Spare a Thought for the Spare Heir


Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding on 19 May 2018 is hot news, so here’s my little contribution to the #royalty craze, a tribute to the spare heir.

It must be a tough gig being the little brother of the heir (of the heir apparent). Prince Harry, bless him, seems unlikely to reign. Heck, who knows if his father, the heir apparent, will make it to the throne.

History is speckled with spare heirs winding their way to the throne. Tempestuous Henry VIII, a spare himself, fathered three children, all of whom had a turn holding the sceptre in the hot seat. More recently, Elizabeth II, a daughter of a spare, could have pursued a life of quiet obscurity if love and duty hadn’t collided so violently in the life of her uncle Edward VIII, the abdicator.

Fascintating Spare Heirs

Late in 2014, I encountered the intriguing concept of spare heir. After pondering the potential for sibling jealousy, the impact on family dynamics, and the effect on one’s sense of identity and purpose, I followed it deep into the rabbit hole of  research and emerged with some cool background conflict for a story.

I wondered if there were ever any twin heirs and spares? Imagine missing out on a kingdom and a crown (or, conversely, relative freedom from duty)  by a matter of minutes! A quick shake of Queen Victoria’s family tree and out fell a golden apple, AKA the propelling nugget of goodness—a historical fact that leads to a series of compelling what-ifs that beg to become a story!

I found heir apparent twins. Almost…

William_IVVictoria wasn’t the daughter of her predecessor. She was the niece of William IV, who’d failed to produce a (legitimate) heir. William and his mistress, actress Dorothea Jordan, produced a herd of children surnamed FitzClarence. But William and Queen Adelaide had a string of bad luck in the progeny department. Their two daughters, Elizabeth and Charlotte, both tragically died shortly after birth. Adelaide’s final pregnancy ended in a devastating stillbirth of twin boys, who, as far as I can tell, were not named.

If those boys had lived, one would have become king, and the other a spare—but a spare by only moments. Meanwhile,  Princess Alexandrina (Victoria) would have remained an obscure princess—a round-raced, royal hanger-on, probably sequestered to a drab apartment at Kensington or worse. No pretty young queen, possibly no marriage to Prince Albert, and no dour, widowed monarch. How would the 19th century have fared without her formidable imprint? How would the 20th century differed?

See what I mean about a series of compelling questions?

History’s Loss, My Gain

I gave those unsung twin boys life and names, and I dug into their family history for a bit of intrigue. I didn’t have to go deep; the boys’ grandfather would have been King George III. Remember him? His illness rendered him unfit to rule and was the reason for the Regency period. He was considered mad (which I must point out is one weakness among many other good and noble qualities he possessed, like being a faithful family man and an ardent promoter of scientific enquiry. He was a fascinating and misunderstood character.)

Augustus (my name), the firstborn twin in my story THE TEMPLE OF LOST TIME, inherits not only the throne but also his grandfather’s illness. Though fairly young, he’s slowly dying and losing his mind. King Augustus’s desperation to extend his reign makes him volatile, cruel, and vulnerable to exploitation. His dangerous obsession with olden magic puts both his life and empire at risk. This is the world of my story: London, 1853, during the dark and unstable Augustan Age. Great Britain teeters as time ticks away.

Meanwhile, King Augustus’s twin, the spare heir Prince James, is healthy, capable, and wildly popular with the masses, a fact that torments the paranoid, enfeebled king.


King Augustus not only inherits a genetic illness, he also adopts his philandering father’s habit of pursuing beautiful actresses. His prime target is the lovely Lucy Le Breton, a popular actress and singer at the Theatre Royal. She does everything she can to avoid the despicable king.

Eleven-year-old Toby, Lucy’s son, is the hero of the story. More than anything, Toby yearns to know his father. What he doesn’t know is the clock is ticking, and there’s no time to lose…

So, a bit of wondering about spare heirs plus a few years of writing and rewriting and rerewriting has resulted in a story, THE TEMPLE OF LOST TIME, a middle grade historical fantasy adventure, which is currently in submission. It is the first of three books. Wish me luck as I try to find a good home for it.

Temple of Lost Time 5_1

To the Real Spare Heir!

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have a rich and colourful royal history behind them and a life full of possibility ahead of them. Here’s wishing them happiness and long life together. May the real spare heir be spared the wild adventures of my imagination! To the royal couple! Cheers!

Image Credits

Prince Harry & Meghan Markle

By Mark Jones CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

William IV, Public Domain

What Hole Did I Crawl Out Of?

