you know them quite well after three novels?
Jane: I do. I’ve really enjoyed writing about the women’s side of the Third Reich, partly because it’s an area that’s so little covered. Also because I think it’s impossible to understand the Nazi leaders as people without getting a glimpse of their private lives and their most important relationships. But the downside is that documentary sources for the lives of the Nazi wives are incredibly scarce. Luckily some wives – including Emmy Goering, Lina Heydrich and Henriette von Schirach – wrote memoirs, Magda Goebbels wrote reams of letters and Eva Braun kept a diary. So even though I’ve had to brush up my German, I feel I’ve had access to some of their thoughts.
A: The second in the series, The Winter Garden, began with the murder of a young woman at Himmler’s Bride School; A War of Flowers also begins with an unexplained disappearance from a KdF (Kraft durch Freude – Strength through Joy) cruise ship. These sub-plots are a great way of exploring the Nazis’ need to regulate everything – how did you pick these programmes over all the others?
Jane: Like any totalitarian society, the Third Reich was very keen on pigeonholing the population into organisations and clubs. It was a way of controlling people and keeping everyone fully occupied at all times so they didn’t have time to question the state. But wherever you have an organisation, you also have some people who don’t want to be controlled, and that’s where it gets interesting. I loved the idea of girl with something to hide taking refuge in a Bride school, and equally, in A War of Flowers, I adored the idea of a woman with shady business on a Nazi holiday. The great thing for a novelist is that are plenty of these Nazi societies to choose from!
A: Which leads me to ask about your research for these books. Given that there are so many real people in your pages how easy is it to turn them into fiction without introducing factual inaccuracies?
Jane: Having been a journalist for most of my career – at the BBC, The Telegraph and The Independent – I’ve always taken historical accuracy very seriously. I would never change the date of a historical event to fit a story, and a lot of what my characters say is taken from their diaries, memoirs and reported speech. Obviously I’ve invented things, but in my recreation of Eva Braun I’ve studied contemporary records, letters and memoirs meticulously. She’s gone down in history as the woman who married a monster, but there was both more and less to her than that. She was a gauche young woman who was kept in the shadows and was constantly humiliated by Hitler. She was depressed and often suicidal, but astonishingly she also believed that one day she would star in a Hollywood biopic of her affair with the Führer.
A: In Black Roses, Clara met the Nazi wives, in The Winter Garden it was The Duke and Duchess of Windsor plus Diana and Unity Mitford. In A War of Flowers we get even closer to the Fuhrer when Clara is tasked with befriending Eva Braun. Yet Hitler himself has be notable for his absence in person, yet of course his influence dominates. I’m guessing that’s deliberate on your part?
Jane: It is. I’ve never yet featured Hitler in a speaking role, though Clara has been in the same room as him, and I’m not sure I ever will. I prefer to keep to sidelong glances.
Jane: Among the best books on the wives are Hitler’s Women by Guido Knopp and Women Of The Third Reich by Anna Maria Sigmund. For A War Of Flowers I also read The Lost Life of Eva Braun by Angela Lambert, who was fascinated by Eva because her own German mother was the same age.
A: Knowing that your husband is Philip Kerr, author of the Bernie Gunther novels about a Berlin-based detective in the 1930s, apart from having a lot of conversation to share about the Nazis, are you worried that he’s encroaching on your territory? I ask this with tongue firmly in cheek, noting that his 10th Bernie Gunther novel (out in April) features a missing Ufa German film actress…
Jane: You’ve touched on a live topic in our household! Of course we talk about everything, but Philip had rarely featured Joseph Goebbels or the Ufa film studios before, and I take the credit for suggesting it. I find Goebbels one of the most interesting Nazis to write about, both because he kept a very detailed Pooterish diary and also because he rightly saw that film and culture were central to instilling Nazi ideology. I’m much more interested in the way that people are controlled by media, than by tanks and guns.
A: Finally, as you’d originally planned a trilogy, I was delighted when you told me that Clara’s story was to become a quartet – how did that come about and can you give us any hints yet about what Clara will encounter next?
Jane: I never even envisaged a second Clara Vine novel until the day I went to meet my new publisher, the lovely Suzanne Baboneau, and it occurred to me that I’d like to write about the Duke of Windsor’s honeymoon in 1937. I soon realised that I wanted to continue following Clara’s role as an agent in an increasingly hostile paranoid Germany as war approaches, and – who knows? – perhaps even after war breaks out!
A: Thank you, Jane.
Read our review of A War of Flowers in the Shiny Fiction section – click here.
Jane Thynne, A War of Flowers (Simon & Schuster, London, 2014). 978-1471131905, 416 pp., paperback.