Behind The Monk’s Curse

Behind the Scenes, The Monk's Curse - Prologue

The Prologue

Behind the Scenes, The Monk's Curse - Prologue

With the long due, and imminent release of The Monk’s Curse, a novel which I conceived and wrote about almost two years ago, I have decided to make things more interesting by revealing the research I did to write each chapter. This will be something very interesting as the novel is historical content heavy and the link between the various historical threads is fascinating. I shall write a post once a week on each chapter. This week is the prologue.

So without further ado.

The Prologue

This was by far one of the most interesting chapters to write. That is because it is based entirely on the real life experience of the Russian Imperial Family after the Tsar’s abdication in 1917.

The Narrator

And what makes it more interesting is the narrator of this chapter. It is none other than the last Empress Consort of Russia, Alexandra Feodorovna.

Some Historical Perspective

What makes this narrator fascinating is that the Empress was a Princess of a German Grand Duchy – the Grand Duchy of Hesse and by Rhine. This was a region in the German Empire.

As a foreign Empress, she was disliked by the Russian population – nobles and peasants alike – and her mother-in-law. That her husband’s reign, a reign much like Louis XVI’s of France, ended in their execution is not the only similarity that the last ruling family of France and Russia shared. As it happens, Louis XVI’s wife was German too. Something that is far too similar to be a coincidence – a historical poetic justice of sorts, Marie Antoinette of France was born as an Archduchess of Austria. A German Princess like Empress Alexandra Feodorovna. She was also disliked by the French population.

It thus adds to one of the many similarities shared by the French and Russian revolutions. Both shared foreign wives of the monarch. Both had incompetent monarchs. Both were the result of a deeply entrenched system of the precedence of society following this pattern: the monarch, the clergy, the nobility, the bourgeoisie, and the peasant or working class.

But these similarities are nothing more than a historical marvel admired by many – myself included.

The Research Involved

But the writing of the Prologue required a lot more knowledge than the Empress’s historical background. It would be vital to understand her feelings toward her subjects. It would be vital to understand her thought process, for the reign of her husband was marred by her own influence. An influence disliked by the Russians, and one made worse by her close relationship with the Russian fanatic, Grigori Rasputin.

How could I possibly come to know her thoughts? Her last days. Her convictions. How could I make it historically plausible, in its prose that is?

Simple. With the marvellous tool of Wikipedia and films made about the time. Sure, no historian worth their salt would ever base an entire chapter of their book on the conjecture of Wikipedia and twentieth century film producers. But, I am no historian. And, my book is no history book. It is fiction.

So began the earnest search for the Empress’s thoughts. I shall skip the Wikipedia part. Sure, it gave me the events, the family’s nicknames, their companions, their places of captivity, the time of their captivity, the seasons, and so much more. But I needed more. I needed drama. I needed the daily lives of the Imperial family in their last days.

Here is where the movies come in. Notably, four movies. Assassin of the Tsar. BBC’s Infamous Assassinations: The Assassination of Tsar Nicholas II. Rasputin – Dark Servant of Destiny. Nicholas and Alexandra.

Assassin of the Tsar.

This was an interesting one. Totally devoid of what one would normally expect, this 1991 film starred Malcolm McDowell and a host of Russian actors. It is ‘abnormal’ in that it is not an actual historical picture of the last days of the Imperial family. Rather, it follows Malcolm McDowell’s character, Timofyev, a patient in a mental asylum, who claims to have assassinated both Tsar Alexander II and Tsar Nicholas II. Somehow, the family’s last days are characterised by McDowell starring as the family’s guard, Yakov Yurovsky; and by Dr Smirnov (Timofyev’s doctor in the mental asylum) starring as Tsar Nicholas II. It makes for an interesting look into the wild mind of Timofyev, and the last days of the Imperial family. More than anything, it gave me a brief look into the events that my prologue would contain rather than the look into my narrator’s mind.

Rasputin – Dark Servant of Destiny.

This one was not only interesting, but it was a pleasure to watch. With an all star cast, three of my favourites – Alan Rickman, Ian McKellen, and Greta Scacchi – it was thoroughly enjoyable.

The cast left nothing in want, brilliantly portraying the last days of the Imperial family, and placing particular focus on the relationship between Rasputin, the man who ‘supposedly’ aided the health of Tsesarevich Alexei in his affliction with haemophilia, and the Empress. To me, their relationship almost seemed sensual as the snivelling Rasputin gained the favour of the Empress, posing as her saviour. It makes for a compelling tale that leaves one not in doubt about why the Russian population disliked their Empress and her notorious confidante.

Nicholas and Alexandra

This was by far my favourite of them all. In part because it stars the beautiful Janet Suzman, born in my home country South Africa, and niece of Helen Suzman, an anti-apartheid activist. Janet Suzman delivers a stellar performance as Alexandra, painting the perfect picture of the imperious woman, her strength in her convictions, and her love for her family and Nicholas.

Of them all, this movie guided my hand the most as I wrote the first chapter to my first novel. As such, it will remain a film that will be firmly embedded in my memory. It is one that I highly recommend.

Finally…the conception of a prologue worthy of its succeeding chapters

Now, whether all these movies and my perusal of the necessary Wikipedia pages gave me an accurate picture into the Empress’s thoughts or not, I certainly shaped a character from them. A compelling character. An antagonist some might claim. But the perfect start to my novel.

The Grand Reveal: More on The Monk’s Curse

Literary Reinvention - The Monk's Curse Banner

Presenting: The Monk’s Curse

From the heat of Arizona to the snow deep in mountain ranges, to Istanbul, The Monk’s Curse will plunge you into a strange world – ever shifting – that will tickle your senses and keep your heart racing.

