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.

♛ ♔ ♕ ♚ ♛♔ ♕ ♚ ♛♔ ♕ ♚ ♛♔ ♕ ♚ ♛♔ ♕ ♚ ♛♔ ♕ ♚ ♛♛♔ ♕ ♚ ♛♔ ♕ ♚ ♛

 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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New Extract from The Ruthless Court

17/05/2011 at 8:44 am (History, Royalty, The Ruthless Court) (, , , , , , , , )


This second exclusive extract from The Ruthless Court reveals another episode in Rasputin and John Richmond/Prince Albert Victor’s bitter and eventful feud–and this time the Tsar and Tsarina are caught in the crossfire.

Encouraged by his father’s words, the Prince uses many devices to endear himself to the Tsarina, his Alix. He seeks out her opinion, sometimes on imaginary issues; he admires her children; he flatters her about her appearance. He finds this easy to do as he considers her to be still one of the most beautiful women he has ever seen. He gives her unusual and exotic gifts which satisfy some interest or personal preference she has expressed. But never any currently fashionable or widely owned object.

He believes that he’s achieving his goal as she more often than not meets him alone in her beloved Mauve Room, or in his mansion. On these occasions, they listen to music or perform it together; and read to each other. She is spellbound by the exotic concoctions which the Prince’s Tibetan and Georgian chefs cook. She is stimulated by their look, flavours and textures, and fully enjoys eating each mysterious but delicious dish.

One mid-afternoon in April 1909, the Prince and Alix are in her Mauve Room enjoying dancing to a gramophone recording of Brahms’ Hungarian Dances. They are playing the music at a low volume, but the Tsar, in the Pallisander Room to retrieve some of his papers, hears the music next door. He puts his head round the door. He finds the lively efforts of Alix and the Prince comical, and laughs. This puts off the two dancers, and the Prince suggests that the Tsar should take a turn with the Tsarina instead. After some hesitation, the Tsar and his wife skip around the room together in time to a brisk piece… In the middle of the dance, Rasputin is ushered into the room by a footman.

“Father Grigori,” Alix says in surprise, as she and the Tsar stop dancing, “I didn’t expect you today. Why have you come?”

“I had a vision about Alexei. It was reassuring, so I thought that I should reveal it to you immediately.  But as my message from God to you is all good it can wait a little longer. Let’s dance. I am very good at these folk dances,” Rasputin boasts, reaching out to the Tsarina.

From his smell and the sound of his voice it’s clear that he has been drinking a generous amount.

“Not now, Father Grigori.  The Tsarina has to attend to other matters,” the Tsar says firmly.

Without warning Rasputin leaps at the Prince and seizes him by the throat.

“This is your doing. You have turned my Sovereigns against me!” he shouts.

The Prince flings both his arms upwards and outwards inside Rasputin’s, breaking his stranglehold. Rasputin staggers backwards. He crashes into a planter next to the Tsarina’s mauve sofa. He wheels away, landing in one of the delicate, architect-designed chairs, smashing it to pieces. Somehow, in spite of his intoxication, he springs upwards from the floor with the agility of a Cossack dancer. One by one, he picks up several of the Tsarina’s cherished transparent decorative cups from the top of a piano and pelts John Richmond with them. Some crash into the wall and break as the Prince sways and ducks away from them.

But instead of taking further action against Rasputin, the Prince turns and runs. He does not head to the Pallisander Room, from which he usually enters the Mauve Room, as that will take him towards Rasputin. Instead he dashes in the other direction.  So to a sharp cry of “No!” from Alix, he, chased by Rasputin, pounds through the imperial bedroom, the Tsarina’s dressing room, the Ladies-in-Waiting room, knocking over a maid who is tidying-up, along a passage into the entrance hall and out of the entrance used only by the Tsar and his wife and children.

With his long black hair flapping behind him and his boots thudding into the still partially frozen ground of Alexander Park, Rasputin rushes after the Prince. Two officers of the Okhrana palace detachment follow them out of the palace entrance, but stop once the two men leave the immediate environs of the palace.

The Prince swiftly strides out of the Tchihatchevsky Gate. But he doesn’t turn right along Dvortsovaya Ulitsa towards his mansion, to Rasputin’s surprise. Instead, he crosses the street into Malaya Ulitsa. As it ends, he swerves to his left towards the Town Hall. People gathering for a function there scatter as he plows through their midst. Behind him, in the distance, he can hear the heavy thump of Rasputin’s boots, and his loud swearing at anyone who gets in his away. People turn or look up from their activities to stare at the two running men.  But by now the people of Tsarskoe are accustomed to the odd behaviour of the bearded holy man and so return to their business.

At the Practical School the Prince bolts to his right and, near the Moskovsky Gate, he veers right again into the Otdielny Park.

Rasputin begins to feel uneasy. John Richmond seems to be leading him to somewhere specific, for some planned purpose. But his pride will not let him turn back. As he comes into a clearing in woodland by the palace of the Grand Duke Boris Vladimirovich, he sees “John Richmond” bent over with his hands on his knees. The target presented to Rasputin is too inviting to be ignored. Without breaking his stride he kicks out at “John Richmond’s” bottom. At that moment the Prince steps to his right, swivels and sticks out a leg over which Rasputin tumbles to the ground. But again, the Prince does not take advantage of getting the better of his opponent. Rasputin repeats his athletic trick of bouncing upright from a prone position. He propels himself forward, lashing blows at the Prince, who shields only his face. Rasputin’s heavy punches and kicks rain in on his body. He feels one of his ribs crack. Don’t fall, don’t fall, he thinks.

