Hot Scything Action

Coming in June, PBS presents the new Poldark, and to put it mildly, I can’t wait. Here’s a preview.

Ross PoldarkStarring the lovely and talented Aidan Turner (and some other people, but don’t worry about them too much), the series is based on the blockbuster novels by Winston Graham, set in Cornwall. And you know what that means–smugglers! Duels! Naked frolics in the surf! Tin mining! Brawls! Galloping about cliffs on horseback! Shirtless scything!

robinellisSome of us who are ahem a little older may remember the 1975 version, starring Robin Ellis, who was also pretty hot, and one of my local PBS stations is repeating the series in all its faded melodramatic glory–the ultimate binge-watch: a show stuffed to the gills with people declaiming their love or damning people to hell. (Sarah Hughes, The Guardian.) One interesting detail, the scar has shifted from the right to the left of Poldark’s face (well, think about it. He’s been wounded by someone right handed, far more likely in an age where left-handers were literally beaten into compliance. Hence, the scar is on his left).

And this new series. Oh boy. Yes, there was hot scything action last Sunday, and Sarra Manning (The Guardian) sums up our hero thus:

He’s part alpha male, part metrosexual, all combined in one HD-ready, smouldering package …He’s imbued with a social conscience, sees the heroine as an equal rather than a commodity to be conquered and possessed, and manages to do all this in a pair of pleasingly tight breeches without banging on about his feelings all the time. Reader, I’d marry him.

Me too. And for those of you who absolutely must take a look Aidan Turner’s pecs and so on, here’s an interview with pics where the actor confessed he took the role to pay the bills and describes how he achieved his impressive physique: Daily Mail.

What will we do until June? Easy. Watch Wolf Hall, and here’s a preview.

Do you remember the original Poldark? Are there any other tv series you’d recommend or that you anticipate?

Posted in TV and Film | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Guest Author Barbara Monajem and Lady of the Flames

_5894306Today we have a guest author, Barbara Monajem.

Barbara Monajem wrote her first story in third grade about apple tree gnomes. An embarrassing number of years later, she still sneaks magical little creatures into her books, although they’re romances for grownups now. She lives near Atlanta with assorted relatives, friends, and feline strays. I know Barbara through her several wonderful stories for Harlequin Historical Undone.

Lady of the Flames Cover LARGE EBOOKBut today Barbara is here to talk about an exciting new book, Lady of the Flames.

Magic is fraught with peril—but so is love.

Lord Fenimore Trent’s uncanny affinity for knives and other sharp blades led to duels and murderous brawls until he found a safe, peaceful outlet by opening a furniture shop—an unacceptable occupation for a man of noble birth. Now his business partner has been accused of treason. In order to root out the real traitor, Fen may have to resort to the violent use of his blades once again.

Once upon a time, Andromeda Gibbons believed in magic. That belief faded after her mother’s death and vanished completely when Lord Fenimore, the man she loved, spurned her. Five years later, Andromeda has molded herself into a perfect—and perfectly unhappy—lady. When she overhears her haughty betrothed plotting treason, she flees into the London night—to Fen, the one man she knows she can trust. But taking refuge with him leads to far more than preventing treason. Can she learn to believe in love, magic, and the real Andromeda once again?

Listen to what reviewers say:

“Loved this story from Barbara Monajem with its magic and paranormal happenings nestled in a Regency setting.”

“The story…pulled me in right away and there were no slow spots; I really hated putting the book down.”

“It kept me guessing the entire time… I love historical romances but add in the paranormal aspect and it is perfect.”

“Loved the hobgoblin Cuff.”

To celebrate the release of Lady of the Flames, Barbara will be giving away a novella duet ebook, winner’s choice. The options are The Wanton Governess/The Unrepentant Rake, The Magic of His Touch/Bewitched by His Kiss, or Under a Christmas Spell/Under a New Year’s Enchantment—for either Amazon or B&N.

Welcome to Risky Regencies, Barbara!
Tell us about Lady of the Flames.  

It’s a Regency historical romantic suspense with magic. It has a traitor, some French spies, knife magic, fire magic, and a hobgoblin. (And a hero and heroine, of course.)

I understand Lady of the Flames is a part of an exciting series you and several other Historical Romance authors are releasing. Tell us more about this series, how it came about, and the other books in it. 

cover As you can probably tell from the above description, I find it hard to stick to one genre. I share this difficulty with many other authors. No matter how rewarding our relationships with our editors and publishers, sometimes we just want to write whatever we please.

