Sunday, 14 August 2011

Guest Blog: Alan Calder - 'The Stuart Agenda'

Today we have novelist and poet Alan Calder at Lindsay's Romantics, chatting about his debut title, 'The Stuart Agenda'. Welcome, Alan!

Your novel is based on a very original and also topical idea. Would you like to tell us more about the inspiration of that idea and how you developed it?

As my thoughts were turning to novel writing, I was reading the seminal 'Holy Blood and the Holy Grail', which had been in print for some time and was clearly also being read by Dan Brown, since the 'Da Vinci Code' appeared a few years later. A sceptical mind is attracted to conspiracy theories, particularly on the epic scale laid out in 'The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail'. I found it deliciously blasphemous that the blood lines of some of our most famous families might be descended from Christ.

In particular, the Catholic Royal House of Stuart seemed doubly blessed in being connected through both Mary Magdalene and Joseph of Arimathea. This might explain the Stuart’s insistence on divine right to absolute rule under God, without the intervention of Parliament. This stance, along with their inconvenient Catholicism, cost some of them their heads and eventually, after the protestant daughters of James II failed to produce living heirs, extinguished the Stuart flame. This made way for the protestant Hanoverians, who could claim distant Stuart ancestry through a daughter of Charles I, over the heads of a long list of Catholics at the head of which was Bonnie Prince Charlie’s father.

The failure of the subsequent Jacobite rebellions, ending in the defeat of Bonnie Prince Charlie, grandson of James II, at Culloden in 1746, finally consigned the dynasty to a footnote in history. It was a great comfort to the Hanoverians that neither Bonnie Prince Charlie, nor his brother, an eminent Catholic Cardinal, had any legitimate heirs. The lack of a future generation of Stuart champions and the brutal suppression and ethnic cleansing of Jacobites, especially in the Highlands of Scotland, led the Stuart cause to fizzle out.

The final trigger for The Stuart Agenda was a book written by the self-styled ‘Prince Michael of Albany’. In The Forgotten Monarchy of Scotland, he tried to turn history on its head by claiming that Bonnie Prince Charlie married again late in his life and had a legitimate son, from whom he is directly descended. ‘Prince Michael’ claims, not surprisingly, that the Hanoverian spin doctors airbrushed this inconvenient and threatening marriage and birth, out of the history books.

It’s a good conspiracy story and it did make me wonder. Could a new legitimate but hitherto hidden Stuart scion be implanted into the developing Scottish political and constitutional scene? At this moment the Nationalists are forming their first majority government, although the vote looks more like a personal mandate for the brilliant and charismatic Alex Salmond, than an expression of thirst for independence, but you have to start somewhere.

The current Nationalist constitutional holding position is that Scotland would retain the Hanoverian monarchy. This is surely a disingenuous platform that has more to do with the softly softly, step by step approach to independence, than red blooded royalism. At independence, the Scots would want to vote directly on their preferred constitutional model and that would probably be a republic. But what if a charismatic young Stuart appeared to reclaim his inheritance?

The Stuart Agenda is set well into the future in the 2030’s and assumes that the path to Scottish independence will be long and tortuous and that the current euphoric position is merely a false dawn. It is also now clear that the royal couple on the British throne in the timeframe of the novel will probably be the recently married William and Kate, now styled the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

What draws you to writing about Scotland?

Scotland and its history has certainly been the stimulus for both The Stuart Agenda and my second book, The Glorious Twelfth which is in final manuscript form. Both are contemporary thrillers in which the characters are handed their roles from history. The draw for me has been the direct interest in Scottish history, which has thrown up intriguing ‘what ifs’ and conspiracy theories. At the same time my characters do travel, especially to France where I lived for a few years in the 1980’s.

In fact my third book is based there, with no connection to Scotland, although it is based on an interpretation of a period of French history this time, plus a juicy conspiracy theory.

Do you plot your stories in detail or do you launch yourself straight in? Or is it a mixture?

