The Curious Peach

Here’s a post from a few years ago, edited and recycled. It’s peach season and I’ve been eating lots of them. Yum.

Peaches have been around for a long, long time, from China to Europe via the Silk Road, to America in the seventeenth century and into commercial production here in the nineteenth century. There were peaches at Pemberley:

The next variation which their visit afforded was produced by the entrance of servants with cold meat, cake, and a variety of all the finest fruits in season; but this did not take place till after many a significant look and smile from Mrs. Annesley to Miss Darcy had been given, to remind her of her post. There was now employment for the whole party; for though they could not all talk, they could all eat; and the beautiful pyramids of grapes, nectarines, and peaches soon collected them round the table. Pride and Prejudice

Jumping backward a few centuries–people like me should take note that King John of England died in 1216, some say from overindulging in peaches at a banquet nine days before. Here’s a recipe from 1597 for Peach Marmalade.

To make drie Marmelet of Peches.
Take your Peaches and pare them and cut them from the stones, and mince them very finely and steepe them in rosewater, then straine them with rosewater through a course cloth or Strainer into your Pan that you will seethe it in, you must have to every pound of peches halfe a pound of suger finely beaten, and put it into your pan that you do boile it in, you must reserve out a good quantity to mould your cakes or prints withall, of that Suger, then set your pan on the fire, and stir it til it be thick or stiffe that your stick wil stand upright in it of it self, then take it up and lay it in a platter or charger in prety lumps as big as you wil have the mould or printes, and when it is colde print it on a faire boord with suger, and print them on a mould or what know or fashion you will, & bake in an earthen pot or pan upon the embers or in a feate cover, and keep them continually by the fire to keep them dry. The Second Part of the Good Hus-wives Jewell, (1597); Thomas Dawson. From

Indian Blood Cling Peaches growing at Monticello

I couldn’t find a whole lot about peach recipes in England in the Regency period. There’s a possibility that quinces were more popular than peaches, according to (great pics here!). A lot of the historic recipes I did find were of the use them up quick variety and/or preserve them and if you’ve ever visited a pick your own orchard you’ll know exactly what I mean.

In America, were much more popular. Thomas Jefferson embraced peach cultivation with enthusiasm, growing thirty-eight varieties at Monticello, compared to only two varieties at Washington’s Mount Vernon. Jefferson made mobby, an alcoholic drink from peaches, claiming that “20 bushels of peaches will make 75 galls. of mobby, i.e. 5/12 of its bulk” (The Fruits and Fruit Trees of Monticello. Peter J. Hatch).

I’m fascinated by the wealth of varieties of peaches. Peaches are peaches, right? Unless they’re white peaches or doughnut peaches, which do have distinctive flavors. William Cobbett commented, “It is curious enough that people in general think little of the sort in the case of peaches though they are so choice in the case of apples. A peach is a peach, it seems, though I know no apples between which there is more difference than there is between different sorts of peaches.” (Quoted in Hatch, above).

Here are a couple of recipes from The Virginia Housewife by Mary Randolph, first published in 1825:

Peaches in Brandy. Get yellow soft peaches, perfectly free from defect and newly gathered, but not too ripe; place them in a pot, and cover them with cold weak lye; turn over those that float frequently, that the lye may act equally on them; at the end of an hour take them out, wipe them carefully with a soft cloth to get off the down and skin, and lay them in cold water; make a syrup as for the apricots, and proceed in the same manner, only scald the peaches more.

Peach Marmalade. Take the ripest soft peaches, (the yellow ones make the prettiest marmalade,) pare them, and take out the stones; put them in the pan with one pound of dry light coloured brown sugar to, two of peaches: when they are juicy, they do not require water: with a silver or wooden spoon, chop them with the sugar; continue to do this, and let them boil gently till they are a transparent pulp, that will be a jelly when cold. Puffs made of this marmalade are very delicious.

