|Gerda Taro © International Center of Photography.
It’s always interesting hearing why authors of historical fiction are drawn to their eras. For me, the early twentieth century has always felt tantalisingly within touching distance. I grew up with my Great Aunt Rose’s tales of helping the Resistance in Occupied Holland, and hiding her husband from the Nazis in a secret room in their Middleburg hotel. I saw my grandfather sit night after night at his old mahogany dining table, surrounded by dogeared photographs of his comrades from Dunkerque, lost in his memories.
The early years of the twentieth century felt close – I wanted to understand why these experiences were still vivid, why they haunted my family. Later, when I specialised in twentieth century art, and particularly photography, at the Courtauld Institute, I realised that even history this close to our present day becomes ‘lost’. When I studied Man Ray, why were there so few mentions of Lee Miller’s remarkable war photography in the standard text books? Why did Robert Capa’s mythical figure throw such a shadow over Gerda Taro’s body of work? In writing about the Spanish Civil War in ‘The Perfume Garden’, I wanted to give Taro her correct place as his equal.
|Gerda Taro © International Center of Photography
|Capa by Taro © International Center of Photography
Writing historical fiction feels, at its best and most exhilarating, like detective work. A tiny clue can spark years of research. For ‘The Beauty Chorus’, it was a tiny obituary for one of the ‘Spitfire girls’ – the women who flew with the Air Transport Auxiliary. The great joy of writing twentieth century histfic is that you have the privilege of talking to people who lived that history. I spoke to women now in their eighties and nineties, who told me exactly how it felt to fly those planes, and gave me details for the story that can’t be found in any text book.
|Diana Barnato Walker © ATA Archive, Maidenhead Heritage Centre.
So, that’s my story – I’d love to hear why you are drawn to the era(s) you write about …
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