I spend a lot of time browsing newspapers from 1899, the year my books are set. I do it for a few reasons; to immerse myself in the era, to check for any events of great import that my characters should take note of, and for inspiration. While looking for ideas for book four, A Fiancee’s Guide to First Wives and Murder, I dug into the November, 1899 papers and found both an important event and inspiration. It was a short article about the upcoming visit of Russian grand duke, Michael Mikhailovich and his wife Sophie, the Countess de Torby.
I knew those names! Long ago I studied Russian, and our professor often brought up tid-bits of Imperial Russian history. In 1894, when Alexander was Czar, his nephew, Michael Mikhailovich had the temerity to marry without asking his uncle’s permission. Big mistake! While he wasn’t disowned, he was stripped of his military rank and banned from Russia forever. But Michael wasn’t cut off from the income from his factories, he was still an Imperial Highness, and it looked as if he’d made a love match.
He and Sophie lived in Germany and spent summers in Cannes, which had to be better than dealing with Russian court politics, not to mention the assassinations that came later. Of all the Romanovs, I found this couple to be the most relatable. So, when I read that they were in London to visit the British royal family, I couldn’t wait to write a story around them.
But what story? I ran through my mental rolodex of story ideas, scene fragments, and characters I’ve wanted to write but, for one reason or another, they never quite fit the story I was working on. One was Alicia Stoke-Whitney, a character from the first book. I’ve wanted to bring her back and this might be just the story. Another was a neighbor I once had who constantly made outlandish claims about her past—famous people who were friends or relatives, businesses she ran, and things she’d done. Her claims were extreme and sometimes contradictory, so I thought she was making them up—until I learned that she wasn’t. Regardless of how ridiculous her stories sounded, everything she’d said was true.
I’ve been waiting for the right story for such a character, and this was it. She could claim to be a Romanov, perhaps a distant relative of Michael Mikhailovich. She’d need some other shady claims too, like she’s an actress, she’s very wealthy, and she’s married to my protagonist’s fiancé, George Hazelton. Of course, George and Frances are very much in love and soon to be married, so the woman must be lying. Or is she? To quote Alicia Stoke-Whitney to Frances; “Heavens! And I thought I had problems.”
You can pre-order A Fiancee’s Guide to First Wives and Murder here: Books | Dianne Freeman (difreeman.com)