Sexual and religious deviant? Healer. Illiterate. Practitioner of self-flagellation? Rough-mannered. Common thief? Staretz – holy man? Libertine. Peasant. Rasputin. Adored by the Tsarina’s best friend, Anna Vyrubova. Hated by the Tsar’s nephew-in-law, Prince Felix Yusupov. Loved by many aristocrats, mainly women. Feared by politicians. In the year of his murder, 1916, a fiery right-wing member of the Duma, Vladimir Purishkevich, friend of Yusupov, said of Rasputin: ”The Tsar’s ministers …… have been turned into marionettes, marionettes whose threads have been taken firmly in hand by Rasputin and the Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna — the evil genius of Russia and the Tsarina … who has remained a German on the Russian throne and alien to the country and its people.”
Yusupov was in the Duma for the speech and he soon persuaded Purishkevich that Rasputin had to be killed. Not surprising that Yusupov was quick to rope in someone who might help him achieve his dubious objective. He had honed his already considerable networking skills when he was in the Bullingdon Club at Oxford University between 1909-1912. Yes, the same club as Messrs Cameron, Johnson and Osborne belonged to eighty years later. In fact, Yusupov was so effective that the Oxford University Russian Society he founded is still running today.
So while Rasputin did have the patronage of the Tsar and Tsarina, among others, he was up against a very determined, politically sophisticated and organised man in Yusupov, who also had enormous wealth at his disposal to use for any ends he desired.
But what was the secret of Rasputin’s appeal to the Tsar, Tsarina and other members of the Imperial Family? And what drew the loathing of others? Reading between the lines during our research, TRC answers: the same thing in both cases, sheer emotion. Theirs and his. We’d probably call his, “emotional intelligence,” these days. He always seemed to say the right things to his devotees, however brusquely, or be available when most needed. But none of this cut any ice with those who detested him. It wouldn’t be far off the mark to say much of his enemies’ antipathy to him stemmed from personal and political jealousy. How dare this uncouth creature, this Siberian peasant inveigle his way into the Court, and flaunt himself as a friend and adviser of the Tsar and Tsarina? Friend or foe, the source of their attitude to him was emotion. Here’s Yusupov’s description of Rasputin’s eyes: “small, shifty, gray,” so “sunken under heavy eyebrows” that even close up it was sometimes difficult to see them. And Vyrubova’s description? “………extraordinary eyes, large, light, brilliant…..” Yusupov and Vyrubova met Rasputin several times. So why the contradictory description of his eyes? The source of the discrepancy lies in the differing emotional perspectives from which they viewed Rasputin. And while we have used this rather simple example to demonstrate our point, you don’t need to be Stephen Hawking to work out that people’s opinions about him would have been just as polarised when it came to more serious issues.
Rasputin’s death on 29 December, 1916 is one of the iconic murders of all time. At the hands of Yusupov, Purishkevich and…………? If you think you’ve seen or read it all before, you haven’t. Not until you’ve read the highly creative TRC. So read it. It’s delicious.
Mid-morning. Snowflakes are spinning gracefully down between the naked arms of the Winter Goddesses (trees to you). I sit at my computer desk mesmerised by this beautiful sight in January 2010. I’m in the middle, so to speak, of writing TRC and desperately hoping to have some chapters to send to Autumn for her editing and input. But the haunting Winter scene is distracting me.
But then it hits me. This is just the sort of weather the Russian terrorists in TRC would relish as cover to infiltrate the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) here in Wimbledon at night to hide their weapons for use on their planned day. My fingers begin to pound the computer keyboard. I’d like to say fly over it but that’s not the way I type, alas. Anyway, I’m only occasionally glancing out my window now at the snow for more inspiration. And it comes in bucket loads. Three entire chapters full. They help to make up a good part of the tension filled confrontation between the terrorists’ leader and a senior MI5 officer.
And this inspiration also leads me to think that we should go on the guided tour of the AELTC grounds, though we have been spectators at The Championships a good few times and knew the place pretty well. So we go a few weeks later. And it pays off. Being almost alone in it (well 2 of only 15 people), we were able to survey the practice ground, Aorangi Park, and its surrounds, among other areas, at leisure, without our attention being taken away by other spectators or one famous tennis player or another! And our purposeful look round look provides more ideas. So I got back to our manuscript and jazz up the chapters I’d written about the infiltration and subsequent storming of the Centre Court.
A few months later and the novel is progressing well. And yet another Godsend comes our way: the shenanigans of forming the UK’s coalition government. Won’t say why or how, as that might spoil TRC for you when you read it, but I do mention these ten words, extrapolation, Rasputin, Tsarina Alexandra, Prince Albert Victor and fierce rivalry.
