Sunday, 22 January 2017

What is it about January?

I have always hated January; that post Christmas anti-climax when the next thing you have to look forward to is birdsong and daffodils. The grass is frost-tipped each morning, or it rains, then there's the wind that cuts to the bone, short grey days and long evenings, all of which I see as perfect conditions to line up my research books, computer and endless of supply of coffee and settle down to write.

But it doesn't make sense - I am at my most productive when warm and toasty inside with a manuscript that needs work. The reality is I spend the first hour on catching up with my critique group, answering e-mails and monitoring my Twitter feed, make my third cup of coffee of the morning and open my manuscript - keen to get to work.

What happens? I spend the next few hours tweaking dialogue, deleting scenes and putting them back again. I re-write my scene summaries to fit the new structure that occurred to me sometime at 2.00am the night before, then introduce something random that requires re-jigging of the story line as I decide the original story isn't dramatic enough.

Plot, plan, schedule - but not write.

After deleting the same rejigged sentence a few times, I go back to social media and mess about hoping something will come to me - it doesn't.  A day or so of this unproductive twiddling I can take - even a week can be regarded as a natural marinating period for new ideas to mature -  but a whole month?

I shall have to write it off as a failure - not the manuscript, the month.  Maybe I shouldn't even try and write until February - but then I'll spend January worrying.

I'll try again tomorrow.

Friday, 13 January 2017

A Knightsbridge Scandal

No 3 in the Flora Maguire Mystery Series
Released on 1st March from Aria Fiction

While researching current affairs which could be discussed over the teacups in Flora's drawing room, I discovered the assassination of a royal couple which almost equalled the atrocity of that of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Duchess Sophie in Sarajevo on June 28th 1914 and was the catalyst for World War I. 

I prefer not to regurgitate history in my novels, using historical events as a backdrop to the mysteries Flora gets involved with. The May Coup as it was called is an event Flora's father, William now working for the Foreign Office is distantly involved with as it affected the British Government. 

King Alexander I and Queen Draga of Serbia
A bitter feud which existed between Serbia's leading families; the Obrenovich and Karageorgevich dynasties, both of whom struggled for independence from the Turks. 

Queen Nathalie
 At twenty-two, King Milan Obrenovich I married the beautiful, sixteen-year-old Moldavian, Natalie [Natalija or Nathalie] Keshko. Their only child, Alexander was born a year later. King Milan was an unpopular, autocratic ruler, nor was he a faithful husband. Queen Natalie was reputed to be hot-headed, impulsive and indiscreet. After ten years, they separated and Queen Natalie left Serbia taking ten-year old Prince Alexander, known as Sascha, with her. King Milan removed the Crown Prince from her influence by force, and took him to Belgrade.

King Milan abdicated in 1889 and went to live in Paris, leaving his twelve-year-old son Alexander as king under a council of regency. At sixteen, Alexander proclaimed himself of age, dismissed the regents and their government, abolished his father’s liberal constitution and restored a conservative one. He brought back his father Milan, and appointed him commander-in-chief of the Serbian army, though this didn't last and Milan left again.

King Milan I of Serbia
After a great deal of unpleasant publicity, not to mention the to-ing and fro-ing between Belgrade and their chosen locations of exile, the King and Queen of Serbia divorced in October 1888, after thirteen years of marriage, although later this was declared illegal. Nathalie was in her twenty-eighth year, and considered one of the most beautiful women in Europe, who went to live in Biarritz together with her lady-in-waiting, Draga Mašin. When Natalie discovered her son was having an affair with her lady-in-waiting, she took the view that a liaison with an older woman would be good for her son. However Alexander becamse obsessed with Draga, so the Queen dismissed her. However, Draga returned to Belgrade where she acted as King Alexander's adviser.

Draga [which means ‘dear’ or ‘precious’ in Serbian] Lunjevica, was the daughter of a prominent Serbian family. She married an engineer, Svetozar Maschin at fifteen and was widowed at eighteen. She had two brothers, Nikola (Nicholas) and Nikodije (Nicodemus) and four sisters, Christina (Christine), Đina, Ana (Anne) and Vojka.

Draginja Milićević Lunjevica Maschin
Draga was well read, liked poetry, spoke four languages, and had written for Serbian newspapers whilst she served as a lady-in-waiting. She was also flirtatious and had a bad reputation, which may or may not be propaganda put about by the unhappy royals. 