And here’s a Peach Pudding recipe from later in the century, adapted from Recipes Tried and True, compiled by the Ladies’ Aid Society of the First Presbyterian Church, Marion, Ohio, 1894.

peaches, cooked and sweetened
pint sweet milk
4 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon butter
a little salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 cups flour

Fill a pudding dish with peaches, cooked and sweetened; pour over them a batter made of one pint of sweet milk, four eggs, one cup of sugar, one tablespoon of butter, a little salt, one teaspoon of baking powder, and two cups of flour. Place in oven, and bake until a rich brown. Serve with cream.

The title of this post, by the way is from Andrew Marvell. I do love the phrase “stumbling on melons”, and if I’d discovered these lines sooner I might have blogged about melons:

The nectarine, and curious peach,
Into my hands themselves do reach;
Stumbling on melons, as I pass,
Ensnared with flowers, I fall on grass

What are your favorite peach recipes? Do share! I’m off downstairs where a bowl of fresh peaches awaits…

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Wilt thou yet confess?

Hi everyone! I’m reposting an old History Hoydens post today, about Regency ghosts. When I wrote it, I was working on a book with a ghost character. The book is now under my bed, but who knows what the future will bring? I still think this stuff is fascinating. The block quotes are from The Haunted: a Social History of Ghosts by Owen Davies.

The character I imagined was a murder victim seeking justice (or maybe vengeance…he wasn’t entirely a nice ghost), which has been a popular kind of ghost over the centuries—so popular, in fact, that murder investigations have been opened because of ghost sightings, up through the early part of the eighteenth century. In one case in 1660, a Westmoreland magistrate investigated the death of Robert Parkin because of a report that Robert’s ghost had appeared to a man in the parish church crying “I am murdered I am murdered I am murdered.”

In 1728, a Dorset coroner exhumed a body because of several sightings of the boy’s ghost. In this case the ghost didn’t even speak—its appearance was enough to indicated foul play, despite no previous suspicion about his death. Upon examining the body, the coroner decided he had really been murdered.

Murder victims sometimes haunted their killers: a servant who had killed his master and gotten clean away to Ireland was driven to turn himself in by a headless ghost who appeared to him every night demanding “Wilt thou yet confess?” Sometimes they haunted other acquaintances.

David Garrick in his iconic
David Garrick in his iconic “just caught sight of the Ghost” pose, 1769. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

One of the most upsetting incidents described in the book is this one:

The astrologer and occultist John Heydon (1629-c.1670) recounted how one of his mother’s maids was pulled out of her bed one night by the ghost of a lover named John Stringer, who had recently been murdered by a jealous admirer. Despite three doors leading to her bedroom being locked, the maid ‘had the right side of her haire and headclothes clean shaved or cut away’ by Stringer’s ghost.

That poor woman! Whether you believe in ghosts, or whether you think she imagined the ghost out of guilt and shaved her own hair, it’s an awful story. I hope the “jealous admirer” was prosecuted, and didn’t get to continue stalking and attacking her and her loved ones.

Sometimes ghosts appeared to strangers at the site of their hidden graves. This tied in with another ghost tradition, that souls who didn’t receive Christian burial would walk until their bodies were found and interred in consecrated ground. In 1806, in a town near Manchester, the townsfolk drained a deep pool after a recently missing man’s ghost repeatedly appeared over it at midnight, leading to suspicion he had been murdered. His body was actually found at the bottom, although the evidence indicated he had drowned accidentally. (Not…really sure what this “evidence” would have consisted of at the time. Since writing the original post I’ve read a lot about Elma Sands’s 1800 murder in New York, which also involved the body spending time in water, and there was more or less a complete lack of contemporary forensic knowledge displayed in the autopsy testimony by prominent doctors. So I guess what this really means is that the coroner’s jury ruled for accidental death.)

Francis Grose [in his 1787 A Provincial Glossary, with a Collection of Local Proverbs, and Popular Superstitions] wondered why the ghosts of those murdered did not go straight to the nearest justice of the peace, rather than hang about their burial place frightening passers-by. ‘Ghosts have undoubtedly forms and customs peculiar to themselves,’ he concluded. [Google books link for Grose]

Ghosts historically have not talked much, although apparently they talked more before the Victorian era!

