Thursday, 13 August 2015

BLOG TOUR: Q&A with Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

The Royal We, about an American who comes to Oxford and falls in love with the UK’s future king, is ostensibly based on the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s love story. How would you pitch the book to Kate Middleton if you were in an elevator with her?

JESSICA: I’d tell her, “Despite what it sounds like, this book isn’t actually about you. But I think you’ll find it a particularly relatable story.” Which is true. Bex, our heroine, finds herself in Kate’s shoes, but definitely isn’t Kate. That said, I think Kate would be pretty sympathetic to Bex’s many romantic (and familial) problems.

HEATHER: I’d say, “Aren’t you even a BIT curious whether two Americans got any of this right?”

How would you pitch the book to Pippa Middleton if you were in an elevator with her?

JESSICA: I’d tell her, “Despite what it sounds like, this book isn’t actually about you, either.” Bex’s twin sister Lacey goes through a lot of ups and downs in the book, because part of what we’re exploring is the idea that Bex’s family becomes collateral damage when she falls in love with Nick, the second in line to the throne. Their lives change because of who he is, and the baggage that comes with him. So she might find it relatable as well. (Maybe not quite as much as Kate.)

HEATHER: Yeah, to Pippa I’d say, “Bring it to Mustique, read it with a cocktail, and know that even if it doesn’t always seem that way, we have a lot of sympathy for you.”

Was it difficult to separate Nick and Bex from Kate and William?

JESSICA: Not at all, once we started writing. Obviously, the book is inspired by them -- or rather, by wondering what it would be like to be a more or less regular person, who was thrust into the spotlight merely because you fell for someone who was born into it. And we definitely used some major points in their actual relationship as signposts for the book -- meeting at university, a lengthy courtship, a break-up. There are moments in there that someone who is a royals watcher will recognize, for sure, both large and small. But as far as characters go, to me, Nick and Bex are just Nick and Bex. (If anything, my fondness for Nick and Bex has extended to Kate and Wills, rather than the other way around.)

HEATHER: There were moments back when we were just outlining when we’d catch ourselves saying things like, “But would Harry DO that?” Because the thing is, we knew we were playing off of public figures for whom much of  the world feels a tremendous amount of affection and protectiveness. So in the early going, we’d catch ourselves getting nervous that a decision we made might lead people to say we were being disrespectful. But once the first word of the first chapter was written, that all fell away. These are fictional people in a situation that happens to sound familiar, and nothing they’re doing has any bearing on what the real-life royals are up to, you know? And so the second we started, it stopped mattering whether Harry or William or Kate would do any of these things, because Freddie and Nick and Bex WOULD, and did.

What’s appealing here for someone who maybe isn’t as big a fan of the royals, or of Kate and William?

JESSICA: We’ve heard from a lot of American readers who’ve said they were surprised they liked the book as much as they did, because they don’t really care about royalty at all. I think, at its heart, the book is really a love story about two people in extraordinary circumstances. There’s a line right at the beginning where Bex says, “I fell in love with a person, not a prince,” and that is, in many ways, the heart of the book. If anything, The Royal We is about how much of your true self you are willing to sacrifice for a great love; being part of the royal family isn’t presented as being as appealing as you might at first suspect.

HEATHER: Yes, it’s a love story about two people, not a love letter to an institution. In many ways it’s an examination of whether anything is worth the sacrifices that life requires of a person like Bex, or yes, Kate. And even if we haven’t all suddenly found ourselves raising future kings in bucolic Norfolk estates, we can all relate to the root emotions in this book. Most people have found themselves in a relationship that might force them to change something about themselves. Or we’ve been in social situations where we act a certain way to fit in, even if it’s not true to who we are, or we’re offered life-changing opportunities that carry us hugely far away from the path we thought we’d take. Even if Bex’s precise circumstance isn’t relatable, the feelings certainly are.

What makes the royal family, from any period of history, such a compelling thing for fiction writers?

JESSICA: I cannot speak for all Americans, but I feel comfortable saying that many of us are fascinated by the British royal family, especially those of us who were at an impressionable age when Diana married Prince Charles, and then watched that entire soap opera unfold in front of us. We learn a great deal of British history in school, but of course we don’t have a royal family of our own, so for us, it’s an intriguing mix of the exotic and the familiar, without being politicised the way it naturally is for the British.