It's Sunday night, 6:30 PM, and I have just crawled out of the hole, the Rabbit Hole at the Queensland Writers' Centre. I am weary and emptied of words and ideas, but I am not emerging empty handed. I am 12,000 artfully arranged words richer. That's right: 12,000 words, nearly a third of my intended book, has been added to my manuscript. In fact, counting the bits I'd completed before the event, I've nearly reached the half-way point.

I sit here in my lounge with my dog snoring at my feet and a nice glass of rosé at my side and I am at peace with the world. I may not have toppled totalitarian regimes or vanquished evil from the planet. I did not right any wrongs–other than a few clunky sentences and a cluster of typos (no doubt I've missed plenty.) I may not have changed the world, but I did create one.

I'm crafting a story about the deep yearning to belong, about courage in the face of blatant evil, and about finding purpose and place when everything seems lost. My protagonist is named Mollie, and she's thrust into a world where she seems only to get in the way. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, Mollie risks all to find not only her place but also her purpose in the world. Though she's little and insignificant, she stands against evil to claim back everything that was stolen from her and to head off the forces that threaten the greater good. She faces her fears, rights wrongs, and discovers her own destiny. The question is: will she vanquish evil from the Tarkine? Or is all her effort too late?

Yeah, well, it's been a big weekend inside my head. There's evil to contend with, people!

BTW: I'd really like be to be more specific about my story, but at this stage, it's prudent to keep my cards close to my chest… Sorry to be so generic. Trust me on this one…

Today at morning tea, a new idea for the title hit me. I'd planned on calling it The Keepers. A new twist took root today. People of the world, I think we're looking at a book–an original Australian fairytale-adventure (in the tradition of Neil Gaiman's Stardust) called Finders, Keepers. Anyway, time will tell. Lesson #419 from 2013: “The author has very little say in the title. Get over it.”

In case you're into numbers, here's the white board at QWC-HQ at the close of businesss on Day 3. A few people departed without logging their count, so it's not reflective of what was really achieved today. Note the participant known as “AB” (aka, Total-Legend-In-My-Book). She clocked up in excess of 10,000 words each day on her YA manuscript. She sat nearby today where I could observe, and I can tell you this much: I'm surprised her computer wasn't emitting toxic fumes and begging for mercy. AB, I tip my hat to you. Well done! Looking forward to reading (rather than merely hearing the tic-tic-tic of) your words one day.

(I'm AS, accidentally written in red today. :S Nothing like drawing attention to one's underachievement!)


Holey Guacamole! More News from the Rabbit Hole

Day Two down The Rabbit Hole at the Queensland Writers' Centre and I am still relishing the luxury of having such a generous block of time solely devoted to writing. I might not be pounding it out as fast as some of my fellow rabbits, but I'm very happy with the way my story is shaping up.

Plotting vs. Pantsing

I had a quick chat in the lunchroom today about the merits of both approaches to writing. In a nutshell, plotting means outlining a story, start to finish–something all my spec writing in 2013 gave me heaps of practice in. “Pantsing” refers to writing by the seat of your pants. I guess you could call it “winging it,” but it's not quite that loose. In this approach, you have general idea of where your headed, but you don't really know how it's going to happen until it flows off your pen (or whatever device you use).

It was suggested in this little lunchroom tete-a-tete that the fastest writers were plotters, while the pantsers tend to meander a bit. It makes sense. Plotters just have to fill in the blanks, while pantsers have to create from scratch.

This is interesting because I went in there as a battle-hardened plotter, fully arrayed in plotting regalia, blowing the plotters' trumpets and bearing their standard. I started the event with a full start-to-finish outline of my story on Scrivner (specialised software for writers). I had created scenes, written them up on cards, and laid them out. Family histories–check. Copious notes on flora and fauna–check. Full character backstories–check, check. I had also already completed this story in short format, so I knew well and truly what was happening when. All of that preliminary work counts towards plotting and should have set me up to be the *Queen of Speed.*

Instead, I'm one of the slowest. Despite all the plotting, my story is taking its time. Lo and behold, in the act of writing, new intermediary scenes are transpiring and taking shape. New alliances are being forged. More information is required. I think that makes me a pantser.

The thing is I don't know if I'm a plotting pantser or pantsing plotter. Or does it matter? Oh gawd! This is nearly as humiliating as miming in a public space. (Yes, I caught myself in the act repeatedly today. Finally, I mimed resignation, pulled my best Geez! face, and stopped worrying about it.)

It's fascinating stuff. Honestly, the in-the-moment creativity has a buzz all its own. It's as good as flow times three. And this is what happens when you have the time to let rip. Back tomorrow for more.

Today's word count: Just over 4000 words. Only one trip to the thesaurus, one to Wikipedia for a quick refresher course on lunar cycles. I forgot my lunch though, which cost me 45 minutes.