After about two minutes the Prince hears shouts. Rasputin runs off. Lowering his arms from covering his face, the Prince sees the Grand Duke Boris, the Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich and two footmen approaching him.

“Why, it’s Mr Richmond,” young Dmitri says. Both he and Boris, first cousins of the Tsar, have socialised many times with John Richmond at Alexander Palace, where Dmitri occasionally resides. He has done so since the assassination of his guardian, Grand Duke Serge Alexandrovich.

  The prince collapses to the ground moaning and holding his chest. At Boris’ order, the two footmen carry the Prince to the Grand Duke’s nearby palace.

 “Was that Rasputin beating him?” Dmitri asks as the footmen lay the Prince on a chaise-lounge in one of the palace’s drawing room.

“Yes. I wonder why,” his cousin replies, and addressing a footman says. “Alexander, go over to the Court Hospital and tell Dr Botkin that I need him to attend a medical emergency here.”

Find out more about The Ruthless Court

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Ra Ra Ra Ra Rasputin

23/03/2011 at 10:03 am (History, Royalty, Russia, The Ruthless Court, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


Seriously though, why’d Boney M sing about a dead Russian guy anyway? Well, just look at him! Which 1970s disco group wouldn’t find so terrifying a sight to be the perfect muse? Mind you, the mad staring eyes are not the only reason why this vision has captured the imaginations of people everywhere since his early 20th century hey-day. He was known as the ‘Mad Monk’ for a reason. This extraordinary being claimed to be a holy man with mystical powers yet spent his days revelling in his apartment and the restaurants of Moscow, not to mention enjoying pleasures of the flesh.  He was in fact heavily suspected of being part of a religious sect that combined religious and sexual ecstasy. And it came as no surprise to his peers and many enemies that he was thrown out of at least one of his favourite Muscovite night spots.

But perhaps  the most remarkable thing was the way Rasputin gained entry into the inner circle of the early 20th century Romanovs, the last Imperial family of Russia, before and during WWI.  His greatest “sponsor”,  along with Tsarina Alexandra and Tsar Nicholas II,  was the Tsarina’s best friend Anna Vyrubova. She and they believed him to have special healing powers, which mysteriously eased the effects of the haemophilia of the royal couple’s son Tsarevich Alexei. Known as the royal disease because so many of Queen Victoria’s descendants all over Europe suffered from it, haemophilia is a disease that leads to the slightest injury causing excessive internal or external bleeding for prolonged periods of time. Whenever Alexei was suffering from one of these episodes and Rasputin was there to sit with him and pray over him, the boy somehow found some relief.

So grateful to Rasputin were the family, and the Tsarina in particular, she fast became one of the mystical man’s most devout disciples. When the Russians went all anti-German on her in the darkest depths of WWI, (for, like some other royals we know, she was originally German) one of the vicious rumours circulating was that she and Rasputin were ‘more than friends’. Or was it just a rumour?? We play with that in The Ruthless Court, by pitting Rasputin against a dead man in the battle for the Tsarina’s affections. Well, I say dead, but it’s actually Prince Albert Victor–Victoria’s grandson and second in line to the British throne—having assumed the alter ego of ‘John Richmond’. And for a “dead” man, the Prince more than holds his own against Rasputin in what develops into a bitter feud, as this exclusive excerpt from The Ruthless Court shows:

One morning as the Prince arrives, Rasputin, escorted by a new footman, is leaving by the same entrance. They stare angrily at each other, clearly recalling their first encounter in the Prince’s mansion years earlier. But neither man speaks. However, they both refuse to give way to the other. The Prince’s jealousy and resentment of Rasputin boil over. He stamps on his foot, and turning sideways rams his left elbow into his chest. Rasputin cries out and grabs him by the throat. Jim, the Tsarina’s huge attendant, is passing and pushes them apart. The Prince continues into the palace with Rasputin’s loud threats to have him “exiled” following him.

The next day Anna tells him that Rasputin had complained to the Tsarina about “the unprovoked, brutal violence” “John Richmond” inflicted on him. Anna tells the Prince that the Tsarina was sceptical about the story and tried to calm Rasputin. She smilingly evaded his demands for the Tsar to “banish” his attacker, from Tsarskoe at the least.

“Please tell the Tsarina that I am truly sorry about this unpleasant misunderstanding between Mr Rasputin and me. We got into a tangle as we both moved in the same direction to allow the other to pass through the entrance. In the confusion I accidentally trod on his foot and stumbled. As I flung up my arms to regain my balance one of them struck him in the chest. Entirely unintentional,” the Prince says in a very sincere tone of voice to Anna as he holds her hand.

But will Rasputin get the upper hand in the end? We all know that, in real life, Rasputin met a grizzly end, but once you enter The Ruthless Court, real life becomes….surreal….

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