That’s why, when fellow author Deborah Hale suggested a loosely-connected multi-author series, I jumped on the bandwagon right away. Apart from one commonality that defined the series, each author could write whatever she liked. We chose the year 1811, when the Prince of Wales became Prince Regent, and named our series A Most Peculiar Season. The only requirement, apart from the year, was that our stories would be about something that made that London Season a peculiar one. What fun that turned out to be!

coverMichelle Willingham writes both Regency and Viking historicals. She combined the two in a time travel story, A Viking for the Viscountess. Deborah Hale’s Scandal on His Doorstep features three rakes who find a baby abandoned on their doorstep—but which of them is the father? I had fun playing with magic in Lady of the Flames. Ann Lethbridge indulged her muse by writing a paranormal romance, Lady Sybil’s Vampire. Gail Ranstrom’s To Tempt a Thief is about a rash of thefts by the elusive Mayfair Shadow. Ann’s and Gail’s will be released soon, and there are more to come after that!

What inspired you to write Lady of the Flames?

I don’t remember! By the time I finish writing a story I have often forgotten what prompted me in the first place. Something pops into my head, and I start writing and see where it leads. That said, I really, really like writing about magic. I’ve done vampires, a human chameleon, a dangerously telepathic rock star, an aura reader, and a ghost. My first Regencies had no magic in them (except, of course, for love, which is a magic of its own), but pretty soon there were hobgoblins, May Day magic, and an incubus and succubus.

Also, I love Second Chance at Love stories. Too much, maybe – more than half of my published stories involve second chances at love, and Lady of the Flames is one of them.

What is risky about Lady of the Flames?

Apart from its being a multi-genre novel and therefore difficult to market, I think the hobgoblin is the biggest risk. He’s a secondary character, but he is mentioned on the very first page. I wanted the reader to know right away what she’s getting into—a story with magic—but for some readers, a hobgoblin may seem too childish a character for an adult romance. Was that a worthwhile risk? Time will tell.

Did you come across any interesting historical facts when researching the book?

I didn’t do much research for this particular book. When writing a story about magic, one has more freedom than usual to make things up! However, the setting of the story is definitely Regency, and I drew upon knowledge I had acquired when researching for other novels – about the furniture of the era (since Lord Fen, my hero, has a furniture shop), parts of London, smugglers, coffee houses, French pastries, and so on. I was a little hard on the British spy-catchers of the time. I’m sure they were much more clever and efficient than I have portrayed them in my book.

 What is next for you?

As usual, I’m working on several projects at once. There’s a novella for a summer anthology with some of the other authors at the Embracing Romance blog. The anthology title is Passionate Promises, and my story (so far untitled) involves several of those. I’ve started another novel in the same vein as Lady of the Flames, I’m revising a full-length Regency (without magic), and I’ve also started on the first of a Regency mystery series written in first person – a refreshing change for me.

What do you think would make a Regency season unusual? What peculiarity would you like to read about? Abductions? Dragons? A lion escaping the Royal Menagerie? One lucky commenter will win my novella duet–The Wanton Governess/The Unrepentant Rake, The Magic of His Touch/Bewitched by His Kiss, or Under a Christmas Spell/Under a New Year’s Enchantment—for either Amazon or B&N.

Thanks so much for being our guest, Barbara. Readers do not forget. Make a comment for a chance to win one of Barbara’s duets!

Posted in Guest | 18 Comments

Winner of Margaret Evans Porter’s Giveaway

TheProposal400x600I’m delighted to announce the winner of Margaret Evans Porter’s giveaway  from her guest interview last week. Kristen H is the winner of a print copy of Margaret’s newly reissued romance, The Proposal!! Congratulations, Kristen. We’ll put Margaret in touch with you to work out the details. And thank you, everyone else, for your great comments and for participating. Margaret enjoyed visiting with us and sends her best regards to all.

Posted in Giveaways, Winners announced | 1 Comment

Where do you get your ideas?

My ideas come from all over, but the primary place they come from is research. Here are no less than FOUR wonderful settings or hooks for a romance that I came across just this week!

1. Humphrey Ravenscroft, inventor of the forensic wig. I came upon him while trying to decide if Regency footmen would powder their wigs, or wear wigs that were already white (my reluctant conclusion: probably powder). The website of Ede & Ravenscroft (makers of forensic wigs to this day! Here’s Freema Agyeman rocking a modern-day legal wig on Law & Order UK) informed me that in 1822, “Humphrey Ravenscroft (1748 – 1851), grandson of the founder, finally perfects and patents a wig made of white horsehair that needs no powdering or curling. This is the famous forensic wig, whose pattern is still used today.”

The patent states more fully: “for the invention of a Forensic Wig, the curls whereof are constructed upon a principle to supersede the necessity of frizzing, curling, or using hard pomatums, and for forming the Curls in a way not to be uncurled; and also for the Tails of the Wig not to require tying in dressing; and further the impossibility of any person untying them.”