This sounds like the ‘How do you write question.’ I start with an idea eg in the case of The Stuart Agenda, the key idea is that Bonnie Prince Charlie did indeed have legitimate descendents. That reality gave a basic cast of characters headed by the Stuart scion and his key supporters. A particular difficulty with The Stuart Agenda was knowing where to start in the lifecycle of the hero. In the earliest version of the story I began before he was born. Several versions later the published story begins with the Stuart scion as a teenager at Gordonstoun. I also had to create a motivation for the Stuart family to take on such a seemingly impossible task, recovering the throne of Scotland, nearly three hundred years after Culloden. On that base I plotted several chapters ahead and enjoyed the experience of being led by the characters themselves and creating the elaborate loops that bind them all together.

Do you write every day?

I am not a disciplined every day writer. I tend to write in manic bursts for up to two weeks at a time. Then I take a break and begin to mull the next steps before building up to write again. I’m also finding that being published means you have to spend a lot of time promoting the book. I don’t find that as satisfying as writing.

Are you excited about being part of the ebook revolution? What advantages do you think there are to being e-published?

e-Publishing is exciting and for many new writers, weary of the traditional publisher’s slush piles, it is the art of the possible. It represents a practical route to getting published either by the new breed of smaller mainly US publishers who are innovating or by many of the self-publishing independent routes being established. The current growth rate of e-published books is spectacular. They are here to stay and over time will become the dominant access vehicle for the general reader.

When you're not writing, how do you relax?

I do read a lot on current affairs, business, politics and science, particularly genetics, a habit from my senior executive days. For fiction, I enjoy history and the novels of writers like Sebastian Faulks, although I found ‘Human Traces’ rather hard going. At this moment I’m reading ‘On thin Ice’ by Richard Ellis. He charts the changing world and fortunes of the polar bear. I’m also reading ‘The Scots, A Genetic Journey’ by Alistair Moffat and Jim Wilson. The latter prompted me to have my Y-Chromosome status checked. I’m Celtic in origin, not a Viking like many of my Caithness compatriots.

I’ve also recently read ‘One day’ by David Nicholls. I liked the idea of the book, the structure that led us through the frustrated lives of the characters. I didn’t like the end; I thought that the heroine’s demise lacked imagination, as though the author was completely exhausted by the time he got to that bit. Nevertheless I’m looking forward to the weepy film.

In the lulls between bursts of novel writing I increasingly enjoy writing poetry. There is certainly more instant gratification in crafting a few pleasing verses about the human condition or a rant about wind farms or even a piece to explain and explore what some aspect of science means. I certainly see all that as legitimate territory for poets.

Lest I give an impression of being study bound, I should also say that I like cooking, eating well and drinking wine. Salmon fishing is one of my little luxuries; I’ll spend the first week of October on the Thurso River in Caithness, with old friends from America. We’ve already started the countdown prayers for the right amount of water, wind, cloud cover etc without which we shall have perfect excuses for catching very little.

Please share a blurb and excerpt with us.

Blurb

In 2035, young Robert Stuart sets out on a journey to recapture the Scottish throne in an independent Scotland. A cast of conspirators led by his great uncle Leo prepare the political and constitutional ground for him. Robert meets and falls in love with the beautiful Hanoverian Princess Victoria, providing a basis for a dynastic compromise. Robert has to overcome strong resistance from the Hanoverian establishment and from within his own family if he is to succeed in his ambition.

Excerpt

Robert’s declaration on the Culloden Battlefield.

The Prince’s troops, exhausted after the long retreat from Derby, faced a disciplined professional force, superior in numbers and weaponry. The unsuccessful Highland charges were cut down by grapeshot. It was all over in less than an hour before the Prince escaped and the Highlands were put to the sword by the butcher Cumberland. Robert was transfixed by the monumental injustice of what had happened beneath his feet all those years ago. A righteous anger welled up within him and erupted in tears running down his cheeks from his overflowing heart, his head demanding vengeance and accepting the challenge. ‘Don’t torture yourself,’ said Leo. ‘As you are my witness and before God, I pledge myself to recover the throne of Scotland for the Stuarts,’ said Robert, in a strong, emotion charged voice. The two of them stood silently, frozen by Robert’s historic declaration, a team now committed to reverse the history that confronted them on Culloden Moor.

