The Russian Diary – Kaela receives the translations

Kaela’s grandfather had worked in the History department of Diaz University and the people who’d trained under him were now sitting at desks he used to frequent. Kaela had had no trouble enlisting their help in getting the diaries translated and information on the royals mentioned.

She’d taken the translations to her favourite spot on Bartholomew Beach, where the sand meets the harbour, and read them quickly. She’d reread them slowly. And then skimmed through them in disbelief.

Her great-great-great-grandmother had worked in the Tsar’s palace just after the Crimean War, and she’d worked in the palaces of Queen Victoria! She’d sailed from the Black Sea to the English Channel, and educated a queen. She’d crossed the planet on her own to do things now written about in textbooks.

Kaela put the notes down and stared out at the ocean. It was that time of year again when you could almost smell spring in the air. The land was beginning to heat up, bringing the scent of vegetation with it. Whenever the wind blew there were blossoms dancing around and, most importantly, the winter-long promise that spring would return was finally made true.

Kaela loved this time, when six months of life spread out before you and the possibilities were endless.

Was this how Svetlana had felt as she’d stared out at the White Cliffs of Dover?

Kaela breathed deeply and returned her attention back to the diary; why had she never been told about this woman whose blood ran through her veins?

Something pricked at her mind, a memory from years before, but when she tried to bring it forward, it danced around her fingers like smoke.

Hadn’t her grandmother once told her a Russian story about Tsars and coins? Hadn’t she said it had been passed down from her own grandmother? Kaela shut her eyes tightly and tried to remember something she hadn’t thought about in years. A pink bedroom – her grandmother’s – with a china ballerina on the dressing table. Tales of Russia. Where had that ballerina come from?

Kaela picked up the translations and read them again.

So much of her childhood suddenly made sense …

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The Magic of Apley Towers

VOTING OPENSThere has always been a certain magic around Apley Towers.

Growing up I had known that I would one day write about horses and the joy of riding them, but the series seemed to walk on sunbeams once I got to England. As though it had been waiting for me.

I’d started writing the books when I was nineteen. The stable (and series) was then called Chestnut Hooves and set in Johannesburg, South Africa. The three leads were named Mia, Angela and Kim. There was no girl in Canada. And most disturbingly, there was no group called The Lost Kodas. The story was there, the first four books were written … but there was no magic.

Skip ahead a few years then. I had lived and worked in the United States, I had moved to England, and then I became a mother to a child constantly threatening revolution. Seemingly out of nowhere the story rewrote itself in my head to include all I had done, seen, and learned. I also realised half way through rewriting the books that, although Johannesburg has some fine points to it, the city is just like any other city on earth. I needed to move the setting to a much more South African location. And so my fictional town on the east coast was born. The girls changed with the setting, and eventually the stable did as well. When it came time to rename it, I decided to join my two favourite places in England: Apley Woods and Tower Bridge.

And so the series as you know it was born.

And then my courage ran out.

The books were fresh and newly named, but that didn’t mean someone would want to publish them. I put them away and went on with my life.

And here’s where the magic began …

I’d gone without seeing horses for years and now I was constantly tripping over them. The empty field behind my house suddenly became home to an equine herd, while the forest I walked through every day seemed to be the playground to mischievous ponies. Horses and riders were on every TV channel, no matter the time of day. I was inundated with the very world I wished to immortalise through words. But still I fought it all; my fear greater than my drive.

One quiet Saturday at the library, a gaggle of teenage girls made a rush for the shelves and picked them clean. But one of their cohorts eyed the books and chose nothing. As the group checked their books out, the last girl approached the librarian with empty arms and asked, “Don’t you have any new horse books?” The librarian responded with: “There hasn’t been a new horse series in years. It’s time for one.”

If that wasn’t a nudge from the universe, I don’t know what is.

Was I terrified as I walked home to submit my manuscript to a publisher? Of course I was. It’s easier to say ‘no’ to authors than to say ‘yes’.

Was I terrified as a publisher said yes to me? Not so much.

My fear had no choice but to move aside for my drive.

It wasn’t easy to write Apley, nor was it easy to edit. It was terrifying to launch, and even scarier to promote, but the thought of girls walking out of the library with my books in their arms kept me going. It still does.

