Boulder author H. Elizabeth Owen just published a book about Princess Diana surviving her paparazzi-induced car wreck and escaping to Egypt, where she became intertwined with another long-lost queen. So let's get this out of the way right now: Does Owen actually believe Princess Diana is alive in Egypt?
"No, I don't," she says. "Although now that I spent two and a half years writing the book, it is hard for me to remember that my way isn't the way it really happened."
The Lost Queen of England is not an an elaborate conspiracy thriller. It's a fantasy novel about Princess Diana re-inventing herself as a commoner in Egypt and attempting to solve the mystery of Ankhesenamun, King Tutankhamun's wife. The book is also a continuation of a novel by the same name that captured Owen's attention many years ago.
"When I was eleven, I was in the school library and I was looking for something new and came across kind of a strange book that had hieroglyphics on the spine," Owen remembers. "I took it down and read it and it was my first book on Egypt. It was my first experience being swept away into a story, and it was about Tutankhamun and his little wife when they were growing up in Egypt. I was hooked at that moment. I wondered from the time I was eleven until I started writing the book whatever happened to her."
Owen is an artist of many disciplines: a painter, fused-glass artist, sculptor, stone carver and pianist. But she hadn't attempted to write since she was a little kid, even as the untold story of Ankhesenamun was making laps around her brain.
"That story sort of rummaged around in my mind and I came up with different scenarios through the years and kind of wanted to solve that little mystery, at least for myself," says Owen. "So that's how the Egyptian part of the story began. And bringing Dianna in after she was in that crash in the tunnel, I was one of those people who always wondered why it took two and a half hours for them to get her to the hospital that night. I thought maybe something else was going on. Maybe she wasn't as badly hurt as we thought and she was planning some kind of escape. I sort of blended those two stories together and had one queen find another."
Once she finished writing her tale, Owen began sending letters to agents. Hearing horror stories about independent authors receiving up to a hundred rejections from publishers, she gave up after twelve. And then she read that Lisa Genova, whose books Still Alice and Left Neglected spent a combined 47 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, had self-published through iUniverse. So Owen went that route herself and released her novel in June.
That happened to be around the time Diana would have turned fifty, and the market was suddenly flooded with "What if Princess Diana didn't die and was living inconspicuously somewhere else?" books. Untold Story, by British author Monica Ali , also explores a fictional post-crash life for Princess Diana. In Ali's version, Princess Di escapes the wreck, swims to a Brazilian beach, has plastic surgery and resurfaces ten years later working at a dog shelter in a small American town named Kensington. "I was, of course, shocked and really upset because I thought, 'Oh, my gosh, can you believe somebody came out with the same idea?'" recalls Owen. "The stories were nothing alike. In my book, Diana had no plan for this to happen, it just sort of happened and then she got swept along in it."
Nothing alike, that is, except that both books focus on an allegedly deceased princess living out a secret life thousands of miles from the scene of one of the world's most famous car crashes. But Owens also sees The Lost Queen of England as a story about changing circumstances and people not being afraid to adapt to them.
"All I really set out to do was solve the mystery of what happened to that ancient Egyptian queen," she explains, "and when I started using Diana as the person who discovers this ancient queen with this sort of psychic connection of two lost queens, I started seeing how she was trying to learn, 'Okay, what am I going to do now? My previous life is over. What am I going to do to find happiness? How am I going to find fulfillment? How am I going to live in a world where I'm not the queen or the glittering personality?' I felt that was something I learned also. At this stage in my life to start writing a book was sort of reinventing myself. Even the ancient queen reinvents herself and gives up a life she thought she had been trained to live her whole life. I think that it's important for people to not be afraid to reinvent themselves or start over or learn new life skills or whatever you can do to lead an interesting and productive life."