Back to Top

Category: Frivolity

Fun posts

new-years-countdown-clock I suspect that on New Year’s Day, you have better things to do than reading a blogpost at the Risky Regencies! All the same, I’m here, so whenever you are reading this, I want to say thank you for reading during this past year, and I wish you a new year filled with joy, health, luck and prosperity!

I hope you ate food on New Year’s Eve that might be thought to bring those in the coming year. My guests last night dined on:

Shrimp: symbolizing long life (Japan)

Cheeses: gold colored foods symbolize prosperity and good fortune (Asia & South America)Sweet potato-pumpkin bisque

Soup: sweet potato and pumpkin bisque (sweet and also gold colored, both considered “lucky” for New Year’s)

Pork Tenderloin: pork, and pigs, symbolize both prosperity and moving forward in the new year (Western World) pork tenderloin

Sliced carrots with waterchestnuts: foods that resemble money –coins for instance –are lucky

Parmesan potatoes: gold, again (we added a bit of food coloring), and besides, yummy!

Poppyseed muffins: poppyseeds are considered lucky in Poland.

Bread & butter pickles: coin-shaped, more or less!

For dessert we had plum pudding (with hard sauce) just because we hadn’t used all of it at Christmas, but that fits the tradition of “finishing up old matters” before the year ends. ChristmasPud4

We toasted the new year with champagne, of course. Then just after midnight we each had twelve grapes meant to signify how sweet or sour our 12 months of the year are going to be (Spain, and Spanish influenced countries). I don’t have a clock that strikes (you’re supposed to eat them on the strokes), and we figured we had a better chance of tasting a sweet year if we ate them after the tart champagne!

Mind you, these aren’t Regency customs and beliefs, just ones culled from all over the world. But the universality of some kind of traditions to bring in the new year is quite consistent. In Regency England, country people would be the most likely to observe quaint practices like opening the back door to let the old year pass out at the first strokes of midnight, and then opening the front door as the strokes ended to let the new year in. Or to make a big production over who the “first-footer” (first visitor to set foot in the house) after midnight on New Year’s Eve would be. Or to make certain nothing of substance should leave the house during New Year’s Day –in some locales, housekeepers even retained the dust sweepings and food scraps from the day until January 2!

How did you ring in the new year? Will you do anything special today? Are there old customs or traditions your family observes? However you celebrate, or even if you don’t, I wish you a year full of delightful reading and discovery of many new books and authors for your pleasure! Stay tuned here at the Riskies and we’ll try to help you with that.


Happy New Year!

No release date yet for The Magnificent Marquess! Possibly end of this month? Or early May? In the meantime, I’d like to share a recent, new-to-me discovery.

Do you listen to the radio all day or play music on your computer while you work? In the Regency, was there any way to listen to music that wasn’t being performed on live instruments? Actually, there was. You might have received the gift of a music box from your forever-love, or at least have been wealthy enough to own one. Or your parents’ parlour might sport an automaton of singing birds!

I was inspired to explore this topic by my recent visit to Phoenix, Arizona, where we visited the very impressive Musical Instrument Museum (affectionately known as “the MIM”). The international collection there ranges from some very early and exotic instruments to items as recent as the broken guitar Adam Levine threw into the air during a Maroon Five concert. Many of the instruments are gorgeously decorated works of art beyond their artistic function. But I digress.

When I’m in museums I admit I tend to focus on anything that is from our period (obsessed much?). At the MIM I thoroughly enjoyed seeing guitars and pianofortes that were played by upper class women and made during the Regency. I was delighted to discover a video clip from Pride & Prejudice used to illustrate the significant social role of such musical performance.   But I already knew about those things. My favorite discovery was some early music boxes in the “mechanical music” room. I had never thought about when those first became available. Did you know that musical snuff boxes were the forerunners of the modern music box?

