Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Q&A with Christine Wells


Photo by Bill Tsiknaris


Christine Wells is the author of the new historical novel The Royal Windsor Secret. Her other novels include One Woman's War. She lives in Brisbane, Australia.


Q: You’ve said there were many inspirations behind The Royal Windsor Secret--how did they all come together for you, and how did you create your character Cleo?


A: The Royal Windsor Secret shows what a melting pot of all kinds of information my brain can be! While researching Lisbon during World War II for One Woman’s War, I stumbled across the strange interlude the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (also known as Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson) spent in Portugal at the beginning of the war.


For some time, I’d wanted to write a novel partly set in the glamorous Shepheard’s Hotel in Cairo and I was searching for an interesting protagonist.


Through many twists and turns, I came across the story of Marguerite Meller, a French courtesan who had married an Egyptian prince, and had stayed at Shepheard’s Hotel many times.


Even more intriguing, Marguerite had been the mistress of Edward VIII in Paris when he was a young prince. According to one theory, that affair had allowed her quite literally to get away with murder. The real story of Marguerite and her two princes was so dramatic and bizarre, I felt I had to fictionalise it.


Following that, so many seemingly disparate research elements simply fell into place, all connected by jewelry.


I was writing about Wallis Simpson, whose jewelry collection was legendary and whose engagement ring, as well as many other significant pieces, were made by Cartier; I was writing about a girl who grew up in Shepheard’s Hotel, which had a fine jewelry and antique shop in its foyer, and about a Parisian courtesan whose very lifeblood was the jewels she received as gifts from her wealthy lovers.

Q: The novel includes both real and fictional characters--what did you see as the right blend between history and fiction as you wrote The Royal Windsor Secret?


A: I chose to make the principal protagonist fictional and most of the characters around her real. However, Marguerite was a real person and she does get a point of view, mostly in flashbacks to her affair with Prince Edward and her subsequent marriage.


Because the royal family no longer acknowledges the illegitimate children they have scattered around the world, it would be a bit difficult to have based Cleo on a real person. That worked for the story I wanted to tell but another author might have made a different “right” choice.

Q: The novel is set before, during, and after World War II in a variety of locations, including Egypt, France, and Portugal--how did you research the book, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?


A: When I research, I immerse myself as much as possible in the period and place so it was a marvelous ride through space and time to all of these fabulous locations.


I was shocked and intrigued to learn how Marguerite got away with murdering her husband after shooting him multiple times at point blank range at London’s Savoy Hotel! As a former lawyer myself, I found researching Marguerite’s Old Bailey trial fascinating.

Q: The writer Bryn Turnbull said of the book, “The truth of Cleo’s parentage will have you turning pages until the very end, while Cleo’s search for fulfilment—creative, professional, social, and romantic—results in a beautifully told tale.” What do you think of that description?


A: Needless to say, I love that description—Bryn has captured the essence of what I wanted to achieve with The Royal Windsor Secret. It is ultimately a book about a girl stepping into independent womanhood and a life filled with creativity and passion.

Q: What are you working on now?


A: When I wrote Sisters of the Resistance, which featured Catherine Dior, sister to the famous fashion designer, I knew there was so much more in that world I wanted to explore.


For my next book, tentatively titled The Dior Gown, I return to the Dior fashion house in the 1950s. This book is about three friends, a Parisian chef, an American journalist, and an Australian socialite-turned Dior sales assistant, who all share one spectacular Dior gown.

Q: Anything else we should know?


A: My other recent release, One Woman’s War, is about the real British intelligence agent who inspired the character of Miss Moneypenny in the James Bond novels and her involvement in Operation Mincemeat, one of the most eccentric and successful wartime spy operations.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Christine Wells.

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