“Brutus and the Ghost of Caesar.” Copperplate engraving by Edward Scriven from a painting by Richard Westall. London, 1802. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Completely silent ghosts became the norm to a much greater extent over the course of the nineteenth century. Generally ghosts who did speak were wrong-righting ghosts. (Although there were exceptions! In 1706 Mr. Shaw, a fellow of St John’s College, Oxford, chatted with the ghost of a dead colleague for two hours before receiving his warning of untimely death.) Murder victims were the most common. (Conflicts over inheritance were also a big one: “Mother’s ghost appeared to me and she says I get the antique dining set!”)

Ebenezer Sibly, eighteenth century writer on astrology and the occult (and huge racist), insisted that only murder victims could speak (and possibly only those who had been killed in “circumstances uncommonly horrid and execrable”), because the traumatizing memory did “more powerfully operate upon the faculties of the apparition, so as to enable it to frame the similitude of a voice, so as to discover the fact, and give some leading clue to detect and punish the wicked perpetrator.”

What’s your favorite ghost story? (Either a famous one, or one that happened to you or someone you know…)

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Research as Routine

I  say all the time that I’m a pantser, not a plotter, but I’ve come to realize that’s only partially true. I do plot, or at least I research towards plot. When I’m in the “thinking” phase of starting a new book, I have a go-to list of resources that I always check out to see if anything sparks.

The Annals of London


I absolutely love this book. It goes year by year from 1065 to 1999. For each year, it lists significant events and strange goings on. So stuff my characters might well have known about, talked about, been interested in, etc. Take for example 1789. There are only five entries.

Excerpt from The Annals of London. Click to enlarge.

How many of these might make it into my book? At least four of them. Clearly the frozen Thames and entertainments would be great (in fact, I used them in Lord Sin). The Shakespeare Gallery? Could make a useful outing or meeting place for my characters and add a little period flavor to the book. The Italian Opera House burning down? Oh, hellz yeah. Now we’re talking. Obviously I’d have to research the circumstances, but that could add drama in so many ways. Bridge opening? Yep. Another good detail to use for an outing or meeting, and you always need those (you can only write so many balls, LOL).

The English Year


This one is sort of the opposite of The Annals of London. It covers the year, day by day, with tidbits about special holidays and events. So I flip through this looking to see if anything particularly good is happening during the months when my book takes place (this sometimes helps me choose a location for a character’s seat or country home so I can use some particular tidbit. For example, this archery contest sounds like a lot of fun to write about, which might lead me to do put my characters at some kind of house party in Yorkshire so they could observe or participate.

Excerpt from The English Year. Click to enlarge.

Political Stuff

Since I’m writing about people in the ton, it’s very likely that they (or their father, or brother, or all of the above) are in Parliament as either a sitting Lord or an MP. There’s a very useful list of the Acts of Parliament on Wikipedia that can provide fodder for plot, both external and internal depending on your characters and the story. Especially in years when something huge happened. If I go look at 1788, the first thing on the list is the American Loyalists Act. That certainly sounds like it could be a plot point (albeit with a lot of research). A character fighting for almost a decade for compensation for remaining loyal to the crown? Yeah, that works. Want a do-gooder character? How about The Chimney Sweepers Act? Really want to get into it? The Slave Trade Act was also passed in 1788. It was supported by some Abolitionists and opposed by others because it merely regulated the trade. Basically, this lets me know what would have been on everyone’s mind (and what votes would have been important enough for a character to make sure he was present for the vote (something I used in Ripe for Seduction to get my secondary hero out of the way for an important plot point).


Who was being talked about and why were they being talked about? There are all kinds of resources for this, but one of my favorites is period cartoons. So I always spend a little time looking in various museum archives for cartoons (like what would have been posted in Ackermann’s windows). I also take a peek at the biographies on my shelves that might be of interest and in books like Decency and Disorder and George III: A Life in Caricature. I definitely always look to see if anything interesting was happing with Prinny!

