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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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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Battle of Eurovision: Ruthlessly Assessing Britain vs. Russia

16/05/2011 at 8:53 am (Great Britain, Russia, The Ruthless Court, Video) (, , , , , , )


The Ruthless Court features an all-encompassing, all-consuming, era-spanning, nail-biting, sometimes downright terrifying battle of wit, will and weaponry between Britons and Russians.  Whilst Eurovision is slightly less deadly, we couldn’t let the annual song contest slip modestly into the night on Saturday without pitting the British against the Russians one more time.

Veteran UK boyband Blue recently reformed and were soon asked to represent Britain in the continental sing-a-long.  Russia’s representative was Alexej Vorobjov (I’m pretty sure there is no ‘J’ in Russian but we’ll forgive the Eurovision website).

To be honest, I got a strong ‘New Kids on the Block’ vibe from Vorobjov and his merry band of backing singers/dancers. The song (Get You), the styling and the vocals were all reminiscent of the 80s/90s American boyband. The staging made it look like they were inside some kind of poorly lit TARDIS.

Britain’s Blue boys were altogether more up-to-date, with a more modern song (I Can) and clothes. Their vocals were perhaps not as consistent as Alexei’s (yeah, I’m done with the ‘j’) but were perhaps slightly more ambitious.

The final verdict on this battle of Europe? The United Kingdom may have been the better all-rounder this year, finishing 11th to the other country’s 16th, but Russia was more in the spirit of Eurovision. Yes, that’s right—we declare a draw! Come on, Britain! Davai, Russia!

Check out the above videos of the two performances and let us know who edged it for you.

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Disadvantage Point: Is the Home Court the Most Ruthless?

15/05/2011 at 12:13 pm (Great Britain, Tennis, The Ruthless Court) (, , , , , , , )


In The Ruthless Court, Andy Murray and Laura Robson’s sometime doubles partner Georgie Gent both get to the Wimbledon singles finals. It’ll happen in real life too, of course. This year. And it’ll be for the first time since 1912. Hardly surprising, considering that either final is very rarely reached by a Brit, since nationalities other than Brits started entering the tournament, that is.

Ignoring the argument that the relative smallness of GB’s population, compared to say the USA or Germany, isn’t conducive to the production of masses of Championship-winning p layers, how about that other well-worn debate about home advantage actually being a pressure point? As Billie Jean King said, ‘pressure is a privilege’ but try telling that to some poor British soul who’s out there on Centre Court in a semi-final against a Sampras or a Nadal, or in a 1st round match against a Williams sister, with 15,000 supporters willing the plucky Brit to play the match of their life. And of course the supporters’ sole intention is to offer support. But is there a case to be made that sometimes the fervent support from a player’s compatriots—be they media or fans—can weigh heavy on the soul, especially if we’re talking about a country starved of tennis success?

We’re not just talking about Britain here. Novak “Nole” Djokovic hasn’t yet been beaten in 2011. That’s 36 matches, as of the night of Saturday 14th May. His winning run actually stretches back into last year, when he won the Davis Cup with Serbia, making that 38 unbeaten matches in total—and counting. This astounding streak includes his Australian Open final win over Murray. Nole is tipped to be World No.1 by the end of this year. He is certainly the best player on tour this year. Serbian tennis fans finally have something to boast about for the first time since Ana Ivanovic’s 2008 French Open win and the long gone days of Ivanovic’s and Jelena Jankovic’s reigns as World No. 1.

Yet in this year’s final of the Serbia Open (a tournament nicknamed the ‘Nole Open’, so powerful is his draw to home fans) Djokovic wasn’t performing as well as he did in, say, the aforementioned Aussie Open final, or his two American finals against Rafa Nadal in early spring.  For instance, he had quite a few problems with his serve. His opponent, Feliciano Lopez, played well, but one can’t help but feel that if Nole had been facing a Nadal or a Murray, his run could have ended there and then. The home crowd were undoubtedly and vocally warm towards their hero, but did this warmth turn the heat up on Djokovic? After all, following the final, it was back to business as usual as Nole upped his game to end Rafa’s 37 match winning run on clay in the final of the Madrid Open.

What do you think? Is the home crowd more an advantage or a burden?  I guess the theory will have to be tested in this year’s Wimbledon finals featuring Gent and Murray!! It doesn’t really get tested in The Ruthless Court, as the home crowd soon have more than tennis to worry about….

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