Sending out copies of Black Roses complete with a black rose!
It’s hard to describe, when you’re researching a setting, just how exciting it can be to see the places you’re writing about. My second Clara Vine novel includes some scenes in 1937 Munich, so I’ve just spent a few days in that beautiful city. Sitting in the Osteria Italiano (formerly Osteria Bavaria) at the table where Unity Mitford used to station herself to catch Hitler on his way to lunch, was spine tingling. Understandably Munich was Hitler’s favourite city – he far preferred it to Berlin – and unlike Berlin the buildings destroyed in the war were rebuilt as they were, making it easy to imagine how it must have been when two of the Mitford sisters got caught up in the society of the Third Reich. The offices of the NSDAP can still be seen in Schellingstrasse and if you look closely at the ceiling of the Hofbrauhaus where Hitler made several key speeches, you can see the swastikas painted over. Interestingly, for those curious about fashion, many Munich citizens still like to wear traditional Bavarian lederhosen and dirndl on Sundays. The expression of national identity through dress, the subject of Black Roses, is alive and well in Munich!
Yesterday I took in the corrected proofs of Black Roses into the Simon and Schuster office and delivered them to the delightful Clare Hey. It sometimes seems to me that this novel has had a longer gestation than a baby elephant! I can’t wait to see it in print. However, we will soon have proof copies out with a rather beautiful and ingenious cover design. Meanwhile Clara Vine Two (The Winter Garden) is nearing completion, finding Clara yet again in love and in peril in 1937.
There can’t be many people who approach a museum with undiluted excitement. The thought of rows of dusty objects in glass cases, though of course interesting, still has the
aura of school about it. So a visit to the unexcitingly titled Deutsches Historisches Museum in Berlin came as quite a surprise. It’s set in the old Armoury – the Zeughaus – just off Unter den Linden, and the permanent exhibition is a brilliant tour through several hundred years of Germany history, featuring paintings, domestic objects, armour, fashion and even toys. Trawling as I was for information about the lives of women and girls in the Third Reich, I was fascinated by this little Nazi doll’s house – pictured here – which even had Hitler toile de jouy wallpaper, featuring little groups of BDM girls and brown shirts in bizarre pastoral groups. Just as exciting was finding a cigarette case with a special brand of cigarettes named after Ernst Udet – the flying ace who appears in my second Clara Vine novel, provisionally titled The Pilot’s Bride.
I just spent a cold, exhilarating few days in New York, seeing my great friend who edits a magazine there, walking around Greenwich Village and spending hours talking about the differences between life in the US and the UK. When I first started visiting New York my holy grail was the Strand Bookstore where I would come away with stacks of second hand books. But things have moved on. The publishers I met talked incessantly about e books, and it was interesting to see a lot more of the same titles in the bookshops as you see in Britain. Given that I also spend a dinner obsessing about Murdoch and the Leveson inquiry with an American media journalist, the distance between America and England seemed to have shrunk even more. But I always come back from America excited and energised. No matter what British Airways does to prevent it.
Just back from a wonderful, cold, engrossing and solitary week in Berlin, exploring locations which will feature in the next Clara Vine novel. One of the loveliest places I visited was Schwanenwerder, a tiny enclave at the tip of the Grunewald where the Goebbels’s had their home, not to mention Speer and a few others. You can see why the Nazis liked it – it’s a little peninsula that reaches into the Wannsee, surrounded with trees, and containing just a few, luxurious private villas. Just the place for a murder! More accessible places to visit in Berlin are the Babelsberg studios – which have their own studio tour now – and the Einstein Cafe in Kurfurstenstrasse, which used to belong to the actress Henny Porten, banned from the screen by Goebbels because she refused to divorce her Jewish husband. It’s incredibly atmospheric. Don’t miss it.