DAVID ROBERTS on writing Hollow Crown

Written by David Roberts

HOLLOW CROWN is set in the last months of 1936 when King Edward VIII decided he would rather give up the crown rather than lose the woman he loved. Unfortunately for him, that woman was an American divorcee of dubious morals in the process of divesting herself of her second husband. The King was totally under her spell and she liked to show her dominance over him by humiliating him in public but, for all that, she was not the vulgar adventuress her enemies labelled her but a shrewd, amusing woman - by no means beautiful - with an obsessive love of jewellery.

The story is well-known, the subject of countless books and television series but there is still much we can never know about what really happened and it is here the novelist can come closer to the truth than the historian.

In Hollow Crown, Lord Edward Corinth is asked to retrieve intimate letters from the King to Mrs Simpson. They have been stolen by one of the King's discarded mistressess who, as it happens, is also a close friend of his. Before he can get back the letters, the woman is murdered.

WH Auden call the 1930s a low, dishonest decade and I have used the diaries and memoirs of the period to summon up the moral degeneration which was the bring about the catastrophe of World War II. In the guise of a detective story I have blurred the line between fact and fiction, by placing real characters in real events and have plausibly imagined the truth in the gaps left by memoirs and historical record.

Sometimes real historical characters appear, such as Mrs Simpson, and the words put in her mouth are those recorded by contemporaries. Others, such as the press baron, Lord Weaver, who owes much to the real Lord Beaverbrook, teasingly fuse fact and fiction. Even when the characters are pure invention, such as Lord Edward himself and the communist journalist, Verity Browne, their words and actions reflect what, say, George Orwell, or Matha Gellthorn, the American war correspondent - key figures of the period - were doing and saying.

By painting a vivid and authentic pictures of the last years of peace - the social discontent, the polarization of politics between Fascism and Communism, the drift towards war - I hop to maker the murder and its investigation more significant and the relationship between the protagonists - Lord Edward Corinth and Verity Browne - more involving.

In Hollow Crown, history is not just a picturesque backdrop to the story but integral to the mystery itself.

Hollow Crown is published in hardback by Constable priced £16.99

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