My favourite part of being published is having people meet my characters because then they become their characters.

I’m not sure what will happen at the People’s Book Prize ceremony. I’m not sure if I’ll walk away with any awards.

But it’s okay if I don’t.

Just by existing, Apley Towers is already my winner.People's Book Prize Photo

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Apley Towers Deleted Scenes

Phoenix and Arion Make Peace

Phoenix stopped outside the large auditorium doors and breathed in deeply; the scent of the theatre always made her knees weak with excitement. The actors were on stage, rehearsing one of the most important scenes of the play. Stella, the human main character, had just led a mission to save the star Bellatrix from destruction. Trixie and Angela had helped with the science. Phoenix didn’t fully understand what was happening to Bellatrix, but she did understand it was a legitimate problem with stars. Angela’s mother, however, believed the White Feather twins had abandoned science completely and were wholly in the realms of impossible fiction. In honour of her, Phoenix had made Stella a doctor of astrophysics.federico-beccari-67272

This play wasn’t the best that Phoenix had ever written but it was sure to hold the attention of the easily-distracted middle school students.

She looked for Arion and walked over when she spotted him. The actors suddenly had a nervous edge to them, waiting for the moment when the twins would explode on each other.

They would be waiting forever if she could help it.

She sat down next to Arion and leaned over, “I’ve figured out how the Bellatrixians find Stella,” she whispered.

“She is an astrophysicist,” he whispered back.

“Yes, but I’ve figured out how they know that.”

“How?”

“She writes a book about Bellatrix. She calls it Bellatrix: Amazon Woman.”

Arion nodded, but didn’t say anything. He was still suspicious of his sister and awaiting an outburst.

On stage the actors were bringing the scene to a close. Stella had to decide whether to stay on the only life supporting planet in Bellatrix’s solar system or go back to her life on Earth. The lead Bellatrixian, Helios, was about to tell her that the few weeks she had spent orbiting Bellatrix was the equivalent of fifteen years on Earth. The boyfriend she had left behind was now married to someone else.

“If you are going through last minute problems with this play, I have one,” Arion whispered.

“I wasn’t. But what is the problem?”

“You call this race Bellatrixians, but that makes no sense. They are from a planet orbiting Bellatrix, therefore they should be called what their planet is called. We are called Earthlings, not …” he paused, trying to think of the name of our sun, “ahh … sunlings.”

“But the planets in Bellatrix’s solar system aren’t named.”

“So make one up.”

The two were silent as they watched Stella go back to Earth, only to decide she would rather orbit Bellatrix than our sun.

“What on earth is our sun’s name anyway?” Arion asked.

Phoenix began to giggle; the twins had found peace over astrophysics.

Life was strange that way.

 

The Real Angela May

In book two Kaela has to confront the horrid idea that she is no longer the brightest star in her little universe. Angela May, the newcomer, is a better teacher, better rider and, some would say, more fabulous in her ways of conducting herself. This throws the flamboyant Kaela for a loop she wasn’t expecting.

When I was fifteen I met the woman who would one day provide the incentive to write that book.

Angela, brand new to school, was seated next to me in class. It didn’t bug me that she was beyond stunning, or that she walked over to my desk as though she were queen of all before her. It didn’t bug me that everyone – both male and female – surreptitiously followed her with their eyes. What drove me out of my mind with jealousy and hatred was the flowing blonde hair which fell down her back in cascading waves, making her look like Rapunzel after a spa day.

I was always the one with long, conversation-starting, causer of female jealousy, hair, and in walks this woman who just steals something I had wrapped so much of my entire existence around.

Needless to say I was not impressed.

After losing one kingdom to her, it took less than an hour to realise I’d lost another one.

She saw the horse pin on my blazer lapel and remarked how much she loved horses; she had been home schooled until then so that she could ride most of the day, and had not one but TWO horses.

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It only got worse from there: she was a jumping champion, she’d trained her own horses from scratch, she’d taught her younger brother to ride, she loved history and was taking the class with me, she’d travelled the world already –name a place and she’d been there– and she lived on a large piece of land so was able to almost convince herself she lived in the bush instead of the biggest city in South Africa.

SHE WAS ME!!!!!!

And worse, she was getting more attention for being me than I ever did.

