When researching Blackshirt Conspiracy I continued to read up on Oswald Mosley and the Blackshirts, dipping back into chapters of my array of textbooks that cover 1936. I acquired more books to allow a deeper insight into what motivated the rank and file members of the British Union of Fascists, especially outside London. The seminal incident for the future of fascism was of course the Battle of Cable Street, which opens the novel and was the subject of an earlier blog.
As far as British history is concerned, the dominating event of 1936 was the abdication of King Edward VIII following his affair with Wallis Simpson. It would be impossible to ignore it in any novel that extends into the autumn of that year, especially as it caused particular excitement among Mosley and his monarchist followers.
The affair, and its ramifications have been the subject of innumerable non-fiction books, novels and several TV dramas and movies. A surfeit of research material raises the question of where to start and what opinions to give most weight to. First there is the romantic fantasy of an impossible love between an English Prince and a married American woman. Then accusations about the morality, motives and even the loyalty of the couple. Was Wallis Simpson the villain of the piece, or the victim of a male-dominated British Establishment? Was Edward a forward-looking king who would bring a breath of fresh air to the stale monarchy, or a lazy playboy the country was well rid of?
Of the many books on offer, Andrew Morton’s Wallis in Love is an excellent account of Simpson’s three marriages and sundry other relationships. This helped me establish her character, in part sympathetic but also in part the architect of her own downfall.
With regard to conspiracy, books such as the official biography of Edward VIII take a stiff and procedural look at the abdication. However, Adrian Phillips The King Who Had to Go rivals any novel by revealing the breathtaking political and legal chicanery that was going on behind the scenes in the second half of 1936.
I had the pleasure of meeting Andrew Lownie after a lecture supporting his book Traitor King. It primarily covers the years after the abdication in which Edward and Wallis were in exile and mixing with Nazis, their sympathisers and agents. This sheds its own light on the events of 1936, turning the star-crossed lovers of a royal romance into something far more sinister. We can read backwards from the way the couple behaved between 1937 and 1945 to better understand how the crisis of 1936 could have turned out so very differently. The fears of senior politicians and civil servants who wanted Edward to go, or at least wanted Wallis out of the way become more justified with added hindsight.
An author’s challenge is how much of this research to include, and the answer here is ‘not very much’; Blackshirt Conspiracy is an alternative history thriller, not a textbook. One of the surprising aspects of the 1936 crisis was that the British public remained more or less ignorant of events until it was all over. So, as author I don’t have to take the reader into the royal bedchamber, or inside 10 Downing Street. I can take it as read that these events are happening out of sight of both my characters and my readers, up to the point Department Z picks up the scent. Hugh and Sissy will remain in the dark until they uncover the facts for themselves.
Blackshirt Conspiracy is published by the Historia imprint of Level Best Books and is avaiable worldwide in e-book and paperback.