Robert’s Speech at the Glenfinnan Highland Games

‘Chieftain, brother Scots and friends; I’ve come here today to tap the spirit of the Prince himself and replant the Stuart roots that have succoured me in my long personal journey to stand before you here today in the bright sunshine. I’ve come from France just like the Prince, without an army. My sword is my Stuart blood and my shield the strong desire of the Scottish people to manage their own affairs in the constitutional manner of their choice. If the people of Scotland ordain it, I will with great humility accept the call to become Sovereign, in their name. Scotland is a great country, we are a great people, and let’s seize the future together to make it even better.’

The Queen and Robert’s Great Aunt Francoise at Buckingham Palace

‘They’re so much in love, Victoria and Robert; they would make a wonderful royal couple as Queen and King of Scotland, don’t you think?’ asked the Queen, ignoring Françoise’s reply. ‘So, you want an arranged marriage?’ Françoise, felt faint as the implications sunk in. She was torn between branding Robert a traitor to the cause and screaming for joy at such a romantic outcome.

Leo recoils at the thought of Robert marrying a Hanoverian

‘Calculated pragmatism and love; strange bedfellows, aren’t they?’ he began, with his arms splayed out on the table and his head low, looking down. ‘You all know where I stand. I’m not going to trade it for a mess of potage called a Hanoverian marriage, even if it did improve our chances. Were we not confident that Robert could succeed anyway on his own merits?’ asked Leo, sitting up straight and looking round them, daring anyone to challenge his entrenched position. ‘This is all very difficult for Leo,’ said Françoise, putting her hand on his arm. ‘Well, can we all at least agree to let the PR people have a go at the issue? I know that you disapprove of our calculation Leo, but we have to operate in the real world,’ said Sir Duncan, playing for time. ‘Who’s real world? I’ve had enough of this, I’m going back to Paris,’ he announced, standing up and storming out of the room.

Alan Calder – Biographical

Alan was born in Wick in the far North of Scotland and gained a chemistry PhD at Aberdeen University before a career in Research and Development with ICI and Zeneca. He took up the pen in early retirement and enjoys writing contemporary thrillers with their roots in history, as well as poetry. He lives with his wife in Yorkshire, England near his grown up family. Summers are spent in Scotland, writing, fishing and doing heritage projects.

You can read excerpts from The Stuart Agenda and download from Willow Moon Publishing as a PDF to computer, i-Pad, Nook etc. You can also free read the first few chapters on amazon.com or amazon.co.uk and download to a Kindle.

6 comments:

Lindsay Townsend said...

Fascinating interview, Alan! Thanks for sharing all your ideas and how the novel came together. I wish you much success with 'The Stuart Agenda' and your other novels.

She said...

The Stuart Agenda sounds good. I'll have to get it. Nice interview.

Savanna Kougar said...

Ambitious book, indeed. I love how you pull it all together with the torn threads of history, or the remnants of what could be.

Given I have Celtic and Viking blood flowing in my veins, what's the genetic difference? From what little study I've done, I thought there were 'very early' core groups of people that made up the genetic basis for both, then there was a split as other groups arrived and intermarried. Wrong?

Alan Calder said...

Thanks Savanna. Yes the bloodline thing is complex. However if you are a male then your Y-Chromosome has been inherited unchanged from your father and his father etc. In addition analysis of the Y-Chromosome can clarify whether your male line is of Celtic (ie from the original inhabitants who gradually poulated Britain after the ice age and later) origin, or Viking. The Vikings of course came much later from about 800AD onwards over several hundred years. Having said that my Shetland Ggrandfather, ie one of my grandmother's father was certainly of Viking origin so I do have Viking blood as well. It's more complicated for girls but you can read about it on the Oxford Ancestors website. They also do the DNA tests.

Alan Calder said...

Thanks for your interest. I hope you enjoy it.

Savanna Kougar said...

Hi Alan, thanks. That does clarify what you were saying about Celtic and Viking genetics. It is a complicated scenario, and one I find endlessly fascinating.

Given the fact that big Pharma is stealing people's genetics here in the states, I don't think I'll ever do a genetic profile on myself. I wish I could.