D. J. Taylor, the novelist, critic and biographer, kindly agreed to be interviewed by email.
First, a few words about his book: his brilliant new novel, The Windsor Faction, is one of our favorites of the year. It poses the questions, What would happen if Edward VIII had not abdicated the throne because Wallis Simpson died in 1936? And what if he were a fascist sympathizer?
Billed as an “alternate history,” The Windsor Faction is also a fascinating literary novel, set in the late 1930s when England is on the verge of war and told in multiple forms: the diary of Beverley Nichols, a journalist, who collaborates with the King on a speech on pacifism; a traditional third-person narrative about Cynthia Kirkpatrick, a bored young woman who works at a spy-ridden literary magazine in London; and newspaper articles and editorials about the death of Mrs. Simpson and the war.
MIRABILE DICTU: Your novel has been called an “alternate history.” What do you think of that term?
D. J. TAYLOR: I’d describe it as ‘counter-factual history’. The analogy I usually use is that of chess board in which one of the pieces has been removed, meaning that the remaining 31, though unchanged, have to re-calibrate themselves in interesting ways. Keeping the reader on your side means that you can’t alter a great deal. In The Windsor Faction, for example, I was careful to employ the same politicians and the same public figures. Without this, I think the whole thing becomes less believable.
MIRABILE DICTU: Did any writers influence you in the writing of The Windsor Faction?
D. J. TAYLOR: I wouldn’t say there were direct influences. But I have read fairly widely in the literature of World War II – Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy, say, and the three war-time novels of Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time, and I’m sure these raise their heads every now and again, particularly as one of my aims was to make it read and sound like an artefact written in the period in which it was set.
MIRABILE DICTU: When and why did you begin to write?
D. J. TAYLOR: I started writing at a very early age. Even in my teens I was sending things – mostly chronically bad impersonations of J.R.R. Tolkien – off to publishers. I began to get things published in my early ’20s, but I think this was due merely to having served an apprenticeship at an age before most people get properly going
MIRABILE DICTU: Do you prefer writing fiction or nonfiction?
D. J. TAYLOR: I like both, and find – encouragingly – that the one cross-fertilises the other. For example, the idea for my novel Ask Alice (2009), which is about an American-born British society hostess, grew out of non-fiction book called Bright Young People (2007) about the social circles that inspired Evelyn Waugh’s novels.
MIRABILE DICTU: Who are your favorite writers and what are you reading now?
D. J. TAYLOR: My favourite writers are English classics like Thackeray, George Gissing, Orwell, Powell, but I have a weakness for those sprawling early 20th American novels by people like Dreiser, Upton Sinclair, James T. Farrell, Steinbeck and Dos Passos. Among modern US writers, I very much enjoyed the memoir that Richard Russo published a couple of years ago, and my absolute favourite is Mary Gaitskill.
Thank you for the interview, David!
You can read more about D. J. Taylor at his website: http://www.djtaylorwriter.co.uk/