The Plumb-pudding in danger, or, State epicures taking un petit souper. Gillray 1805
The Plumb-pudding in danger, or, State epicures taking un petit souper. Gillray 1805



Because I tend to write Corinthian-type heroes, I definitely look at what was going on with various sports as well. Racing and boxing are both fairly easy to research online. And it’s always fun when there was a big scandal in one of those.

Science and the Arts

I also love to glance through The Royal Society of London Philosophical Transactions (they’re on JSTOR, which most people can access via their library). Sometimes there’s a cool tidbit (report of an earthquake felt in Manchester) or information about new astronomy discoveries or other scientific experiments. Again, this is mostly just ideas for period color and to remind myself about what people would be reading and talking about.

So there you have it, my way of easing into a new book with research. And yes, I was once told by a very prominent agent (who I have a lot of respect for) that she was not the agent for me because, and I quote, “It’s clear you really love history; sadly, I don’t mean that a compliment.”

Posted in History, Isobel Carr, Research | 3 Comments


RARMDid you know that August is Read A Romance month? it’s a growing movement started by romance advocate Bobbi Dumas who reviews for NPR, the New York Times and Kirkus.  Click on this link for details on RARM:

This year I am participating along with 92 other authors including, among others Regency authors, Joanna Bourne, Lauren Wittig, Cathy Maxwell, Caroline Linden and Jade Lee. There are 93 authors in all, three each day of the month. Authors answer questions based on this year’s theme, books they recommend and more personal recollections of romantic moments in their own lives.

Take a minute to check out the calendar, make a copy and be sure to share the details with your friends See if some of your favorite authors are interviewed, come by on their day, read and comment.

MY DATE is Monday August 21. PARM2I’ll remind you more than once so you WILL remember.

I read, write and love romance! Have you heard of Read A Romance Month before this post? Do you have any other favorite sites that celebrate romance?

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Coming back, slowly

Hello all! I’m sorry that I haven’t been around much of this year. Life has been more than ordinarily challenging–maybe I’ll share some of the story someday.

What I can tell right now is that once again I’m working on a comeback. I’ve some experience at this already, having made two creative recoveries in the past, and this time I am more strongly motivated than ever. Perhaps over the next few years, I’ll even surprise myself. I hope so!

One of the first steps I’ve taken was heading out to this year’s RWA conference in San Diego. I know about a month has passed, but you may still enjoy some pics from the Beau Monde (Regency special interest chapter) soiree. Here are some of the members, including me, posing in our Regency garb.

And here I am with Cara King, author of My Lady Gamester and past Risky, along with Sir Reginald Scott, the rakish cousin of author Regina Scott.

Some of us helped out with a video used as part of the RITA and Golden Heart ceremony. Here’s the video from Youtube. Check us out at about 15:15.

Since RWA, I have been starting work on several projects. More on that soon! And it’s nice to be back. 🙂

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Poll! What kind of Regency Heroine / Hero Would you Be?

There are two polls. Feel free to answer one or both or write your own in the comments.

For either poll, please imagine the love interest of your choice.


If I were a Regency Heroine I would Be:

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If I were a Regency Hero I would Be:

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Dining Out in the Regency


Have you been out to dinner at a nice restaurant lately? When you told your friends, did they look at you with pity and then gossip about you behind your back? Is your reputation ruined? How times change, LOL!

The fact is, during the Regency in England, dining out as a social event the way we know it was not done. The very concept of the modern restaurant was still in its infancy –it evolved in France (of course?) in the later 18th century and had not successfully caught on yet in England. But there was a glimmer on the horizon, and a few eating establishments were heading in the right direction. (I’ll come back to these near the end.)

People did “eat out”, of course. You could obtain a meal in a tavern, pub, or an inn or a fine hotel, particularly if you were traveling. You could purchase specific foodstuffs from street vendors, but that wasn’t a “meal.” And any of these were, in general, patronized out of necessity or convenience, not for pleasure. There were no menus offering choices –only perhaps, a list of what was to be served. Generally only the simplest inexpensive meats and vegetables were served, except for a few taverns that catered to a specific well-heeled (male) clientele.