King Milan, who was always broke, wanted a wealthy American for his son, and was outraged at the relationship. Alexander got him out of the way on the pretext of negotiating a marriage for him to a German Princess.

When he was gone, Alexander announced his engagement to Draga Mašhin. When his father found out, the furious Milan resigned as commander-in-chief and left Serbia, refusing to return. The government resigned and Alexander had difficulty in forming a new cabinet. Alexander had his Minister of the Interior jailed for seven years and Queen Natalie banished from Serbia.

An ex attaché wrote of Alexander: King 'Sasha' of Serbia is one of the most offensive and displeasing youths that could be found anywhere from the Bosporus to the banks of the Tagus. His manners are course and brutal in the extreme, fully in keeping with his beetling brows, low forehead, and almost bestial nose and jaw, while the opinions which he vouchsafes with regard to women in general are characterized by an affection of cynicism and disillusion that is revolting indeed.’

They married on 23 July 1900; she was thirty-two; he was twenty-three. Russian Tsar Nicolas Romanov agreed to be Alexander's honorary best man. 

On hearing that the marriage had taken place Queen Nathalie said:

‘We must hope that this comedy, for I can speak of it by no other name, may not turn into a most fearful tragedy.’

Rumours of Draga’s pregnancy started soon after the wedding, but those in her private circle knew her to be infertile after a youthful accident, which Alexander refused to believe, although the pregnancy did not materialise.

Draga was made Queen of Serbia, with equal rights to reign with the King. Various institutions founded by Queen Nathalie, and which bore her name were re-named as Queen Draga institutions, as was the Queen's Serbian regiment. A propaganda campaign began, with Queen Natalie pressuring Alexander to divorce Draga, then a story circulated that Draga was trying to get her sister to have a baby and pass it off as her own, and that she had killed her first husband. Draga became terrified her enemies would poison her so she had all her food tasted.

Discontented army officers plotted in September 1901 to kill Alexander and Draga with knives dipped in potassium cyanide at a party for the Queen's birthday on 11 September, but the plan failed since the royal couple never arrived.

By March 1903, a rumour started that Draga tried to have her brother, Nikola Lunjevica, named heir to the throne. Nikola was a junior military officer who threw frequent temper tantrums and once killed a policeman whilst drunk. As the king's brother-in-law, he had also demanded senior officers report to and salute him. 

The Assasination

Colonel Dragutin Dimitriević, [Apis]
On June 10th 1903, while Draga and Alexander dined with courtiers and members of Draga’s family at the Old Palace in Belgrade, conspirators surrounded the houses of the Prime Minister and senior officers loyal to king, including several officers of the Royal Guard. The palace guard unlocked the gates at 2.00 am, and a small band of army officers led by Apis [Colonel Dragutin Dimitriević,] the head of Royal Serbian Military Intelligence,entered the palace, killing two of Draga’s sisters and most of the court.

Draga and Alexander heard the crowd approaching and hid in a cupboard in Draga’s bedroom where they held each other and tried to keep quiet.

Apis thought he had seen the king running away, at which a chase and gunfight erupted in the garden. A palace guard shot Apis three times in the chest, though he survived. While Apis lay wounded in the basement of the palace, the conspirators ordered the King's first aide-de-camp, General Lazar Petrović to tell them if a secret room or passage existed. Petrović waited for the deadline of ten minutes to expire, then the doors were shattered with dynamite, but the King's bed was empty.

The couple were found in a secret room behind a mirror or in an alcove - accounts vary. When the partially dressed Alexander and Draga emerged, three officers emptied their revolvers into them, killing Draga and wounding Alexander, who frantically clung to the balcony until an officer drew his sword and cut off his fingers.

Contemporary artist's impression of the killings
Their bodies were mutilated and tossed from a second floor window - some accounts say they were disembowelled, their remains taken to St. Mark's Church, Belgrade and buried in secret.

The Prime Minister Dimitrije Cincar-Marković and the Minister of the Army Milovan Pavlović, as well as the Queen’s brothers Nikodije and Nikola Ljunjevice all died that night.

The National Assembly voted Peter Karađorđević as King Peter I, but international outrage came swiftly, with both Russia and Austria-Hungary condemning the assassinations. When no attempt was made to bring the assassins to justice, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands withdrew their ambassadors from Serbia, froze diplomatic relations, and imposed sanctions.

