My Russian mate Viktor and I [and here is the first lie, the first misdirection, as that’s his father’s name, not his] were sitting in Cafe Giuseppe, high above the bustling town on the tree-lined avenue leading from the Kremlin.
All about were men and women – but mainly women – of the calibre you see in this picture or more exotic, we were sipping on our coffees when one of his ex-colleagues walked in and came over – pleasantries were exchanged.
After the diminutive but physically strong man with the friendly manner had gone through to order, Viktor told me the man’s tale, of how he’d had to shoot a criminal through a tram window in the middle of winter – a frosted up tram window at that and far from disbelieving the tale, I could well understand how this little man would be capable of that. Russia is a land of extraordinary possibilities.
I’d started this book in the middle of the hot summer of 1996, sitting on a green divan in a “dolls house” dacha outside a central Russian city – my first Russian summer. The garden was leafy and lovely, far more cool inside the doll’s house and my Anya was on the divan beside me, watching me scribble in the graph-paper exercise book, wanting to know what it was about.
I really had been a Prep School head in London just prior to this adventure and this was an attempt to capture my first experiences in Russia. Those who’ve read my blog know that the style is like a caustic documentary with flourishes, in minute detail, quite personalized and that’s what was going now into this exercise book.
‘Are you writing about me?’
‘What do you think?’
Problem was though that I couldn’t turn it into a novel – after about 40 pages, I’d run out of new things to describe, plus there were private things I simply couldn’t tell about her and about me, so it was obvious that an autobiography was not going to wash – I’d need to muddy the waters and by doing that, some of the edge would be lost. I can tell you now that my own story is far less noble and much more weird than in the book.
The idea of a novel had to be shelved because the story was ongoing anyway and we were about to walk to the lake described in chapter one, then come back and have banya and a lovely supper in the evening cool.
Around 2003, it seemed to me that world events were becoming not good out there and now being on the internet, I read so many reports on the ruling elite, from the UN to the shadow government in each land, clearly trying to bring down society and curtail freedoms of citizens. Things like WTC7 had been quite iffy and government was lying to its people in every land.
Not long afterwards began the blog and it seemed to me that the events described on the blog would be a good backdrop for a semi-fictional tale, incorporating the real tale of my adventures in Russia. The idea was that it would not be about those events but about the lives of the characters and along the way, they’d make observations about what was going on out there.
Going further, I thought that if a group of characters had inadvertently offended this elite, then this ‘ragtag’ could go on the run across Europe and all sorts of plot possibilities were in that.
So the key issue was going to be the characters.
I had the femme-fatale right there beside me, so that was easy enough – ready-made dialogues – but the main male protagonist could no longer be me, he needed to be an amalgam of various people.
Then I realized I’d have to make Anya a bit of a villain too and so she also needed to become an amalgam – she’s not that dastardly in real life. I should have changed her character name but it’s too late now and I stay quiet about the book with her.
For the other characters, I need to go back to when I was aged 4 and walking my girlfriend of the time to kindergarten/nursery school. That in itself speaks volumes and all my life I’ve been part of a gang of mates but have also maintained many female friends, some becoming lovers and even wives. So, as there were so many readily available dialogues right there to insert in the tale, the characters were going to be easy to write.
I’d like to say, at this point, that if the book seems dominated by females, there’s no mystery here – we do what interests us in life and as I’ve always been fascinated by the female, I’ve made it my business to associate with them and thus there’s so much available material. I’ve had far fewer mates and so there are fewer of them in the book.
I’m not very good at inventing things. I can invent a man in the story who shoots baddies through tram windows but he’s still based on a real person – every character in the book is based on a real person or when it loses the plot near the end, on characters in legend.
I invented Marc out of Jean-Jacques Burnel of the Stranglers, plus various other males I’ve known – he’s a maverick, able to get in among the wimmin, but also a gentleman. I had it in mind to turn Marc into a hero in his own right in a later series but he married and had a family, which brings in the phenomenon which was now taking over – if you write-in characters in fine detail, characters with real-life lives so to speak, then they can only act in character and the author’s ability to get them doing things is lost – the book starts to write itself.
It seemed a good way to go and many was the time I was furiously typing away and the two characters took the tale in a direction I’d not even planned. That also seemed a good way to go, something Hunter S Thompson called “gonzo journalism”.
The main male other than Hugh is his Russian mate Viktor but many of the girls needed no author protection – Alla, Aliya and Alisa are three quite real people, it’s their own names used and much of the dialogue with them is verbatim in the book.
So an element of fun was coming into all this.
One of the in-jokes was The Odd Couple who appear from time to time at Cafe Giuseppe, high above the old town. He’s 40ish and she’s 20 something – these are the real life Anya and James, even down to her wooden hairclip in the shape of two hearts. Dead easy describing that pair and the idea of the fictional Anya commenting on the real life one did cause a chuckle or two.
