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: 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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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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Ruthless Recommended Reading!

22/05/2011 at 7:25 pm (Books, History, Royalty, Tennis, Writing) (, , , , )


If you read this blog regularly and are planning on buying The Ruthless Court (who isn’t?), this shows three things:

  1.  You have good taste
  2. You like reading
  3. You’re interested in some or all of the genres, topics and themes this site and our novel covers, i.e. thrillers, history, royalty, tennis, espionage and so on.

With all this in mind, we’ve decide to create a recommended reading list of books we think you’ll like. It includes fiction, biographies & autobiographies, history analysis, books by royal watchers and correspondents, books revealing the life of spies and also books with plenty of tips and advice for our fellow writers.

You can find the Recommended Reading page here. We’ll also regularly blog about new releases we believe you’d like, so subscribe to our blog to avoid missing out on the latest book news!

Contact us or let us know in the comments below if we’ve left out any titles you think should be on our list.

And remember—you don’t need a Kindle to read a Kindle eBook. Download the Kindle app to your computer or PDA, browse the Kindle Store for the books you want and you’re good to go!

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Similar posts:

The Ruthless Court Coming Soon–Get Free Kindle App

Jack the Ripper–Not Prince Albert?

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