By the time the 2011 Wimbledon Championships come round TRC is almost ready for publishing. We are confident that our research, my work and life experience and Autumn’s knowledge of history and her journeys and time in Russia have all informed our writing well. We feel that we’ve creatively brought alive and intertwined on the pages of TRC the last Russian Imperial Court, Rasputin, Prince Albert Victor plus his journey on HMS Bacchante to Barbados at Christmas 1879, and present day Russia, London, Wimbledon tennis and Madagascar. And we’re able to sit back, enjoy the tennis but also look out for any indications of how our scenes in the AELTC – hostage taking, for example – might or might not work in practice. We are pleased to see that, minus our characters and events, the general scenes at the tennis within which part of TRC takes place actually happen as we wrote.
So after the tennis is done for another year and we take some time and polish up our manuscript we go about the business of publishing our novel. And here it is for you to enjoy. One reader writing a review of TRC said, “great book, good story well told.” So don’t miss out.
His father was a lady-killer. And so was he, some say. The difference is that when people say it about the Prince of Wales who became King Edward VII they mean it in a romantic sense. When they apply the term to his son, Prince Albert Victor Christian Edward, Duke of Clarence, Eddy to his family, they mean it literally. We know for certain why the King was considered a lady-killer. Lillie Langtry and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall’s, great grandmother, Alice Keppel, were only two of many, many women to experience “little deaths” by his doing.
And isn’t it exceedingly odd: the great, great grandson and great granddaughter of a Prince of Wales and his mistress……..?
But we don’t really know whether or not Prince Albert Victor (PAV) was a lady-killer, of any sort. Was he involved with the Jack the Ripper murders, as some claim? Some descriptions by eye-witnesses of the killer seem to fit PAV. But Court documents show that he was elsewhere, Sandringham, for example, at the time of some of the murders.
And how was he in the realm of romance? It’s said that when his fellow army officers tried to make him a “man of the world,” he resisted their efforts. (TRC assumes they were offering moral support rather than their personal services.) But he proposed to his first cousin, Princess Alix of Hesse, in 1889 when she was seventeen and he was twenty-five. She refused. She had already fallen in love with the heir to the Russian throne, the future Tsar Nicholas II, the year before. Last time we mentioned the tragic ending of that marriage. Did her refusal of him drive him into a Cleveland Street homosexual brothel in July of that year? Yet another unsubstantiated claim about him, but it was a huge issue at the time. In letters to his aunt Victoria, Empress of Germany, Queen Victoria said he led a “dissipated life.” Some believe this referred to homosexuality.
In any event, the scandal hung like suffocating smog over the Court. Though the young, male prostitutes themselves never named PAV as a client, they said that his father’s Extra Equerry, Lord Arthur Somerset, was. He fled the country. PAV’s father, then Prince of Wales, managed to ensure that none of the clients, actual or suspected, was prosecuted. But PAV was dispatched on a seven month tour of India. Exile by any other name or for any duration is still exile, TRC says. Some years after his death, a lady of the Raj he’d met in India, Mrs Margery Haddon, returned to the UK and claimed that PAV was her son’s, Clarence, father. Yet again, unproven. The reason why in 1887 Queen Victoria and the Prince of Wales ordered him, as a soldier, to Malta also provides a hint of his emotional psyche. The Queen and his father were worried that, among other indiscretions, the twenty-three year old had an unhealthy crush on Winston Churchill’s married mother, ten years his senior.
Early on, PAV’s tutor, the Reverend John Neale Dalton, had reported that his student’s mind was “abnormally dormant.” Even some members of the Royal Family, and some aristocrats, derided his intellect. Yet he learned Danish, his mother’s native tongue; spent some months at the University of Heidelberg learning German and, for two years, was a student at Cambridge University. I’m told though by those who went to Oxford University that being a student at Cambridge is a sure sign that your mind is “abnormally dormant.”
Even the actuality and circumstances of PAV’s reported death at Sandringham House in January 1892 are questioned.
So, we know many claims about this prince but very little that is clearly fact. Great stuff therefore for novelists who dare to let their imaginations run fully free. And we at TRC did. Forget what historians say. Ignore claim and counter-claim. Read TRC, which tells an exciting, entertaining, creative story centred on PAV back then and now.
Next week: Rasputin
Somewhere above Ireland on a plane on our way to the USA six weeks after we started plotting TRC. We now had an established plot and characters. Once we settled down after the usual kerfuffle around boarding the plane and taking our seats, we started straining our imaginations to outline the content of the novel’s chapters. We’d worked intensely, independently, liaising regularly, researching the genesis of our plot, Prince Albert Victor (PAV), second in line to Queen Victoria’s throne plus Tsarina Alexandra, the extensive Russian Imperial Family and Rasputin. We had dreamt up present day British and Russian characters as well. These would dramatically and revengefully bring the consequences of the sins of their “forbearers” into today’s world.
As we chatted away, building up our chapters, I became aware of a man and a woman sitting across the aisle from me looking at us askance but continually. If I thought anything of it at all, I hoped that they believed we were writers developing a play or a novel. Which was what we were doing! But we quickly went back to our chapter building. We threw out to each other different scenarios which we thought would be the natural, consequential outcomes of our plot. We tested them against Kipling’s Six Serving Men (mentioned last time), plausibility and their excitement value. If we thought an outcome was, for example, very exciting but not entirely plausible, we worked backwards, proposed scene by proposed scene, to the source of the outcome. And with a bit of creative mental sleight of hand, the writer’s version of the magician’s distraction technique, we twisted our outlined circumstances or disguised their significance to justify the outcome.