There were so many femmes-fatales that the story did need a fictional non-femme-fatale, a talented young lady incorporating the good side of Anya but at the same time scatty, anxious and self-effacing, the type you’d fall head over heels for, that you’d devote your whole life to – she slowly came together in the form of Nicolette. I actually fell in love with her myself because she was an amalgam of various ladies I’ve loved throughout my life, including the real-life Anya herself.
A recent surprise is a friend of mine from Alabama who seems to have many Nikki characteristics or maybe Nikki has hers. A real story is how this friend once went sailing, she was on trapeze and the boat tipped, she was lifted into the air and was swinging side to side from the mast – the issue then was how they’d get her down.
I was creased with laughter over that and she was also so Nikki in that way [small, light, adventurous] – that’s precisely what Nikki would have been up to, swinging around in the air, nonplussed up there. You could soon love a girl like that and so many do love this Alabama girl for real.
Nikki is everyone’s Girl Friday who comes here, goes there, does this, does that for others, is a bit scatty – she loves the tittle-tattle of who’s with whom, everyone wants a piece of her but she also has sadnesses. She can be annoying with many of her thoughts and actions and in short – as the only truly fictional character in the book, she’s also the most real, the most humanly flawed.
I found a picture of a Russian girl and that became the physical template [even though Nikki is French] but then I started thinking that this Tristane Banone [of DSK infamy] also had Nikki characteristics.
Some women do have that – at once a sort of low-key vulnerability and coquettishness – not every man could take that for long. Hugh can though, he’s gone on her, much to her amusement at first, then to her deep blushing and then to a vague hope that this strange man might just turn out to be the one.
He doesn’t actually meet her until Chapter 2 of Book 2, but she herself appears on page one of Book 1 and is there until the last line of the book – how they were to be kept apart all that time took some tricky writing.
There are just too many other characters throughout the saga to cover here, so I won’t.
The book style, the romance, the sexuality
I had it in mind to write a rollicking boys own action thriller and while there’s much of that in there – it keeps the various plots rolling along – the plethora of females makes that style hard to sustain – inevitably sex must come into it and not a man’s idea of sex either but a woman’s romanticised sexuality, which does not go down well with the boys – a bit too mushy for them, a bit too psychological.
I’d like to say then that this is a woman’s book but it’s not really – it does not go into feminist concerns and is very much written by a male, albeit one with sympathy for, some understanding of, some concern for and some empathy with the female. Strange mix.
And that raises another issue – those coming to this book from the blog know me as a dry, caustic, articulate, dare I say almost intellectual writer, a “professor” if you like, so a 50 Shades raw sexual tale does not seem the sort of thing I’d be about – a dear lady friend from the past read some of it and called it “intellectual eroticism”, seldom descending to the graphic, Nabokov being more my model. That’s OK, I’ll take that and move on.
I hope I get around the anomaly near the end of the tale by Hugh’s redemption into a [somewhat] better human being – he’d have to do that anyway to be accepted by a Christian reader, of which I know there are a few. I’d imagine they might be embarrassed by the sexuality in this book, maybe not but I can’t do anything about that now – that’s what happened in real time.
Plot summary – extended version
A newly appointed head teacher meets two young Russian ladies in London and follows one back to Russia, where he quickly finds himself drawn into other people’s agendas.
As with quicksand, the more he tries to extricate himself, the further enmeshed they all become. Then the killings begin.
The story moves to France, south of Paris and now even society is heading into a downwards spiral, courtesy of the powers-that-be.
The small ragtag of colleagues flee for their very lives in a chase across Europe, pursued by the shadow elite, concealed and fed though by sympathetic citizens, scoring the occasional victory but still suffering gruesome losses due to treachery within their ranks.
Temporarily back in Britain, the elected government [whom the survivors now serve] itself falls to the shadow elite, Europe is now a war zone, the last elected British government flees into exile … until hunted down by the usurpers, whose mottos include Leading Beyond Authority and The Great Work of Ages.
By now, as all semblance of democracy has gone, as pockets of insurrection are systematically being mopped up, the surviving remnant flees to Israel and hides under a hill called Megiddo.
Readers are warned that there is horror – it punctuates the narrative every so often and enables the character changes. My way of doing it is not to dwell but to casually mention it in passing, even though it irrevocably alters the plot.
“At 14:00, local time, a one megaton nuclear device fell on Western Tearoa and created an indentation in the earth’s crust, where once there had been an island.
After the severe tidal effects had died away, the prevailing currents were altered for some days but other than that, things went back to normal.”
There had been a thriving community on that island, people who had been central characters in previous chapters of the book and those the reader may have formed a bond with. If that seems cold and dispassionate, it’s very much my own reaction to horror – sick inside but also matter of fact and needing to move on. Not good but a defence mechanism in order to cope.
Bless you, dear reader, if you even attempt to read this book.