As with most inventions, earlier developments led to a needed breakthrough in technology. For music boxes, those steps included the 14th or 15th century creation of mechanisms for playing carillons in bell towers,  and the realization by German clockmakers that small bells and the rotating cylinder could be combined with clockworks to produce chiming or musical clocks. In the17th century the first fully automated musical clock was created in Germany, and the first “repeater” pocket watch was created in England.

Chiming English mantel clock

I’m not going to give the whole history with dates and names in this blogpost (especially since sources don’t all agree), but in the 18th century watches and snuffboxes were being made that played tunes using a tiny pinned cylinder or disc and bells.

The generally accepted big change happened in 1796 when Swiss watchmaker Antoine Favre-Salomon (1734–1820) — some sources name him as Louis Favre –replaced the tiny bells with a small, resonating steel “comb” tuned by varying the lengths of the “teeth”.  This snuff-box music box showing the working cylinder and comb is in the MIM in Phoenix.

Favre’s invention not only saved space but also allowed more complex sounds. In 1800 another Swiss watchmaker, Isaac Daniel Piguet, used a pinned disc with radially arranged steel teeth. Watchmakers were the first to produce music boxes. But by 1811 the first specialized factory for making music boxes was established in Saint-Croix, Switzerland, and by 1815, 10% of Swiss exports were music boxes. A new fad for the wealthy was born!

There’s a story that Beethoven was so charmed by a music box that he composed a piece especially for the music box maker.  Improvements soon included adding more teeth to the comb, methods to shift the cylinder or disc position to play more than one tune, and experimenting with different types of wood to improve music box resonance. Here is a picture from the MIM of a piano-shaped music box c. 1835 that was also a lady’s sewing box.   Music boxes became more and more elaborate over the course of the 19th century, and also less costly. The music box industry in Europe and America eventually employed more than 100,000 people. The invention of the player piano and then the phonograph put most of the makers out of business by the early 20th century.

Let me not forget the singing birds! Those have a long history, too, but the first mechanical birds that “sang” are generally credited to the Jaquet-Droz brothers, clock and automaton makers from La Chaux-de-Fonds, in 1780. The same sort of mechanism as music boxes provided their sounds. Singing bird automatons were a fad for the parents or grandparents of our Regency characters, so there is no reason why a set might not still be lurking in a parlour, or parked in the attics of the family home. Automatons could be the topic of another entire post, a separate fascinating rabbit hole!

Do you love music boxes? Do you own any, or did you as a child? Did you know they first gained popularity during the Regency? I didn’t, but many thanks to the MIM in Phoenix for pointing me to that discovery!





I am excited about two things to share with you! First, I can –FINALLY!! –tell you that the “new, improved” version of The Magnificent Marquess has a release date! May 15. (Cue the fireworks?)

I have worked on the revisions for months and months –it started to look like the improvement project that would never end. But I am happy with the final results, and delighted to share them. This book was originally published in 1998, so a lot of readers out there now never caught the first version. Just as well. This one is longer, so it is able to have greater character depth across the spectrum and even some new characters! The plot hasn’t changed, exactly, but I think it got more interesting.

I also love my new cover. How can anyone resist a hero with these amber eyes?

 But if you think those look a trifle haunted, you would be right. The Marquess of Milbourne may be newly arrived in London from India, immensely wealthy and handsome as sin, but he’s a wounded soul with a broken heart. I am a sucker for wounded hero stories!

The blurb: When all of London is enthralled by the newly-arrived Marquess of Milbourne, Mariah Parbury’s curiosity about his life in India undermines her resistance to his charm. Could he possibly care for her? But he has enemies. When dangerous secrets emerge about him, is she willing to risk her life as well as her heart for the chance of love?

“…a fascinating web of piquant romance and spine-tingling danger guaranteed to take your breath away.”—Romantic Times Magazine

I don’t have buy links yet, but the book will be available on all the usual ebook sources such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords for the other connections to iBooks, etc.

