Wednesday, September 17, 2014

What we're writing: Rhys writes THE END, but is it?

On Sunday I wrote those two most magic words to any writer THE END.
I had finished the first draft of next year's Royal Spyness book, called Malice at the Palace. I can't give you a cover picture because there isn't one yet. But it takes place mainly at Kensington Palace. Not nearly as well known as its sister Buckingham, it is older and has housed many generations of royals. It was the home of George I. It was where Queen Victoria was born and at the time I write about it was known as the Aunt Heap--because various daughters and granddaughters of Queen Victoria lived in apartments there. More recently it achieved fame as the home of Charles and Diana. It was where William and Harry grew up. It was outside the gold tipped gates that the incredible tribute of flowers was left for Diana. And now it is where William and Kate are raising their family. (second one on the way, in case you haven't heard).

Oh, and it also houses more than its share of family ghosts, some of whom make cameo appearances in my book. I realize I'm sailing a little close to the wind with this story--a real royal scandal of the time. But it is well substantiated in the newspapers so I feel I will not be treading on too many toes.

And of course those words THE END now means that the hard work starts. Going through the whole thing again, examining every sentence for clumsy phrasing. Reading a lot out loud. Making sure that the plot makes sense and doesn't give too much away. And when my polishing is complete to goes to my husband John, who will pull it apart yet again and we'll argue a lot and then I'll rewrite one more time before it goes off to my agent and my editor.

But if you'd like a little preview now here is the scene when Georgie arrives at the palace.

The rain came down harder and the wind buffeted me as I finally came to what I hoped was the right door. I rang the door bell. Nobody came immediately so I tried the door knob and the door swung open. I stepped into a foyer and looked around with surprise. I had expected something like Buckingham Palace—walls lined with royal portraits, antiques and statues everywhere. But this was more like an ordinary home, slightly outmoded and with a lingering smell of furniture polish and damp.  I gave a sigh of disappointment, mingled with a small sigh of relief. At least I wouldn’t have to worry about knocking over priceless objects every time I turned around, the way I did at Buckingham Palace.  It was also rather cold in that foyer, with a draft swirling about my legs.. Not too welcoming a first impression for a visiting princess, I thought. But perhaps they were not planning to turn on any form of heat until she arrived.
            I wasn’t quite sure what to do next. I wondered if the queen would have supplied servants of if Princess Marina was bringing her own and they weren’t here yet.  I realized that I should have asked to be taken to Major Beauchamp-Chough, not have gone straight to the apartment. Protocol probably demanded that he escort me to my quarters. But it was a long, wet walk back to the front of the building.  There was an archway at the end of the entry hall leading to a passageway beyond. As I looked in that direction I saw a woman walk across it.
“Hello,” I called. “Wait a minute, please.”
When she didn’t stop I ran after her, and found myself standing in a long dark corridor that was completely empty. Where had she gone? There were no side corridors and she would not have had time to open and close a door. That’s when I realized she was wearing a long white dress and her hair had been piled upon her head in curls. I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand up. At that moment I heard the brisk tap of feet on the marble tiled floor and a woman came across the foyer toward me.  This one was all too solid. She was probably in her thirties, well fed, in a wool dress that was a little too tight for her, pale faced and with pale hair piled in an old fashioned bun. She spotted me and bore down upon me, wagging a finger.
            “Ah, there you are, you naughty girl,” she said in strongly accented English. “Where have you been? I have been waiting for you.”
            “I didn’t realize there was a specific time for my arrival,” I said, taking aback by her ferocious approach.
            “That is no way to address your betters,” she said, giving me a haughty stare.
            “My betters?” Indignation now overtook surprise. “I’m sorry. I don’t know who you are, but I rather think we must be equals, unless you are Queen Victoria reincarnated.”
            I saw uncertainty cross her face. “Are you not the girl who was sent to bring me pickled herring from Harrods?”
            I tried not to grin. “I am Lady Georgiana, cousin to His Majesty,” I said. “May one ask your name?.”
            “Oh, thousand pardons,” the woman stammered, thoroughly flustered now. “I did not expect… we were not informed that His Majesty’s cousin would be visiting.  And I did not expect a royal person to arrive alone in such a manner.” And she looked at my sodden mack and the puddle accumulating around my feet.
‘Yes, I’m sorry. I realize I don’t look very royal,” I said. “But it’s raining cats and dogs out there and I don’t have a motor car.”
She went and peered out of the window. “I do not see any cats and dogs,” she said.
“Just an expression.”
“Ah,” she said solemnly. “An English idiom. I must learn these things. Cats and dogs.”

And an interesting little thing happened to me when I started writing this book. A friend was moving from a big house to a retirement home. "I thought you might like this old print," she said. It was framed and very old. I thanked her then I looked at the caption at the bottom. Kensington Palace, 1789. I took it as a good omen. 

So I'm interested to know, dear Reds and Readers--how do you feel about real people as characters in fiction? I try to keep mine as close to their true lives as possible but what do you think of books that take liberties with them--Queen Elizabeth as a sleuth? Hitler as a sleuth?

Malice at the Palace will be published by Berkley Prime Crime August 2015.


  1. Somehow I’m having a bit of difficulty imagining Hitler as a sleuth and so I guess “not much of a fan” is my answer. Somehow, it just doesn’t seem quite right to be taking such liberties with real people . . . or perhaps it simply depends on how believable it all
    might be.