I felt as though I had been replaced.

That day, as I went from class to class, Angela would always be paired up with me at my desk and in our assignments. After only a few hours of knowing her I was her partner in four giant class projects.

It only got worse when she joined the school riding club that afternoon and was partnered with me in the annual scavenger hunt (the prize: our weight in chocolate).

I felt put out of joint, angry, and out of my mind with jealousy.

I found myself in a position where I had to get along with her and do my best to bring out her best or risk failing four classes and losing out one nearly 100kg of chocolate!

With more courage and drive than I had ever used before, I smiled sweetly at Angela and got on with it. I figured if we really buckled down, we’d get everything done in no time.

Turns out, Angela and I were kindred spirits … what she didn’t know on our history assignment, I did, and vice versa. We sailed through it and got one of the highest marks in the class! The other two assignments were done and dusted before the rest of the class had even started. The last assignment gave us the most trouble as we had to come up with an invention, and frankly neither of us were hidden engineers. We decided to put it aside until after the scavenger hunt.

And that was where we really shone.

Angela and I had this amazing ability to work around each other; what she didn’t get I did, what baffled me was logical to her. Between the two of us, the scavenger hunt (which was far more cerebral than the one in the book) took next to no time to complete. In fact, we handed our finished wares in so quickly, there was a moment where they thought we’d cheated.

Because we’d taken so long to do our last assignment, everyone else in the class had already handed their inventions in. One thing I noticed was how overly complicated everything was; if these inventions had been entered into shops they’d have found no buyers because of their complexity. I figured Angela and I needed a shock tactic: we would enter something so unbelievably simple everyone would be left wondering why it hadn’t been invented before.

And so was born The Sweet Tube.

I got my father (a well-equipped engineer) to blast the end of a soda bottle into a more cylindrical shape, making the bottle a smooth pipe from the lid down. We filled it with sweets and demonstrated how once a packet of sweets is opened, they make a mess all over the floor or handbags or any space where the sweets are kept. Our Sweet Tube held the remaining sweets in a pretty little canister that fit in the smallest of spaces. No mess, no fuss.

Needless to say we got top marks for that invention, and strangely most of the praise came down to how simple and effective it was.

Sort of like working with Angela: simple, effective, no mess, no fuss.

The girl who had stolen my identity was actually just the thing to help me succeed.

 

Apley Towers Deleted Scenes

Phoenix Takes The High Road

“’The Battle for Bellatrix’,” Rowan read the poster on the computer screen, “What is Bellatrix?”

“It’s a star,” Phoenix answered, “Like our sun.”

“Wow. What does Bellatrix mean?”

“It’s Latin for Warrior Woman.”

“Wow. Is it a bright star?”

“Twenty-seventh brightest star in the sky. Also used for navigation,” Phoenix looked him in the eye, “Pirates used it to find their way.”kyle-gregory-devaras-241280

“Wow!”

She watched his mouse linger over the print symbol, but he didn’t press it.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” he asked.

“Print my poster? Of course.”

“Print your poster without Arion’s name?”

Phoenix felt betrayal like a kick in the gut. She had assumed Rowan was on her side. She knew he had more classes with Arion, and possibly knew him better through the virtue of being the same gender, but she thought he would understand where she was coming from, how she needed to hit back.

“He backstabbed me,” she said. “He went behind my back to claim the play as his.”

“And now you are doing the same.”

“But it’s my play.”

Rowan shrugged. “It’s your play on the page, it’s his on the stage. You both need each other. And it’s a joint effort.”

“But … but …” But what? Phoenix had no argument.

“I think you two fight because you are so similar and haven’t learnt how to work with one another. Haven’t you each put forward something to create a great play? Wouldn’t it be terrible if that play was wrecked just because of sibling rivalry?”

Phoenix stared at her poster. Rowan was right: she’d mastered the page, while Arion was king of the stage. Separately they had nothing. Together they had a play.

She felt herself unwind, able to once again breathe through the thoughts of her brother. She missed the days where he wasn’t the enemy.

She smiled at Rowan, “You are right. Maybe I should be the bigger person this time.”

“It’s a good habit to form.”

In the computer lab light, Rowan was no longer gangly limbs and big smiles … he was shaman, wise one.

