Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Author Lyndsy Spence and The Famous Mitford Girls

The four oldest Mitford Girls
It is perhaps fitting that author Lyndsy Spence's first published book is The Mitford Girls' Guide to Life. Like Nancy Mitford, Miss Spence is something of a wunderkind when it comes to writing. She is only 25 and not only does she have one book published, but she is already writing others. What is more, she is a screenwriter as well. With Adam D. Harris she wrote the screenplay for the film short "The Flower Girl", and her screenplay The Oliviers Down Under (centred on the time Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier spent in Australia and New Zealand) is in development. As if all of this wasn't enough, she also operates The Mitford Society, an online community devoted to the famous sisters, and the Margaret Lockwood Society, an online community dedicated to the legendary British film actress.

The Mitford Girls' Guide to Life was released in the United Kingdom on 1 August 2013 ) to overwhelmingly positive reviews. It will be published in the United States on 1 November (although it is already available on Amazon). It has been covered by major British newspapers, as well as the Irish style magazine Social and Personal. The Mitford Girls' Guide to Life uses the ever popular format of a self help book to give us a singular look at the Mitford sisters, their lives providing advice for us today. As to the Mitford sisters themselves, they were as notorious as they were beautiful. The daughters of David Freeman-Mitford, 2nd Baron Redesdale and Sydney Bowles, they included: Nancy Mitford (well known for her novels and biographies), Pamela Mitford ("the rural Mitford," who preferred life in the country), Diana Mitford (the celebrated débutante and Bright Young Thing who fell out of favour following her affair with and subsequent marriage to Sir Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Union of Fascists), Unity Mitford (who became notorious for her Nazi sympathies and her friendship with Adolph Hitler), Jessica Mitford (the political activist and muckracking journalist, perhaps best known for her book The American Way of Death), and Deborah Mitford (the only surviving Mitford sister, who married Lord Andrew Cavendish, later to become the 10th Duke of Devonshire). The Mitford sisters were beautiful and intelligent, and more often than than not provocative and controversial as well. No one could ever accuse them of being boring.

Following is an interview I conducted with Miss Spence.

Have you been surprised by the reception The Mitford Girls' Guide to Life has gotten?

I have been very surprised because originally The History Press envisioned this as a little gift book which would appeal to only the staunchest of Mitford fans. I was bowled over when I read the exposure in The Independent, Social & Personal magazine etc because I just thought, oh, it'll be listed on Amazon and that would be the end of it. It's also great when people compliment my book, and surreal when a famous person tweets me to say they're enjoying it.

In what ways do you think the Mitford sisters are still relevant to people today?

I've said this a few times, and I believe it to be true, there is a Mitford girl for everyone. A teenage girl told me she didn't know anything about the Mitfords, but now she's a total convert, her favourite is Decca. I think Decca is proving to be a real hit amongst the teen readers.

What do you think the various Mitford sisters (and their brother Tom, for that matter) would think of modern British society?

Hmm. Well, Debo is still alive and she's been quoted as saying she's appalled at the PC brigade and people's lack of manners. I guess Nancy would have been amused and appalled, nothing is sacred anymore yet everything that is magnified in the press went on in their day, except behind closed doors only to be spoken about as gossip amongst friends. I recall Nancy writing to Debo during the time of the Porfumo scandal, 'Just like a Venetian court,' she said. I don't think they would have been shocked as such as they were very modern for their time, but I think Nancy would have been saddened, how could she parody something that was so accessible? Tom was a highly creative person who enjoyed music, the theatre, and literature--I think he would have been dismayed at today's society, but the Mitfords were so adaptable, so I'm sure he would have moved somewhere beautiful where he could immerse himself in his own world. Don't forget, Nancy grew to loath Britain after the war which is why she stayed in Paris. 

I understand that your next book is going to be Mrs Guinness: The Rise and Fall of a Socialite, a biography of Bryan Guinness, 2nd Baron Moyne and Diana Mitford. How did you come up with the idea for the book?

My ideas always happen when I least expect it, and I find the best ideas are never forced. The title came into my head, I am sure it must have been provoked by something. I then thought, oh I have this great idea, and then a moment of doubt set in when I wondered, how can I convey it? Thankfully my agent Olivia keeps me on the straight and narrow and I now have a clear, concise plan for the book. It's out on submission at the moment, so we'll see.

I also understand you're working on a biography on legendary actress Margaret Lockwood. How did you become interested in Miss Lockwood and her films?
It all started with the big MGM stars, household names as such, and slowly I became interested in British films when I was about 17. I befriended an old lady from England, who lived in my town, and she used such funny expressions that I had never heard before. Suddenly this interwar world became intriguing to me and I started to open my mind to the books, and the films. I caught a Patricia Roc movie on FILM4, Millions Like Us which thankfully was playing back to back with The Man in Grey, Jassy, and The Wicked Lady. I'm glad I was lazy that day because I caught sight of Margaret and I was hooked. 

What other projects are you current working on?

I've put my projects out there and I'm just waiting for someone to say 'yes' and then I can safely say what I'll be working on. I've only written 3 sample chapters for Mrs Guinness, but I'm constantly gathering in my research and keeping my ear to the ground for people who know people with stories etc. Margaret is in first draft, she was originally my next project but my agent wants Mrs Guinness to follow the Mitford book. My script has found a home with a British production company so I'll be anticipating its rewrite once the producers and I can get together. I'm also stalking around, looking for freelance work. It's going to be sink or swim, and I want to continue the momentum of the Mitford book. It's stressful once you're given a deadline, but what greater luxury than to be paid for your ideas...and getting to work anywhere you like.

The Mitford Girls' Guide to Life is available on Amazon UK and Amazon U.S.

You can visit Lyndsy Spence's official web site at: Lyndsy Spence

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