I caught up with Andrew Lownie, author of best-selling royal biography Their Lives and Loves, The Mountbattens, a fascinating read about the dynamic, complex couple whose love lives were as colourful as their careers. Andrew spoke to over 100 people for this revealing look behind the curtains of the legendary Lord and Lady Mountbatten.
Blessed with film star looks, Dickie Mountbatten was the Supreme Allied Commander of South East Asia during WWII and the last Viceroy of India. He also was most likely a pedophile. While Dickie had a remarkable career, he was arrogant and a skilled self-promoter, traits that made many dislike and distrust him.
Edwina, the richest woman in Britain when Dickie married her went from being a playgirl to a well-loved humanitarian.
She had countless affairs throughout her long marriage including a very intense one with Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
Below is part of my interview with Andrew.
Before you decide to commit to writing a biography, what are the key elements you look for in your subject?
The first is whether there is a good story. Will the subjects interest people? The Mountbatten story is indeed cinematic, complex and colourful. We are all interested in people’s marriages and private lives and this had the added resonance of the private life impacting on public affairs. I like people who are complex where one can play with the reader’s sympathies and that is certainly true of Dickie and Edwina. At times we like and admire them, at others we are appalled by their behaviour. There was also a strong narrative, particularly with Edwina whose life changed considerably after she was given a serious job. By writing a joint biography I was able to play them off against each other.
The second is whether there is anything new I can say, perhaps because of new sources (papers, interviews, releases of official papers etc.). So many books just recycle secondary sources. I like to find people who have never spoken before, push for the release of hitherto secret papers and locate obscure archives which might cast fresh light on the subject.
The third question is whether it’s commercial and relevant. The Netflix series The Crown had introduced the Mountbattens to a wider public. There was an international market not just in Britain and America but also India. It had potential for newspaper serialisation, translation and film rights. My books are expensive to research so that has to be a factor.
You also run the Andrew Lownie Literary Agency, a premier U.K. boutique agency for nonfiction authors. You’ve been addressed many things by aspiring authors, such as Hi Dude, Dear Potential Partner and Hi Thomas. Here are some tips you give to writers on how to pitch book ideas, including how to address the agency correctly.
Can you tell us about one of your favourite submissions?
One of my most successful books was called ‘What Everyman Thinks About Apart from Sex’. It was completely blank. I’ve sold it to fourteen countries, including Mongolia, and as an audio and e book.
Was the ebook and audio also completely blank?
Any other odd submissions?
“A Short Social History of the Clitoris’ and something describing itself as ‘erotica-tinged space and techno-fantasy fiction’. A clever submission where Bible stories have been written as Cockney rhyming slang, in broad Yorkshire, in SMS Text, in Egyptian Hieroglyphics., for Toddlers etc. Difficult to assess and I suspect not something which will sustain reader interest.
I’m now writing a book on the Duke and Duchess of Windsor after the Abdication showing what might be in store for Harry and Meghan. Fascinating the parallels – the freezing out by the Royal Family, the shameless exploitation of the Royal brand for financial gain, the contrasting views of Meghan and Wallis in US and UK, the shallow existence once Royal duties were surrendered, the strong political views etc.
The rest of my interview can be found here in the 26 monthly e-letter to inspire the love of words in business and pleasure.