Okay, we don’t have to imagine any of this, because we’re living through these events – but so did people in the 1930s, and that’s why I love reading (and writing) about them. It’s impossible not to notice the modern-day parallels when reading about unemployed miners occupying the London Ritz in 1938, or about the League of Nations dithering over sanctions in 1935, following Abyssinia’s invasion by Fascist Italy. Then, as now, each week seemed to bring some fresh political crisis, as Hitler rose to power in Germany, Stalin tightened his deadly grasp on the Soviet Union, and Spain descended into a barbaric civil war. England wasn’t immune to ideological conflict, either, with violent clashes between Oswald Mosley’s Fascist Blackshirts and their Communist enemies. Those in England who longed for peace were relieved, though, when their Prime Minister finally returned from those tense Munich negotiations in September, 1938. Everything was going to be fine, Mr Chamberlain announced, because Hitler had promised peace. Peace for our time! Peace with honour!
Well, we all know how that promise turned out, but that makes the period even more appealing to historical novelists like me. There’s so much to write about if you set a book in 1930s England – particularly if your characters happen to be minor European royalty on a mission to save their tiny kingdom. In my Montmaray Journals trilogy, the royal FitzOsbornes clash with Nazis who are searching for the Holy Grail, help Basque refugee children escaping the bloodshed in Spain, argue with Oswald Mosley at a dinner party, fend off the attentions of the Kennedy boys (yes, those Kennedys) at the American Embassy in London, unwittingly antagonise the British royal family, have tea with Winston Churchill, and address the Council of the League of Nations. Plus, they do it all while wearing fabulous 1930s fashions!Because although political intrigue and thrilling adventures are a significant part of the Montmaray books, I also enjoyed writing about some of the more frivolous aspects of 1930s English Society. The young FitzOsborne cousins begin the series in genteel poverty, confined to an isolated and crumbling castle, but they are eventually taken under the wing of a wealthy and ambitious aunt. This allowed me to explore the final years of pre-war aristocratic glory in England, which were described so beautifully in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited and Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate.
Michelle Cooper is the author of four novels, including The Montmaray Journals trilogy. The first Montmaray novel, A Brief History of Montmaray, won the 2009 Ethel Turner Prize for Young People’s Literature and was listed in the American Library Association's 2010 Best Books for Young Adults. It has just been re-released in Australia as part of the Vintage Classics collection. Its sequel, The FitzOsbornes in Exile, was shortlisted for several literary awards and was listed in Kirkus Best Teen Books of 2011 and the American Library Association's 2012 Best Fiction for Young Adults. The final book in the trilogy, The FitzOsbornes at War, has just been released in Australia, and will be published in North America in October. Michelle lives in Sydney, Australia and is currently working on her next book. Visit www.michellecooper-writer.com for more information about Michelle and her books.
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