The technical details of construction are included. The wig supposedly also stayed clean, didn’t smell, and could be folded and carried in a tin without damaging it!

For a picture of a period wig (although I suspect the dating is too early), here is one on Pinterest, and another one c. 1830 with some wonderful close-ups.

I would read SO MANY romances about this guy inventing his wig! And what a name.

2. A play performed at Sadler’s Wells Theatre, April-May 1804, advertised as “a grand Naval spectacle, presenting that memorable monument of British Glory, the Siege of Gibralter; with an exact representation of the armament both by Land and Sea, of the combined forces of France and Spain, with real Men of War and Floating Batteries, built and rigged by professional men from His Majesty’s Dock Yards, and which float in a receptacle containing nearly 8000 cubic feet of real water.”

Sadler’s Wells Theatre putting on what looks like another aquatic spectacle c. 1808, from Rowlandson and Pugin’s Microcosm of London. Image via Wikimedia Commons

Later advertising elaborated that there were: “real ships of 100, 74, and 60 guns, &c., built, rigged, and manoeuvred in the most correct manner, as every nautical character who has seen them implicitly allows, which work down with the wind on their starboard beam, wear and haul the wind on their larboard tacks, to regain their situations, never attempted at any Theatre in this or any other country: the ships firing their broadsides, the conflagration of the town in various places, the defence of the garrison, and attack by the floating batteries, is so faithfully and naturally represented, that when the floating batteries take fire, some blowing up with a dreadful explosion, and others, after burning to the water’s edge, sink to the bottom; while the gallant Sir Roger Curtis appears in his boat to save the drowning Spaniards, the British tars for that purpose plunging into the water, the effect is such as to produce an unprecedented climax of astonishment and applause.”

(Quoted in Nicoll’s A History of English Drama.)

I can’t even begin to grasp the romantic possibilities. You’ve got set designers, engineers, military and technical advisors, everyone in the theater and its company, possible Navy men in the audience, dangerous effects and stunts…I WANT TO READ A BOOK ABOUT THIS SO BADLY.

3. “A tontine is an investment plan for raising capital, devised in the 17th century and relatively widespread in the 18th and 19th centuries. It combines features of a group annuity and a lottery. Each subscriber pays an agreed sum into the fund, and thereafter receives an annuity. As members die, their shares devolve to the other participants, and so the value of each annuity increases. On the death of the last member, the scheme is wound up. In a variant, which has provided the plot device for most fictional versions, upon the death of the penultimate member the capital passes to the last survivor.” (Wikipedia)

(I came across this because the building of the new Chichester theatre was funded by tontine in 1792, headed up by the Duke of Richmond, whom you may remember from his wife’s famous ball on the eve of Waterloo.)

OH MY GOD. There have apparently been a lot of TV episodes and murder mysteries involving tontines, but I’d never heard of it and I have CERTAINLY never seen it in a historical romance! Someone PLEASE get on that.

4. In looking something up for the online course on Regency politics I’m currently teaching, I discovered this in Judith Lewis’s Sacred to Female Patriotism:

“Donald McAdams [Rose’s note: I definitely just typed Douglas Adams]…confirms that in 1784, ‘many Bristol girls had bogus wedding ceremonies which were declared void at the close of the poll,’ while in Great Grimsby in 1790 he recounts that there were sixty weddings immediately prior to the election.”

(Bristol and Great Grimsby were boroughs where daughters of freemen could confer voting privileges on their husbands.)

Okay. OMG. Mass weddings! Bogus marriages which were quickly annuled! How was that even legally possible?? I want to know EVERYTHING. I especially want a screwball comedy–style romance about a couple who just married for the election and are planning to annul it later…except then neither of them really wants to.

Which of these would you most like to see? What historical factoid do you think would be a great subject for a romance?

Posted in Frivolity, Plot bunnies, Research | 11 Comments

Historical TMI

This post was originally posted on the now-defunct Romancing the Past blog back in 2011, but on re-reading it I decided it was timely enough (for Risky Regencies values of timeliness) to bear recycling!

It has occurred to me that, should I happen to meet certain historical figures in the afterlife, our conversations might prove a bit awkward.

It’s the TMI factor, you see. What do you say to a man when you’ve seen the love letters he sent to his wife in the early days of their marriage? Letters which contain such revealing passages as:

“Come soon; I warn you, if you delay, you will find me ill. Fatigue and your absence are too much. You are coming, aren’t you? You are going to be here beside me, in my arms, on my breast, on my mouth? Take wing and come, come! A kiss on your heart, and one much lower down, much lower!”

Well, all right, then. Good to know this guy–we’ll call him General X–could be so generous and amorous when his passions were engaged.