That said, are there any Dr Who fans out there reading this? Episode #3 of the new season that aired in the U.S. last weekend was set at the London Frost Fair of 1814!!! Just heavenly having the good doctor and his new assistant/”boss” running around in Regency dress among all the hoi polloi at the fair. The episode, titled “Thin Ice” of course involved so much more, but if you haven’t seen it I won’t spoil it by saying anything more. Just always happy to see our period used (when done well) as a setting for popular TV!! This great episode tribute painting was done by Thomas Chapman, who is apparently a huge Dr Who fan. You can see more of his artwork on Facebook at:  Want to know more about the frost fairs? Nice general background article at Radio Times:

I would love to run around in a beautiful green pelisse like Billie’s in this episode, wouldn’t you? Are you a Who fan? ‘Fess up –I know you’re out there! I could totally envision Dr Who enjoying tea with my Magnificent Marquess in his “East Indian-style” refurbished home. But that would be in 1817, so instead I’m inviting you!




So much of the time, our Regency stories evolve in the settings of the elegant mansions, grand townhouses and large country estates of the rich aristocrats who people the stories. There’s good reason for that, for certainly the elegance helps the romance! But lately I’ve been on a “cottage kick”.

There are two reasons for this (besides just that English cottages can be so adorable) One is that my current WIP has my high-born hero stranded in a very small and lowly village (at Christmas, no less) which is all farms and small village houses except for the local manor and the vicarage, of course. The other is rocks. Yes, I said rocks.

In view of the current fad for painted rock “fairy houses” that people are putting in their gardens, I agreed to paint some for my church’s Holiday Bazaar in December. Do you know how hard it is to find good rocks with a shape that lends itself to becoming a cottage? Even for fairies?

My tendency is to go for thatched roofs and the often-crooked charm that comes from centuries of standing in a lovely English garden. I’d show you some of mine if any were finished yet!! LOL. But I have collected a lot of cottage pictures to inspire my efforts, and I thought I’d share some.

I’m not going to turn this into a research post or talk about how very different in style and materials the cottages can be in every different area of Great Britain. There is no such thing as a “definitive” English cottage style unless you consider the “picturesque” revival movement that began towards the end of the Regency period. At that point, architects including Nash pondered what elements made up “cottage style” and purposely designed new homes to capture that charm. I just thought it would be fun to share a little overview!

This is a short post (having some health issues, sorry!!) YOUR turn! How romanticized is my view? Which cottages do you like best?  One of these is NOT in the U.K. –I wonder if you can spot the “fake”? Are you into any of the current painted rocks trends? (Fairy houses being only one of many going around.) Finally, a lovely rock house (painted by someone else).

If/after someone guesses the “fake”, I’ll post in the comments where some of these are to be found! Or perhaps you’ll recognize some of them!







The habit of taking snuff is one of those areas of very authentic period life that seem distasteful to our modern sensibilities. If I wrote a hero who took snuff, be honest –wouldn’t your reaction be “eeeuwww”? He would instantly seem less attractive, wouldn’t he? Snuff-users, if we have any in our stories at all, are more likely to be dandy-ish best friends or even perhaps villains.

As fiction writers, we authors always walk a fine line between recreating an accurate picture of the historical world our characters live in and the attitudes of the modern age we and our readers inhabit. Today we know the dangers of using tobacco and the addictive nature of nicotine. I have to admit, after recently visiting a historic snuff mill near where I live (birthplace of American artist Gilbert Stuart), I came away wondering why more of the snuff-using fashionable people in our period didn’t all have brain cancer! (More on this below)

That said, I thought I might share a glimpse into snuff and the process of making and using it, since it actually was such a popular habit. Did you know that Queen Charlotte (Prinny’s mother) was such a snuff fan that she had an entire room at Windsor set aside for her snuff supplies? Or that she was called “snuffy Charlotte” by some (clearly irreverent) subjects? Prominent snuff-users in our period included Keats, who penned the line, “Give me wine, women and snuff, until I cry out – hold, enough!”, also Wellington, Nelson, Napoleon, and the Prince Regent himself, who had his own proprietary blend. Members of Parliament would take snuff before debating matters, and to this day a communal snuff container is provided in the House of Lords.

