by Renee Dahlia
Inspirations for stories come from many places, seemingly random connections between two unrelated events. In Pursuit of a Bluestocking is the second book in the series, and all through the first (To Charm a Bluestocking), Marie was engaged to Bertrand, boring, bland Bertrand. A story about him is uninspiring, and therefore the challenge was laid down. How could I craft a story that makes him not boring?
I delved into the family legends and plucked out the story of the bullet, gave the bullet to a much more illustrious person, the Duke of Nemour (who has the unfortunate place in history as the first general killed by a bullet). Throw in a few curve balls, a boxing champion hero, and a villain who manipulates everything, and Marie’s tale, In Pursuit of a Bluestocking, was born.
My family legend occurred one hundred and forty years ago, in 1877, at the Battle of Shipka Pass between the Russian Empire and the Ottoman Empire. One of the soldiers for the Russians was my great-great-great uncle Pavel who was a member of the Russian Imperial Guard. By 1863, aged 22, he was commander of a rifle battalion, and took part in the suppression of the Polish Uprising in 1863. This photo was taken in that year.
Concerned about the atrocities that the Turks were committing against Christians living in the regions of what is now Bulgaria, Serbia and Montenegro, Tsar Alexander II declared war on the Ottoman Empire on 24 April 1877. Pavel’s unit fought in the attack led by the Russian General Radetsky on 27 December, but unfortunately, he was shot in the leg during the battle. After the bullet was removed in an army hospital, Pavel returned home to St. Petersburg in January 1878. He recovered well enough to walk with a crutch, but in March, Pavel succumbed to infection and died aged 37. In a rather gothic decision, the bullet was made into a keepsake with a gold cage placed around it. The details of the battle were inscribed into the gold, and on the base, the family crest was engraved. Or at least, that’s what the family legend said.
Last year, when my father was researching the story, he rang his cousin, and asked, “should I include the story of the bullet? Is it real?”
“Of course, it is real. It is sitting on my desk in front of me.”
The newspaper reports at the time are full of overt racism that many modern day readers ought to feel uncomfortable with, such as these excerpt from The Times on 19 July 1877:
“There lay men who had been wounded or unwounded prisoners in the hands of the Turkish ‘gentlemen,’ who had foully murdered and mutilated them, showing thus that they are savages as cruel as any in Africa or India.”
“On the one side [Russia] civilization, rough if you will, but still civilization, based on the precepts of Christianity; on the other side [Turks] barbarism and the worse than bestial ferocity of cruel men.”
It is no wonder that when the British Empire fought the Ottoman Empire at Gallipoli less than 40 years later, during WWI, that they severely underestimated the ‘savage Turks’. The ANZAC tradition came from that battle, while the 1877 battle at Shipka Pass created a new country. The Ottoman Empire lost badly to the Russians, which enabled Bulgaria to be liberated and form their own country.
You can learn more about the battle here.
Marie had the perfect life plan: she would satisfy her father’s ambition by graduating as one of the first female doctors in Europe, and she would satisfy her mother’s ambition by marrying a very suitable fiancé in a grandiose society ceremony. Only weeks away from completing the former, Marie is mere days away from achieving the latter. But her whole life is thrown into chaos when her fiancé dies, mysteriously returns, and then is shot and killed, and Marie risks her own reputation to save the life of the man falsely accused of the murder.
Gordon, Lord Stanmore, finally tracks down the conman who stole from his estate, only to find himself embroiled in a murder plot. The woman he rescues offers to rescue him in return, by marrying him and providing an alibi. Gordon’s ready agreement to the scheme grows the more time he spends with his new wife. Her wit, her intelligence, her calm, her charm: Gordon finds himself more and more enchanted with this woman he met by mistake. But as the clues to the identity of the murderer start to align with the clues to the thief, they reveal a more elaborate scheme than he could have imagined, and though he might desire Marie, Gordon is unsure if he can trust her.
As their chase leads them out of Amsterdam and into the UK, both Gordon and Marie must adjust to the life that has been thrust upon them and decide if marriage came first, can love come after?
Pre-order In Pursuit of a Bluestocking now!
Not caught up on the series? Grab book 1, To Charm a Bluestocking!