And then there’s General Y. A more circumspect soul, he left us no correspondence allowing us to deduce just what he planned to do to his woman of the moment next time he got her into bed. And when one of his brothers was being a bit too scandalous in his womanizing, General Y complained in a letter to another brother that he wished their errant sibling was “castrated, or that he would like other people attend to his business & perform too. It is lamentable to see Talents & character & advantages such as he possesses thrown away upon Whoring.”

Though don’t let that fool you into thinking General Y was any kind of model of chastity. Among other things, he had at least two mistresses in common with General X, one of whom was generous enough to the salacious curiosity of posterity to publicly state that Y was better in bed.


And who are our amorous generals? X is Napoleon and Y is Wellington–and speaking as someone who’s read stacks of biographies of both, it’s amazing how much of their personalities and voices come through in those two brief quotes above.


Do you know any good historical TMI? And would you prefer Napoleon or Wellington as a lover? (I’m on Team Wellington all the way–he’s much better-looking by my tastes, I like cool-headed, reserved, snarky personalities like his, and on the whole I prefer my Secret Historical Boyfriends to NOT try to take over the world. Though, really, if I were going to have my pick of ANY military man of the era, I’d have to consider Michel Ney and Eugene de Beauharnais too.)

Posted in Frivolity, History, Regency | Tagged , , , | 10 Comments

Yes, Mr Darcy’s Fortune Was Likely Tied to Slavery

Recently, an article about whether or not Mr. Darcy’s fortune was based on slavery set my Twitter feed alight. And I thought, well of course it was (in one form or another). This is the dark side of our wealthy, aristocratic characters that romance sweeps under the rug. It is certainly possible that the Darcy family fortune was based entirely on the profits of the mines in Derbyshire (harsh as those conditions might have been, they were NOT akin to slavery), but it’s much more likely that those profits were then put to use in ways that almost certainly have ties to slavery.hip0210043WHH%20v2

How so, let us tally up the ways …

1) Directly. Many families owned plantations in the West Indies (see this fascinating account of how the Earls of Harewood built their fortune on slavery, the products there of, and the overseeing of same).

2) Being paid off. When slavery was abolished in 1833, the British government spent a staggering amount of money to compensate the owners of slaves for their losses (good article about that here). Some families got the equivalent of millions of dollars. There were over three thousand claims, which lets you know how widespread slavery was and what its impact must have been on the fortunes of the top families.

3) Via investments. People invested in specific ships and ventures (sometimes called consortiums or syndicates). Many of those would have been involved in producing or importing some kind of product that was produced by slaves in either America, the West Indies, or India (sugar, rum, cotton, opium, tea, rice, etc.).

4) The East India Company. It’s worth noting that when Britain abolished slavery, supposedly throughout its empire, it made an exception for slavery in India. So all those fortunes made in India by younger sons, all those tea plantations, and cotton farms, and military careers, existed because of slavery (good summation on Wikipedia).

I’m sure Janet would have even more insightful things to say on this topic, but I wanted to bring it up for discussion given the timeliness of the article. I know romance is generally seen as escapist, and I don’t want to ruin that for anyone, but I do think it does history a disservice to gloss over these sorts of things to the point where they no longer seem to exist.

So what do you all think? Do you want to topics like this addressed in romances, or do you think it makes it too hard to enjoy the HEA and heavy topics are best left to those writing straight historical fiction?


Posted in History, Isobel Carr, Jane Austen, Rant, Research, Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Margaret Evans Porter & The Proposal

TheProposal400x600Today the Riskies welcome guest Margaret Evans Porter! Margaret and I have been friends since early days in my career, and I was a huge fan of her work even before that. The Proposal is one of my absolute favorites among her books, so I am very excited that a new edition will be released tomorrow!! Margaret is offering a print copy of The Proposal to a randomly chosen winner among those who comment by the end of this week, so please share your thoughts with us below after visiting here. And read on to find out about a new project she has coming out next month, as well!

Margaret Evans Porter

Margaret is the author of 11 novels and 2 novellas published in hardcover, paperback, digital editions, and in translation. She earned the Best New Regency Author award from Romantic Times Magazine with her first book, and later novels received multiple award nominations. She has also published nonfiction, poetry, and her photography, and is a trained actress who has worked on stage and in film and television. All this and she is also a historian and an avid gardener! But I should let HER tell you.

What’s the premise of The Proposal?

A: In 1797, Sophie Pinnock, a botanical artist and the widow of a famous landscape designer, is employed by the Earl of Bevington to alter the ground of his newly inherited castle in Gloucestershire. She would much prefer to restore the gardens to their original state than replace them. After many years living in Portugal, her employer has returned to England to claim his title.

Where did the idea for this particular story come from?

