As a country obsessed from afar with the lives of the royals, we love nothing more than to distract ourselves from our own problems with tales of theirs—from the evil tabloid press to the racism of the monarchy and the public, and, of course the evergreen tragedy of Princess Diana. All of these inspire plotlines in Benjamin Dean’s saucy debut YA novel, The King Is Dead (Little, Brown, July 18), narrated by a 17-year-old boy who ascends the British throne in its first pages.

James and his 8-minutes-younger twin, Eddie, are the sons of a Black queen whom their father married about a year after his beautiful, popular white fiancee, Princess Catherine, was gunned down by a jealous stalker outside a bridal fitting, its secret location having been broadcast by the tabloids. Since his Mum arrived on the scene, James tells us, “the media clung to its hatred of a Black woman ‘infiltrating the Royal Family’ and ‘destroying the monarchy.’ ” Now, with his father’s death, “the glare had turned on me instead.…The world could barely cope with the idea of a Black king—they’d lose their heads if they knew he was gay too.”

And they soon will, as one of James’ primary antagonists is a celebrity journalist named Quinn Buckley, the royal correspondent for the Daily Eye. Buckley’s salacious articles appear at intervals throughout the book, the first headlined “HIS ROYAL CRY-NESS! REVEALED: How the new king crumbled within hours of wearing the crown!”

Dean, 29, lives in London. He spoke to us on Zoom; our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

You come by your knowledge of British journalism firsthand, right?

I got an internship covering celebrities at BuzzFeed straight out of uni, but we weren’t a tabloid. We were a small team trying to get across the news in an unbiased way, but there was plenty of clear bias all around. The reporting on Meghan Markle—in comparison to the reporting on her white counterparts and other members of the royal family—started me thinking about how people would look at a Black monarch. I already had the real-life example of how they wrote about Meghan before she was even an official princess. I started to wonder, what if she was queen?

So Meghan was an inspiration?

Well, the first inspiration was Princess Diana. Her story is so heartbreaking. I admit, I watched a lot of documentaries on her during the first and second lockdowns. Like her, the Princess Catherine character is hunted down by the press, and the whole country is obsessed with her every move. Diana really was the start of 24-hour tabloid news and a surge of paparazzi intrusion that has never slowed down. I was so intrigued about what that looks like from the other side of the gates of Buckingham Palace.

Have you read Prince Harry’s memoir? I couldn’t help thinking he and Meghan would love The King Is Dead, since it basically dramatizes all their issues and makes their case.

If one of them wants to read it, I would love to send a signed copy!

Let’s talk about the scene where the king puts on a black hoodie and almost gets shot by his own guards.

I think that’s one of the strongest scenes in the book, but it wasn’t originally planned to end the way it does. While James was always supposed to dress down and sneak off to the park to meet his friend, it was meant to end with a cliffhanger in the park, where they realize they’re being watched.

But when I started to write the scene where he’s running down the Mall, getting toward the gates, it clicked in me straightaway: There’s a Black teenager in a hoodie. The guards are not going to see him as king; they’re going to see him as an intruder trying to get into the palace. It was a heart-racing moment as I realized just a few sentences before what was going to happen. It was really tough to write. Obviously, I’m a Black man, and my staple item of clothing is a black hoodie. I know what it’s like to walk down the street and have people give you a second, third, fourth glance, worried about what you might do.

The scene that really broke me properly was the following one with his mother. She gets really emotional and says, what if they’d pulled the trigger before they asked questions? It doesn’t matter if we are teachers, doctors, nurses, even royals—we aren’t accepted or seen for who we are.

I love how frank the book is about James’ love life. He has a secret relationship with one of his palace minders, an 18-year-old intern, but when that fizzles (for reasons we can’t discuss without spoilers), he falls for another guy.

I wrote a lot of this during the pandemic, and I hadn’t been on a date in ages, and I really immersed myself in remembering what crushes were like when I was a teenager—like, all consuming, at least as important as the business of running a country. Like me, James is a hopeless romantic but, also like me as a teen, very easily distracted. It was very fun to be able to explore that side of James, particularly because the other parts of the book were more serious. Since this was my first YA, I wasn’t sure what I was and wasn’t allowed to include, so I just wrote what came out and nothing ended up getting cut—in fact, I ended up adding an extra scene for the U.S. edition that didn’t appear in the original U.K. edition, where James recalls a memory of sneaking through the palace for a rendezvous on a stormy night.

Another classic teen character is that cousin of James’, Cassandra.

I needed several possible villains who could be behind the sabotage against James—I had Quinn Buckley outside the palace, and from inside the palace, Cassandra emerged. She is white, has a claim to the throne, and is quite popular with the public—she feels like she belongs there. Most of the time, she’s less out-and-out horrendous than quite sharp and cutting—a bit of a Regina George [Rachel McAdams’ character in Mean Girls].

And those party scenes! I literally gasped when they broke the chandelier.

Actually, I think that was the first scene that came to mind—I wrote it, and it sold the book. I was thinking of some of the parties that I attended when I was in uni and how they got really out of hand; total chaos. These kids, they’re 17, 18, 19 years old, they’ve got loads of money and power, the world is at their feet. Of course they’re throwing secret parties in the ballroom at Buckingham Palace, sneaking all their friends in, and of course they get horrendously drunk and break expensive, irreplaceable things. Because there’s always someone to clean up behind them.

What are you working on now?

I’ve just wrapped work on my new YA thriller, How To Die Famous, which publishes in the U.K. in July. It follows an undercover celebrity journalist exposing the dark side of fame, of course inspired by my own days as a celebrity reporter. It doesn’t have a U.S. publication date yet, but hopefully we’ll be able to announce something soon. Then it’s back to the drawing board to see what stories I want to explore next.

Marion Winik is the host of the NPR podcast The Weekly Reader.