If you were an upper-class male, you could enjoy a meal at your private club. The food offerings might be somewhat more elegant, but would still be limited. You ate what they served, at the time they served it. Men could also patronize the coffee and oyster houses, which often served other food in addition to their main focus. For females to dine in public was quite shocking, however, unless in a coaching inn, and if you were of the upper class, you would still insist on a private parlor.

Part of the stigma, of course, came from the fact that acceptable households employed their own cooks. Why would you prefer to eat out when you could eat in? “Dining out” socially meant going to dinner at someone else’s private home, eating food prepared by their cook instead of yours.

Another part of the stigma was the idea of rubbing elbows with the hoi polloi –the general public. Not done! People forced to “eat out” were the poor who had no cook, and often, no kitchen at all. Taverns were noisy and crowded, with communal tables. “Even a moderately well-to-do person would have preferred to order food delivered to a private home or a room at an inn or hotel or an elegant salon rented for the occasion…” (1)

No wonder your friends viewed you with pity! What calamity caused you to need to eat out? And if you were female in mixed company, oh, dear. Shocking!

These social aspects of dining out offer a clue to why the modern restaurant was born in France (and why England resisted). The French Revolution brought in sweeping social changes that coincided with some new developments. “Restaurant” originally meant a type of meat soup, like consommé or bouillion, used medicinally as a “restorative”. In 1765 a bouillion-seller had opened a shop with tables where ailing customers could sit and eat their soup. Different customers required different types of restoratives, so the idea of individual customized servings was introduced. Others copied the idea. In the early 1780’s a man named Beauvilliers, the former chef of the Count of Provence, carried the conceit further and opened the first real restaurant with small individual tables and a menu listing individual choices with prices.

In 1786 he opened the first “luxury” restaurant in the Palais Royale, featuring mahogany tables with white tablecloths, trained waiters, chandeliers, a wine list and an extensive menu of fine food choices. That same year, the Provost of Paris issued a proclamation officially recognizing and authorizing these new types of establishments. These developments paired with a ready supply of cooks and servants no longer employed by the artistocracy, the dissolution of the guilds that had restricted how and by whom food could be prepared, and a customer base of displaced provincials without families in Paris, journalists and businessmen, a newly important middle class. Two different principles were suddenly wedded in a successful new way to do business –the personal tastes, budget and choices of the individual now controlled the purchase of a meal, while the egalitarian social climate celebrated that “Eating [well] was no longer the privilege of the wealthy who could afford to maintain a cook and a well-supplied kitchen.” (2)

Dining Out-3estates_2Within ten years there were more than half a dozen restaurants in Paris, and “dining out” was accepted practice there enough to provide the basis for a political cartoon about the 3rd Estate in France (above), entitled “Separate cheques please”:


Rules with Glass Ceiling
Rules with Glass Ceiling

Meanwhile, back in London, the oldest still-surviving restaurant in London, Rules, was started in 1798, on Maiden Lane in Covent Garden. Although at first it was simply an oyster bar, as their website states: “Contemporary writers were soon singing the praises of Rules’ “porter, pies and oysters”, and remarking on the “rakes, dandies and superior intelligence’s who comprise its clientele”.

Two other London establishments might challenge the “oldest” claim by Rules, but one (Wilton’s, opened 1742 as a seafood street stall, 1805 as an oyster room) has changed locations and nature many times, while the other (Simpson’s Tavern) is more of a pub, and ancient pubs are not rare anywhere in England! Note ladies were not admitted to Simpson’s Tavern until 1916.

Simpson’s-in-the-Strand (not related) was founded in 1828 primarily as a chess club/coffee house/smoking room (“The Grand Cigar Divan”). They are still famous for serving meats at tableside from antique, silver-domed carving trolleys, a practice said to have evolved to avoid interrupting the play during chess games.  Simpson's history

You can see these were not yet exactly “restaurants” in the Parisian sense at the time they opened their doors. The modern form of “dining out” really didn’t take hold in Britain until the mid-Victorian era, when the swelling ranks of the new middle class provided an enthusiastic customer base for it.