Margaret’s garden

A: It was the dead of winter in New England, the world was buried under snow–much like this winter! My coping mechanism was to design new rose beds that would feature historic period roses from Medieval times to the Regency and Victorian eras. I had recently spent time at a Gloucestershire castle. I ended up with a 2-book contract as well as an expanded garden!

Where did you turn for research?

A: I had already amassed a collection of historic gardening guides and price lists from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuties. My mother is a rose gardener, so I was raised with historic roses and books about them. On trips to England I visited intact gardens from earlier times.

What aspects of the research itself most intrigued you?

A: There was a raging debate about landscape design at that very time, when Humphrey Repton was altering many formal gardens to conform with his more “natural” style–popular with some people, and criticised by others. I was able to rely on primary sources, like the Red Books that Repton created for his clients (Sophie provides her clients with Blue Books!) And I’m always happy when I can wander through English gardens, so that was particularly appealing to me.

Do you have a favorite scene in this book?

A: I managed to include a scene in which Sophie debates Humphrey Repton himself, because–quite conveniently–he had clients in the neighborhood.

What would you say is “risky” about this book?

A: It seems “risky” to us nowadays, the concept of a female businesswoman in the late 18th century or Regency. But there is so much precedent! Many a widow, through financial necessity or entrepreneurial desire, took on responsibility for her late husband’s businesses. I think it’s a disservice to these women to bury the record of their achievements, and in some cases their innovations–Mrs. Eleanor Coade, who developed Coade stone, Hester Bateman the Silversmith, Rolinda Sharples the artist, Mrs. Sarah Baker the theatre proprietress who developed the theatres of southeast England. These are the notable names, but how many more must there have been that we do not know?

Another aspect of “risk” concerns opium addiction, and to a lesser extent, attitudes and suspicions about sexual orientation. Both of which have an effect upon the secondary mystery plot.

How long have you been writing?

A: I’ve been writing stories since I could hold a crayon in my fist. I became a publisher-editor-author at age 9 or 10 when I founded a class newspaper. My family is packed with writers, so it wasn’t an unusual path for me to follow. My mother, who taught me to read quite young, says she always knew I would be a writer.

What aspects of your own personality show up in your stories?

Rose from Margaret's Garden
Rose from Margaret’s Garden

I’m everywhere. I create gardens and grow roses–so does Sophie in The Proposal. I performed on stage for many years, and studied dance–I’ve written novels featuring an actress, a dancer, and an opera singer. Like Oriana in Improper Advances, I play the mandolin. I mine the places in Britain or Ireland where I’ve studied, lived and/or travelled and use them as settings for my stories. My dogs turn up in books as members of my characters’ households.

Do you find that your training in theater is helpful to you as a writer?

A: It’s immensely helpful, in a variety of ways. Performing period plays immersed me in the idiom of past times, I was speaking dialogue uttered by the people who lived in the eras about which I write. From a very young age I was required to do intensive character biographies, creating backstories for the people I was portraying–this often required in-depth research into social customs, education, upbringing, styles of speech, popular books and music. And of course I was wearing costumes–corsets, petticoats, full skirts, strange shoes–and carrying fans and having my hair dressed and so on. Those experiences were extremely valuable, as you might imagine!

Which book, if any, was the most difficult for you to write, and why?

I would say my new historical biographical novel, A Pledge of Better Times, for several reasons. It is entirely fact-based, all the characters were real people of the late Stuart court–monarchs and aristocrats. PledgeCover400x600Historical events provided the structure, the research was intense and took place over many years between other commitments. (For example, my productivity suffered a little during my 2 terms in the state legislature. But some sections of the novel were written surreptitiously during boring floor debates!) I don’t remember that any of my Regencies or historicals were difficult to write, although I did have to manage a very quick turnaround on an option book proposal while visiting friends in England. Almost every character in that book, Improper Advances, except the hero and heroine, were historical persons, so my fictional story needed to tie in with historical reality.

You now have a second website ( for your mainstream historical novels, featuring real people from history. Your April release, A Pledge of Better Times, is the first of these. Tell us a little bit about this new direction in your writing?

A: In my youth I read many YA biographical historical novels, and my ambition to write mainstream historical novels dates from that time. It took a long time for the right story to find me–that of Lady Diana de Vere, and of Charles Beauclerk, 1st Duke of St. Albans (bastard son of King Charles II and actress Nell Gwyn). It was sparked by some genealogical research, and caught fire after I became acquainted with a direct descendant of theirs. I spent years carrying out the research all round London–at Kensington Palace and Hampton Court and the Tower–as well as in Holland at The Hague and Paleis Het Loo. And Versailles. This book also features the development of formal gardens!

