An Interview with D. J. Taylor

D. J. Taylor

D. J. Taylor

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?

Windsor Faction d. j. taylorD. 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:

12 thoughts on “An Interview with D. J. Taylor

  1. Kat, I am catching up and read your review of ‘The Windsor Faction’ and now this lovely interview with its author. Oh, my. Beverley Nichols! I adore him and even though the diary here would be a faux-BN journal, I am in. Adding this book to my list. Thanks so much for posting this interview.


  2. The Windsor Faction is so much fun to read! Yes, it’s lovely to meet Beverley Nichols, and the voice rings true. And it DOES make me want to read more Beverley Nichols. I know I’ve got another of his gardening books somewhere…


  3. Super interview Kat! I am a huge fan of “Bright Young People” so I shall definitely have to catch up on this book! And at the moment, Beverley Nichols is a bit of literary god in this neck of the woods!


  4. Karen, I do want to read “Bright Young People.” I looked for it at B&N today, but unfortunately they had nothing except The Windsor Faction, and we’re probably damned lucky they had that. They have the newest books, but you never know what you will or will not find otherwise.

    I should add that Beverley Nichols’ diary is only part of the book. I really loved the parts about Cynthia, and feel that David understands women very well.


  5. I too read your review of Taylor’s novel. I didn’t comment at the time. My guess is this is the same man as wrote a biography of Thackeray and did an edition of his shorter works. He did comment generously and patiently — like telling you when he began to write.

    It might be that the reason authors are willing to do interviews with good bloggers is that they do have to work more individually to sell their books than they once did. The books can get so lost in so many venues and so many distractions for people.


  6. Tony, yes, he reads a lot of my favorites, too.

    Ellen, I hope bloggers do help promote books, since I’ve always wanted to own a bookstore, and this is it, though I’m not an Amazon affiliate or profiting in any way. 🙂 We know that dovegreyreader, with her huge number of subscribers, does sell books if she even breathes, but many of us work on a quieter level and hope the book gets passed on from us to one or two, who may pass it on to others.

    This is such a charming interview; I am very grateful to David for it.


  7. As you know, I rate this book highly and if is very saddening to read the reviews on Amazon UK where it is more than obvious that the subtlety of David’s fine writing has gone over the heads of the people who were looking for a war time thriller. I agree that this book reads like an artefact of the period and is success in this respect is a considerable achievement in my view.


  8. Tom, this novel is so brilliant that I am very sorry to hear about the Amazon UK ratings. I glanced at the American Amazon reviews, and many of them are intelligent and enthusiastic, but I did skim a couple that were disappointed because it was NOT as thrilling as they expected. You are probably right in that this aspect of the “alternate history was played up too much. It was fascinating to me to read in the interview about “counter-factual history” and what David meant by that.

    Perhaps if I had been a hard-core SF person I would have been disappointed, too, but I simply go for good writing, and really think this is an amazing novel. I read your review and Carolyn See’s at The Washington Post before I read The Windsor Faction, and I certainly did not feel misled by anything you said.

    One of my family members decides what to read based on reviewes in prestigious publications, whether it’s been nominated for an award, and even what the average star rating is at Amazon. I am much more erratic, and am so glad to have found this book. So hats off to you, Tom, and Carolyn See!


  9. Pingback: The Importance of Lists, Interviewing Writers, & A Self-Interview | mirabile dictu

  10. Pingback: How to Get Warm & Reading D. J. Taylor’s Bright Young People | mirabile dictu

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