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The Original "Getting Real"

The Original "Getting Real"
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Sunday, 28 August 2011

We have moved!

This blog has now moved to be incorporated into:

Grand Duchess Elizabeth & Other Stories

Please visit us there, and at our website:

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Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Summoned By Bells

Few poets have ever managed to capture an era as John Betjeman did. His 'Summoned by Bells' is a long autobiographical poem in which he speaks with such sincerity and such an eye for the details of life in Edwardian England. Here is a beautiful video - in which he reads his poem as he wanders around places of his childhood haunts - interlaced with original film footage and music of the era.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Now Available in Paperback

I am happy to say that 'Shattered Crowns: The Scapegoats' is now available in paperback:

Friday, 29 July 2011

Our new site

This blog has been temporarily on hold during the creation of a new website, which is still under construction. Please pay it a visit at:

Hilliard & Croft

Friday, 15 July 2011

Shattered Crowns: The Scapegoats

The first novel in my trilogy, Shattered Crowns, is now available on Kindle and will soon be available in paperback. The trilogy follows the royalties of Europe from 1913 to 1918 and the first novel (1913 to the outbreak of the First World War) has the subtitle The Scapegoats. I chose this title because, after ploughing through so many opposing opinions and documents, and from thinking of the characters involved it is clear that Tsar Nicholas, Kaiser Wilhelm and, to a lesser extent, Emperor Franz Josef have been made the scapegoats for such a terrible war whereas not one of them – not even the Kaiser! – wanted war.

It is particularly striking, seeing how they were – against their will - hoodwinked, cajoled and pressurised by ministers and others into allowing the war to happen, that these three monarchies were destroyed by the war. It is so striking that it seems almost a deliberate plot to overthrow them, particularly when you consider that both Russia and Germany refused to be drawn into the international banking legislation of the time and were fiercely independent. I firmly believe that – after years of trying to make sense of how this terrible war came about – the real cause lies very deeply hidden in something far more sinister that can easily be described here.

I am, however, far more interested in interesting people than in politics and one of the most interesting revelations to me during my research is the character of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. This man, whom most people remember only because his murder is said to be the cause of WW1, was a far greater and more perceptive man than the hot-headed, unpopular person he is usually shown to be. His ideas for future government of Austria-Hungary (based on the American idea of independent states and a federal government); his determination to refuse to be crowned King of Hungary until universal suffrage was granted; his understanding of the balance of power and his opposition to the annexing of Bosnia-Herzegovina, are quite wonderful!

Interesting, isn’t it, that he was invited to Sarajevo on his wedding anniversary
and Sophie, his beloved wife who had been so shunned in Vienna was also invited to appear with him in public that day? Did someone fail to mention that it was also a day of great national symbolism for the Serbs (St. Vitus Day – the anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo). Strange how, in such a turbulent area, there was no military protection...even stranger how, after the first attempt on his life, he was still driven in an open car through the streets and the car took a wrong turning - because the driver hadn’t been informed of the change of route to the hospital – and so had to reverse into the path of the killer. Strange too that we accept that the Black Hand was a recognised criminal organisation who had carried out many atrocities when, in fact, apart from a couple of so-called failed or aborted assassination attempts, I cannot find any evidence of their supposed crimes. Also, if that group was – as Austrian ministers claimed – made up of military officers and high ranking Serbian officials, would they choose some drop-out nineteen year old student to carry out so important an assassination? There is a great deal more to say of this but perhaps it is inappropriate here.

To the end of her life, Empress Zita maintained that there was something far more
sinister about the plot to kill Franz Ferdinand than meets the eye. In the aftermath of war, Franz Ferdinand has largely been forgotten; Kaiser Wilhelm (who was always a bit unbalanced) has been made out to be the mad and evil plotter - though he was tryng desperately - in the midst of his many hang-ups - to avoid war and he vehemently opposed the invasion of Belgium; and Tsar Nicholas (who was way ahead of many others in his understanding of and attempts to bring a peaceful solution to the
Balkans wars, and who worked often through the night with no rest in his attempts to broker peace) is portrayed as dancing on the deck of his yacht letting the world go to hell in a handcart because he was ‘weak’. Amazing how easily often repeated stories begin to be believed.

"Shattered Crowns: The Scapegoats" isn’t an attempt to change perceived history or anything of the sort, but is rather written out of love and respect for these ‘scapegoats’ of history.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Fact or Fiction?

If you were asked to write your autobiography, where would you begin? "I was born...I did this, I did that...I went to school, college, university....met so & so etc. etc."? Or would you write: "The first thing I felt was...." or "I hurt..." or "I was happy...."? Which would be closer to your essence and to who you really are? Which would be more real?If you were asked to write someone else's biography, where would you begin? With the same questions? Or, because we feel such a sense of separation from each other, would you feel like Thomas Gradgrind in Dickens' Hard Times, when he says:

"Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!"

In a biography or factual account of any life, these things are necessary, otherwise real historical people become distorted projections of the writer. But how can I prove in my own life - how can you prove in yours - that you once felt humiliated, destroyed, elated, ecstatic? Do you have sources for that? Did you write it down? Did you make sure it was stored in archives? How did you feel when you first fell in love? Can you prove it? I can't. I have no sources for my heart's much less anyone else's.However, there are times when (to quote Dickens again):

"Some persons hold," he pursued, still hesitating, "that there is a wisdom of the Head, and that there is a wisdom of the Heart. . . ."

Sometimes, reading the spoken words and letters of people of the past, one has such a feel for what that person is saying, that it goes beyond what can be proved or cited to sources. Any novel is a projection of the author but so, too, is any biography in that the author places some kind of interpretation on the 'facts'. It is my belief that if a novel is clearly labelled as a 'novel' the author's intention is clear - it is an interpretation of truth. That is no less valid than something that is labelled 'biography'. Perhaps, in some ways, the former is closer to truth than the latter because the former is patently the author's interpretation.

There are many ways to approach a person's life and none of them is as true as the person him/herself, but when it comes to presenting a life in any particular genre, I firmly believe that the bottom line is respect for the person. Many people have written from accurate sources and have written without love or empathy. Many people have written inaccuracies and novels, without love. Many more people have written with great feeling for their characters - faults, foibles and all. When one writes from the heart and the head, I honestly don't think it matters which genre one chooses.

I originally wrote this post as an explanation of why I had written the life of Grand Duchess Elizabeth of Russia as a novel. Having been working on a further trilogy of books based on the 'major players' of the First World War, I felt impelled to write this again. Some books do not easily fit into genres; most people do not fit into genres either...

Friday, 7 January 2011

Whose Woods Are These

Robert Frost's poems are so simple and yet so lovely. Having seen the Temple Newsam woods in the snow today, these lovely lines came to mind:

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.