A literary-historical adventure, based on the true story of Britain's most tragic queen
A literary-historical-thriller, based on the true story of Britain's most tragic queen, and the people closest to her.
Windsor Castle, 1714. Queen Anne is dying, with no living offspring. Nobody knows who will succeed her. There are two likely successors: the half-brother she always refused to acknowledge, and the cousin who once turned her down in marriage. She hates them both. Courtiers, politicians and hangers-on ﹘ including the writers Daniel Defoe, Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope ﹘ plot to get whatever they can from the queen while she lives, and to steer the succession to their own advantage. But nothing can be resolved until the queen has come to terms with her children's deaths ﹘ and repaired the terrible wrong she did many years before.
Which historical king or queen would Shakespeare have written about, if he was alive today? A friend asked me that question, years ago, and it stuck in my head. I chose Queen Anne, whose life would be rejected by a soap-opera script-writer as being too far-fetched. She betrayed her father, who cursed her, and then she lost all 17 of her children. (Seventeen!) I was excited to tell Anne's story, because so few people know about it. (Why is that?) And I knew I was on to something extraordinary when I discovered that three of the most important writers in English literature were closely wrapped up in it. Daniel Defoe, now known for writing Robinson Crusoe, was then a failed businessman, working as a spy for the queen's chief minister. Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver's Travels, was more of an insider: a personal friend of the queen's ministers and of her personal physician ﹘ as was the fashionable poet Alexander Pope.
But for years I struggled to write the book. I felt wobbly about my qualifications to write it. In fact, I gave up. Then something remarkable happened: I accidentally discovered life-coaching and theatrical improvisation. By experimenting with both these disciplines ﹘ and, crucially, by collaborating ﹘ I discovered a creative process that was both enjoyable and incredibly productive. If you support this book, at any of the pledge levels, I will share with you information and a variety of materials and techniques (including filmed interviews) relating to the process by which it came into being ﹘ because I strongly believe that it could be helpful to any writer. If you pledge at the higher end, I'll work with you in person.
Please pledge ﹘ and get your friends to do the same!
Queen Anne was looking forward to this evening's ball, the first such event in years to spur her excitement. After all its historical theme ﹘ England's glorious Elizabethan past ﹘ was her own idea. The Queen rose no later than usual, at 10am, prayed, then took breakfast in her chamber: a dozen wheat cakes, two hard-boiled goose eggs, several slices of tongue, pigeon pie, good salted herring, fried kidneys, and a dish of pease pottage ﹘ all rinsed through with the best Trumpington ale. After that, she smoked a pipe, which induced a lengthy fit of coughing. In her fifties, the Queen was vastly overweight, and unwell. For some minutes, her bedchamber woman, Abigail, Lady Masham, waited for the fit to pass, but not before spilling plates all over the floor. Another lady in waiting, Mary Arden, took the Queen's hand.
"Mary, why can't you do something useful?" said Lady Masham. "Go and fetch Dr Arbuthnot."
The doctor adjusted his wig as he entered, muttering apologies in his inimitable Scots accent, but by that time the Queen's coughing had ceased. He examined her briefly.
"Everybody's waiting for me to die," the Queen told him. "They want me to do something decisive."
As if he didn't hear her, the doctor peered at her tongue, asked if she felt at all light-headed, then pronounced her well. Well enough, at any rate, to attend the ball. "And if I may say so, the whole court looks forward to your impersonation of Queen Elizabeth."
The Queen had been in Windsor for some time. Twelve years had passed since the start of her glorious reign. Sunshine gently warmed the castle, the park and the forest, while the Queen, inside, contemplated death for the three-hundred-and-ninety-second time in a week, and weighed the merits of making some bold gesture with regard to the succession, and considered which of the two leading candidates should benefit from such a gesture ﹘ then finally whether it wasn't really all too much trouble after all, best left for others to determine after she had gone.
Monday, 23 October 2017
Writers, would-be writers... friends. It's been a while. To make up for it, I've got a very special treat for you tomorrow.
It's something from the brilliant woman who used to be my editor on The Sunday Times Magazine (pictured).
I'm not telling you much more because I don't want to spoil the surprise.
Anyway, the announcement goes out first to the lovely people who subscribe to my personal…
Online, virtual launch party - please come
Tuesday, 26 April 2016
I want to hang out with you today - Thursday, 28 APRIL.
At least briefly. Any time from 11 to 6.30pm.
I will be posting lots of interviews with other people that I hope might amuse and interest you. I will be broadcasting on Periscope (https://www.periscope.tv/jpflintoff).