A few weeks, or was it months, ago, I announced here that I would be redefining my online literary persona. In doing so, I redesigned my website, unpublished all my books, and immediately began working on The Monk’s Curse.

Now, in the beginning, I did not reveal much. To be precise, this is what I said:

One of the things that have sparked this reinvention was the conception of The Monk’s Curse. I can’t say much about it, but I describe it as the riveting story of a boy, a prophecy, and a monk. It’s a story where East meets West and the Islamic Caliphate meets Christendom. Oh no, I have said too much! What I can say is that while writing this novel I have made up the most outrageous of fake histories, the evilest and naive of characters and the most scholarly prose. You won’t find too many action scenes in this novel. It is a political masterpiece with constant machinations going on behind the scenes. If you are anyhow interested in scholarly and political mysteries, keep your eye out for this book.

But, here’s more:

Basically, all I knew when I began writing was what I had told you all. There would be a boy, a monk’s curse (the prophecy), and a whole host of complex characters.

But, as I began to write it, I noticed that I was focussing less on the monk’s curse and more on where the plot was taking me. To be precise, I noticed that my characters were leading my fingers as they typed. Well, what I mean to say is that my words were being guided by the story itself, and not my mind. Now, to seasoned authors, or readers who follow authors closely, this idea would seem quite a cliche. I suppose it is, but I also suppose is that that is what creates a great story.

In the beginning

So, when I began, there was a curse, a boy affected by the curse, and a few secret societies manoeuvring for control of the boy and for supremacy. That was the first chapter.

In the second chapter

Here is where I discovered how intricate the story would become. A minor member of one of the secret societies addresses his masters after committing certain acts. His masters are furious and order him to cease the carrying out of those acts. This is where the antagonist is born – an antagonist I didn’t even know I wanted.

After that

It gets better. I started writing about characters whom I had identified as the ‘good guys’, but as if under a monk’s curse I encountered confusion, in myself and in my characters. I could no longer tell who was good and who was bad. Who could the boy trust? Who could we, the readers, trust?

And this all went on and on. Soon, I started a habit which I had always read about but had resigned as unnecessary: the habit of sporadic note taking. I had to do this because with the twists came brilliant new ideas: ideas of dialogue, assassinations and hidden histories. Right now, I have about ten memos, and I can’t even remember what they relate to. Alas, the note taking tip doesn’t work!

But, why am I telling you all of this?

Readers often don’t care about the creative process, and I must admit, neither do I. I couldn’t care less how J.K. Rowling or J.R.R Tolkien conceived their epics. However, I am telling you all of this, because I wish to pass on one simple message. If this story can surprise me, imagine how it will surprise you. I love to read books that keep me on the edge of my seat, and I can promise you that this one will.

From the heat of Arizona to the snow deep in mountain ranges, to Istanbul, this novel will plunge you into a strange world – ever shifting – that will tickle your senses and keep your heart racing.

Hello Literary World – My Rebirth as an Author!

New York Public Library

Greetings to all readers out there!

Here is my literary rebirth!

I have decided to reinvent my literary identity, my career, and, perhaps most importantly, my literature itself. To mark the good progress that I have made on my novel in the works – The Monk’s Curse – I am unpublishing all my previous works, have recreated my entire website, created a new website for the book here (you can visit it but it’s not done yet).

First of all: The Monk’s Curse

The new literary journey

Literary Reinvention - The Monk's Curse Banner
The Monk’s Curse Banner

One of the things that have sparked this reinvention was the conception of The Monk’s Curse. I can’t say much about it, but I describe it as the riveting story of a boy, a prophecy, and a monk. It’s a story where East meets West and the Islamic Caliphate meets Christendom. Oh no, I have said too much! What I can say is that while writing this novel I have made up the most outrageous of fake histories, the evilest and naive of characters and the most scholarly prose. You won’t find too many action scenes in this novel. It is a political masterpiece with constant machinations going on behind the scenes. If you are anyhow interested in scholarly and political mysteries, keep your eye out for this book.

Finally: What has really led to this surge of inspiration and departure from normalcy?

What drove me to abandon my previous books and literary journey to start all over again?

It was a wonderful trip to the United States in the December of 2016. Meant to be an exploration of the place in which I will one day pursue medical studies, I turned it into an awesome experience of winter, museums, books, and a family Christmas.

Okay, so we don’t get white Christmases here in South Africa. So, I went to New York City in the hopes of seeing a white Christmas. I didn’t get that. Instead, I saw the marvellous Museum of Natural History, Central Park, and Times Square. Also, I spent a wonderful Christmas with family in Houston, Texas. Christmas is certainly not such a big affair where I come from. So, the lights, festivities, elaborate meals, and gift giving were a pleasant surprise.

Saturn V Rocket at the Johnson Space Centre in Houston
Saturn V Rocket at the Johnson Space Centre in Houston

View of Manhattan from over the Hudson at night
View of Manhattan from over the Hudson at night

The American Museum of Natural History in Upper Manhattan
The American Museum of Natural History in Upper Manhattan

The pictures just show some of my experiences and can hardly do justice to any of them. All I can say was that my trip to the USA was definitely inspiring enough to get me start writing my novel – I am now halfway through.

But what really affected me!

My greatest experience in the USA was that of my visits to the New York Public Library (see picture above) and the Strand Book Store. Evidently, my literary experiences stood out. I didn’t take any pictures of Strand, of which any book lover will know, but in my defence, I was too awestruck by the sheer decadence (is there a better word?) of the place. Be sure to get my thoughts on it in my next post!

Finally

I hope you have enjoyed what you have read so far, but trust me, if you are a bibliophile, it is only the beginning. See my next post for a whole lot of book recommendations and my experience in the largest bookstore I have ever been to!