We found the process of developing our chapters and the likely narrative to be time consuming and demanding work. But we weren’t bothered. We realised that this phase of writing a novel was critical and was always going to be hard work. We had read quite a bit about writing and its process, including Andrew Crofts’ “The Freelance Writer’s Handbook”. So we knew we still had a lot of work to do by the time we arrived at Kennedy Airport, New York. However, we were excited by the prospect of spending a few days of “Fall” in NY with our east coast family before jetting out to California to do the same with our “Silicon Valley” folks.
But before any of that I experienced one of life’s “there I was minding my business” irritations – but nothing compared to the twists we were planning for TRC. Having passed through immigration, I was standing in the hall waiting for Autumn, before going to collect our main luggage. Our two onlookers from the plane approached me and the gentleman said I’d left a bag near the immigration desk. Even though I knew that could not possibly be so as I had the one piece of hand luggage I’d taken on the flight, I instinctively looked down to check that I did have my bag which was hanging heavily from my shoulder. When I said, “Thank you, but I have my bag here,” the middle-aged gentleman thrust out his chin and replied somewhat belligerently, “Well, it wasn’t there before you got there but was after you left!” Visions of spending the Winter days of my life in Guantanamo flashed, albeit briefly, through my already pumped-up imagination. Be cool, Bonny, be cool, I thought. It is at times like this that my old age and experience of working directly with people for decades are of great benefit. So I smiled, and said, “That would mean I had two pieces of hand luggage. As you see, this one is enough for an old man like me to carry.” My accuser relaxed, looked me in the eyes closely, sort of smiled, mumbled “sorry” and left with the woman he was with. “Strewth!” or something like that, I thought . Later, it occurred to me that our overheard talk of spies, royalty, lies and revolution must have convinced that gentleman that I was up to no good!
Anyway, we thoroughly enjoyed our family’s company and both the east and west coast of the USA, and finished outlining our chapters during the seventeen hours of making our way back to London.
Next week, in Part 3: How the seasons and the year’s events merged with writing TRC, and inspired some of it.
Emotion and personal values, not great political thought, rule those who rule us, and inform their actions. This has been so in the past and is now. We saw many occurrences of this as we trawled through information about the real lives of the historical characters who are essential, fictionalised members of our cast for TRC. So we, shamelessly but plausibly, sexed up their motivations and emotions we uncovered. And not only did we allow them, in our plot and narrative, to retain these enriched emotions, we also transfused these into the Twenty-First Century characters we created from scratch. So for your entertainment in the next few weeks we’ll take a look behind the public face of key real-life characters in our novel.
Speaking of the present, is Queen Elizabeth II’s long reign and her intention to continue linked in any way to the reason for the fall of the Russian Imperial Family? I’d bet you are saying, “Even for novelists you’re stretching it a bit, aren’t you?”
But it’s not so far-fetched. The link? That other long-reigning woman, Queen Victoria. She virtually adopted her granddaughter, the six year old Princess Alix of Hesse, later Tsarina Alexandra, after Alix’s mother, Victoria’s daughter Alice, died. In the next decade and a half, Alix spent nearly as much time in England with Queen Victoria as she did in Germany. As a child and young woman she was greatly influenced by her grandmother’s attitudes and values to royal life. But even before her “adoption”, her governess was an Englishwoman who implemented a regime very similar to that the old Queen had established in bringing up her children. So Alix was imbued with values such as loyalty and God’s call to service, royal service in particular.
As for our Queen, look at the parallels with Victoria. Accession to the throne at a young age, married to a man she adores, strong faith, a determination to overcome difficult times in her life (for Victoria, unpopularity after Albert’s death; for Elizabeth, the 1990s – Diana; her children divorces) and, like Victoria, a model of how a constitutional monarch should behave. These similarities are not all simply coincidental but several of them are the result of Queen Elizabeth taking example from her great, great grandmother.
And back to Tsarina Alexandra. In her approach she shared and applied many of the personal values of Victoria (and Elizabeth), but, alas for her and the Russian Imperial Family, she took God’s call to service to the extreme. While the two English queens try/tried to influence politicians, the Tsarina wanted her husband to be an absolute ruler. Somehow, it seems, Victoria’s teaching on this subject was lost in transference. Not translation as the Tsarina spoke perfect English from an early age. But neither Alix/Alexandra nor her husband, the Tsar, had the personal skills to weave aspects of a constitutional monarchy into Russian society. So, in the end, emotion and personal values either lead to triumph – Diamond Jubilee – or disaster – multiple, tragic murders in a cellar. Get TRC from Amazon and see how we entertainingly used all this to help us write a fantastic, unique story.
Next week: The real emotions and behaviour of Prince Albert Victor, and their consequences (he was Jack the Ripper, some say).