Bestselling novelist Jasmine Guillory tells us all about Royal Holiday.
If you’re in need of a good love story, look no further. New York Times best-selling novelist Jasmine Guillory’s new book Royal Holiday is the most regal (fictional) romance of the year — and takes IRL inspiration from a surprising royally-adjacent person. We chatted with Jasmine about what makes a good love story, why she wanted her newest romance to center on the tale of a woman in her 50s, and what inspired her to leave a law career behind to follow her dream.
Katie Couric: We heard that your newest book, ‘Royal Holiday,’ takes some inspiration from Meghan Markle’s mom, Doria Ragland. Is that true?
Jasmine Guillory: Yes. It was funny because the main character for this book, Vivian — I had introduced her in a previous book. She is the mom of my heroine from The Wedding Party, which came out this summer. When I wrote her into the book, I realized I had so much fun writing Vivian. I was thinking, “Could I write a whole book about her? I know I want to, but I don’t know if publishing would want a book about a woman in her 50s falling in love.”
Then, two days before I turned in the manuscript for that book, there had been a news story that the Queen had invited Doria to Christmas with the royal family. A friend of mine tweeted, “Now I want a delightful romance novel about Doria falling in love with someone who works for the Queen.” I responded, as a joke: “I volunteer as tribute.” And so many people responded to that.
I emailed my agent: “So there was this Tweet, and I had already been thinking about a book for Vivian. Do you think this could be the book for Vivian?” And my agent talked to my editor, who told me, “I love this idea… can you get it to me for next Christmas?” The book was such a delight to write, because I felt like I was getting something over on publishing. I had been fascinated by the royal family for a long time, so it was just like all of my interests in one, more or less.
What made you want to write a love story about an older woman?
Older women are often ignored by society. There’s so much about youth that we celebrate. But I know a lot of women in their 50s who have had big love stories — who have either had their first big love then, or have been divorced, widowed, or something, and then had found another major love. I wanted to celebrate those kinds of love stories.
Lay it out for us: what makes a great love story?
For me, it’s two people that I can care about, who feel like real people with strengths and flaws, and that you truly believe that they are falling in love with one another. You see it happen. You understand why this person loves that person, and vice versa. You really believe in them recognizing to each other, “We love each other, what are we going to do about it?”
Amazing. Now, we’d love to hear about your career. How did you become a writer?
I had been a lawyer before. I don’t want to say it in the past sense — once a lawyer always a lawyer. But there was a point in my career where I realized that I needed some sort of creative outlet. I had always been a big reader, but I really didn’t start writing until I was in my 30s. I have some friends who are writers, and I had some very tentative conversations with them. They were very encouraging, so I just sort of dove in and started writing.
When I started, it wasn’t romance. I read a lot of young adult books growing up, and even still today, so the first books I started writing were young adult. I wrote a book and tried to get it published, but didn’t really go anywhere with it. I took breaks on and off. Then I had been reading a bunch of romance, so at one point I had the idea for The Wedding Date. After a push from a friend, I sat down and started writing it. I realized how much I love writing romance, how much fun I was having with the story, and I just kept going.
There was a lot of debate over the summer about the term “beach read” and whether it’s endearing or negative. Where do you stand on the issue?
It’s endearing, because my favorite place to read is on the beach. I think of a beach read as any book that pulls you in. You ignore the sun and everything going on around you, and are happy to just lay on that beach chair for as long as you can to read it. I’ve read so many kinds of books on beaches that I don’t think we need to restrict it to any specific genres.
What is your favorite real life love story? We’re sure you’ve heard so many — but what love story has stuck with you?
My grandmother passed away last week, and there’s a lot of her story in this book. Not exactly her story, but there was stuff I pulled from her. She was married a number of times, but her last husband, who was not my grandfather, was her big love. She married him when she was in her 50s. That’s a love story that’s really been on my mind.
And what’s your favorite love story in fiction?
There are so many I go back to from books that I read when I was little. I loved the Anne of Green Gables Books, so I really love Anne and Gilbert. They went through a lot in their love story and in their marriage, and they still were there for each other the whole time.
That’s sweet. So, what was your favorite aspect of writing ‘Royal Holiday’?
I really loved that Vivian was having this experience that was so different from her normal life. She was getting spoiled in a way, staying with a member of the royal family. People were cooking all her meals, which is not what normally happens to her. She was getting treated like a princess by this man who was being so kind to her and who really seemed fascinated with her — in the same way that she seemed fascinated with him.
And lastly, what advice do you have for people who want to make a change in their career like you did?
If you’re thinking about a change, or wanting to do something but being a little scared of it, just jump in — and obviously have a back-up plan. There were so many things that I thought about doing for years, and I’m so glad that I finally made the plunge and just started writing. It took a lot of time to get published, but I enjoyed it the whole time. That is something to pay attention to: Is this something you actually like to do? Because I really loved to write and now it’s my real job. Sometimes it’s hard and I stress about it a lot, but I still, at the core, love what I do, and that makes a big difference.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
This originally appeared in the October 10, 2019 edition Katie Couric’s Wake-Up Call newsletter. Subscribe here.