Have you written or read characters who needed to dine out for one reason or another? Are you surprised to know what a big difference existed between customs in Paris and London during this time period? Have you ever eaten at any of the London restaurants mentioned, or have a favorite restaurant there to share?

Sources quoted:

(1) “The Rise of the Restaurant,” Food: a Culinary History, Jean-Louis Flandrin & Massimo Montanari

(2) Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davidson [Oxford University Press:Oxford] 1999)

For further reading online:

Also, check out:

A History of Cooks and Cooking, Michael Symons [Universtiy of Illinois Press:Urbana IL] 1998 (p. 289-293)


Posted in Food, History, Regency, Research, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Fairy Tales, More Fairy Tales, a Mouse Skeleton, & Tomcat Murr: Castle of the Wolf

Sandra Schwab, Castle of the Wolf Teaser image
Last month I re-released Castle of the Wolf, a novel that was originally published back in 2007. It is a gothic romance — well, at least, it was planned as one, only then the lady with the sturdy boots turned up in the story and stomped all the gothicness to dust. Quite… eh… literally.

In the best gothic tradition, Castle isn’t set in England, but in southern Germany — in the Black Forest, to be exact, the place where I spent my primary school years and a place that is drenched in stories and covered with deep, dark woods. And quite a few castle (ruins).

Kastelburg in Waldkirch
The Kastelburg in Waldkirch. I spent my primary school years in this little town, & the town & castle were the inspiration for the main setting in Castle of the Wolf

Upon her father’s death, my heroine surprisingly inherits one such castle upon the condition that she marry the son of its former owner. Alas, that son turns out to be a super-grumpy dude, who does his very best to make Cissy leave the castle again. Enter rats, bats, a mouse skeleton (hey, it’s a gothic romance, there needs to be a skeleton, right?), and a bunch of very mysterious gargoyles. Oh, and there’s a very intriguing deck of (erotic transformation) cards too. In other words, my heroine has her work cut out for her if she wants to unravel the secrets of the castle.

One of the main themes of the novel is hinted at when Cissy is still in England and is packing her bags:

Cissy carefully wrapped one of her tea dresses around her copy of the Lyrical Ballads  so the leather-bound volume would come to no harm in the travel chest during her journey. […]

“I cannot imagine what you want to do in Baden.” Wood creaked as her brother George shifted on the chair. “There is nothing for you there.”

There is nothing for me here. For a moment, Cissy had to close her eyes. Then she shook her head and busied herself with wrapping her book and putting it away. “I am going to have a castle.” Just imagine: a castle. Like a princess. She took up another tome.

“And marry a man you have never seen in your life.” Suddenly George sounded aggressive. “How our dear father could have come up with such a harebrained scheme is quite beyond me, I swear!”

Distracted, Cissy frowned and rubbed a thumb over a scratch in the blue leather cover of her book of German fairy tales, a present from her father for her nineteenth birthday. With her forefinger she traced the golden lettering: Kinder- und Hausmärchen gesammelt durch die Brüder Grimm.

Castle of the Wolf is a story about stories: it’s stuffed full of references to fairy tales, local legends, and to modern popular literature. While Cissy travels to the Black Forest by steamboat down the Rhine, she hears the grizly legend of the Mouse Tower of Bingen (evil bishop eaten up by mice), and later on Fenris, the grumpy hero, provides for a nice Austen / Bridget Jones moment: “For somebody called Fenris to strut around like a snarling demon wolf was just as ridiculous as, say, for somebody called Darcy to refuse to dance at an assembly.” I also couldn’t resist putting a German copy of Terry Pratchett’s Men at Arms (Helle Barden) into the castle library.

