Rachel Hawkins says she didn't plan the release of her forthcoming YA novel, Royals, to coincide almost exactly with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's royal wedding — but the coincidence is almost too cosmic to believe. Because in Hawkins' delightful YA romance, out May 1, our spunky, red-haired Floridian narrator is thrust into the spotlight when her older sister becomes engaged to a British prince. "We had the publication date set before they [Harry and Meghan] announced the engagement. Maybe I did something really good in a past life," Hawkins joked to Refinery29.
Royals was born seven years ago, when Hawkins, an Alabama-based author of young adult and middle grade fiction, was indulging in one of her favorite pastimes: Voyeuristically ogling the British royal family. On the April morning of Prince William and Kate Middleton's wedding, Hawkins rose at four in the morning, made scones and tea, and settled in for the "soap opera," as she calls it, of the royal wedding.
Hawkins was especially interested in the media's fixation on Pippa Middleton, Kate's younger sister. "It struck me how weird that would be. I understand getting famous because you’ve married a prince. You know when you started dating Prince William, that’s what you’re getting into. But [as a sister], you're going to get sucked up in that maelstrom too, whether you chose that or not," Hawkins said. She spent the rest of the day chewing on the same fixation: "What would it like if you were famous and your sister married a prince?"
Being an author, Hawkins could actually unspool that thought experiment. She began writing about Daisy Winters, a 16-year-old whose life changes forever when her almost infuriatingly perfect older sister, Ellie, becomes engaged to Alex, the Crown Prince of Scotland. Daisy is the perfect cipher for American audiences observing the current royal craze. She's a skeptical outsider who's nonetheless pulled into the spectacle – just like many of us.
"When I sat down to write the book, at first I assumed I’d be doing an alternate royal family. But that wasn’t quite working for me," Hawkins said. Hawkins also ruled out setting the book among the House of Windsor. Instead, she found the perfect solution in Scotland, a country she and her family have been visiting every year since 2012.
In the universe of Royals, Scotland had been able to preserve its royal family instead of merging with England's in 1707. Hawkins ended up writing 400 years of elaborate family history, complete with family trees. "I wrote an entire abdication crisis for them. My idea was that because the Scots had their own crisis, that the abdication crisis never happened in England. Everyone saw what happened in Scotland and thought, we can’t," Hawkins said. The second Royals book will be firmly set in Hawkins' universe, and include an entire sequence that takes place in the '60s.
Although the quirks of the Scottish royal family stem from Hawkins' imagination, the pressures Daisy and her family face during the engagement ordeal are based in reality — one that we see on the news regularly, during the lead-up to Meghan Markle and Prince Harry's wedding. Like Markle's relatives, Daisy's new status as a future royal in-law renders her a paparazzi darling. The attention is relentless and destructive: An ex-boyfriend sells gossip about Daisy to the tabloids, and photographers storm her Walmart shift, just like paparazzi stake out Markle's mother's yoga classes.
Once the paparazzi attention becomes detrimental to Daisy — and thus to the royal family's — reputation, Daisy is reluctantly shipped off to Scotland for the summer to ingratiate herself among her sister's new set. Becoming accustomed to royal life is invasive in its own way. Daisy and her family, whom the Scottish Queen Clara deems "questionable," must play catch-up on royal customs.
"I suspect that until you're in it, you don't get what a machine it you’re getting into," Hawkins said of the royal learning curve.
Aside from lounging at Balmoral castle and drinking an excessive amount of tea, Daisy hangs out with Prince Alex's social circle, comprised of aristocratic and dashing boys — so at least there's that. But Daisy can't have too much fun, because she's trailed by Glynnis, the Scottish royal family's personal fixer, who monitors Daisy's behavior. "Glynnis is an amalgamation," Hawkins said of her character. "Any royal family would have a number of people functioning in that role for them. But Glynnis is definitely based on some of the reading that I did."
So, a review: Royals features Americans marrying British princes, aristocratic love triangles, and overeager royal fixers. Clearly, there's no better time to read Royals than right now. And Hawkins, for one, is still delighted by the coincidence.
"For years, I’d say, 'Come on Harry!' Hold out until my royal wedding book comes out. But I didn’t actually think it would happen. I still can't believe it. I don’t think any of us can," Hawkins said.