A peacekeeper.

Something Phoenix desperately needed in her life.

“Put his name in,” she said. “He deserves it too.”

Rowan smiled and typed Arion’s name, he then hit print and sat back as the machine whirred to life.

“Oh and by the way,” she leaned forward, “’Wow’ doesn’t convey your emotions well enough. You need another word.”

Rowan tipped his head and smiled, “Oh yeah, which word?”

Phoenix bit her lip and thought about it, “Try …’that’s savagely voodoo’.”

“That’s savagely voodoo,” he said with a chuckle.

Oh Angela is going to love him.

“That’s a band,” he said, “I’ve got their last album.”

Phoenix smiled to herself; Angela was definitely going to love him. She watched with pride as her posters landed in the tray, one after another.

All screaming that she – Phoenix White Feather – had created a play.

And her brother had helped.

Somewhat.

Kaela and the Russian Diary – Part Three Translated

Looking back over this diary I notice that I expected to miss the land, the sky, the palaces and churches of Russia.

I was wrong.

I do not miss any of those as much as I miss the food.

Russian cuisine is filled with a smorgasbord of tastes – spices and vegetables merge to create a rainbow of palatable delights.

The English prefer their food on the more bland side. It is not only me who struggles with vegetables boiled until they taste of nothing, meat so fatty it slides off the fork, and an almost unholy lack of herbs and spices: the Grand Duchess is already planning a trip back to Russia to get tasty food in her system.

I find myself scrounging through the palace gardens for anything I can add to dinner to make it feel as though I’m eating proper food instead of tasteless gruel, but frankly my searches yield nothing.matthew-pilachowski-736

More than once I’ve been caught crawling through the vegetables by people who do not understand Russian, while I cannot for the life of me make heads or tails of their strange dialect.

The Grand Duchess (fluent in English) has made it a rule that all her handmaids learn to at least be able to make minor small talk in English. And so our lessons in this bewildering language have begun. I can now greet someone, introduce myself, show basic manners and even ask one or two questions. My accent makes the English maids laugh, but I get revenge by mashing bird poo into their face creams.

As well as learning English, we must learn the British ways. These are strange to me, not just their mannerisms, but the days they find important and how to behave on such days. Shrove Tuesday for example is celebrated for only one day here. When I told them it was a week long in Russia they looked at me with jealousy in their eyes. Who wouldn’t want to eat pancakes every day for a week?

The English find us Russian girls mannish and crass, whereas we think they are frivolous and silly. I’ve taken to teaching every other maid basic maths as this terrible idea of not educating girls only makes the palace a more difficult place to run. How can you expect hand maids to shop for food when they do not even understand the amount of change they are supposed to get? We have to keep it a secret as Queen Victoria does not want females educated. In other words, she wants only herself educated so that it does not appear as though anyone else is smarter than her. I believe it is the bane of her majesty’s life that the Grand Duchess is far more intelligent than her. The Tsar spent a fortune on his daughter’s education and she can now out-think any man in this queen’s parliament. I fear the duchess has made many enemies in Britain simply by having a brain.

Even Alexandra, the Princess of Wales, is beginning to become fed up with us because we choose to map stars instead of read love poetry, do maths instead of giggle, read complicated literacy instead of silly romances. Sometimes I want to sit her down and explain simple science to her. She is going to be Queen of England after Victoria, wouldn’t it be better for the country if she were educated on something other than smiling like a goon when a royal spoke to her? I think I will learn English as quickly as possible, if only to educate this woman so that she may fight for her British sisters to be educated too.

Last night I introduced myself to Lewin in English and told him that I missed garlic.

This morning he brought me a garlic plant.

I’ve placed it in the part of the garden which can be seen from both our rooms.

 

(Author’s note: Queen Alexandra (the queen after Victoria) was one of the most popular queens in British history. She used her influence to found many charities, and helped countless people across her kingdom. Upon meeting her for the first time Grand Duchess Maria wrote home telling the Tsar that the next Queen of England was a light-minded and foolish woman. And yet by the end of her life, Alexandra was considered a driving force in the fight for female rights to education. Perhaps along the way, Alexandra received education by a determined maid who wanted more for the women of Britain.)