However, the most significant body of reference is formed by works of British and German Romanticism. I mean, when you have a grumpy hero and a completely exasperated heroine, you just have to reference Byron’s Byronic heroes, right? (Or rather, let the heroine reference them.) (She has never liked Byron’s Pirate and thinks Fenris’ sulking around the castle is a tad too melodramtic.) In addition, the German setting allowed me to refer to all my favorite German literary fairy tales, first and foremost Ludwig Tieck’s “Eckbert the Fair” (no happy ending, alas) with the enchanting song about woodsolitude sung by a magical bird:

Brings joy to me
Now and tomorrow
What joy to me,

In the course of Castle of the Wolf, Cissy also reads one of my favorite literary novels in German, E.T.A. Hoffmann’s The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr. The first two volumes of the novel were published in 1819 and 20; Hoffmann died before he could begin working on the third volume. In a way, it is fitting the novel remained a fragment, for it is told in fragments: it is the autobiography of the (rather conceited) Tomcat Murr, who rips apart an older book to have paper to write on and as blotting paper. This older book is another biography, that of the bandmaster Kreisler, and at first it seems that these two stories don’t have anything to do with each other, but they become more and more intertwined. The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr was clearly a writing experiment for Hoffmann, a fun project where he created something very innovative and very intriguing.

cover Castle of the WolfSo in other words, my own novel, Castle of the Wolf, is a declaration of love for stories and for reading and for seeing the world through the lens of fiction.

If you would like to accompany Cissy on her journey to the Black Forest, grab a copy of Castle at the following retailers:


Happy reading!

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Scandal! Gossip! Research! Redux!

I am just finishing up the fourth book in my Scandalous Summerfields series today, Lorene’s story. As befitting the title of the series, scandal plays and important role. Lorene has an abhorrence of scandal, but it does seem to follow her wherever she goes.

The was not the first time I’ve written about scandal so today I’m reprising a blog I wrote on the subject in 2008. Scandalizing the Ton, one of my books that came out that year, was what I called my “Regency Paparazzi” story. It was inspired by our present day obsession with celebrities, but we didn’t invent an interest in the rich and famous. Nor did we invent a press willing to do almost anything for some good gossip about them.

The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries abounded with newspapers. Some of them even reported important news, like what was happening in Parliament, social issues, important events. It was during this period that some of journalism’s standards and ethics were beginning to be established, things like not revealing sources, acting as society’s social conscience, which was not always a good idea.

James Leigh Hunt and his brother, John, published serious news in their London newspaper, The Examiner, including calling the government to task for the heavy taxes levied on the people. In 1812, they printed an article criticizing the Prince Regent for his gambling and womanizing and running up huge debts while not doing anything to better the lives of the citizenry. Although what they printed was true, the Hunts were sued for libel and imprisoned for two years. Leigh Hunt continued to edit The Examiner from his prison cell.

In contrast to the responsible and ethical journalism of the Hunts were the newspapers that flourished by reporting the scandals and peccadilloes of the wealthy, the political elite, and the aristocracy. In his wonderful book, Scandal: A Scurrilous History of Gossip, Roger Wilkes gives examples of the eighteenth and nineteenth century love of gossip, and how the newspaper reporters purchased the juicy tidbits from loose-lipped servants and gentlemen and ladies willing to expose their friends. Not only did newspapers purchase gossip, they also blackmailed their potential victims, taking money to not print some embarrassing incident.

They also just made up stories. In Punch Thackeray and his colleague Jerrod parodied that sort of newspaper with their creation of the reporter, Jenkins, who rarely left his humble abode, preferring to invent his stories about the latest shocking antics of important people.

In my opinion the worst of them all was Theodore Hook, a charming and pleasing fellow who came into the Regent’s favor as a very young man, winning a government job at the ocean paradise of Mauritius. Hook lived an idyllic life for four years until a clerk embezzled lots of money that was Hook’s responsibility. He returned to London under a cloud and, in 1820, to make back the income he lost with his government job he started the Sunday newspaper, The John Bull.

Unlike the Hunt brothers, Hook allied himself with the Prince Regent and whipped up scandal and gossip about prominent Whigs. Favorite targets included The Regent’s estranged wife Queen Caroline and the ladies who attended her. One he branded as ‘strangely susceptible to the charms of her own sex’ ; another he accused of having “criminal affection” for a menial servant (Wilkes, 2002).

