How did the book come about?
I was sitting in a kitchen with a friend in Moscow in 1992 and as we drank our way through a very strong bottle of vodka with even stronger pickles, he told me the story of these so-called Black Princesses who married into the Russian Court at the end of the last century and who due to their obsession with the occult and the dark arts eventually were responsible for bringing Rasputin in to the court of the last Tsar Nicholas II.
Talk to me about the characters – the real characters behind the book and their relationship with your fictional ones.
Militza and Anastasia were real Princesses from Montenegro; there were renown for their beauty and for their education. Militza could speak five languages including Persian. I find them fascinating as they were at heart of everything to do with the Russian Court for a brief but intense period. They have also as they were women and not the victors, been forgotten by history. I have tried to stick to their story as accurately as I can, but there is very little written about them.
Talk to me about your research.
It took me 8 years of going back and forth to St Petersburg, scouring the Prince George Galiztine Memorial library for all the tiniest details about the live and times of Militza and Stana. I loved every minute of it and learnt so much about that period – what they ate, drank, talked about. The fashions and I loved the jewellery. Quite a lot of it is still being worn by our royal family today.
What draws you to the mystical? Why is it still relevant for a modern audience?
The mystical – tarot, angel cards, crystal ball reading – these are all so intriguing and haunting. I think it is arrogant of us to think we have all the answers, when half of us don’t even know the questions to ask in the first place.
Do you have some favourite authors of historical fiction that have inspired you – models for your work?
I love Philippa Gregory – she can really tell a tale. I am also fond of epic writers like Boris Pasternak and Fyodor Dostoyevsky. But something like the Thon Birds by Colleen McCullough will keep me occupied for weeks!
Is there anything about the book’s reception that has surprised you?
I am thrilled how much people have appreciated that I took time to study at the London College of Psychic Studies in order to get to grips with all the methodology and also to understand the craft and what the Princesses were thinking and how they worked. That was not something that I expected.
Are you working on something new at the moment?
I am always working on something – I have three novels on the go at the moment. It will be interesting to see which one makes it to the finish line first!