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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How TRC was written – Part 2

28/02/2012 at 8:31 am (The Ruthless Court, Writing) (, )


(Part one, here)

Part 2

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.

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TRC: Grand Deeds but Human Nature – The Tsarina to The Queen

23/02/2012 at 8:14 pm (History, Royalty, The Ruthless Court) (, , , , , , , )


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).

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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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