Snuff is dried, cured tobacco ground into a powder of varying consistencies and taken by inhaling through the nose. A special grinding apparatus is used to achieve the fine powder. Its history traces back to ancient times in Brazil, where the Spanish first encountered it and brought it back home. From there, the French picked it up and spread its use to the rest of Europe and even into the Far East. As its use became more and more popular, it grew from a luxury only for the rich to a habit also shared with the professional middle class. In general it was never adopted by the poor who smoked their tobacco instead.

Like tea at this period, snuff was blended to unique and very individual tastes. The types of original tobacco plants could vary, as well as the many different methods used for curing it. Many additional ingredients might be combined with the various kinds of dry ground tobacco to affect the scent, which lingered in the nose long after the initial fast “hit” of the nicotine. Spices, fruits, flowers and more substances were all used for this purpose. Users took pride in their own specific recipes. Prinny was hardly alone in having his own blend, although others might not have the power and position to attach their name to theirs.

Snuff was most often taken by holding a pinch between the thumb and index finger, or placing a small amount on the back of the hand to “snuff”. Sometimes rabbits’ feet were used to wipe away the residue under the nose. (Sneezing was considered the sign of a beginner, although many snuff sellers also sold handkerchiefs.) Enough people placed their pinch of snuff in the concave space between the wrist and outer base of the thumb created by cocking one’s thumb out that the spot acquired the anatomical name “snuff box”.

Actual snuff boxes, however, were a necessity for users, and very quickly became status symbols. Because dried snuff loses its flavor quickly when exposed to air, portable pocket-sized boxes that held only a day or two’s supply were needed as well as larger boxes at home, or for communal use. Pocket snuff boxes were often given as gifts, the more elaborate the better. Boxes were made by jewelers and goldsmiths, made of gold, silver, tortoise shell, ivory and many other materials, decorated with jewels, portraits, mosaics, and more. The famous jewelers Rundell & Bridge received £8,205 for snuff-boxes given as gifts to foreign dignitaries at Prinny’s wedding.

Snuff was considered by many to have beneficial medicinal properties. Catherine d’Medici used snuff to combat migraines. People believed snuff could protect them from plague and cure failing eyesight. Some modern studies have concluded that snuff is a “safe” alternative to smoking cigarettes, because it doesn’t involve the tar and carbon products from being burned and it doesn’t impact the lungs. However, warnings against snuff usage also have a long history. It was banned at various times, and John Hill published his Caution against the Use of Snuff in 1761. People could see for themselves the damage sometimes done to the inside of the nose. The cancer-causing tobacco chemicals can have unhealthy effects on the nasal passages and sinuses they touch, and the stimulant chemicals can still raise the risks of heart-related problems such as high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke. Despite the fast route of nicotine directly to the brain, brain tissue itself is not in direct contact with the snuff, so brain cancer isn’t a risk. Throat and stomach cancer can be, when some of the powder travels from the nose to those lower areas.

I was surprised to learn, while researching this topic, that snuff use is on the rise again, popular among ex-smokers and others who haven’t kicked the nicotine addiction. A “less-bad” way around the smoking bans, I suppose. Dry snuff is closely related to “moist snuff”, also called dipping tobacco, which is placed inside the lip and is quite popular among professional sports players. Drug-screening doesn’t test for or count the addictive stimulant nicotine among the forbidden substances for these people. For an entertaining and interesting foray into the world of modern snuff users, read an excerpt posted by writer Julian Dutton on his blog, from his book titled The Bumper Book of Curious Clubs. Snuff has also been ridiculed by none other than the comedian Stephen Fry –check his youtube video .

Did you know taking snuff was on the rise again? Did you know that the phrase “up to snuff” originally meant someone who was mentally alert, smart –as in someone whose brain was stimulated by nicotine? How do you feel about period characters who indulge in taking snuff?

Get every new post delivered to your inbox
Join millions of other followers
Powered By