I always look upon the arrival of copy edits with dread. Sometimes they are a breeze and I go through them in a couple of days, changing the odd word when the copy editor has pointed out that I have used "distraught" four times in one paragraph. Other times I grit my teeth when a copy editor and I don't agree over certain facts of grammar and style. I sometimes like to write partial sentences--that don't actually have a verb in them. "I found it hard to breath. Stifling darkness all around me."Copy editors are raised to think that every sentence has to have a verb, so they insert "was". I delete again..
Then there is the battle of the commas. I am not good with commas, I confess. The rules are different between UK and America and I was never good to begin with. So the copy editor and I wage war over what I consider an excess of commas.
These I can handle. What I find harder is a copy editor who is a thwarted writer and tries to change my prose. Occasionally I agree that a rephrasing would be better. More often I underline and write STET in big letters. It's my book. I wrote it and if the prose isn't purple enough for you then tough luck.
I'm about to start on the copy edits of CROWNED AND DANGEROUS, the next Royal Spyness book, due out in August. Usually the process has been painless at Penguin, so I'm hoping for the best.
We left Georgie and Darcy at the end of Malice in the Palace heading for Greta Green in Scotland. We pick up where we left off, but in a snowstorm with the Great North Road closed by a drift:
We drove on, hoping to see at least a village close to the road. I think we must have been almost back as far as York when we finally found any sign of human habitation, at least humans who might be still awake. This was also a pub, a little off the road and by a railway crossing. The sign, swinging in the blizzard-like wind, said The Drowning Man and showed a hand coming out of a pond.
“Hardly encouraging,” Darcy said dryly. “But at least a light is still burning and hopefully someone is still awake.”
He opened the driver’s side door, letting in a great flurry of snow, then wrestled the wind to close it hurriedly before running across to the pub. I peered through the snow-clad windscreen, watching him. He knocked, waited, and to my relief the door finally opened, letting out a band of light across the snow. They seemed to be having a prolonged conversation during which the other person could be seen peering at me, then Darcy marched back to the car. For a horrible moment I thought he was going to say that they had no rooms and we’d have to drive on. But instead he came around to my door and opened it for me.
“They appear to have rooms. Hardly the most welcoming of places, from what I can see, but it’s really a case of any port in a storm.” He took my hand and led me through the snow to the building. I was going to say the warmth of the building, but in truth it wasn’t much warmer than the motor car had been. One naked bulb hung in a hallway and an uncarpeted stair disappeared into darkness.
“Caught in the storm, were you?” the inn-keeper asked. Now we could see her she was a big boned, cart-horse of a woman with little darting eyes in a pudgy face with heavy jowls.
I shot a swift glance at Darcy, praying he wouldn’t make a facetious comment along the lines that we were actually heading for the Riviera and took a wrong turn.
“We were heading for Scotland but the road is closed.” I said before he could answer.
“Aye. We heard that on the wireless,” she said. “Reckon it will take days, don’t they? So you’ll be wanting a room then?”
“We will,” Darcy said.
“I’ve just the one room,” she said. “The others are occupied. You are a married couple, I take it?” And she gave us a hard stare, trying to see a wedding ring through my gloves, I suspect.
“Of course,” Darcy said briskly. “Mr and Mrs. Chomondley-Fanshaw. That’s spelled Featherstonehaugh, by the way.”
I fought back a desire to giggle. She was still eyeing us suspiciously. “I don’t care how it’s spelled,” she said. “We don’t go for airs and graces in this part of the country. As long as good honest folk have the brass to pay, we don’t care how many hyphens they have in their names.”
“Right then,” Darcy said. “If you’d be good enough to show us the room?”
She didn’t budge but pointed. “Turn right at the top of the stairs and it’s at the end of the hall. Number Thirteen.”
Then she reached into a cubby and handed us a key. “Breakfast from seven to nine in the dining room. Breakfast is extra. Oh, and if you want a bath you’ll have to wait till morning. Hot water is turned off between ten and six. And the bath’s extra too.”
Darcy gave me a look but said nothing. “I’ll take you up first then go and get the bags,” he said. “Come on.”
I followed him up the narrow stair. An icy draft blew down at us.
“Are there fires in the rooms?” Darcy turned back to ask the landlady who was still standing there watching us.
“No fireplace in that room,” she said.
“As I suppose a cup of hot chocolate is out of the question?” There wasn’t much hope in his voice.
“Kitchen closed at eight.” She turned her back and walked into the darkness of the hallway.
“We don’t have to stay here,” Darcy whispered to me. “There must be proper hotels in York. It’s not that far now.”
“It’s still almost fourteen snowy miles. And we’ve no guarantee anyone else has a room,” I said. “If all the roads northward are closed…” In truth I felt close to tears. It had been a long day starting with helping to dress the bride at Kensington Palace, then the ceremony at St. Margaret’s Westminster, then the reception at Buckingham Palace and the long, cold, snowy drive. All I wanted to do was curl up into a little ball and go to sleep.
The floorboards creaked horribly as we tiptoed down the hall. Number Thirteen was about the gloomiest room I had ever seen—and I had grown up in a Scottish castle noted for its gloominess. It was small, crowded with miss-matched furniture dominated by an enormous carved wardrobe that took up the one wall where the ceiling didn’t slope. In the midst of this clutter was a narrow brass bed with a patchwork quilt on it. A naked bulb gave just enough anemic light to reveal sagging and stained curtains at the window and a small braided rug on the bare floor.
“Golly!” I let out the childish exclamation before I remembered that I had resolved to be sophisticated from now on. “It is pretty grim, isn’t it?”
“It’s bloody awful,” Darcy said. ‘Sorry for swearing, but if ever a room deserved the word bloody, this is it. Let’s just get out of here while we can. I wouldn’t be surprised if she didn’t kill off the guests during the night and make them into pies.”I started laughing at it. “Oh Darcy. What are we doing here?”
RHYS: So Crowned and Dangerous comes out in August and is already available for pre-order. And my next book is TIME OF FOG AND FIRE, a Molly Murphy novel that is published March 1. I'll be putting up signing events on my website in a few days. As to what I'm writing now... If I told you, I'd have to kill you.......