Rory Clements, interviewed by Justin Doherty

Justin Doherty discuss Rory Clements' novel, A Prince and A Spy and the conspiracy surrounding the Duke of Kent’s death in 1942.
Rory Clements
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Rory Clements, the crash which killed the Duke of Kent in 1942 was a tragic event, with only one survivor, how did you come across it and why did you write the story?

I have known about the crash for many years, but I was aware that most people had no idea that the King’s brother died during the war. How could this be? Imagine if a royal prince died in such tragic circumstances today? It would be huge news for weeks on end and the whole world would know about it. Over the years, the story has attracted various conspiracy theories, which I happily rejected. I simply wanted to make sense of it. Oh, and by the way, you say in your question that there was only one survivor. Are you sure about that?

Did you have any qualms about imagining an exotic backstory about the father of living people?

No, because his scandalous backstory is pretty well recorded. Anyway, I think the Duke was a rather heroic figure in the war – and hopefully that comes across in my novel.

Do you believe the ‘firm’ have actively suppressed his story?

Well, someone has. The Royal Family had to downplay it in 1942 simply because they couldn’t let the British people think that they considered their tragedy more important than anyone else’s. But Churchill and the War Cabinet could have had their own reasons for suppressing the story – and that’s what I investigate in A Prince and A Spy.

Do you think a fuller story will emerge?

It’s possible, but I rather doubt it.

I think I spotted a few literary references – Dada Club = Ma Mayfield’s in Brideshead Revisite; escape through Mimi Lalique’s attic = Magician’s Nephew; Wilde and Lydia domestic arrangement + small child + whisky = Maurice and Sarah Castle in The Heart Of The Matter. Intentional or subliminal?

I certainly didn’t intend any literary references. I was just trying to get a flavour of the times.

Lots of whisky gets drunk – what’s your favourite dram?

Funnily enough, I have just been on holiday in Scotland and I came across a delightful new distillery on the Isle of Raasay (a short boat ride away from Skye). Customers were only allowed to buy one bottle because it is so sought after. I have to say, their Hebridean Single Malt is delicious. But to be honest, my daily tipple is red wine, usually a nice Rioja or Argentinian Malbec.

Do you have any favourite novels of WW2 – and if so, which ones?

Does Robert Harris’s Fatherland count as a WW2 novel? Probably not, but I loved it. I’m also a fan of Ken Follett, Frederick Forsyth, Len Deighton and Philip Kerr.

Is writing the Tom Wilde books easier or harder than your John Shakespeare books set in Elizabethan times?

It’s certainly different. Any writer will tell you that getting the period language right is tough. And that applies to both the late 16th and early/mid 20th centuries. Obviously, I had to avoid modern idiom in the John Shakespeare books, but I also had to lose the more flowery language – ‘forsooth,’ ‘verily’, ‘egad’, ‘ye’ – or my characters would have sounded weak and quaint, which they weren’t. Finding a voice for the 1930s and 1940s was more subtle. Although the language is familiar to us, a great deal of it – particularly the casual racism and sexism – is now unacceptable. The writer must tread a fine line.

Do the two series share any themes?

They do. They are both political thrillers. They are both set in a Britain (or England in Tudor times) threatened by a European power. They both involve the secret services (John Shakespeare is an agent for Sir Francis Walsingham and, later, Sir Robert Cecil). And Tom Wilde is a Cambridge history professor whose specialist subject just happens to be the secret services of Elizabethan England. I hope the similarities end there and that readers will find that my books are all stand-alone novels with unique stories.

 What advantages does a history professor have as a spy?

He’s smart and he understands the way of the world. That’s why America’s Office of Strategic Services (forerunner of the CIA and founded in 1942) raided Harvard and the other Ivy League universities for its finest brains. Much the same happened in Britain, where the best of the best from Oxford and Cambridge were recruited for Bletchley Park and military intelligence.

 Your father served in the Royal Navy in WW2 – did he discuss his experiences with you?

I wish he had, but he didn’t. His generation rarely did. All I know is that he served on various vessels including the battleships Nelson and Rodney, the battle cruiser Renown and the aircraft carrier Illustrious, and that he was aboard the battleship Ramillies when it was critically damaged by Japanese torpedoes in May 1942. If he ever had nightmares or PTSD, the family wasn’t told about it. Did he influence me? I suppose we are always influenced by our parents. I saw my father as a military man, and I saw him as a would-be writer, although sadly he was never published. You wouldn’t have to be a shrink to see the link to my writing.

 What are you working on next?

I can’t go into any detail, but let’s just say that the war has ended, and Tom Wilde enters the strange, forgotten world of the displaced persons camps scattered around Europe. But there’s a lot more to it than that.

Rory Clements is the bestselling author of the historical novels, the John Shakespeare Mysteries, as well as his spy thriller fiction set during World War Two. A Prince and A Spy is the latest and is out now in paperback.