Why Our Reaction to Prince Harry’s Memoir May Reveal How We Actually Feel About Our Own Families

Royal Families

You may have been busy the last four years, but then again, maybe the global pandemic slowed things down enough to allow you to pick up a few tidbits of celebrity news. Either way, chances are high that the couple, Harry and Meghan, have made it into your news feed. He, a son of the now King Charles and the late Diana, Princess of Wales.

The world’s younger brother, fun-loving, and red-haired, one who broke the stiff upper lip of the royal mold even as a child, sticking his tongue out at the press. She, a biracial, divorced actress, of divorced parents, in whom he finally met someone willing, and perhaps able, to deal with the behemoth that is the British (and global) press.

Of course, from the outset, there was speculation about Meghan, her intent in the relationship, bets on how long it would last (ongoing), and how the other members felt about her joining the Windsor clan.

via moha_doha

Four years later, they are telling their own stories, in their own words, without the rules and regulations that traditionally govern palace life, having stepped back as ‘working’ members of the royal family.

For me, as a writer, the British royal family, has always held some allure, perhaps because of how much their history is intertwined with European history – a subject I loved as far back as high school. From Elizabeth I to Victoria, and beyond, for better or worse, the British royals have helped shape the course of modern society through their vast empire.

I got further mixed up in it all when I specialized in postcolonial studies for my Ph.D. as a child of Indian expats. The last British Viceroy of India, Louis Mountbatten (Harry’s great uncle), royally f@cked up the Partition of India (and that’s putting it very mildly).

All this to say, when Lady Diana Spencer entered the scene, I, like much of the world, perked up. I remember watching her wedding with my parents as a young girl and thinking she could do anything she wanted. She seemed so beautiful, so powerful, so full of attention. Later, in college, a friend woke me up with the news of her fatal accident, and I was somewhat bemused. Diana – dead? In her 30s… it seemed so strange.

“There wouldn’t be this much hype about Mother Teresa passing,” I said when the global grief continued. When the (in)famous nun did pass away a few days later, the sadness compounded.

Because Harry’s mother broke the royal mold in many ways; she exuded warmth, crouched when speaking to children, touched the sick and dying, didn’t tolerate her husband’s affairs, and had many of her own. She spoke about her pain publicly, and she turned her back on royal life. When she was struck down in the back of that car, she was trying to figure out what was next. She needed money to keep up that glamorous, high-maintenance lifestyle, and Dodi, she was known to say, “had all the toys.” Plus, the Fayeds knew her worth – something she craved but never got from The Firm.

Anyway – as a writer, I spent a decade writing a novel every November. 1600 words a day, thanks to National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. This is how I came to write nine novels back to back. You spend a month creating a manuscript and then seven months editing it.

When I came to the end of the planned projects about life in the Middle East, there was one more story I wanted to tell. About a fractious family who all agreed on the importance of duty — and a prince who wasn’t quite sure he wanted to be one.

Writing About Families

But when I started writing The Princely Papers, it wasn’t just his story that was interesting. It was his mother’s. So the back and forth, from mother to son, created in alternating chapters. At the time, the real-life couple was just dating, and there was much speculation about where the relationship would go.

But a big question throughout my fictional story was: would Albie make a break for it? Because the material was there, even back then, for how someone who experienced the media’s pain and scrutiny, firsthand, via their mother’s misery, would react when he himself became a husband and father.

In 2018, we got a real-life hint: Harry released his own statement about the media’s hounding of Meghan, describing her as being straight out of Compton, despite having grown up in LA. With the palace’s habitual silence around girlfriends, his naming and shaming of the British press hounding the new girl’s friends, family, and colleagues. Here was the first sign this was a prince who was not going to play by the book.

The Trouble With Families

And that’s how we got to an interview with Oprah Winfrey, a Netflix docuseries, and now Spare, a tell-all memoir. People speculate it’s Meghan pulling the strings, but the signs have always been there that Harry has wanted to talk all along.

The story is so familiar, it can take on any ethnicity or nationality; women come into families that think they’re too good for her. She is the one who has to bend. If she doesn’t, there are consequences. (Usually for her.) Usually, the husband lets her down.

That’s what makes Wallace Simpson, Diana Spencer, and Meghan Markle, both relatable and fascinating. They won’t fall in step like Kate Middleton; they can’t stop being themselves.

