How TRC was written – Part 3

06/03/2012 at 5:00 pm (Current Affairs, Great Britain, History, Royalty, Russia, Tennis, The Ruthless Court, Writing) (, , , , , )


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.

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TRC: Royal acts: deeds of human nature? – Prince Albert Victor

01/03/2012 at 1:41 pm (Great Britain, History, Royalty) (, , , , , , , )


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

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How TRC was written – Part 1

21/02/2012 at 11:25 am (Great Britain, History, Royalty, Russia, The Ruthless Court, Writing) (, , , , , , , , , )


“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on,” Louis L’Amour (1908-1988), Author.

So that’s what we, daughter and father Autumn and Bonny St John, did. How did it all start? We were enjoying a drink and pub lunch in the Hand & Racquet pub in Wimbledon Town, planning a trip to the USA. We were off to stay with family who had invited us to celebrate a significant birthday of mine. I was about to take my paternal family’s record of having lived longer than any other member of our family! No more to say about that!

As our conversation meandered from one thing to another, Autumn remarked that the names Alexandra and Clarence seemed to be favourite place and pub names in that part of Wimbledon. We immediately assumed that this was in honour of Queen Alexandra, wife of Edward VII, and Prince Albert Victor (PAV), the Duke of Clarence, their somewhat ill-fated son.  Of course, we might have been wrong, but that didn’t matter. The point was that our conversation generated fertile ground for our imaginations.

So we began to chat about the two major salacious rumours surrounding PAV: he was Jack the Ripper and he hadn’t died in 1892 but was “exiled” to some secret location to avoid the truth about his Jack the Ripper murders becoming public.

Still talking about these scandals we jumped on a bus up to Wimbledon Village, went for a walk on the Common and then dropped into the famous Dog & Fox pub on the High Street. Alcohol- influenced and inspired by the sights of the Common, we decided in very short order that we could give the PAV rumours a new twist and write a novel based on that twist.  Luckily I had a sheet of blank paper as I always do. On it I jot down lines of poetry which come into my head. But that’s a completely different story.  There and then in the Dog & Fox we sketched out the heart of our plot: rather than die, where did PAV go and why? And what would be the present day, early Twenty-First Century, consequences? After all, we weren’t writing a historical review, we were planning on writing an exciting novel. That was the absorbing, challenging bit of using our imaginations. How could we marry Nineteenth Century royal history and a gruesome passage of social history and bring all that alive now? We went for it. But after an hour or so of thinking through our ideas for a plot we saw that they were flawed. So we scrapped them and started again.

Fortunately for both of us we had done a lot of writing, though not strictly speaking creative writing.  Autumn had written hundreds of essays for her history degrees, and I had written many policy papers in the Foreign Office. So we were practitioners of the Rudyard Kipling philosophy he described in his poem Six Serving Men. How well we applied it others would have to say. But suffice to say, Autumn got her degrees, good ones, and I ended up as a Head of Section. So we must have shown some competence in writing. Anyway, we knew that any good piece of writing answered the questions, What? Why? When? How? Where? and Who? And we used them as a template by which to dissect PAV’s life, looking for motivations,  emotions, behaviours and events we could contort into a unique, creative plot. But we didn’t manage it then. Too much red wine, perhaps. So we agreed to do much more research independently and liaise closely by phone, email and in person. We went off to our separate flats.

Next week: Plotting on our way to the USA, and an accusatory couple. Next stop Guantanamo?

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The Uncanniness of The Ruthless Court

11/08/2011 at 12:55 pm (Current Affairs, Great Britain, The Ruthless Court) (, , , , , , , , , , )


In The Ruthless Court, Steph Mallender, Director-General MI5, is summoned back from her holiday in her villa in Tuscany to attend a meeting of COBRA on how to deal with the mayhem at Wimbledon. This week the Prime Minister David Cameron has returned from his holiday in a villa in Tuscany to chair a meeting of COBRA on how to deal with the mayhem across the UK!

And this isn’t the first time life has imitated The Ruthless Court…

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Life Imitates Art on The Ruthless Courts of Wimbledon

01/07/2011 at 5:28 am (Books, Current Affairs, Great Britain, History, Royalty, Russia, Tennis, The Ruthless Court, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


The Ruthless Court is set at Wimbledon tennis and in Barbados, St Petersburg, wider London, Moscow and Madagascar. Read Chapter 1 free to see how our scene-setting matches up to this weekend at Wimbledon, with Djokovic, and a tall Russian woman in the Finals.