A Pledge of Better Times, will be available in print and as an ebook in April. It has just been named one of the “Books to Read in 2015″ by the Book Drunkard blog–very exciting.

Where can readers go to get in touch or learn more about your books?


@MargaretAuthor on Twitter.

Risky readers, don’t forget to post a comment if you’d like a chance to win a print copy of The Proposal! Margaret Evans Porter, thanks so much for visiting with us today!

The Proposal:

When a lonely young widow and a mysterious earl clash over a neglected castle garden, suspicion and secrets threaten a blossoming love.
“Part romance, part mystery, a highly entertaining read.” –M.K. Tod, author of Lies Told in Silence
“Very sensual…lush in detail. Her characters have as much depth as the settings, and the gardens provide a wonderful backdrop for a tender love story.” –Affaire de Coeur
“Decidedly different…totally believable and deeply heartfelt.” –Rendezvous

Print on Amazon:

Kindle on Amazon:

Posted in Giveaways, Guest, Interviews, Reading, Regency, Research, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 25 Comments

Dreaming of flowers

The snow piles around my driveway have melted a bit. I can see over them now!

I have to work at it, but I do imagine there is grass under there somewhere. And flower bulbs…

I’m not seeing them yet, of course, but crocuses are the first thing to bloom in my yard. There are just a few, as chipmunks ate most of the 200+ bulbs I planted soon after moving into the house. After the first few years, I stopped bothering with tulips. The deer eat them as soon as they bloom, leaving sad, green, headless stalks behind. Since then I rely on my daffodils and grape hyacinths for spring cheer.

While I wait, I’ve been browsing pictures of flowers in England, where the season is more advanced. My Regencies often start in the spring, although it’s not because of the London Season. I’ve never written a “London Season” story—maybe because there have been so many of them and I have not thought of a fresh take on the subject. Instead, my characters are usually in the countryside for one reason or another. These are a few early flowers they might enjoy.

Snowdrops in England

Snowdrops (galanthus nivalis) are some of the earliest bloomers. The National Trust and volunteers planted 100,000 of them last fall in Manchester to honor the centenary of the First World War. Check out these pictures of the Manchester snowdrops.

English Heritage lists these sites for snowdrop spotting, with some lovely pictures forvirtual tourists like me.

Primrose - Primula vulgaris growing in Beech woodlandAnother common flower I enjoyed seeing while I lived in the UK is the common or English primrose (primula vulgaris). I did not know it at the time, but it is an edible plant; the leaves can be used to make tea and flowers for wine.

For more lovely garden images, check out the current flowering conditions at Exbury Gardens, which I visited many years ago. Here’s a picture of Exbury a bit later in the season, when the azaleas and rhododendrons are in bloom.

Exbury Gardens - Colours of a Japanese style garden in autumn.Do you have favorite gardens to visit? What’s in your garden? Feel free to share pictures if you have something in bloom already—I promise not to be too jealous!


Posted in Research | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Martini Lounge 4 (or writing with friends!)

It’s so wonderful to be back at the Riskies again!  It feels like this is the Winter That Will Not End (illness, snow, rinse, repeat), but I am finally seeing the sunlight at the end of the tunnel.  And one of the best things about spring (maybe0 being on the way, is the release of a very special project!

As a Risky reader will know, I range among many different time periods in my writing–Regency, Elizabethan, Renaissance, etc.  One of my very favorite time periods (especially with the Downton mania of the last few years!) is the Edwardian/WWI/1920s era.  It’s very reminiscent of the Regency in many ways (warfare, fast-moving societal changes, not to mention amazing clothes…), but I’ve only been able to write one 1920s story in the past (Girl With the Beaded Mask), but all that changed a few months ago.

ML1I have 3 great writer friends I get to see (almost) every Friday night, at 4:30 happy hour on the dot, at the Martini Lounge a few miles from my house.  This is an amazing place, said to have been a speakeasy in the 1920s (though when I was a kid, it was my grandfather’s favorite donut shop, where I could eat as many chocolate pastries as I wanted while he talked to his old-man friends about farming!).  Now it’s an elegant bar/steakhouse, with velvet booths, dim lighting, jazz music, and an astonishing array of cocktails.  Kathy L Wheeler, Alicia Dean, Krysta Scott, and I meet to talk over what we’re writing, and one eveing we had the brilliant idea–why didn’t we write something together!  Set at the Martini Lounge!  So 4 girls from the 1920s had their beginnings in 4 connected novellas that have now been launched out into the world.  Much like our 4 heroines left their English homes for new lives in NYC….