Kaela and the Russian Diary – Part Two Translated

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The white cliffs towered over us. I’d never seen anything like them before. My heart thumped wildly as I knew, after our long journey across Europe, we were finally on England’s shores. I stood on the ship’s deck long after the rest of the maids had gone down below, simply staring at these large cliffs. The British soldiers, who had accompanied the prince to Russia and made sure we got safely to England, didn’t like the idea of a solitary maid standing on deck, but I couldn’t leave. How could I? Those cliffs seemed to stare down at me, judging me, waiting for me to prove my worth. I knew if I answered their call it would be in Russian and they wouldn’t understand; no one in England would ever understand me.

I felt so alone.

The ship lifted up with the waves and dropped us back down again, as though to remind me of my life. What a high I was on when we left the harbour at Calais, and now with England only a short distance away I felt as low as it was possible to get.

The only soldier not incensed by my presence told me – with great difficulty – that the cliffs were named Dover.

“Da-oh-va” I repeated over and over.

By the time we passed them and docked, I could say the word as the English do.

With a little bit of help from the soldier, I felt better about my life when I put my foot on British soil for the first time.

We were to travel to Buckingham Palace, our new home until we are placed in another palace more fitting for the wife of the second son of Queen Victoria.

The same soldier tried to teach me to say hello and to introduce myself, but the words are silly, and I gave up after only a few minutes of trying. I could tell he was disappointed. But how could I tell him that I was simply overwhelmed, England was nothing in the way I had imagined it. And now he was trying to get me to speak a language where the tongue is placed against the teeth for certain words? How does anyone speak this language? What if you have no teeth?

The train brought us into London and a carriage took the royals to the palace, leaving the soldiers and hand maids to find cabs. London is small in comparison with St. Petersburg! The roads are tiny and filled to the brim with speeding carriages, marching horses, barking dogs, and loud men selling their wares. Women walk through these dangerous roads without a care in the world, where my heart is filled with fear whenever something loud approaches me. The soldier kept saying something I could not understand, and every time I shook my head in incomprehension, he simply said it slower, as though this would help me understand. It didn’t.

With no way of knowing where to go or what to do, I linked my arm through his and allowed him to guide me through London and into a large park. As I looked around the park other, more fashionably dressed, ladies walked arm in arm with soldiers. I didn’t feel as separate from them as I had only minutes before.

We were, after all, the human race, simply born under different flags.

If only I could have conveyed that to the soldier.

It took us a while but we finally made it to Buckingham Palace. In design, it resembled the Winter Palace, my favourite of the Romanov palaces. But it was a good deal smaller, and with London practically on its doorstep it wasn’t as private as I was used to. The soldier took me right up to the servant door, almost as though he didn’t trust I could find it on my own.

Before I left him I made it a point to tell him my name. I pointed to my chest and said “Svetlana” loudly and clearly. He repeated it until he could say it as well as I could.

He then put his hand on his own chest and said “Lewin”.

“Loo-wen.”

I kept repeating it long after I had got it right.

Kaela and the Russian Diary – Part One Translated

Today the Imperial Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna, only daughter of the Tsar of Russia, married Prince Alfred, the Duke of Edinburgh. Queen Victoria (the Duke’s mother) chose not to come to the wedding, even though she had enough to say about it. I’ve honestly never seen a woman so adamant to control a wedding she wants no part of. We ended up having two weddings, one in a Russian Orthodox church and the other in an Anglican church. By the time the two royals were married in both religions, my poor duchess’s neck could no longer hold up the heavy crown. I spent the whole reception dinner massaging the muscles in her neck and shoulders so that she could at least appear royal, even if she no longer felt it.illia-cherednychenko-181621

When my mother died and I left school to look after my siblings, I spent most of my days whining about the amount of work the five of them were. But when my father died and I was forced to earn a living by acting as hand maiden to the duchess, I truly knew what hard work was. She may be the middle child of six, but as the only girl, she’s the Tsar’s little darling. And she knows it. It takes nearly an entire palace-load of royals to make her behave. If we’re lucky.

The Tsar did not approve of this match. He claims there is a general anti-British feeling in the country after the Crimean War; having their only Grand Duchess marry into the British royal family will just compound it.

But we all know the real reason: the Tsar doesn’t want to lose his favourite child to the British Isles.

