What If The Queen Should Die?

By John-Paul Flintoff

A literary-historical adventure, based on the true story of Britain's most tragic queen

Fiction | History
104% funded
242 supporters

Publication date: April 2016

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The Book

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.

The Background

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!


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  • John-Paul Flintoff avatar

    John-Paul Flintoff

    Mostly, I'm a writer. For years, I wrote exclusively for the magazines at The Financial Times and The Sunday Times ﹘ doing interviews, and stories that often involved putting myself into weird or even dangerous situations. My books have been published in 14 languages. The latest, How To Change The World, is a practical manual designed to help readers identify the changes they want to see ﹘ and to overcome the obstacles that might otherwise hold them back. I'm a life coach, trained to PCC level, and work in this kind of area, one-to-one, with lots of creative and interesting people. I've also written two memoirs. Sew Your Own was about my own attempt to change the world by making all my own clothes (I know!) Comp: A Survivor's Tale, was an account of my education at the then-notorious Holland Park School.

    What If The Queen Should Die? will be, with your help, my first published novel. In writing it, I was hugely influenced by my training in theatrical improvisation with the legendary Keith Johnstone. But my love of early 18th century literature predates that: at university I wrote a large part of my MA dissertation about that period in rhyming couplets (and got a distinction).

    To find out more, check out my website.

    Twitter: @jpflintoff

    Praise for my writing

    "Very good. Very funny... In fact, it made me laugh" - Harold Pinter

    "Faint echoes of Catcher in the Rye, and a nod to the wicked young Martin Amis, but mostly Flintoff writes as his own likeable, transparent self" - The New Statesman

    "Often funny in the blackest way imaginable" - Times Educational Supplement

    "Wonderful, amazing, funny and warm" - Tom Hodgkinson

  • 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.

  • John-Paul Flintoff has written 1 private update. You can pledge to get access to them all.

    23rd October 2017 Remember me?

    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…

    26th April 2016 Online, virtual launch party - please come

    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…

    14th April 2016 YOU ARE INVITED...

    ... 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:

    1. why it's important to celebrate our achievements, big and small
    2. how writers can collaborate…

    1st October 2015 Author asks for, and receives, feedback

    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…

    28th August 2015 Looking for brilliant book reviewers

    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…

    4th July 2015 At what point does your cherished project become real?

    (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…

    11th June 2015 Eek! After 15 (?!) years, I have my publishing schedule


    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…

    30th March 2015 One more wafer thin pledge

    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…

    16th March 2015 Thank you, Catherine

    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…

    17th January 2015 How can a male writer possibly understand?

    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.

    I consulted…

    18th December 2014 Thank you

    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…

    5th December 2014 You, and me, on Skype?

    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…

    1st December 2014 Your face here?

    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…

    21st November 2014 I've been thinking about you

    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…

    11th November 2014 Falling on my face

    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…

    2nd November 2014 How many words have you typed in your lifetime?

    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.…

    30th October 2014 What IS betrayal - and how long does the pain last?

    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…

    22nd September 2014 How to choose a successor... when both candidates are awful?

    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…

    12th September 2014 A latter-day Defoe

    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…

    14th August 2014 "It was electrifying"

    On the magic that can arise out of improvising story and character.

    14th August 2014 "John-Paul is really into interaction... he wants you to be part of it"

    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.

    It's true. 

    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…

    14th August 2014 An experiment: working on the book with improvisers

    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.)

    13th August 2014 How coaching helped me to overcome writer's block

    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…

    13th August 2014 Look how young I was when I started this book

    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.

    13th August 2014 Washed-up journalist writes novel

    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…

    13th August 2014 Which king or queen would Shakespeare have written about?

    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…

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  • janice parsons
    janice parsons asked:

    Please could you tell me if there are any illustrations in 'What if the queen should die'?Janice Parsons

    Unbound replied:

    Hi Janice, Thanks for getting in touch. There will only be the Your Face Here images of those who pledge for this specific pledge level in the book. (Please see the level above for more details.) The rest will be text only. If there is anything else we can help you with please get in touch via unbound.co.uk/support. Best wishes, Caitlin - Community Coordinator

    Michael Abrahams
    Michael Abrahams asked:

    Hi When will the book be published? Excitedly! Mike

    Unbound replied:

    Hi Mike, We're expecting books back from the warehouse any day now. As soon as they are in our warehouse we'll get these dispatched. Best wishes, Caitlin - Community & Events Manager