Lucky for Meghan, her husband can’t either.

Because Harry isn’t just breaking royal taboos, he’s ‘airing dirty laundry’ and talking about his family in public – areas off limits to Southerns and South Asians alike.

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Connect with Mohana on Facebook and Twitter. Learn more about her work here.

To learn more about life in the Arabian Gulf, check out the Crimes In Arabia series!

Superb Ways to Show Without Telling

nanoIn the story of the Tortoise and the Hare, I know exactly which creature I am: the hare. This was evident when I was younger: studying a bit all semester and sleeping while my college roommate crammed all night, her Dr. Pepper’s lined up on her desk. When the exams were handed back we each had an A; hers was .5 higher than mine.

The memory of the lesson I learned that day stays with me: do a little bit at a time and you’ll be done by the deadline. This was my secret to NaNoWriMo 2014. I began the month on an overnight flight to Prague for a conference, with my laptop out, typing away. There was a week or so where I thought the story I was telling was utter rubbish; then the detective found his sidekick and sparks flew.

You’ve got a great story, I told myself, in the lead up to Thanksgiving when it was unlikely I would be able write one word, while hosting 7 adults and 7 children. 30,000 words that didn’t exist before November 1.

Then an interesting thing happened: I went through my chapter list on Saturday and Sunday, adding words to those under 1666 (the daily NaNo average).

11:30 p.m. on November 30th (the last day you can get in your 50,000 words) I uploaded my manuscript.

Yesterday I wrote another 1200 words. That hare won the race. This hare has more story to tell.

Here’s the final excerpt I’ll share in my NaNo journey.

 

Amita, Manu’s sister, is looking for her brother who was reported to have entered the country a few weeks ago. Her dismay is representative of the many families who do not hear from their relatives once they enter their host countries.

Stay tuned for more updates about this work in progress (and the title is still missing…).

PS this scene employs the infamous writing adage “Show, don’t tell” the reader what’s going on with your characters. We try to experience Amita’s confusion with her, rather than learning about it second hand.

 

——————-

 

Amita took another step forward, grateful he hadn’t pushed past her like so many other Europeans did when given half the chance. “I look for my brother,” she said. She pushed the passport copy of Manu and his approved work visa under the opening.

 

“You housemaid?” The man asked, his hands unmoving.

 

“I’m looking for Laxmi Pande,” Amita switched to Hindi.

 

The man’s narrowed gaze is why she had hoped Madam Cindy would take her to the embassy; her whiteness would have shamed him into being helpful.

 

“She not here.”

 

“My brother missing,” Amita said. “He here for three weeks. I no see him.” She managed in the English he was forcing her to speak. “Miss Laxmi she arrange contract for him.”

 

“That’s terrible,” the woman murmured behind her.

 

The man picked up the sheet of paper. There was no nametag for her to record a name, like Sir Paul had asked her to get before he left on his trip. He would have come with her but he had to go to a conference in Paris. Busy. Everyone was busy.

 

“Contracts,” he said, tossing the paper back at her.

 

“This not contract?” Amita asked in confusion. This was the document the woman had supplied the last time she visited the embassy, looking for a job for Manu. She had promised an office job, as a kitchen service man, boy as they were called here, where he would bring water, tea, coffee, or juice to those having meetings.

 

The man turned in his chair and tapped the window in the direction of one of the stations in the main room. “Contracts, there. Go see contracts.”

 

Amita picked up the copies of the visa and passport, the only tangible proof she had that her brother had made plans to join her in the Arabian Gulf. She moved through the rows of chairs to the counter the receptionist had indicated. There were two men here, one seated, the other standing and pointing out something in a stack of papers. Similar stacks rose like little towers on every surface of the room, some in chairs as well. The men in this room stopped talking when she approached. “My brother,” she said. She pressed the papers forward again. “I no hear from my brother.”

An Arab Detective is Born During #NaNoWriMo2014

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Photo by Tamás Mészáros

I’m doing #NaNoWriMo, that crazy month of writing pell-mell, towards the goal of a 50,000 manuscript by December 1st. This is my fourth time taking the plunge to write 1666 words a day. I’ve only ‘won’ or finished on time once and that was for the award winning novel Saving Peace. The very first time I was distracted by Thanksgiving. Another year, when I was working on The Dohmestics, I was tied up in revisions for the paperback version of another project. Needless to say, whether or not I’ve finished, NaNo has been extremely productive.