I wondered what those 4 heroines–Lady Jessica (an earl’s daughter who would rather be a journalist than dance at deb balls), Lady Meggie (her schoolfriend, who would rather sing in a jazz band and seek fame and fortune than dance at deb balls), Eliza (a maidservant who fled a lecherous employer–only to find herself in an even worse jam on the streets of NY), and Charlotte (Jess and Meggie’s shy friend, who finds the strength to flee an arranged marriage and follow her own dreams), would drink when they meet at the Martini Lounge’s 1920s counterpart Club 501?

Ml4CoverAlicia Dean says Eliza’s drink choice is easy–a Fallen Angel!

1/12 oz gin
1/2 tsp white creme de menthe
1/2 lemon juice
a dash of bitters
a cherry

Shake all ingredients (except cherry) with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Top with the cherry and serve.





ML2CoverKathy L Wheeler chose Meggie’s–a Virgin Mary (since Meggie is a singer, she doesn’t drink much on the job–but that doesn’t count for after hours!)

4 oz tomato juice, 1 dash lemon juice, 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce, 2 drops tabasco

Fill a large wine glass with ice. Add tomato juice, then the rest of the ingredients. Stir and garnish with a wedge of lime.





ML1CoverI found out that one of my favorite (modern day) drinks, a French 75, was also very popular in the 1920s!!!  (even with one of the models for Lady Jessica, Nancy Mitford), so I decided Jess could drink that…

1 oz. gin
½ oz. simple syrup
½ oz. fresh squeezed lemon juice
Brut Champagne or a dry sparkling white wine
Lemon twist, to garnish

Combine gin, simple syrup, and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake until well chilled and strain into a glass. Top with Champagne and garnish with a lemon twist to serve.



Ml3CoverAnd for Charli, who has dreams of opening her own bakery, a caramel apple martini!

2 parts Schnapps, butterscotch, 2 parts Sour Apple Pucker, 1 part vodka.  Shake ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass






We are so excited to have these stories out in the world!!!  To one commenter today, we’ll give copies of the stories (either e-book or, in a few weeks, hard copies), plus a Martini Club 4 cocktail glass for mixing up your own favorite cocktails.  Do you have a favorite drink?  Any special happy-hour rituals with friends??

(to buy the ML stories, here is the link on Amazon, or you can visit my website for more info…)

(and if you’d like a glimpse of the real Club 501, here is their website!)




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Lighting the Regency Night (Things We Take for Granted)

LAMP-Icebound Light-nite   This ice-encased lamp by my front door started me on this trip down the rabbit hole, which has nothing (so far) to do with any of my current writing projects. The two-inch-thick ice gave the light shining bravely through it a beautiful glow, and admiring it, I thought, “Thanks for electricity! This couldn’t have happened during the Regency.” Well, at least not without considerable effort to melt, chip, or break through the ice, since the lamp would have needed to be lit.

That made me think about who would have had to do it, and lamplighters in general, and street lighting, and how in the Regency the transition from oil street lights to gas was actually a Big Deal that I’ve never seen mentioned in any of our novels. (Have you?) It’s just one more way the Regency era was the dawn of the modern age. Gas street lights were still in use into the 20th century, and there are still some in London. (I’ll come back to this!)

Our busy London characters never seem to run into any lamplighters, yet an army of them were out there at dusk every evening, with their ladders and long poles, making sure that the city was alight for the busy evening of activities ahead. And in homes that fronted along streets, someone had to light the exterior lamps every night, no matter the weather. (Doesn’t that make you start to appreciate the simple flipping of a switch?) Lamplighters-W PynePrior to the introduction of street lighting (and in rural areas), nighttime excursions depended entirely upon the moon or light you provided for yourself, that traveled with you, plus the light from houses along your route. I ran across a reference to some regulations that required homeowners to provide lights, at their own expense, so it wasn’t just a courtesy! Light you provided yourself might have been a portable lantern, or lamps on your carriage, or even a hired “link boy” who would carry a torch to light your way safely (if he wasn’t in league with a group of thieves). Hmm, that could be fun….

The system of oil street lamps in London and major towns was put into place starting in 1750, so the major changes in city life that came with such improvements –the reduction of crime, improved personal safety, and the glittering array of late night entertainments our characters enjoy: at theaters, pleasure gardens, private balls, assemblies, gambling hells, or even extended shopping hours– had become the norm only within a generation or two of our Regency characters. Travelers to London were suitably impressed, sharing descriptions like this in their writings: “In Oxford Road alone there are more lamps than in all the city of Paris. Even the great roads, for seven or eight miles round, are crowded with them, which makes the effect exceedingly grand.” – Archenholtz, 1780s

Lamplighter at duskThe next big thing, the introduction of gas lighting, did not happen easily, even though gas burned much brighter than oil. As I dove into this topic, I quickly found I had 11 printed pages of notes!! This is what happens –most of you reading this are research junkies, too, so you understand. LOL. Even my attempt at a brief timeline came out too long to put here — there’s so much fascinating stuff!!

