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Category: Research

Posts in which we talk about research

I am the lady of this house, not an exalted country house, but a respectable one and I must not dally any further. I must prepare for Christmas. It is a daunting task in this modern age – 1820. There is so much to do.

First I must check to see if Cook has prepared the Christmas pudding. She should have done so one week ago on Stir Up Sunday. I must discuss with her all the food we shall need for the holidays, because the rest of the family and some friends will gather here and they will stay through Twelfth Night.

I should send invitations to the families near here to come for a Christmas meal. I believe I shall have my daughter write them. She has a better hand than I. Soon it will be time to send the footmen out to gather greenery and we must hang a ball of mistletoe to generate some excitement during the party.

Then there are gifts to purchase. I shall make a list and have my husband’s people purchase them in London and send them to me here. And I must exert myself to embroider some handkerchiefs for everyone, because that is the sort of generous person I am.

Speaking of generous, we will also make up baskets of food for those less fortunate than we. I am certain the kitchen staff and maids might take an afternoon away from their duties to assist in filling the baskets. My dh, Lord P–, and I will, of course deliver them to the families. It will take the better part of the day.

It is such a busy time!
What are you doing to prepare for the holidays??

I know one thing you can do. Enter the Harlequin Historical Authors Holiday Giveaway. We started last Wednesday and are going strong until Dec 21. Enter each day for chances to win daily prizes and for the most chances to win the grand prize of a Kindle Fire HD. Today is Michelle Willingham’s day and tomorrow is mine!

Now I shall lie down for a bit. All this planning has quite exhausted me.

(I’ll choose Vicky Hinshaw’s winners at midnight tonight and announce them tomorrow)

Posted in Regency, Research | Tagged | 3 Replies

So what am I doing this week?  Getting out the Christmas decorations, finishing revisions and starting the next book, and getting ready to head to Santa Fe to do last-minute wedding prep stuff!  (the big day is a week from Saturday–I can’t believe it’s coming up so soon).  But here at the Riskies we have some Big Changes coming up as well.  Next week we are switching over to a new design, with all sorts of new features and fun things, and to celebrate we’ll have prizes all week.  Be sure and join us for the party!!!

Last week, when i talked about my new book Two Sinful Secrets, Elena asked me about sources for this period.  Researching is one of the most fun aspects of writing historicals, and delving into a newer-to-me period is always a ton of fun (at least it is for a history nerd like me!).  In my first series as Laurel McKee, “The Daughters of Erin” trilogy, I used the history of late 18th/early 19th century Ireland as an integral part of the conflict and characters.  I didn’t do that with this new series, “The Scandalous St. Claires”–history is more a background, we don’t actually see Queen Victoria etc.  But it’s so, so important to me to get the background just right.  Every time period has its own “feeling,” its own atmosphere and attitudes (though human nature is, in so many things, eternal, so it’s always easy to recognize characters even if they’re products of their time).  I used the early Victorian period, mid to late 1840s (mostly because I love the “Young Victoria” style fashions), so the massive changes of the period hadn’t quite taken hold, but events were moving at a faster and faster pace.  Industry was overcoming the agrarian lifestyle, a strict morality (outwardly at least–inwardly the Victorians were some of the naughtiest people in history) was creeping in, and lots of good things were going on that could be mined for romance stories….

Here are a few of the sources I enjoyed while researching this era:
–Suzanne Fagence Cooper, The Victorian Woman (2001)
–Richard D. Altick, Victorian People and Ideas (1973) (this one had great info on the life of the slums and the lower classes, perfect when outlining the childhood of my first St. Claire heroine, Lily in One Naughty Night)
–Jennifer Hall-Witt, Fashionable Acts: Opera and Elite Culture in London, 1780–1880 (2007) (I think Elena recommended this one way back when, and it was so valuable to me since the St. Claires are theater owners!  The theater was really booming in the Victorian era…)
–Martin Pugh, Britain Since 1789: A Concise History (1999)
–E. Evans, The Forging of the Modern State: Early Industrial Britain (1996)
–P. Levine, Victorian Feminism (1987)
–J. Walvin, Leisure and Society 1830-1950 (1978) and Victorian Values (1987)
–Donald Thomas, The Victorian Underworld (1998)

For Two Sinful Secrets I also had to research Paris in the era, which of course I loved!  More info on that later (plus fun Victorian Christmas stuff–they really, really loved the holiday!)

Have you found any good historical sources lately?  Any Christmas traditions you think came from historical time periods that you use in your own celebrations??

Posted in Research | Tagged | 3 Replies
Be afraid … be very afraid. Christmas is coming but Kate Dolan is here to guide us through this darkest part of the year. Kate is a prolific writer of many hats, and today’s hat is that of the writer of not quite politically correct Regencies for Cotillion Press. And she’s giving away a free download of each of her holiday releases, The Bride of Belznickel and Change of Address. Take it away, Kate…

Back before we had the option of watching “Elf’ or “A Christmas Story” every night for a month before Christmas, we humans satisfied our need for entertainment by sharing Christmas stories around the fire. There is an ancient tradition of telling “winter tales” that included fantastic or paranormal elements inspired by our fears of the dark. Some say this practice died out during the medieval era and others say it continued unabated, but there is no doubt that the tradition of telling scary tales was being revived by the later Regency period.

My favorite figure from these tales is the Belznickel, a figure from Germanic legend who is sort of the opposite of St. Nicholas. Where the saintly Nick rewards children who’ve been good, the Belznickel does the opposite – he punishes the bad.

With whips and chains.

That could make for a very scary Christmas if you’ve been bad.

The Belznickel was generally depicted as dark, with the figure of a man but the horns of a goat. He carried a whip to chastise, and chains to confine or remove miscreants.

Some believe stories of the Belznickel derive from the vindictive Germanic god Woden, whose name in older dialects was Pelzmartel. According to legend, Pelzmartel and his wife would come to earth each year from December 25 to January 6 and they were welcomed with bonfires. In mumming tradition, the evil Belzickel figure is always portrayed by a man while his companion, the good and generous Christkindl, is always potrayed by a woman despite the fact that the name translates to Christ child and should therefore be male. This suggests that the “Christkindl” character is just a Christianized version of Woden’s wife, who was said to be as good and kind as Woden was nasty.

Others trace the Belznickel tradition to the popular stories of St. Nicholas, a bishop who lived in around the year 300 in an area now part of modern Turkey. Nicholas supposedly put money in a girl’s shoes one night to keep her from falling into prostitution. From that came the custom of putting gifts in stockings or on the floor. In some places, it was expected not only for  the Belznickel to threaten punishment but also to scatter candy and treats on the floor to reward well behaved children. If they reached down to pick up the goodies while he was still there, they risked getting hit with a whip or switch.

Stories of a mischievous or macabre “helper” for St. Nicholas vary according to different cultures. In Switzerland, for example, the helper “Schmultzli” was said to threaten to put bad children in a sack and take them to the Dark Forest. There are even tales of him drowning particularly naughty offenders.

The Belznickel tradition took on a new twist in 19th Century America. A Pottstown Pennsylvania newspaper article from 1826 calls him a Christmas “marauder”  who created havoc every night leaving the streets strewn with lumber debris. The newspaper describes the Belnickel as short and “chunky” with a long beard and clothed in a black bearskin cap, red plush breeches and moccasins “the same worn by the Chippawa Nation.”

Often those dressing as Belznickel blacked their faces, and that became such a part of the tradition in the U.S. that by 1905, at least one journalist speculated that the entire Belznickel legend originated with African-American slaves performing at Christmas.

The black face disguise goes along with another part of the Belznickel tradition that seems to fit Halloween better than Christmas. Troupes of men would go from house to house in costume, play up the part of the Christmas demon, and then be treated to drinks and food.  This is called “Belznickeling.” Even as recently as 30 years ago, a group of these revelers scared the heck out of one college student returning home for a visit with her parents. After the rest of the family had gone to bed, she heard noise outside and looked out the window to see the house surrounded by men wearing masks. She woke her parents and begged them not to open the door, but they did anyway and the men pushed their way inside and staggered into the kitchen, demanding drinks. Her parents tried to explain that this was an old European tradition.

In my experience, I would expect the college students to be the ones dressing in costumes, stumbling around in search of alcohol. Maybe the tradition of Belznickeling is still practiced more widely than we realize.

I found the Belznickel character so interesting that I used him for the basis of my traditional Regency Christmas story Bride of Belznickel, which has just been re-released as a standalone story by Ellora’s Cave Cotillion. In my tale, the heroine Hannah is forced to spend Christmas with cousins who ridicule her at every turn. To get even, she tries to scare them with tales of a Christmas demon. But then her stories start to come to life, and no one knows what to do about it, Hannah least of all.

Kate’s also giving away a copy of Change of Address. Amanda, her young sister and her unconventional mother move to a small house in a remote village just before Christmas—and discover it lacks furniture and everything else they need. Charles, son of the local squire, bursts in to rescue them when he mistakes smoke from the clogged chimneys as a house fire. When she realizes his father is their landlord, Amanda drafts Charles into helping them, and he willingly complies with the requests of the beauty. As the acquaintance between the families deepens, Amanda comes to realize that Charles may not be quite as bacon-brained as she assumed. When he rescues her from a drunken man, she then has to conspire with him to prevent worse consequences—all on Christmas Eve.

So … let’s talk about Christmas traditions. Does your family have a tradition of, uh, unusual folklore with or without whips and chains, or featuring scary stories?
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I’m thinking that the Scots know how to do New Year’s. Their celebration of Hogmanay may have roots in early Viking celebrations of winter solstice or other pre-Christian winter customs. Or maybe Hogmanay became the popular celebration because celebrating Christmas was forbidden in Scotland for 400 years. Blame the Protestant Reformation for that.

