Today, I’m thrilled to welcome Jane Thynne to my blog. Jane has worked as a journalist for the BBC, The Sunday Times, The Daily Telegraph, and The Independent. She has been a panellist on the BBC Radio 4 literary panel game The Write Stuff on many occasions and was a member of the judging panel for the Oldie of the Year award in 2010 and a judge for the Best Online Only Audio Drama award of the first BBC Audio Drama Awards in 2012. Her first novel, Patrimony, was published in 199 followed by The Shell House in 1999, The Weighing of the Heart in 2010 and Black Roses in 2013.
Jane and I share a fascination not only for Berlin but for the lives of women during the Third Reich in Germany, mine non-fiction, hers spy thrillers in the world of the Nazi leaders’ wives, so it seemed natural to grill her about this…
What attracted you to writing about women in Nazi Germany and having a woman protagonist in what has been depicted as a very male-dominated period?
The lives of German women under Hitler – like so much in the Third Reich – was rife with contradictions. It was an intensely misogynistic regime, and yet Hitler received more fan-mail than The Beatles and Mick Jagger put together. No one encapsulated these ironies more than the senior Nazi wives, who were expected to embody Nazi values but diverged from them in dramatic ways. We know a little of what it felt like because several of them, such as Emmy Goering, wrote memoirs about their lives. In many cases they were an important influence on their husbands – some of them, like the wives of von Ribbentrop and Heydrich – more Nazi than their men. Others, like Frau Goering, the wife of Baldur von Schirach, actively interceded with their husbands on an occasional basis to save friends.
But I was also interested in the lives of ordinary women, trying to live under an increasingly restricted, totalitarian regime. In my new novel, The Winter Garden, a murder takes place in a Bride School, one of those institutions established in 1935 by Himmler for women hoping to marry into the SS. Women actually had to gain a certificate in order to qualify for their wedding. Incredible!
It seemed a good idea to make Clara Vine, my protagonist, an Anglo-German actress. Berlin was the centre of European film making – it really was the Hollywood of Europe. Actresses occupied an uneasy middle grown between ‘respectable’ women and celebrities and with acting also came many metaphors around playing a role and spying. It seemed a natural fit.
Your period detail was rich and cleverly present throughout Black Roses. Do you have an affinity or special knowledge of Germany or was it a hard slog?
It’s impossible not to be intrigued by the country at the centre of the seismic event of the twentieth century. And if you’re interested in Germany, your eyes naturally turn to Berlin. I’ve walked the streets of Berlin over and over in reality and every day in my head for the past couple of years. It’s strange seeing your own imaginary Berlin like a palimpsest under the modern, rebuilt Berlin, but It helps that I have a working knowledge of German and I visit a couple of times a year.
Jane has kindly donated a copy for a giveaway and one lucky winner will win it in a draw. All you have to do is make a (sensible) comment by 22 March and your name will go in the hat!
Goering marriage photo from Bundesarchiv, Creative Commons Licence
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