HEATHER: For me, it’s a combination of the power structure, and the fact that it’s inherited and not earned. The royals are who they are by the gift -- or accident, if you will -- of birth. They’re not famous because they begged for it. They’re not the Kardashians, who relentlessly clawed their way up and won’t go back down without a gnarly fight. William and Kate can’t help who they are, nor the fact that they’re so widely watched and exposed, so it’s intriguing to watch how they handle it. Now, if we’re talking Royals of Yore, they’re interesting to me for a different reason. Many of them DID either battle their way into the throne, or fight to keep it -- or start another war, say, over the Church, or the right to run it. That tapestry seems rich in the way any slice of history does, I think. What WAS it like to snap your fingers and be brought the wench or pageboy of your choosing? What WAS it like to be a King of England who traveled via lengthy procession in the countryside because if you didn’t, most of your subjects would never even lay eyes on you? It’s always fascinating to look at the meaning of power, and how it’s morphed over the years, and how technology and media have changed what it means to have it and to wield it.

Did any character surprise you?

JESSICA: It seems crazy to say this now, but looking back at it, I think I am actually the most surprised by our prince, Nick. Before we started writing, I was worried it was going to be a challenge to take a character who is a fundamentally really good, solid person and also make him compelling and swoony and complicated.  But I actually really love him. (This might also be good life advice for me: that the good guy isn’t always necessarily boring once you get to know him.)

HEATHER: For me, it was Penelope Six-Names. We tossed her in there in the first section just for fun, and the ways she kept popping up were random decisions that happened on the fly, and make me really happy.

Who was the hardest character to get right?

JESSICA: We had a lot of challenges, I think. Nick, as I said in the answer to the previous question, was one of them. But I think it was also challenging to take members of Nick’s family -- and I can’t say too much or I’ll give it away -- and make them sympathetic enough that they still feel like real people, even when their behavior is less than stellar.

HEATHER: I’ll add that I think there is a temptation in general to add something redemptive to a character arc, even when that might not be true to who that person is. Because at first you think, “No, that person needs a secret soft side,” and it’s very easy to get sucked into that, so we had to make sure there was not too much, or even any, hugging and learning where hugging and learning were not appropriate.  I also think we hit the right balance with one Beatrix Larchmont-Kent-Smythe, who could have been overkill if we hadn’t meted her out correctly. I think we did.

What do you do when you get writer’s block?

JESSICA: Honestly, there is nothing you can do for it but sit down and push through. Although, in times of real need, I firmly suggest taking a shower. I get all of my ideas in the shower. I need to figure out some way to keep my laptop in the shower with me!

HEATHER: I break a sweat. It’s pretty trite, but I will go to the gym or go on a swim and just see where my brain takes me. Maybe it’ll help me find the answer, or maybe I’ll spend that hour on Britney Spears songs and thinking about what to make for dinner. Regardless, it’s time where the pressure is not on my brain to do ANYTHING it doesn’t want to do, and that’s as effective a palate cleanser as any. Get up. Walk away. Engage the mental muscles in something else. And trust that when you sit back down, you’ll find your way again.

The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan
American Rebecca Porter was never one for fairy tales. Her twin sister, Lacey, has always been the romantic who fantasized about glamour and royalty, fame and fortune. Yet it's Bex who seeks adventure at Oxford and finds herself living down the hall from Prince Nicholas, Great Britain's future king. And when Bex can't resist falling for Nick, the person behind the prince, it propels her into a world she did not expect to inhabit, under a spotlight she is not prepared to face.

Dating Nick immerses Bex in ritzy society, dazzling ski trips, and dinners at Kensington Palace with him and his charming, troublesome brother, Freddie. But the relationship also comes with unimaginable baggage: hysterical tabloids, Nick's sparkling and far more suitable ex-girlfriends, and a royal family whose private life is much thornier and more tragic than anyone on the outside knows. The pressures are almost too much to bear, as Bex struggles to reconcile the man she loves with the monarch he's fated to become.
Which is how she gets into trouble.

Now, on the eve of the wedding of the century, Bex is faced with whether everything she's sacrificed for love-her career, her home, her family, maybe even herself-will have been for nothing.

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