You see, it's finally the launch of this novel, What If The Queen Should Die?, and rather than have a party in London…
YOU ARE INVITED...
Thursday, 14 April 2016
... at long last, to my book launch.
But it's not like any I've been to before. I’m planning to make it interactive, entertaining and informative, and it will be open to people far away from London.
It's taking place on 28th April, with live, online conversations throughout the day, about things like:
- why it's important to celebrate our achievements, big and small
- how writers can collaborate…
Author asks for, and receives, feedback
Thursday, 1 October 2015
A month ago, I launched an experiment. Having sent my manuscript to Unbound, and received encouraging comments from two esteemed editors, I decided to ask for input from subscribers - before the book is published.
I wanted to know what people liked, and what they might like even more - a careful formula for feedback that I learned a few years ago, when training as a coach and a performer. By telling…
Looking for brilliant book reviewers
Friday, 28 August 2015
This morning, I met my editor, John Mitchinson, at Unbound. I was excited to hear his thoughts about my manuscript, now that I've made the changes he suggested earlier in the summer.
We got into an excitable conversation about the pleasures of feedback - how scary it can be to ask for it, but (if you do ask) what fun it is to hear what somebody likes, and how you might make things even better…
At what point does your cherished project become real?
Saturday, 4 July 2015
(PICTURE: Four copies of my novel, designed and printed in book form by me, as work in progress)
If you have typed enough words to fill a book, when does it become a book? When it’s printed on loose sheets of A4, or only when it’s glue-bound? Does it have to be printed at all, or can it be entirely digital? Must there be more than one copy? Is it a book if it’s not on sale? In a real bookshop…
Eek! After 15 (?!) years, I have my publishing schedule
Thursday, 11 June 2015
Yesterday I popped into Unbound to pick up the schedule for my book, now that it's fully funded.
We're aiming to launch in March, which is a great month for that - and gives me oodles of chances to entertain myself (and I hope others) on the way there.
I'm going to continue promoting the book, because I can always do with more readers (full funding pretty well only means we don…
One more wafer thin pledge
Monday, 30 March 2015
Nearly there! Thanks to you, and some other lovely people, this book has attracted 98% of the funds needed to make it a reality.
I CANNOT put into words how wonderful this is, and how grateful I am for your generous support.
Tonight, I'm doing a live event in London with another Unbound author, the brilliant and funny Max Dickins, to drum up a few more supporters. We've hoping…
Thank you, Catherine
Monday, 16 March 2015
This is Catherine - one of the first people to support my book with a pledge on Unbound.
Our children go to the same school, and our houses are close to each other, and over the years we've spent a lot of time together, on public transport to and from school - or walking - and in each other's kitchens.
In 2010, Catherine was one of the friends who came to the launch party for my book Sew…
How can a male writer possibly understand?
Saturday, 17 January 2015
How can a man possibly fathom what it’s like to be a woman who lost 17 children? The question has troubled me ever since I started writing about Queen Anne. But more positive voices in my head say that the work is about empathy. I’ve never been a woman, it’s true – but I’ve never been the ruler of a kingdom either. By writing about Anne, I’m just trying to understand what it might be like.
Thursday, 18 December 2014
I'm incredibly lucky to have your support for my book. You've taken a risk on my book, and in doing so you are helping to make something possible that I care about very VERY much. As we go into the holiday season, I just want to say thank you.
I'm always happy to hear your ideas about how I might be better at crowd-funding, which is a very public way of learning as you go along, and even your…
You, and me, on Skype?
Friday, 5 December 2014
You may have seen that, to raise funds for my book, I'm offering an hour of improvisation on Skype for £120.
What might we do in that time? Well, we could work on one of your projects, or you could help me with mine. Who knows, you might come up with an unexpected idea for my storyline, or my characters. You may make me rethink the whole thing. Even if you don't - if we "only" have fun together…
Your face here?
Monday, 1 December 2014
Some years ago, I came across a late-medieval painting at the National Portrait Gallery. I was struck by it because the painter had included in this pieta his patron, staring boldly out at the viewer. I've searched online but can't find it - so here's a sketch I did of it at the time (note that I updated the patron, with a pinstriped suit).
Since then, I've always been rather drawn to the idea…
I've been thinking about you
Friday, 21 November 2014
I've been wondering, recently, what you are getting out of the process of crowd-funding my book.
You might say, "The book, stupid!" But I have always found it helpful to try to enjoy the process as much as the end result. The "journey", as much as "the destination".