The Ruthless Court book cover

TITLE PAGE AND COPYRIGHT

The Ruthless Court

Autumn & Bonny St John

 This book is a work of fiction.  Names, characters and their dialogue, incidents and locations either are used fictitiously or are created by the authors from their imaginations.  Any similarity to living or dead people and their current or past dialogue, events and locations is entirely coincidental.

 Copyright © 2011

All Rights Reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system without written permission from the authors, except for the inclusion of  brief quotations in a review.

Chapter 1

“Let’s go rumble with little Miss Womble, Your Majesty!”

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II involuntarily jerked her torso back as if avoiding an intended blow. She and the Lady Sophie Rycroft-Ross, Lady-in-Waiting, in startled unison exclaimed, “What!”

The Queen’s husband, Prince Philip, frowned at Sir Richard Littlehyusen, chairman of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, Wimbledon. They were in the hallway of the ladies changing rooms of the famous club. Sir Richard had a look close to horror on his face. His expression was out of place in the genteel surroundings. For security reasons, no one else was allowed to be in the area of the changing rooms at the same time as the Queen. Sir Richard had agreed that with her close protection team. He would therefore have some difficult explaining to do.

The voice they’d heard was that of a New York American but they couldn’t see him. The Queen’s chief close protection officer started walking determinedly and briskly in the direction the voice had come from. He unbuttoned his jacket, and briefly rested his hand on something out of sight at his right hip. Sir Richard trotted along behind the lanky, grey-haired man.

At that moment Catherine Verkhovnova and her coach Jack Petrovich came into the hallway. Jack, always unflappable and confident, immediately realised what had happened.  And the players and coaches had been advised by the club on the etiquette of addressing Her Majesty, if the occasion arose when they had to do so. She had been briefed about the players and coaches.

Jack smiled and with more of a nod than a bow said “Oh, sorry, Your Majesty, I was talking to Catherine here, the one and only Empress of Tennis!”

In spite of the lapse in security and protocol, everyone laughed, except Catherine.

“I am surprised, Mr Petrovich, that you’ve heard of our imaginary little friends, the Wombles of Wimbledon Common.  Do you have children?” the Queen asked with a broad smile.

“No Ma’am, but in the dark, endless Winters of St Petersburg you’ll do anything to pass the time. Even allowing yourself to be persuaded to watch old tapes of the BBC’s Wombles stories,” Jack replied.

Laughter all round again, but Catherine stood unsmiling and as still as if she were rooted to the spot. Jack looked at her. She was trembling slightly. The nineteen year old seemed overwhelmed by coming face to face with the Queen. Her large, bright green eyes were fixed on the authoritative but kind face of this Queen Elizabeth.

Does she know that I am her cousin? Catherine thought. Has she, like me, been told the true story of her great uncle, my great, great, grandfather?

The Queen’s expression revealed nothing. Nothing but her mastery of the diplomatic skill of remaining poker-faced when one’s thoughts had to be kept secret at all cost. She abruptly turned to Sir Richard and nodded.

Guided by him, she and her entourage set off to complete her look round the modern facilities of the club. She had intended to do this two years ago, but had overrun her schedule by talking to players and officials much longer than expected.

Exceptionally, she had returned for the Gentlemen’s Singles Finals this year. During the past year, she had been coaxed and encouraged to do so by her young friends Lady Sophie and her brother, Lord Gervase Rycroft-Ross.

And either by monarchical magic or divine coincidence, Britain at last had a man playing in the Wimbledon singles final for the first time since Bunny Austin more than seven decades ago. In addition, to the nation’s joyful amazement, Georgie Gent had reached the Ladies’ Singles Final, with consummate spotlight sharing timing. And to crown it all for her, she was playing today, Sunday, in front of the Queen. As tradition dictated, the Ladies’ Final had been scheduled for Saturday afternoon, but, in the early morning, Catherine Verkhovnova, Georgie’s opponent, had complained of a debilitating stomach upset. The Championships referee, GJ Gillem, had insisted that the tournament’s official doctor should verify that the world’s number one female player was indeed incapable of taking to the court.

