We All Need Stories. This is a true one.
There was a boy whose mother took him to live in a villa in the south of France. He never forgot the smell of the mimosa trees in the main street or the exotic palms in the garden. Photographs of that garden, sepia and faded, were among the handful of possessions which he kept always. I still have them.
This was 1909. By 1914 Europe was at war. She drove ambulances for the Red Cross and, astonishingly, seems to have taken Tony with her. Afterwards, his paternal aunts pounced and sent him to an appalling British prep school. After that misery, for him was always the grey, cold ferry crossing to England. Later his Mama sat next to JF Roxburgh at a dinner party and, impressed, sent her son to Roxburgh’s new school at Stowe. Staff and boys alike were civilized, humane, original. David Niven was a fellow pupil. Tony was 14. He loved it.
He went to the Sorbonne; travelled; had a private income but worked for Binky Beaumont because he loved the theatre. Old injuries kept him out of the forces, so he became a fire officer during the Blitz and, eventually, a member of the St John’s Ambulance team which went into Bergen Belsen. Afterwards he worked for the UN in the resettlement of refugees and, when his redoubtable mother became infirm, returned uncomplainingly to grey, cold England to care for her. The old bat wouldn’t tolerate a carer.
And threaded through all this was the fact that he was gay. It put him on the wrong side of the law pretty much everywhere. In Britain decriminalization came only in 1967. Tony was 58. For most of his existence he had led a double life.
So after his mother died he went to Morocco and set up a gay bar. The authorities closed them all down, suddenly. In his memoir, THE MISADVENTURES OF AN AGEING MULE by Anthony Aspinall (Andre Deutsch 1989), he explains that he paid his staff, who were like family, until the money ran out. From then on he skirted destitution by a whisker for the rest of his life.
He went to Amsterdam, did a bit of writing and, aged 70, fell in with the world’s most incompetent drug smuggler, got caught, did two years in jail in the Damascus Citadel – the bureaucrats were mostly scarier than the prisoners – and then the Dutch caught him. Their decent penal system convinced him to give up drug smuggling.
So what’s my point? Well, in the best romance, queer and straight, the protagonist learns about himself and grows. When I knew Tony really well, the last 5 years of his life, he had grown into someone wonderful: humane, resourceful, fun and brave with (in his own words) an inborn streak of anarchy. I learned, thanks to him, that it is possible to survive the most unimaginably awful circumstances if you stay interested in people and are true to yourself. And hold onto your stories.
About Jenny Haddon
As Sophie Weston Jenny has written romantic fiction for ever and is about to self publish for the first time. She is a founder member of the collective Libertà, which aims to exchange ideas with readers and help writers, and goes live on 7 December. News of all her incarnations at:
About To marry a Prince
Bella Greenwood isn’t a fairytale girl. If pushed, she’d probably tell you that her perfect wedding would involve a handful of close friends and family. But as she’s never met anyone she’d like to marry, it’s a moot point.
Until, in a midnight garden, Bella is helped out of an embarrassing situation by a tall, dark, handsome man with laughing eyes. And suddenly her life changes for ever, because the man is the world’s most eligible bachelor: Prince Richard, heir to the throne.
Richard sweeps her off her feet, and before she knows it they’re engaged. Which is when Bella’s problems really begin. Suddenly she is public property, and as if it isn’t enough to have her every move watched – while also learning to curtsy and negotiating the etiquette of how to address her future mother-in-law – she soon finds herself embroiled in bridesmaid politics, a right royal hen night, and a wedding dress controversy that causes a national scandal…
Can this ordinary girl survive the preparations for her very own Royal Wedding?