The book is as yet untitled, so those suggestions are welcome as well. This is a new genre for me, crime thriller. Let’s begin with Ali, our detective who has a secret. And a very boring day job. Or so he thinks.

CHAPTER ONE WIP

On his way to the station, Ali’s mobile rang, filling the vehicle’s speakers with its metallic ring.  “Get down to the mall bridge,” Omar said, after a terse greeting. “There’s an accident.” Ali groaned. He made a sharp U turn at the next roundabout, cursing the position of his father’s house, a mere minutes from the busiest cross-city artery. He was their first call for this area and there was an accident on or near the bridge every weekend. When he arrived, traffic was already crawling up the bridge like burdened ants. “Send a tow truck,” he texted Omar. He drummed his fingers on the dash, inching forward, regretting not taking the marked vehicle they offered to everyone on the service. He despised the way others abused the blue, white, and grey SUVs, putting on their flashers to get past slow drivers, or turning on the siren to careen through crowded streets.  He drove his white Nissan like hundreds of others on the roads but the siren would come in handy in times like now.

After twenty minutes of bumper to bumper, he pulled over in front of where a white SUV had rammed into the back of pick up truck. The force of the impact from the much larger Land Cruiser flattened the truck bed like a piece of pita bread. Ali strode to the first vehicle; on the other side, squeezed between the passenger door and the bridge’s railing were two skinny cinnamon colored men. “Okay? You okay?”

They looked up, their eyes wide, stunned like camels that had fallen off their transport, taking in his full height, crisp blue and black uniform. “Fine?” The men looked at each other, then turned to him, doing the side to side head movement that always confused him. Did it mean yes? Or no? From the way they used it, apparently the head lilt could be both at once. Horns were starting to sound of the other drivers who wanted to get onto the bridge. Ali reassured himself he saw no blood or bones. He kept walking, to check on the other driver.

The other man was talking animatedly on the phone, his head visible behind the deflated airbag which had popped like a child’s party balloon. Ali rapped on the window, expecting a litany about how Indians didn’t know how to drive. Instead, the boy, for that’s how he revealed himself, hung out of the driver side window, his hands shaking.

“This is a new car,” he said in local dialect, the sun glinting on his braces. “My father is going to kill me.”

“Are you hurt?”

The boy shook his head. Ali could see the purple knot forming on his forehead, pushing to the surface. That was going to hurt. He nodded, indicating the boy should stay in the car. He didn’t bother asking for a license. There was no sign of facial hair on the boy’s angled cheekbones or curved lip.

“No one has been hurt,” Ali reported to Omar who grunted a blessing. “This is going to be a mess in ten minutes.” He hung up, trying in vain with the Indians to get the pick up to start. The engine protested, failing to turn over, the belts screeching like a cat being stretched between two poles. They were on the tail end of the bridge, slightly past the ascending slope on this slide, so that ruled out pushing the vehicle two hundred meters to the other end. Going backward made more sense, as they could find room to stash the vehicle under the overpass. But that would mean heading into oncoming traffic. His Nissan could tow the truck but the captain would frown on his getting personally involved. They watched traffic halt on either side for at least 2 kilometers; the drivers of oncoming traffic braking to see what happened. When the tow truck arrived, night blanketed the city, the call to prayer rising from the mosques in the area like fresh bread. He turned over management of the accident to the officer who arrived with the tow truck driver. “Don’t tell my dad,” the teenager pleaded. His cousins, around the same age, judging by their narrow shoulders, had shown up, taking photos of both vehicles with their shiny Smartphones.

That he had been sweating the two hours they waited for the tow truck soured Ali’s mood as well as his uniform on the way to the office. He sat at his desk, or at his station on the long slab of plastic counter, his hands at his temples. His eyes angled downward, towards his phone, like so many of the other policemen in the station. Well, when there were others. In the middle of the afternoon, as the desert heat rippled the air outside like a shimmering wave, he was the only one around during the shift change. Anyone entering the office would think he was watching a YouTube video or reading the Qu’ran and maybe take a seat, waiting for someone else to show up.