Russia returned its ambassador after a short, placatory negotiation, followed by other states, leaving only the United Kingdom and the Netherlands to boycott the new Serbian government. British-Serbian diplomatic relations were renewed by decree signed by King Edward VII in 1906.

The  Black Hand became increasingly powerful, and in 1914, they ordered the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand at Sarajevo that launched WWI.

Queen Natalie converted to the Roman Catholic faith and became a lay sister in the Order of Notre Dame de Sion. As Alexander's sole heir, she donated everything he bequeathed to her to the University of Belgrade and Serbian churches. In the 1920’s, a New York Times reporter asked Natalie why she had not written her memoirs. She replied: 'Memoirs require memories. I have forgotten everything in order to forgive everything.'

Milan died in Vienna in February 1901, aged 46, just six months before his son, while Nathalie lived until she was 81 and died in France in 1941.

More Here at The Esoteric Curiosa

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Blog Tour for Alison Stuart


The latest swashbuckling 17th century historical romance from the pen of Alison Stuart!
AND THEN MINE ENEMY is the first book in a two book series (FEATHERS IN THE WIND) spanning the years of the English Civil War from 1642- 1645.

A family ripped apart in a country divided by war . . .

England 1642: Hardened mercenary, Adam Coulter returns to England sickened by violence, seeking only peace, but he finds England on the brink of civil war. He has seen first-hand what that will mean for every man, woman and child and wants no part of it.
King or Parliament? Neutrality is not an option and Adam can only be true to his conscience, not the dictates of his family.
Having escaped a loveless marriage, Perdita Gray has found much needed sanctuary and the love of a good man, but her fragile world begins to crumble as Adam Coulter bursts into her life. This stranger brings not only the reality of war to her doorstep but reignites an old family feud, threatening everything and everyone she holds dear.
As the war and  family tensions collide around them, Adam and Perdita are torn between old loyalties and a growing attraction that must be resisted.

Read an excerpt…

As the first streaks of light illuminated the cold, grey, colourless morning, the wounded came. The echo of horses’ hooves and the creak of wagon wheels, sent Perdita hurrying downstairs. As she stepped outside, her breath frosted in the cold air and she shivered, thinking of the battle that had been fought the previous day and the wounded men who lay on the hard, frosted ground.
In the forecourt a troop of horse, or what was left of a troop of horse, sat their weary mounts as their commander, a tall man on a bay horse leaned down talking to Ludovic. Even in the grey light she could see from his build that it was not Simon and she slowed her steps.
 As she approached him, the man raised his head, his fingers going to the brim of his heavy, iron helmet. She stopped, her breath catching. Adam Coulter.
She wanted to run to him, satisfy herself that he wasn’t hurt but even in the circumstances, any undue haste could be construed as unseemly. Instead she raised her chin and walked purposefully across to him.
‘Adam Coulter? What brings you here?
The answer was obvious and his red-rimmed eyes narrowed. ‘I’ve wounded with me and I can take them no further.’
Perdita moved her gaze to the tired, dispirited faces behind him. Dreading what she might see she turned to the wagons, recoiling momentarily from the stench of blood and worse, and the piteous cries
Adam swung himself down from his horse, wincing as he straightened his back.
Perdita caught the grimace of pain. ‘Are you hurt?’
He shook his head. Beneath the shadow of the helm’s brim, he looked exhausted, his face unshaven and grimy. ‘Thank you for your concern, Mistress Gray, but no I’m not hurt. Just stiff. My men . . .’
‘Take the wounded into the barn.’ Perdita addressed an older man with a greying beard who seemed to carry some authority. She turned to Ludovic. ‘See that there is food and drink for the men. I’ll see to the wounded.’
She supervised the unloading of the wagons, indicating the grey stone solidity of the barn, hurrying ahead as the able-bodied men carried their injured companions into the grey stone solidity of the barn. ‘We heard the sounds of the battle. Where was it?’ Perdita threw the question to Adam, as he helped one of the more lightly injured soldiers off his horse.
‘Kineton village. A place they call Edgehill.’


Award winning Australian author, Alison Stuart learned her passion for history from her father. She has been writing stories since her teenage years but it was not until 2007 that her first full length novel was published. Alison has now published seven full length historical romances and a collection of her short stories.  Her disposition for writing about soldier heroes may come from her varied career as a lawyer in the military and fire services. These days when she is not writing she is travelling and routinely drags her long suffering husband around battlefields and castles.

Connect with Alison at her website, Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or subscribe to her newsletter for exclusive free reads, contests and more…

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