And what of me?

No one will mourn my loss to this foreign land. My younger siblings are all now either married or employed, the family home filled with another family. No one in Russia cares that I am leaving.

Not even Russia herself.

But I shall miss her.

I shall miss the wide open spaces and the endless sky. I shall miss the grand palaces and the domed churches. I shall miss the way the sunset reflects off the snowy mountains and turns the land pink for the briefest of moments.

I shall miss the way the winter sky paints the darkness with colours.

But through all the fear, there is this voice deep down in my brain who won’t still with excitement over the idea of a new life in Britain.

Maybe I shall find things to love there too.

Kaela and the Russian Diary

During Kaela’s nineteenth year the family farmhouse had major reconstruction done to the walls, meaning the house had to be emptied of everything. Nearly two hundred years of furniture and chests were removed and the attic which had long since been given up to the chaos was unpacked. The whole family banded together to get the house emptied and put into storage. Kaela, the family’s youngest and therefore the one most pushed around, was sent to the attic to try and make sense of the jumble of forgotten treasures up there.

Bogged down by studies for her high school finals, Kaela welcomed the distraction and threw herself wholeheartedly into sorting the mammoth room out. Like most attics, it was filled with old clothes, worn down Christmas decorations, paintings which had gone out of fashion, furniture that no longer fit the décor … Remnants of times forgotten.

Her grandfather had always told her that clearing out an attic took only half an hour; it was rediscovering the memories you had forgotten that took you forever. Luckily for Kaela, the attic had been abandoned before her birth, leaving nothing for her to rediscover. The attic job was done quickly and thoroughly. The only hiccup in her organisational skills was a steel chest far too heavy to drag to the staircase. She figured its placement in the attic meant it wouldn’t get in any builders’ way, so she left it where it was and chose to simply empty it instead. Unlike the other chests, this one was locked by an old-fashioned brass gadget with initials carved into the front. Kaela could just make out an S and a P through the rust.

“SP?”

She had no idea who that was. This farm had been in the Willoughby family since the nineteenth century; unless the W had been left off the lock she was certain this chest didn’t belong to her ancestors. This also meant that the key would never be found. Instead, she went down to the garage and found some bolt cutters. She returned to the attic, used the tool to the slice through the ancient metal lock and pocketed it. It might not have been linked to her but it made a pretty keepsake.

She opened the chest and looked inside with a thumping heart. There was something slightly familiar about it all; not as though Kaela had seen it before – it was obvious the chest hadn’t been opened in decades – but it seemed to come from a world she had recently studied. She ran her hands over the dress, the books and the photo frames, seeing them through her fingertips, trying to learn them with another sense besides sight. Slowly she pieced together what she was looking at.

“Russia?”

As a student of high school history, Russia was one of the old worlds she had to study in great detail in order to pass her history final. She recognised the dress and headpiece from pictures she’d seen in her textbooks of nineteenth-century Russia. She recognised the fur hats and muffs from there too. She picked up the books and read the spines; sure enough the letters were Cyrillic and incomprehensible to Kaela’s untrained eyes. She pulled the lock from her pocket and stared at it again; why were the S and P in the Latin alphabet if the chest belonged to a Russian woman?

And why was the chest of a nineteenth-century Russian woman in the attic of a South African house?

She pushed the dresses aside and stared at the rest of the goods. There was nothing else which screamed Imperial Russia at her, but the chest only got more mysterious from there. The photos – Victorian and therefore grainy and faded – were undoubtedly British. The fashion, the way the man and woman posed, the uniform of the soldier … Tower Bridge in the background.susan-yin-62145

Why had the chest gone from Russian to British?

The two had gone to war in the nineteenth century, but this was a woman’s chest; she’d hardly have much to do with war unless she was a nurse.

Kaela sat back and stared at the photos; they were all of the same two people at varying ages: a soldier and a woman all in black.

“She was a peasant.”

The poorer classes hardly ever wore other colours as they wouldn’t stay clean. Maids especially wore clothes similar to these. Was this peasant woman SP? And if she was, how had a Russian peasant got to England and married a British soldier?

