All That Jazz



All That Jazz
My Love Affair with the Roaring Twenties

So far, I’ve written three historical stories – and they’ve all been set in the 1920s. Why that decade in particular? Well, Dorothy L Sayers, PG Wodehouse and Agatha Christie have, between them, a lot to answer for. Lord Peter Wimsey is probably the first damaged young aristocrat I fell in love with—at an age where I would have been horrified to hear that bolder souls than I were busy imagining him in a much closer relationship with Bunter than appeared in the books. (Although it’s interesting to note that even then, I took a violent dislike to Harriet Vane…)

But of course, these authors didn’t just write about the 1920s. So why is it that decade in particular that grabs hold of my attention?

Part of it is the wonderful art and design of that era. I’m a huge fan of art deco, all elegant lines and luxurious colour. It was an age when modernism didn’t mean abandoning beauty in favour of functionality. Think of the Chrysler Building in New York, or the gorgeous, colourful table lamps of the time.

Part of it has to be the fashions. Even for modern women, it’s easy to imagine how wonderfully freeing those flapper dresses and bobbed haircuts must have been for ladies more used to being trussed up in corsets and coiffed within an inch of their lives.

Besides looking glamorous, Mummy's pearls were jolly useful for a spot of auto-erotic asphyxiation.


And that’s just the women. For the men, dapper suits were de rigeur, and no gentleman would dream of stepping out of the house bareheaded.

Biffy was a generous sort of fellow, always willing to let his old chums touch him for a bob or two.

For the working classes, flat caps were the order of the day:

The villagers were not enjoying the Yorkshire version of "Bring Your Child to Work Day".


These were the days when one could still tell a man’s class from the way he dressed, and people were only just beginning to see anything wrong in those rigid social divisions.
In my story Pleasures With Rough Strife, where troubled lord of the manor (yes, there’s that theme again!) Philip Luccombe falls for young poacher Danny, it would have been obvious to the most casual onlooker that these men were not social equals. I do like giving my heroes a little extra something to overcome (as if trying to maintain a homosexual relationship in a time when it was illegal wasn’t enough)—although it should be noted that it may well have been the very differences between the men that, in real life as well as in fiction, made cross-class relationships so thrilling.

Ron knew his place. And it certainly wasn't going to be on top.


But another reason to love the 1920s? It was a great, though short-lived, age of carefree fun—after the horrors of the Great War, and before the 1929 Depression. An era in which it was still possible to believe that WW1 was the War to End All Wars. As PG Wodehouse was so fond of quoting, “God was in his heaven, and all was right with the world.” A time—if you were young, rich and privileged—to indulge in frivolous pursuits, and enjoy new freedoms. The gap years of the twentieth century, so to speak.
After that, we all had to buckle down and grow up.

JL Merrow read Natural Sciences at Cambridge, where she learned many things, chief amongst which was that she never wanted to see the inside of a lab ever again.  Her one regret is that she never mastered the ability of punting one-handed whilst holding a glass of champagne.

She has had around thirty short stories and novellas published, and her first novel, Camwolf, is due out from Samhain Publishing in May 2011.

Find JL Merrow online at:

Advent Calendar Giveaway!

Do you have a favourite decade? To be entered to win a copy of my latest historical novella, Dulce et Decorum Est (or, if you prefer, either of my other 1920s stories, Pleasures With Rough Strife or The Green Man), let me know in a comment which is your favourite period of history, and why. A winner will be drawn and announced on Christmas Day.

Merry Christmas!

JL Merrow

The BONUS BUMPER PRIZE QUESTION (don’t answer this – just save them up for Christmas Eve.)

16. Who wrote the book that inspired the 1983 animated film “The Snowman”?

25 Responses

  1. I’ve been wondering about my answer to this one since long before you asked. I think it all depends on which decade I’m writing at the time, so right now it’s the 1970s. Then again the 1920s had a lot going for then too, especially the cars and the clothes.

    • Oh, yes – I didn’t mention 1920s cars, but they were lovely, weren’t they?

      The 1970s sounds intriguing – I was a child in that decade, and I don’t recall being aware of GLBT issues at all. I do remember the flares, though! 😉

      • 1970s social history always makes me think more of feminism and consciousness-raising, but there was a lot more going on than just the political lesbians.

        There’s a lovely biography of Marc Bolan on my shelf for a start with Simon Napier-Bell’s lovely/loving introduction. In fact the 1970s were teaming (to quote someone I knew years ago) with gay/bi-ness.

  2. Oh – I couldn’t decide – I think many many many are places I’d like to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live thee! I’d have liked to have been a rich roman but wouldn’t want to be entangled in plots and assassinations. I love the clothes of the 17th-18th century and the manners etc but without the medicine? No thanks! LOL.

    But reading about – I think the 17th-18th century has to be mine.