Hook had no qualms about paying servants to betray their employers, but most of what he learned was through his own ears. Hook succeeded in keeping it secret that he was the editor of The John Bull. Because he was well-connected enough to move in high circles, he dug his dirt in anonymity, from the very people who extended him their hospitality. Such inside information had huge appeal and the newspaper flourished.

In this secret position of power, Hook mercilessly pilloried those who crossed him. When suspicion grew that he was the editor of the Bull, Hook even wrote a letter to the editor (himself), protesting that he was not the editor. He was a known prankster. In his most famous prank, The Berners Street Hoax, he wrote 4000 letters calling for tradesmen, delivery men, professional men such as physicians and dentists, potential empoyers, wig-makers, dressmakers, members of Parliament and of the aristocracy, all to descend upon the house of an innocent middle-class woman, Mrs. Tottenham. While the street became clogged with people, Hook and his friend stood by and laughed. All I can think of is what a cruelty this was to all those people who were only going about their ordinary lives. He cost them all time and money and dignity.

When Queen Caroline died The John Bull turned to more serious journalism. Eventually Hook was made to pay for the embezzlement, a huge amount that took all his assets and landed him in debtor’s prison for two years. After prison he turned to writing novels, none of which were particularly distinguished. He continued his high living until his liver gave out and he died at age 53.

In Lorene’s story there isn’t any journalist quite as reprehensible as Theodore Hook, but the shady tactics and irresponsible journalism of the Regency are depicted once again, as I depicted them in Scandalizing the Ton.

The next book in the Scandalous Summerfields series is Genna’s story, Bound By One Scandalous Secret. Watch my website for more news about this new release, coming in print form November 22 and ebook December 1! The cover should be coming soon.

Who else is finishing a book? Are you writing it or reading it? Or both?

Thanks to Scandal: A Scurillous History of Gossip by Roger Wilkes, Atlantic Books, 2002, for most of this information

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100 of your closest friends

A retreat. Sylvan peace and lots of writing.

Sort of. That’s what I was doing last week, at a writers’ retreat in NC (and I have to say it, but the south is weird. Just weird. Sorry, y’all. But that’s not what this post is about).

woodsThere were trees. Lots of trees. Mountains. Fresh air. And at 3000′ you don’t need AC. It was incredibly quiet, too. I consider that I live in a quiet place although there is a constant hum of traffic, and on the weekends a lot of screechy power tools as neighbors beautify their surroundings. We even have more birds here. The dawn chorus up in the mountains was fairly restrained.

sunsetLovely sunsets and spectacular storms. This pic captures both.

Also lots of wildlife. We were told not to hike the trails alone because there had been bear sightings, although I’m not sure if anyone had told the bears not to come onto the tarmac. We didn’t see any. I saw deer and wild turkeys that did not stand still long enough for me to take their pics, altho this sleeping beauty, a lunar mothmoth, allowed itself to be photographed. It was quite big. There is nothing to indicate scale here except that it is on a window sill. Now if that was a piano keyboard in the background it would be a truly monster moth.

The other wildlife was the writers, a friendly bunch who liked to party. I’d post the pic of the pirate party but inexplicably it’s upside down. Just imagine.

This wasn’t a romance writers event and so there were no editors or agents and it was a time for people to write, critique, and talk about writing. There were also readings, again generally a non-romance thing. I had some notoriety as someone who wrote filthy stuff and considered reading a spanking scene aloud until I realized that to do so I would have to use three different dialogue voices, and decided against it.

So was it worth it? Definitely, yes. Do you really need to get away into a different environment with minimal internet and (mostly) no phone to  crank up your writing? I’m undecided. If I wanted to lock myself up and write write write this wasn’t the place to do so, since there were classes to attend or audit. (I chickened out midway through the week and drove to the nearest Burger King to read my emails.) But it was a good place to take a breath and plan what to do, and where my writing should go next.

Have you been on a retreat? Did you find it useful?

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