Once her illness was confirmed, the Wimbledon Committee pragmatically, if highly unusually, swapped the Ladies’ Final and the Mixed Doubles Final, bringing forward the latter to Saturday from Sunday. They soothed disappointed and increasingly unruly spectators by offering them a partial refund, before the hallowed name of Centre Court could be brought into disrepute.

But the Mixed Doubles players threatened, in McEnroesque style, not to play, annoyed by the sudden change. However, GJ Gillem used his diplomatic wiles and negotiating skills, honed during several ambassadorial appointments, including Washington, to talk them into playing. It helped as well that he and his wife, the fabulous jazz singer Ann-Nicole Bauer, had been Wimbledon Mixed Doubles champions, so he shared camaraderie with the current players.

The nation was agog with anticipation. The television audience in the UK was expected to be the largest ever to watch a sporting event.

And now on this glorious Sunday, thirty thousand people were flooding onto Henman Hill, Court One and all the “outside” courts to watch the two finals on large television screens. Centre Court, the place where history would actually be played out, was packed.

Inside, Jack took Catherine’s elbow and gently but firmly pushed her along. They headed to the players’ waiting room. When they got there, Georgie hadn’t arrived yet. Hers was not a name known to most of the public; and many tennis fans only knew her as Laura Robson’s sometime doubles partner. But she had shocked everyone by beating Caroline Wozniacki in their semi-final, lasting six hours and fifty-two minutes, the longest match in the history of women’s tennis. And Jack referred to her as Miss Womble only as a way of helping Catherine to relax. It was obvious that Georgie was a skilled competitor. But to write her name in Wimbledon’s brightest history she would somehow have to overcome Catherine, who was undefeated all year.

For her male counterpart, Andy Murray, to join her in tennis immortality, he would have to beat a rampant Novak Djokovic in their final. John Lloyd, the wise, former Great Britain Davis Cup team captain, was confident that Murray would win, as the Scot had demolished Rafael Nadal in three sets in their semi-final.

And so the Wimbledon Committee, unaware of all the coincidences which made it happen, was very pleased that the Queen was attending the two matches of great sporting historic importance for Britain. During the silver jubilee year of her accession, 1977, she had watched from the Royal Box as Virginia Wade won the ladies trophy, the Venus Rosewater Dish. But, after so many, many years, for the two Britons to win on the same day, if they won, in front of her would surely be a great pleasure to her, the club’s patricians reasoned to themselves.

But just about then the long-reigning British monarch was thinking of 1959 and a lunch she had in Toronto, Canada, with the Grand Duchess Olga, who was her cousin and the younger sister of the late Tsar Nicholas II.

Olga, then seventy-seven years old, had told the young Queen an astonishing story about the latter’s great uncle, Prince Albert Victor. To all the world, he had died at Sandringham House, Norfolk, England, in 1892. But, in fact, he had lived long after that, mostly in Russia, where he had a deadly feud with Rasputin.

Like me, Olga would have instantly recognised that extraordinary girl as a descendant of Pyotr Asimov, the Queen thought. So she’s certainly part of the modern legacy of my great uncle, though I don’t know exactly how. Besides what I know, heaven knows what else Asimov got up to. And it was probably her and her advisers who wrote to me anonymously last year, the Queen surmised.  In any event, best for all if this particular past remains the past.

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 This book has now been published as an eBook on Kindle (there’s a note below about Kindle books). But you don’t need a Kindle device to download and read it. Here’s a link which will take you to the free Kindle app (software/system) for PCs, Macs, iPads, iPods, iPhones, etc, which you can download: http://amzn.to/iCTErl.

And here are links to the book on Kindle: http://amzn.to/mx2X6f  (UK),  http://amzn.to/lkN7F0 (Europe),  http://amzn.to/kC0X3f  (Rest of the World). These should take you direct to the book’s location. If they don’t, you can go to Amazon.co.uk, search for The Ruthless Court and it will pop up. Hope you’ll take a look. If you decide to read it,  hope you do enjoy it–and don’t forget to tell your friends about it as well!

And if you don’t already know:

You can move within a Kindle book as easily as you can in a paper copy. The “GO” button on the menu bar lets you move to, among other places, the Table of Contents and to Page or Location. In addition, when you reopen a Kindle book it will open at the last page you were reading. A paper copy doesn’t do that. You either have to remember where you were or bookmark it!  A Kindle book also allows you to choose from three different page backgrounds: white, off-white (sepia) and black.

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