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Author Talk: January 22, 2020

Jane Thynne’s latest novel, THE WORDS I NEVER WROTE, revolves around a chance discovery inside a vintage typewriter case, which reveals the gripping story of two sisters on opposite sides of World War II. In this interview, Thynne talks about her inspiration for the plot line and the research she conducted, her interest in family conflict as a major theme in the book, her fascination with prewar Europe and Nazi Germany, and why she incorporates real people into her fiction.

Question: THE WORDS I NEVER WROTE begins with the discovery of a half-finished novel in an old typewriter case. Where did that idea come from?

Jane Thynne: In 2016, I was given a surprise gift --- a 1931 Underwood typewriter that came from a vintage typewriter store on Fifth Avenue. As I opened the carry case, I thought how interesting it would be to find something else inside --- a half-finished novel, for example. From that moment, my story germinated. Juno Lambert discovers an unfinished novel that tells the story of two sisters separated by WWII, and by the bitter, ideological divisions of that conflict. Intrigued by their story, and longing to know how it developed, Juno travels to Berlin and discovers the secrets that each sister kept from the other.

Q: Why did family conflict interest you as a theme?

JT: I began writing this novel in 2016, at a time of turbulent political divisions. Brexit in the UK and the election of a controversial president in America split families in a way that had not happened for generations. In Britain, families argued across the dinner table, and in the US the same bitter ideological rifts split Democrat voters and Republicans. In my novel, Irene lives in Nazi Germany, while her sister lives and works in Paris. One sister cannot understand what the other is going through, and heartbreak follows.

Q: You have written a lot about prewar Europe and Nazi Germany in your Clara Vine spy series. What draws you back to that era?

JT: I’m always fascinated by the thought that the Third Reich lasted only 12 years, and yet its impact on the whole world continues to reverberate. In this novel, I wanted to capture the entire decade from 1936 to 1946 from the time when Nazi Germany was initially able to present a triumphant, even glamorous face to the world, to its devastating, bloody fall. I wanted to show what life was really like for women living in Berlin, and to chart the life of a socialite who goes from nightclubs and smart parties to selling her Cartier watch in exchange for a piece of rabbit meat.

Q: Espionage is also at the heart of this novel, just as with the Clara Vine series.

JT: Yes! It’s a spy thriller as much as a love story. Kim Philby, who was probably the most damaging Soviet agent ever to emerge from Britain, plays a part, and Irene herself is drawn into subterfuge. All my novels have been about the difference between what people present to the world and how they really are, and the act of spying embodies that dissonance.

Q: How do you go about your research?

JT: For this novel, an inspiration came on a visit to the house of the Wannsee Conference where Nazi chiefs planned the Holocaust. As I walked along the leafy road that led to that terrible place, I passed a beautiful villa and thought how nerve-wracking it would have been to hide a persecuted Jew right under the noses of the SS. Berlin is an astonishing city in which to spend time. Even though it’s undergoing endless reconstruction, the traces of the Nazi era are there if you look, and you are constantly reminded how these dreadful events occurred within living memory.

Q: The novel is also about being a journalist and a writer.

JT: I’ve been both of those, and what has interested me in both professions are the moral choices that people make in their lives. As with Irene and Cordelia, nothing is ever black and white, and life is about learning to navigate those gray areas.

Q: You like to insert real people into your stories. In THE WORDS I NEVER WROTE, Martha Dodd, the daughter of the American ambassador to Nazi Germany, and Kim Philby appear, as well as Hardy Amies and a host of others. Why not fictionalize entirely?

JT: Sometimes, truth is more powerful than fiction. Often, when I’m reading through the lives of Nazi wives or other historical characters, I find myself saying, “You really couldn’t make this up!”