Read a specially edited opening chapter for Andrew Mackie’s new historical drama, The Journey After The Crown

ANDREW MACKIE is a film distributor and producer. His company Transmission Films acquired and released such indie hits as The King’s Speech and Lion. His executive producer credits include Ride Like A Girl, Tracks, Candy, Sweet Country, Holding the Man and On Chesil Beach. In 2012 and 2013, The Australian named him one of the twenty-five most influential people in the Australian arts. Andrew has always been fascinated by all things royal and has long felt that the Queen’s tour of Australia in 1954 was ripe with dramatic potential. The Journey After the Crown is his first novel.

Despite being identical twins Daisie and Violet Chettle were very different beasts. At first glance you’d perhaps confuse them as the same young woman of nineteen or twenty years of age, each with pale skin untouched by sunlight, deep auburn hair verging on black and sleepy eyelids slung across piercing hazel eyes. Pretty, one might think, by the British standard. Even in their dull grey coats and maid uniforms the pair were objectively appealing enough to draw sideward male glances at Surbiton station while they waited for the train.

‘Stop encouraging them,’ Violent would whisper under her breath in hisses of warm condensation while Daisie’s eye drifted across the businessmen waiting on the platform opposite for the 6:55am to London.

‘It’s merely window shopping,’ Daisie would reply, loud enough to further shame Violet.

If you spent a few more moments observing the Chettle sisters, the differences become even more apparent. Violet’s cheeks, as pale as her forehead, are fuller and pudgier than Daisies, the product of the delicious cream eclairs that taunted her from the window of Sheath’s Bakery on Victoria Road. Her eyes dart nervously like those of a caffeinated meerkat. Her hands constantly grip at each other as though she were removing non-existent gloves finger by finger, and her straight hair hangs down either side of her face like no-nonsense curtains.

In contrast Daisie’s cheeks glowed without the need for blush. The subtle curls of her careless locks seemed to bounce and sway like she’d been born styled, and her eyes moved with an icy confidence, sometimes fixing on others long enough to inflict discomfort should that be her desired effect.

When the pair walked down the street it was established that nine times out of ten a passing men’s fancy aimed at Daisie first, and she’d rarely allow the attention to wander across to her sister.

After a further hour in their company the illusion of their interchangeability would be well and truly debunked. Despite their shared physicality Daisie and Violet were far from one and the same, as compatible as the dog is with the cat. 

It was one of the reasons Violet seethed as she waited on the deck of the SS Gothic. She’d been standing at attention in the third row of staff meticulously lined up in formal wear under the searing Jamaican sun to greet the Queen. The Gothic was in port to collect Her Majesty on its journey to the southern continents. As to how the sisters found themselves in the presence of royalty, in the Bermuda region no less, is a backstory that will be elaborated on. But for the time being, in this moment, Violet’s life was about to change, and even more irreparably than she could imagine.

Violet craned her neck a little, her eyes thinning with jealousy. From where she stood Violet could see her sister standing in the front row. Daisie had swiftly ingratiated herself with the Lady in Waiting, Lady Caroline Althorp and had been promoted to personal maid to Lady Althorp.

Outside of their parents, God rest their souls, Violet knew Daisie better than anybody. Daisie made no bones about improving her lot. Daisie didn’t even consider herself a devotee of the monarchy. Still, they were a ladder to be climbed and Daisie can charm with an indifferent effortless efficiency. To Violet, it was entirely, depressingly predictable.  

Oblivious to the obsessive gaze of her sister from the third row behind, Daisie observed a seagull as it danced sideways on the railing closer to the rows of freshly shaved men in clean naval regalia.

‘Your uniform would be an enticing target to a bored seagull,’ she remarked to the towering officer standing to attention at her right. He smiled despite the formality of the occasion.

‘To attention! Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II of England, and the Duke of Edinburgh,’ the steward announced loudly, and within seconds the Queen and Prince Philip appeared from the starboard doorway, escorted towards the waiting group by the po-faced, balding Private Secretary Ratcliffe and Lady Althorp.

Violet’s heartbeat hastened. She’d been instructed to avoid eye contact but couldn’t help stealing a glance at her idol.

Poised, youthful, feminine, perhaps slightly withdrawn, the Queen might have been any young woman on a great occasion. Her skin was flawlessly fragile, paler than the impression gained from paintings and photographs. She wore a blue pleated dress, a single string of pea-sized pearls and a pillbox hat that sat impeccably on her judiciously waved hair. The Queen smiled and nodded patiently as she walked along the front row greeting her staff.

To Daisie, Prince Philip shone far more brilliantly. He was tall and imposing, but even his vivid white suit with matching naval cap couldn’t outshine the good humour that radiated from him. He paused to chat jovially to a chief engineer as if they were old friends.

Violet watched as Prince Philip glanced down the line directly at Daisie, who stood out among the men in uniform like a wildflower in the desert. Daisie blushed at the attention, a gentle smirk following in its wake, her eyes fixed back on him.

Violet nervously scrunched her nose at the unseemliness of it, willing Daisie to stop being herself.

Lady Althorp, a refined, well-bred presence with a slender neck and perfect skin despite her thirty-one years, hovered. As they approached Daisie’s place in the line she discreetly whispered near the Queen’s shoulder.

‘You’re with Lady Caroline?’ the Queen asked Daisie, her eyes round with genuine curiosity. The sharp timbre in her voice made the routine enquiry sound personal and authentic. Violet’s skin prickled with jealousy.

‘Why yes,’ Daisie replied, unintimidated, adding ‘Your majesty,’ as an afterthought.

‘She’s been promoted,’ Lady Caroline informed the Queen.

‘Thank you for your service,’ the Queen responded seamlessly before she commenced gliding onwards towards the second row.

Violet’s chest tightened again, her heart leaping at the thought of her turn to meet the Queen. Frozen in place, she parted her lips slightly to take in more oxygen and stared straight ahead, her hands clasped in front of her as instructed, despite her instinct to fidget. ‘Relax. Still. Perfectly still!’ her inner voice yelled in a desperate mantra. With goosebumps the size of pinheads, a light sweat broke out either side of Violet’s nose. ‘Never look at Her Majesty directly,’ she’d been told. ‘Unless you are invited to do so.’

The shape of the Queen and her Private Secretary edged into Violet’s peripheral vision. She focused on the foreground as the Her Majesty approached with mere inches.

It was a blur. Then she was gone.

And the Queen stopped to chat with the chef two places along. The seagulls cawed and trilled. They weren’t laughing at her, but that’s the way it seemed. Violet’s shoulders involuntarily drooped a little. Inside, her heart had been so torn she was uncertain if it was even still pumping.

Once again Daisie was the chosen one and Violet simply didn’t exist.

And then a sudden strange sensation gripped her with a new flavour of panic. Deep inside, from a strange, unfamiliar place, a sickly sensation rose physically within her. It wasn’t food poisoning. Nor sea-sickness – she’d had her share of that already. This was some sickening possession of her being, and it was willing itself out, and fast.

Violet hurriedly cupped both hands over her mouth, her body jolting as if thumped from behind. Ratcliffe turned with a raised eyebrow.

What followed was a horrible, inescapable catastrophe. The incident would be over in seconds but for Violet it would last a lifetime.

Pre-order The Journey After the Crown in eBook format now.

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