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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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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