Speaking for myself, I'm enjoying the journey a lot, despite (or possibly because of) the odd wobble. But what's in it for you…
Falling on my face
Tuesday, 11 November 2014
When you try something new (such as crowd-funding a novel) you take a risk. You might fall on your face. I tell myself that I'm OK with it, but it's not always true.
Last week I went to talk at a conference about How To Change The World (the subject of my previous book). I shared a stage with the film director Werner Herzog (I know!), and Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat Pray Love) and Piper Kerman…
How many words have you typed in your lifetime?
Sunday, 2 November 2014
This morning my daughter told me she didn't like touch-typing. "It's too slow," she said.
She's not been doing it for long, and it still feels better to use two index fingers.
It was one of those moments that made me pause, and see my life entirely afresh. Specifically, I saw that something I've taken entirely for granted - something I'm doing right this second - is incredibly valuable.…
What IS betrayal - and how long does the pain last?
Thursday, 30 October 2014
This week, I hit the 45% mark - thank you! - and met Dr Brennan Jacoby, near the Soho offices of Unbound, to talk about BETRAYAL.
I wanted to talk about Queen Anne's betrayal of her father. But we ended up talking about betrayal more generally - in a conversation that ranged around whistleblowers, adulterous golfers, and the football match, nearly 40 years ago, in which Denis Law, for Manchester…
How to choose a successor... when both candidates are awful?
Monday, 22 September 2014
When Queen Anne was dying, the two likeliest successors to the throne were her younger half-brother, James Stuart, and a cousin, George of Hanover.
For very good reasons, Anne was not keen on either. Which made it so much easier for the people around her to manipulate her into a decision that suited them.
James Stuart was the son of Anne's father, James II, by his Catholic second wife…
A latter-day Defoe
Friday, 12 September 2014
One of the things that most excites me about Daniel Defoe, the main character in my new novel, is that he combined writing with spying.
But what does "spying" mean? Is it just that he worked undercover? I've done a bit of that myself: exciting verging on scary, and (I hope sometimes) worthwhile.
But this blog post wasn't meant to be about me, or even my novel. It's about my friend Alexander…
"It was electrifying"
Thursday, 14 August 2014
On the magic that can arise out of improvising story and character.
"John-Paul is really into interaction... he wants you to be part of it"
Thursday, 14 August 2014
In this video, the great novelist Tahir Shah says that I like to get people involved in my creative projects. It made me so happy that this aspect of what I do is so obvious to Tahir.
One of the things that most excites me about attempting to publish What If The Queen Should Die? is the crowd-funding model. I love the danger that it shares with impro - the delicious danger of public…
An experiment: working on the book with improvisers
Thursday, 14 August 2014
Having trained in theatrical impro, I wondered what might happen if I got some of my impro friends to workshop scenes and characters in my novel...
(Credit: This film shows actress Pernille Sorensen, my coach Fenella Rouse, and the novelist Robert Twigger, himself an improviser, reflecting on the experiment in interviews with Ben Spencer.)
How coaching helped me to overcome writer's block
Wednesday, 13 August 2014
A few years after I gave up writing about Queen Anne, my friend Fenella Rouse called me. She'd started training as a life coach, she said, and wondered if I might be one of her guinea pigs.
If it hadn't been Fenella, whom I hold in the highest possible regard, I might have curled the lip. I might even have sneered. "Life coaching? Sounds a bit, er, Californian!"
But having somebody talk with…
Look how young I was when I started this book
Wednesday, 13 August 2014
I recently found this video file. It's very low-res (I didn't have a very good camera when I made it) but you can just about tell how much younger I was at the time. And how terribly serious I was.
And I started thinking about Queen Anne well before that - probably in the late 1990s. But then I got blocked. I put the novel away. I gave up.
Washed-up journalist writes novel
Wednesday, 13 August 2014
If you thought this post was about me - for years a feature writer on The Sunday Times and the Financial Times - shame on you! It's about Daniel Defoe, the leading character in my novel, What If The Queen Should Die?
He's best known today as the author of Robinson Crusoe, but Defoe did a lot of other things before that. He set up his own newspaper, and wrote most of it himself - covering a…
Which king or queen would Shakespeare have written about?
Wednesday, 13 August 2014
Charles I had his head chopped off. George III went mad. Edward VIII giving it all up for love. Shakespeare might have been drawn to any of their stories.
What's Shakespeare got to do with it? Well, I've always been nuts about Shakespeare. My father (an actor) had us learning soliloquys from about six years old. At university, my MA was on Shakespeare And His Influence. And not long after graduating…
These people are helping to fund What If The Queen Should Die?.