    • Mmm, I’m with you on the wanting to visit, but not live there! For me it’s the attitudes towards women in most eras that really puts me off – and having a child every year without benefit of painkillers doesn’t really appeal, either! ;D

  3. I think the twenties must have been a wonderful time to be young, provided you had money… Although I’ve got to say, I think I prefer the working class get-up for the men. Nothing like a flat cap and woollen britches, says I!

    I reckon though, if I had to pick and choose a decade that I’d be a counterculture cliche and pick the 1960s. I’d love to see what it was really like to be a flower child.

    • The 1960’s were a bit overated and slightly tacky (although maybe I wasn’t old enough to appreciate them). Won the World Cup, though. 🙂

    • *g* I can just imagine you as a flower child!

      Mmm, woollen breeches sound awfully itchy. I think I’d go for the silk undies, myself! ;D

  4. I love the Edwardian era (couldn’t you guess?) before all innocence had been knocked out of the world by WWI. Not that I’d liked to have lived then – or probably in any historical era. I’d not have been able to get an education nor to get myself out of the social stratum I was in…

    • I like the Edwardian era, but I wouldn’t fancy wearing the clothes! Not the women’s ones, at any rate. And as you say, there were very few opportunities for women (and men as well, if they were born into the wrong class).

  5. I don’t have a favorite decade, but I certainly have a favorite “time period” for stories to take place and it’s going to sound morbid. I like stories that take place right after wars because I like the study in psychology that the tales offer for those who went and those who help those who went.

    • Well, we can be morbid together – both my historical novellas “Pleasures with Rough Strife” and “Dulce et Decorum Est” have dealt with the aftermath of WWI, at varying remove.

      I think we often forget how devastating it must have been for families who saw their husbands, sons and lovers go off to war, lived without them for years in constant fear of their death, and then got a changed man back from the Front.

      • Oh good, someone feeding my interests. “Dulce et Decorum Est” is definitely going on my list (because who can deny a Wilfred Owen reference?).

  6. That question really made me think…..while there is much that I admire and love from other decades, I think I would still choose the 60’s…, peace and revolution.
    The 60’s exploded with free love, peace and endless possibilities. Wars could be ended with flower power, civil rights were at the forefront, and we made “one giant leap for mankind” into space and beyond.

    We had JFK, Martin Luther King and Janis Joplin. All was bright, colorful and the future was ours. It was a wonderful time. I miss it.

    • I think the 60s was an era of great optimism–we’ve all got a lot more cynical since then, more’s the pity.

      It must have been a heady time to be a young adult, that’s for sure. 🙂

  7. It’s so hard to choose a favorite period in history because there are a lot of really interesting times. The 20s are definitely one of my favorites, but I also really enjoyed the 90s myself. But, if I have to pick one period, I would have to say the second half of the 16th century in England. I am absolutely fascinated by Tudor England, especially the reign of Elizabeth I. What she did as a female monarch at a time when women were supposed to defer to men in all things is amazing.

    • It’s interesting, looking at Elizabeth I. There she was, monarch of England – yet I think I’m right in saying that things weren’t noticeably better under her reign for the majority of women.
      It’s tempting to draw a parallel with Margaret Thatcher, who apparently didn’t do a great deal to further the careers of other women in politics.

  8. I will read most any period, but my particular favorite is eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, leaving aside Regency romances, which just don’t appeal. But give me the naval fiction, the Revolution stories, and anything Napoleonic.

    • Mmm, I think watching Sean Bean as Richard Sharpe has pre-disposed me to like all things Napoleonic! And naval fiction has it all, doesn’t it? Men of all classes thrown together, with a healthy dose of mortal peril thrown in! 😉

  9. The long 18th C! So much changed and happened then!

  10. Oh my — favorite period of history… I’ve been researching the 1880s for about ten years now, so it has to be one of the top contenders, because it’s so close to being modern while still being Victorian and full of interesting contradictions. If you want my favorite decade of the 20th century, that would be the 1980s, because I was in my twenties and I love the music!

    • You know, I think that’s one of the things I like about the 1920s, too – that it’s so close to being modern, yet in many ways, so different. Some periods of history can seem so different to our present way of life that the past really does seem like another country, and it’s much harder to relate to people then.

      And oh, yes! I have very fond memories of the 1980s too! *thinks* Although possibly not of ra-ra skirts. 😉

  11. What a terrific post.

    The 1930s – 40s is my favorite time period, although I’m partial to the Great War when I want to feel REALLY depressed. *g*

    I think the 1960s were an amazing time — but I have no desire to write about the era.

    • Thank you!
      Mmm, I can’t imagine me ever writing about the 1960s either. I think part of the attraction of historical fiction, for me, is writing about times when manners were more formal, although the basic urges were still the same.
      I do have a yen to write a story about the early 1930s – but as I’d like to set it in Berlin, it’s going to take a fair bit of research! 😉

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: