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Category: Research

Posts in which we talk about research

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

Hello and Apology

I recently got back from traveling to see family, just barely outrunning winter storm Euclid. I’m still catching up on laundry and still fighting the sinus thing I caught before the holidays began. My head is so stuffy I am uninspired by everything but my favorite remedy–soup! So I will share a post from several years ago. I hope all are well and enjoying the holidays, and I hope to be back with a fresh post next week.

– Elena

Soup! from March, 2011

It’s been a long winter, even for people like me who like to frolic on the slopes. Yesterday felt spring-like but based on the forecast, winter still hasn’t quite lost its grip on upstate New York.

One thing that makes it easier to deal with the cold and damp is soup. Although I’ve always liked soup in restaurants, I didn’t get serious about making it myself until last year, when I bought a French Market bean soup mix at a fundraising event. The first time I made it, I used the entire container of beans rather than two cups as stated in the recipe, and produced a rather ugly sludge. But it was delicious sludge and the next time I tried, it looked better and was still tasty and comforting, as soup should be.

Another recent (and successful) experiment was Butternut Squash and Pear Soup from The Gracious Bowl, which I served to my local writing buddies at a retreat. It has ginger and curry in it—yum! Then after enjoying soup at another writer buddy gathering, I decided to get The Daily Soup Cookbook, by Leslie Kaul and others. I’m looking forward to trying their Wild Mushroom Barley with Chicken, Moroccon Chicken Curry with Couscous and Tuscan Shrimp and White Bean and many others.

I haven’t tried any Regency era recipes yet. The Jane Austen Cookbook, by Maggie Black and Deirdre Le Faye, lists several: a Curry Soup which sounds yummy, a Summer Pease Soup (with cucumbers and mint, which sounds nice but I know my husband will not eat) and White Soup, in the section on “Assemblies and Suppers”. I’ve seen white soup mentioned in novels before, but did not know what it was. First one makes a chicken stock using chicken, bacon, rice, peppercorns, onions, anchovies, herbs and celery. The next day, ground almonds and egg yolk are added to the stock. This doesn’t sound like a very substantial soup, but that makes sense if it’s just a part of a supper.

I suspect many of the soups served at the tables of the wealthy were not the full meal soups I like to make at home. But there were definitely some more hearty soups, like oxtail soup.

One soup that was the height of fashion during the Regency which I will definitely never attempt is Turtle Soup. I doubt I’d try Mock Turtle Soup either, even the versions not involving a calf’s head!

You can find more historical information at “An Appreciation of British Soups” at British Food in America.

The Daily Soup says “You rarely hear anyone emphatically say, ‘I don’t like soup’, and the person who does cannot be trusted”. So I won’t ask if you like soup! I’ll only ask what are your favorites? Have you ever tried any historical recipes? How did they turn out?


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