Here's a photo of the whiteboard. I'm AS (aka, the one with low figures.) Check out the red figure at the top. That the total words written on day one by all participants, on site and online! That's a whole novel worth of words between us.

Go Rabbits!


What a Hole!

Breaking news from the Rabbit Bunker… [The Rabbit Hole, 17-19 January, QWC]

Day one in the Rabbit Hole with twenty others, all striving for the same goal: 30,000 words in three days or writing 'The End,' whichever comes first. I arrived at the State Library of Queensland with the biggest grin on my face. I had a huge block of time devoted solely to my writing. What bliss! What luxury!

But luxury isn't what I walked into. Intense is the best way to describe it. The corporate table was laced with a tangle of cables. Seated around it were eager writers, poised at his or her device of choice, and after a brief pep talk, right on 10:00, we all started banging out prose.

No talking, no jesting, no coffee (!). I scoped the table twice, just to be sure I hadn't missed something, some hint of java, a dirty cup, a coffee ground, even a ring of coffee stain on a coaster. Nothing. My earlier glee was replaced with doubt (and panic): how would I cope without coffee? I've never written without being seriously procaffinated. Oh well. I'll try anything once.

I managed fine. Once I had reread my entire WIP through and made a couple little changes, I was ready to write. –After a quick visit to the kitchen…where I found sachets of instant coffee. Oh well, as I said, I'll try anything once.

Back in my spot, I dove in, and it was great. I was inside my story, seeing fine details for the first time and describing them, creating worlds and spaces, crafting dialogue. I was totally enraptured in the act of writing. I remembered a little too late that I mime while I write. (All you readers who are writers know what I'm talking about.) I have to “act out” the gesture or pull the expression of my characters. I thought I caught the lady opposite me watching me with a bemused look. I tried to stop miming. I think I did. Oh gawd…I hope no one made a video of me…

Some of my fellow Rabbit Bunker mates seemed to type without looking up. They were typing machines, ticking away like static from deep space. I began to worry someone would keel over with DVT from not moving. Me? With the frequent trips to the kitchen to keep my “fluids” (caffeine levels) up, my vasculation was in good shape.

I paused my writing to research blue moons (very interesting!), Tasmanian flora, and the sounds that certain species of owls make. (“Hoot,” incidentally, is not one of them. Nor is “Whoo” for that matter.) Writing also ceased while I made excellent use of my thesaurus app, hunting down just the right word. (How do you like ensorcelled for enchanted? I think it's brilliant. I nearly shouted it out loud. I was busting to share it!) Why am I explaining all of this? I'm worried you will think I'm a slacker for coming in with such a low word count.

On my various visits to the coffee room, I chatted with a couple of the others. Such a variety of writers–non-fiction, literary fiction, first-timers, hand-writers (Hats off to you! Tried that over the holidays and I still have a cramp), veterans… I do hope we get a chance to learn about each other's projects.

4:45 came around quickly, and I wasn't nearly as brain dead as I expected. As the tallies went up on the board, and I saw how much of an underachiever I'd been, I contemplated not posting my wordcount below the others: 9000, 8000, 6000. Then I thought, “Blow it. I did what I needed to do today. I'm satisfied.” (Discovering ensorcelled was worth it all!)

I scribbled up my tally, 3767, and signed off. What a Hole, what a wonderful Rabbit Hole! To the wonderful staff at QWC HQ, I said good-bye, until tomorrow.

Outside at 5:00, I sat in the warm afternoon sun waiting for my ride, and I felt elated. (And rather jittery from all that coffee.)



Down the Rabbit Hole I Go

News flash! I get to participate in the Rabbit Hole event at the Queensland Writers' Centre. Starting tomorrow, I dive into three days of heads-down, hard-core writing with a view to completing 30,000 words or reaching “The End.” All day Friday, Saturday and Sunday, I'll be hunkered down with some fellow authors at QWC HQ while a horde of other writers around the country will join in virtually.

2013 was a great year for writing “to spec” (writing for projects that weren't solely mine), so I'm yanking at the chain to let r-i-p on something of my own.

About My WIP…

Mined from the craggy depths of my imagination, it's an original Australian fairytale set in the wilds of Tasmania with the working title, The Keepers. It started out as a short story, but I'm expanding it into a middle grade fairytale adventure. It's guaranteed off-the-leash, bona fide out-there, and just a heap of creepy fun.

And it stars wee folk, Aussie style. *Tingle*

I'm heading back to my day job on Monday, so The Rabbit Hole adventure provides the perfect finale for the holidays. Looking forward to hitting the keys tomorrow with my fellow Rabbit Hole tumblers.