    And now, of course, I’m anxious to read the rest of “Malice at the Palace” . . . thanks for the sneak peek!

  2. Hi Rhys,

    I would love to see Queen Elizabeth as a young woman, or even a pre-teen pre-queen seeker of solutions to palace mysteries sleuthing about the palace with little Princess Margaret. Wouldn't that be fun!

  3. This will be such fun Rhys--thanks for giving us a peek!

    I use real people quite a bit--and real places too, in Key West. I think readers will love getting this insider's view into the palace, and see the Queen herself too.

    Hitler as sleuth? I'm with Joan--preposterous! But it might be fun to see Diana live on...

  4. The hilarious Meg Mims (and she/they'll be visiting Jungle Red soon) uses Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins as sleuths in their new mystery..and they're real, right? ;-)

    And of course our Susan is perfection at real people in fictional books.

    Hitler, can you imagine? That'd be right up (or, down) there with those blood-spattered Kent State t-shirts they tried to sell.

    Rhys, there's nothing--nothing!--like typing THE END. I generally cry. Hurray for you!

  5. AND the winner of the TRUTH BE TOLD arc is: PK the Bookeemonster!

    Monster, email me at h ryan at whdh dot com and tell me your address.

    And anyone who wants a snail mail party invitation--do the same!

  6. If you'd like to read about the Queen as a sleuth, I highly recommend C.C. Benison's Jane Bee/Her Majesty Investigates series. Such fun!

    I think historical figures are fair game, but do realize not everyone agrees. I am respectful though, of course.

  7. Rhys, thanks for the preview. At first I thought that of deafness when the other person? Did not respond to Lady Georgie. Perhaps not. I could see Princess Eluzabeth (now the Queen) and Princess Margaret solving a mystery.

    In my WIP, I have a few real historical figures. Look forward to reading malice at the palace. Love the title.


  8. Georgie at the palace - I love it! So much fun, to see it through her eyes.

    Real people as sleuths... why not? As long as they're dead. (And then why not their ghosts, figuring out who killed them?) Though I agree with Joan, I wouldn't want to read Hitler Detective...

  9. Great snippet Rhys and congrats on typing THE END.

    Historical figures? Well, I'm torn. I think, as Susan said, you have to be respectful. And the person has to act consistently with what is known historically. But I could totally see Elizabeth as a sleuth!

  10. Wow, thanks Hank! I'm gobsmacked!

    I read A LOT of historical mysteries. It is a fine line to write a book/series with a real person. I prefer that they are walk on or supporting characters to perhaps add flavor, verisimilitude and sometimes humor. That can be done very well indeed.

    IMHO, using a real person as the protagonist is a bit lazy, like using a brand that people are comfortable with but not really because it's just the name, if you take my meaning. The writer is imagining conversations and relationships anyway, just create a new person! If the writing is good, we'll follow you every step of the way.

  11. If they are done well, I enjoy historical figures as sleuths. However, if they are too out there, it does bug me. Hitler as sleuth? Not so much. But either Queen Elizabeth could make a good sleuth if done correctly.

  12. Such a fun little teaser of the new Lady Georgie, Rhys. Good luck with the rest of the process.

    I enjoy reading about historic figures, especially when they're inserted in stories, a la Susan's Princess Elizabeth cameos, and the real-life people who show up in the Indiana Jones' books. (My grandson and I got into these this past spring--dozens of books, all written in the 30's, on which the movies were based.) It's fun to stretch one's brain a bit to understand those particular characters' motivations and places in the tale. But I'm ambivalent about them as sleuths.

    Kensington Palace is exactly as you describe it, Rhys, just a big, rambling house, at least the public parts of it. When I was there with my mother and daughter, my grandson was just walking, and we had tea at the Orangerie. The gardens are so beautiful.

  13. "Not much of a fan" of Hitler as a sleuth, Joan! I think I'd agree with that. I confess I have a problem with using a real person as my sleuth because a lot is known about this person's life and we know they didn't have time to play detective.
    But I do love introducing real people in cameo roles. It binds us to the time and makes the reader feel that the story is valid. And who wouldn't want to see Charlie Chaplin in a swimming pool with Georgie?

  14. No Hitler, but otherwise I am all for it! The Queen as a young sleuth would be great fun!

    Is there any real person that would be off limits?

    Looking forward to the new book Rhys!

    Hank, Doolittle and Higgins are real, just like Jane Austen, right? (; The Jane Austen mysteries by Stephanie Barron are so fun!

  15. Yes, I like your cameos, Rhys. But definitely no on the "Hitler--Boy Sleuth!"

    You and Susan have both managed to use historical figures well, and I love Stephanie Barron's (Francine Matthew's) Jane Austen books. So it can be done if you get the voice just right.

  16. Real people in fiction? Depends in how it's done. ;)
    This little snippet made me crazy. I WANT MORE!!

  17. II'm not a big fan of real historical characters as sleuths, but I do enjoy running across them in mystery novels. Nice to have them pop in unexpectedly.

  18. That's what I think Susan. Sometimes I don't identify mine by name but let the reader suddenly recognize them. Fun

  19. Oh, Rhys, I do so love Georgie! A ghost will be delightful in the story. Thanks for this wonderful excerpt. I can't wait to read it. And, yes, I do enjoy real people as characters.

  20. Love your books but am tired of waiting for Georgie and her beau to get together probably you didn't think this when u wrote it but even suggesting Hitler is offensive I think u should take this down