So here she is, The Grand Duchess of Nowhere, published tomorrow. I love her jacket (book and clothing), but what I think when I look at the copy sitting on my desk is this: it represents a year of my life. Was it a year well spent? The reviewers will soon let me know.
I never planned on becoming a long-distance runner. Actually I never planned on becoming anything much, except a mother. But the long haul has turned out to be my career groove. Two months of fevered research, eight months of writing, and then the slow ping-pong of edits, rewrites, long silences and urgent final tweaks. Do I feel a thrill when I hold a finished copy in my hands? Not really. More like relief.
I will be celebrating tomorrow. A half bottle of bubbly and a jar of salmon caviar nearing its eat-by date, a little nod in the direction of the book’s strongly Russian theme. There’ll be just one shadow hovering over the feast. My husband, always my most ardent champion, always the first to read a finished manuscript, can no longer manage more than a page or two of any book. That’s Alzheimer’s for you. It robs you of life’s little pleasures and it has robbed me of my greatest fan.
But on, on we go. And in the hope of tempting you to buy a copy and save me from the publishing industry’s knacker’s yard, let me introduce you to some of the cast. Who is the Grand Duchess? Princess Victoria Melita, Ducky to her friends.
When I saw this picture I knew there had to be a story. The story was that Ducky was marrying Grand Duke Ernie Hesse (Grandma’s orders) when really she wanted to marry Grand Duke Cyril Vladimirovich Romanov. All clear so far? Ducky, the granddaughter of Queen Victoria and of Tsar Alexander II, was related to just about every royal house in Europe, each of them equipped with a full complement of nitwits, oddballs and good, decent people.
Spoiler alert. If you think bare-knuckle Royal divorces are a recent thing, think again. Ducky does get her Romanov in the end.
The story of fall of the House of Romanov is well-known, and yet I felt it was always told from the same rather removed point of view. But this is recent history. We can look at photographs of all the key players. We can hear a recording of Tsar Nicholas II’s voice. What I’ve hoped to achieve with Grand Duchess is a much stronger sense of the personalities behind those corseted, dickie-bird watching figures. And now, erk erk, the jury is out.
On second thoughts I may make that a full bottle of fizz.