There was one last photo: a young woman in a tiara dressed in yards of fabric and weighed down by heavy jewels. A princess. One of Victoria’s many daughters, no doubt. But unlike most royal photos, the princess had her maid servants in the frame with her. Right at the back, looking forlornly away from the camera, was SP.

“How was a Russian peasant a maid to a British princess?”

How could Kaela possibly be staring at the evidence of such an impossibility?

She put the photos down and searched for any other evidence. Her hand fell on a battered and waterlogged moleskin notebook. She lifted it and thumbed through the pages.

All handwritten in Russian.

Except the last page.

Kaela read the English words with wide eyes.

“I am Svetlana Pepler. I live in London, England. I am happy.”

She had to put the precious book down for fear of dropping it and breaking the spine. Pepler was the surname of Kaela’s great-great-grandfather. Lewin Pepler was the grandfather of her grandmother, Lavinia. She grabbed at the photos again and yes, she could see it now. The soldier was undoubtedly an ancestor of hers. He looked just as her father did when forced into a formal occasion. Her eyes drifted to the woman. The light caught the frame and Kaela’s reflection shone back at her. Two female faces next to each other. Similar eyes. Identical hair. Same determined expression.

Svetlana was Kaela’s great-great-grandmother. Her story was written in Russian in those pages, unreadable and full of secrets Kaela could not get to.

She had to get those pages translated.

How I Write

I would love to say that I sit down at my laptop, open up a blank document and fall into other worlds for hours, only escaping when the need to feed and pee becomes inescapable.

And I’m sure there are authors on the planet who can do that.

I am not one of them.

I usually start off this barbarous practice wanda-ambrosini-36095e call writing by making myself one cup of English tea and one cup of lemon tea (don’t ask why, I have no explanation).

I then sit on the couch with inspiring classical music, my purebred mutt at my feet and my laptop, ready to invent new worlds.

But first I check social media, or chat with friends in South Africa. I drink my tea and read from the nearest book. When my tea is done, I decide I should probably get writing, so I do a few paragraphs. But then social media calls again (the scourge of the writing world, I tell you. Dickens wrote so much because he had no wifi). I aim for roughly five thousand words a day, which means realistically I end up getting about three thousand words done.

(I’ve just spent fifteen minutes scrolling through social media! And not to highlight my point: I forgot I was making a point!)

After about an hour of stop-start writing, I’ll remember my lemon tea which is now cold and vile so I’ll have to boil the kettle and make more. While I’m waiting for the kettle to boil my mind will wander over the scenes I’m writing and come up with hilarious dialogue, groundbreaking backstory, and beautifully worded sentences. When I get back in front of my laptop I’ll forget what words are.

My son finishes school at three o’clock, so it is imperative I get all five thousand (ahem, three thousand) words done by then. For the hours leading up to 1.30, I’ll drag through the work, trying to string together tales and character arcs, crying over my choice of career and cursing Scribble – the god of writing – for not doing his job. I’ll usually end up in an argument with my Muse over his sloppy work, his lack of support, and his inability to hand me constructed storylines when the laptop is balancing precariously on my legs and the soothing classical music is playing!!!!!! He’ll then remind me he is imaginary and that I’m actually talking to myself.

Then I’ll huff and get back to work.

But for some reason known only to Scribble, as soon as it gets near two o’clock the words simply flow out of me at a rate unheard of (except of course, the same time the day before). I forget I’m in Warwickshire, England, Britain, Europe, Planet Earth … I am wherever my characters are (they are mainly in England, Britain, Europe, Planet Earth). I write as though that was what I was born to do. I write as though I am made more from words than from flesh and the story is in my veins, bleeding through my fingers. And just when I am about to type the most important part of the current chapter, I have to turn the laptop off and go fetch my son.

It seems I work better with a looming deadline.

I wish I could write with discipline like all the authors of old have instructed us to. I wish I wasn’t drowning in words for the first few hours only to find my footing as I have to stop. I wish the worlds I created always came easy.

But then isn’t it the rule to suffer for your art?

I think I will always be one of those writers who hates writing, but loves having written.

I’ll be irritated with my characters when I have to write their foibles, but once that writing is done I will ache for them in the deepest part of my soul.

And I’ll always be the writer who forgets about her lemon tea.

(I’ve just remembered my lemon tea, and it’s cold!)