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Writing history: how to define truth – Jane Thynne

About This Episode

“To control the past they edited history, and to control the future they edited literature.” The words of Michael’s guest today, the author Jane Thynne. While they belong to the setting of Jane’s brilliant thriller, Widowland, for many these words have unsettlingly felt closer to the world of facts than they do to fiction.

Little wonder that Widowland was chosen by The Times as its ‘Book of the Month’ adding to acclaim as the “most important feminist novel in decades”: an accolade that more than delivers on Jane’s passion for historical fiction and telling the stories of the 20th century through the eyes of the women who shaped it

Jane Thynne, Author, Widowland

Jane Thynne is a novelist, journalist and broadcaster.  She has published eleven novels and is currently a consultant producer on two large-scale television series. She has extensive radio and television experience, in presenting, directing and producing.  

Her series of Clara Vine novels, set in pre-war and wartime Europe is currently being adapted for TV, and her first pseudonymous novel, Widowland, was released in June of this year under C.J.Carey.

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Lockdown List

What is a book that has changed your life?

When I was twelve I remember imbibing Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, the nineteenth century feminist call to arms in which a powerless woman gains agency and learns to make her own moral choices. The story has been replayed numerous times in other novels, such as Rebecca.

Such was its impact on me that I used Jane Eyre as a motif in my new novel Widowland, which is itself about a woman in an authoritarian, oppressive society whose job is to censor the classics of English literature for subversive portrayals of women. Through Jane Eyre, my heroine gains agency and learns to see for herself.

What are you watching at the moment?

I’m having a Le Carré binge, rewatching The Night Manager, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (both Alec Guinness and Gary Oldman) and Smiley’s People.

Who is your biggest inspiration and why?

He’d laugh to hear this, but probably my late husband, Philip Kerr, for his formidable work ethic, his sense of humour and his aggressive Scottish refusal to acknowledge setbacks.

In one sentence, describe your new normal.

Outwardly the same; same writing desk looking out at the same trees, but inwardly transformed in the way I perceive and question both my own assumptions and those of society around me…

What is your best tip for life?

Say yes. Make connections. Go out even when you don’t feel like it. Serendipity shapes lives and life is short so maximise your opportunities.

A quote for life?

So many! But if I can single out two, they would be…

If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I? And if not now, when? – Rabbi Hillel

And William Blake’s manifesto ‘I must create a system or be enslaved by another man’s’

What five songs made up your lockdown soundtrack?

  • Rachmaninov symphony number 2 Op. 27 III Adagio
  • I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free – Nina Simone
  • Mozart Serenade for Winds No. 10 in B-Flat Major K361 ‘Gran Partita’ III Adagio
  • They Don’t Know – Kirsty MacColl
  • Bach the Well-Tempered Clavier Book 1 Prelude C major BWV 846

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