Lots of the celebrations include fire.


Stonehave_fireballs_2003In Stonewall, each New Year’s Eve men parade down the streets swinging huge fireballs over their heads by wire or chains. Any fireballs left burning are flung into the harbor.

Burning of the Clavie

Burghead has the Burning of the Clavie, albeit taking place Jan 11.
The clavie is a half-cask is filled with wood shavings and tar that is set on fire. A Clavie king and his helpers parade the burning barrel around town and the charcoal from the fire is collected and placed in fireplaces to ward off evil spirits.


Edinburgh_Hogmanay_LongshipA Viking longship is burned in Edinburgh harbor as part of that city’s days long celebration. And Edinburgh has a big fireworks display as well.

Lerwick has an actual fire festival the last Tuesday in January. Paraders carry torches in procession and a galley is burned.

Me, I’m probably going to sit by my own fireplace and bring in the New Year quietly. I like the end of the old year and beginning of the new one to be quiet and peaceful after all the busyness of November and December.

How about you?

Auld Lang Syne

What other way can I wish you a Happy New Year without including Auld Lang Syne. In Scotland, revelers only link hands during the last verse:

And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere !
and gie’s a hand o’ thine !
And we’ll tak a right gude-willy waught,
for auld lang syne.

Posted in Research | 4 Replies

atozOne of the challenges of writing a Regency Romance is geography.  I know.  Not what you thought, is it?  Well, it’s one of my challenges.  I want my characters to be taking the correct streets, catching the mail coach at the right inn, taking a walk along the right path in the right park, running off the road into the right ditch.

It’s not always easy to make this happen and I’m never quite sure I’ve got it right but I have certain go-to books that help me get around the Regency without taking a totally wrong turn.

My current WIP takes place mostly in London.  This at least puts some boundaries around my geographical exploration.  When negotiating the byways of Regency London, I always start with The A to Z of Regency London.  This fabulous book was published by the London Topographical Society in 1985 and is based on Richard Horwood’s map (third edition, 1813).  But it is far more useful than Horwood’s huge map (which requires really good eyesight and a magnifying glass).  The Horwood map is broken into 40 sections and enlarged.  And each street, square, lane, almshouse, burial ground (and more) is indexed.  If you want to know where anything is in Regency London and its relative position this is your resource.  It will, without a doubt, help you get your heroine from Little Brooke Street to Gunter’s for ices with nary a wrong turn.

Perhaps, you crave a little more detail.  I wanted to send my hero and heroine meandering through a park and needed more than a map to get the ambience right.  London Green by Neville Braybooke  has a pretty good overview of KensingtonGardens, Hyde Park, GreenPark, and St. James Park.  You have to be a little careful with Neville, here, as it’s not quite as era-specific as one would want, but it has some great illustrations, history and enough detail to probably extract what you need for a romantic stroll.

period-houseIt’s not all geography, though. If you have a burning need to be able to talk, in detail, about the design of your hero’s townhouse, you might want to take a peek at Georgian London by John Summerson. This lovely book is probably going to give you more information that you’ll ever need and maybe should be reserved for the day when you really want a thorough background on the architecture of the city.  For the basics, I really recommend The Period House: Style, Detail & Decoration 1774-1914, a good, general overview of several different types of townhouses complete with floorplans. This book will allow you to move your heroine from her room to the library (with a candle, in her nightclothes) without having her stray into the kitchen.

gentlemens-clubsJust a couple of more.  Your hero, undoubtedly needs a place to escape from his meddling mama.  You’ll need to send him to his club.  Also, you’ll need to know what club to send him to.  Try The Gentlemen’s Clubs of London.  This is also not era-specific, but it has a brief history and description of each club and great photos.  You’ll be able to find the right place for your boy to hide out and you’ll get a good picture of what it looks like.  What more you do need?

How about a romantic evening?  Vauxhall Gardens might be just the place.  VauxhallGardens, A History has more information than you’ll ever need about this scene of many a seduction.  Truly, it is more information than you’ll ever want unless you want your hero to build his own pleasure garden.  Which, come to think of it, is an interesting idea.

life-georgian-cityLet me leave you with one last, excellent, book for a general understanding of your era in London.  Dan Cruickshank and Neil Burton’s Life in the Georgian City is both general and detailed.  Dan Cruickshank makes the various parts of the Georgian city accessible to the reader.  This book has chapters on street life, work and play, houses and their occupants, construction, interior design, gardens, and includes two case studies.  This is something you might just want to read for pleasure.

I have lots more.  More on London, more on the countryside, more on getting from one to the other and what to do when you get there.  I look forward to sharing my library with you this year.

Do you have a favorite research book or web site?  What’s your go-to resource when you’re thinking about Regency England?

Posted in Regency, Research | 5 Replies
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