With the seemingly endless influx of new novels hitting the real and virtual bookshelves every day, the choice can seem overwhelming. But, occasionally a novel comes along with the promise of delivering escapism by way of a subject matter — royals, romance and a Gossip Girl-esque scandal — that is a no-brainer must-read and, for members of book clubs, the next novel to add to the list.
American Royals by US author Katharine McGee, is just such a novel set to ignite and delight book clubs and literary-loving fans of The Princess Diaries, Gossip Girl, The Crown or even just the real-life British royals.
The novel flips the script on the US as a republic and instead posits what it would look like if it had a royal family.
But not just any old royal family with a vault full of priceless jewels and a handful of appearances to make, a family with college-age twins (Princess Samantha and Prince Jefferson) and a twenty-something soon-to-be-queen (Princess Beatrice) navigating all the regular young adult issues such as relationships, family dynamics, romance, friendships, frenemies, heartbreak, and what the future holds.
Intrigued? Here, American Royals author Katharine McGee shares with Vogue Australia how British royals including Prince William, Kate Middleton and actress-turned-duchess Meghan Markle along with real-life events inspired the book’s characters — Princess Samantha, Prince Jeff, Princess Beatrice, Daphne Deighton, Nina Gonzalez — and storylines (ironically, Princess Beatrice‘s romance was inspired not by the real Princess Beatrice but Wallis Simpson).
The author also shares who she can see playing key roles (Cole Sprouse!) if the novel is adapted for the screen.
I understand you’re a huge royal fan and have read widely about them, what is it about the royals that interests you?
“There’s something deeply compelling about the social construct of monarchy: the idea that one person will represent an entire nation simply because of his birth.
It’s divine right — or in other words, fate. And it’s hard to write a novel about fate these days.
To be king or queen is an exalted and privileged position, but it’s still one that is chosen for you. I have always wondered what it was like for Prince William, to grow up in a generation where everyone else can choose their path except for him.
As a storyteller, I’m fascinated by the interplay between those two forces — an inherited sense of duty, and a modern drive toward self-expression — especially as they impact the young woman who will someday be queen.”
Like her grand-nephew Prince Harry, Margaret was constantly overshadowed by a sibling who would inherit the throne. But to me, her story is even more captivating than [Prince] Harry’s because she was a young woman growing up in the turbulence of war, who fell in love with someone utterly off-limits.
Another of my characters, Daphne Deighton, came from the unflattering tabloid coverage of Kate Middleton.
I remember how viciously the press attacked her for, ostensibly, setting out to ensnare their beloved prince. (I was particularly astounded by the nickname “the wisteria sisters,” given to Kate and Pippa [Middleton] by the press because “they were decorative, fragrant, and had a ferocious ability to climb.
”) When I began working on American Royals, I knew at once that I needed that a character who was truly like that — a beautiful young woman who traded on her looks to social climb all the way to the top.”
With a former American actress now a real-life duchess, did that influence the story?
“I actually started working on the concept for American Royals years ago, before Meghan [Markle] and [Prince] Harry had even met! But Meghan’s story ended up impacting the book — particularly because I already had a similar character, who begins a secret relationship with the prince only to find it exposed to the media.
Unfortunately, in this case I did pull directly from real life. I’m sad to say that the hateful online comments I included in American Royals are all real online comments, which I pulled from the YouTube engagement video of Harry and Meghan.
Even as a writer, whose job is literally to invent things, I don’t think I could have come up with such sheer ugliness on my own.”
Are there any events that have happened to the British royals that influenced any parts of the story?
“In American Royals, I inevitably drew from the world of the British royals in countless ways — after all, there’s no better template for what a modern and glamorous monarchy should look like.
But I’ve tried to put my own, American spin on things. For instance, the Washington Palace only serves lemonade at its garden parties, not tea (which is considered unpatriotic and British!), and my royals spend their holidays skiing at Telluride instead of Klosters.
My most significant borrowing was probably Princess Beatrice’s romance, which is loosely inspired by the Duke of Windsor and Wallis Simpson. Like her real-life counterpart, Beatrice falls for someone considered unsuitable for the heir to the throne — and must choose between obeying her duty and following her heart.
Do you see this book being turned into a movie or TV series? And if you do, is there anyone you already have in mind to play certain characters?
“I would be absolutely thrilled if American Royals became a movie or TV series! My west-coast agent has been pitching the concept to screenwriters, so I’m hopeful that something might come of it.
I could see Belle Shouse playing Daphne; I think she’d capture both her ruthlessness and her surprising vulnerability.
Bianco Santos is so talented; I’d love to see her as Nina. I adore Cole Sprouse on Riverdale, and think he’d be a wonderful Ethan.
The novel has a cliffhanger ending, will there be a sequel?
“I’m currently hard at work on the sequel to American Royals! For some reason I still don’t understand, sequels should be easier than the first book, but they never are. I know the characters better, so I have less initial groundwork, but I always find the plot much trickier in a second book.
Any final thoughts you can share on American Royals?
“American Royals is set at a time of transition, when the law has only just changed to let a woman inherit the throne over her younger brother. (This only recently happened in the UK, with the Act of Succession to the Crown in 2013.
In this, I was influenced by an article I read about Meghan Markle.