So, the short(er) version:

After the discovery of natural coal-gas in mines and its flammability, people began experimenting. In 1739 Dr. John Clayton first manufactured coal gas by heating coal placed in a small retort. More experiments followed. In 1792, William Murdoch, a Scottish mechanical engineer and inventor who worked with steam engines in Cornwall for the firm of Boulton and Watt, and who had been experimenting with practical uses for coal gas, set up a retort in his own home in Redruth, Cornwall, laid pipes, and lit all of his house and workshop with gas, the first to achieve this.

Murdoch went on to become the manager of Boulton and Watt’s steam engine works in Soho, Birmingham, where he used gas to light the main building of the Soho Foundry in 1798. In 1802, Murdoch lit the outside front of the building by gas, to the astonishment of the gathered locals. Boulton and Watt began making gas retorts and pipes, and sent Murdoch to fit up many of the big cotton mills in the North with the new lights (which enabled extended working hours, for better or worse!). Murdoch later went on to invent other useful items, but that’s another story.

Other people were also pursuing the prospects for using gas. Frederic Albert Winsor, a German, came to London with knowledge of a French patent for piping gas. Despite little knowledge of chemistry or engineering, Winsor claimed to be an authority on gas and pursued his ultimate aim of lighting the streets of London. He wanted Parliament to set up a national gas company. Samuel Clegg, a fellow employee (or a student? or both?) of Murdoch’s at Boulton and Watt headed to London, where he apparently teamed up with Winsor, for he is named as one of the founders of the company Winsor eventually succeeded in starting.

1803 — Winsor gave a demonstration of lighting the Lyceum Theatre in the Strand with gas.

1804 – Winsor began to give public lectures about the uses of gas.

1807 –Winsor leased a pair of houses in Pall Mall where he conducted experiments and public demonstrations, trying to attract investors for his plans. He installed 13 lamp-posts in Pall Mall fed by a pipe buried under the pavement from his house. On January 28, he introduced the first gas street lights in the world. The lights stretched from St James’s to Cockspur Street and when lit, observers noted their light had “much superior brilliancy”. On June 4 of that year, to celebrate the King’s birthday, Winsor placed gas lights along the walls of Carlton Palace Gardens between the Mall and St. James’s Park. The gas was again supplied by the furnaces inside his house on Pall Mall.

Many people did not believe the city could be lit in this way, including the renowned scientist Sir Humphrey Davy. Some thought that the gas came through the pipes already on fire, which of course seemed dangerous! Rowlandson did a cartoon of the lighting in Pall Mall: Rowlamdson -Pall Mall Lights

In 1809, Parliament did not approve Winsor’s “national company”, but finally Winsor “and his associates” (Samuel Clegg?) did obtain a Royal Charter for their London and Westminster Gas Light and Coke Company to supply gas to those cities and the borough of Southwark for 21 years. On New Year’s Eve, 1813, the Westminster Bridge was lit by gas. Gas began to flow through the London streets that year and soon other companies were seeking permission to lay their own gas pipes. The laying of gas lines –think of all the construction in those busy streets!! Is it unromantic to have our characters inconvenienced by the mess?

By 1823, “40,000 lamps covered 215 miles of London’s streets.” And by 1826, “almost every city and large town in Britain, as well as many in other countries, had a gas works, primarily for lighting the streets. In these towns, public buildings, shops and larger houses generally had gas lighting but it wasn’t until the last quarter of the 19th century that most working people could afford to light their homes with gas.” (From the National Gas Museum website:

Apparently the “gas works” were discussed in an episode of Downton Abbey (since gas was still primarily in use in the 1920’s) –I don’t watch that series so someone else might comment!

It’s interesting to note that in 1808, Murdoch read a paper before the Royal Society, staking his claim as the first to harness gas for a practical purpose. He said, “I believe I may claim both the first idea of applying and the first application of this gas to economical purposes.” He received the Society’s Gold Medal recognizing his work.

InLighting Plaque-IMG_23287-Vers-2 June 2007, the Westminster City Council installed a Green Plaque at 100 Pall Mall, London, to mark the the bicentenary of the “World’s First Demonstration of Street Lighting by Coal Gas”, marking Winsor’s achievement.

As for gas lamps still in use, this website: ( has a collection of photos of gas lamps still in use in London and their locations – a surprising number of them! And also a photo of a modern day lamplighter. Who knew?

And another “who knew?” –the connection between street lighting and crime is once again an issue in Britain, where a December 2014 report states that all over England communities are switching off or dimming their street lights to save money. Heading back to the 18th century, anyone? (

Let’s talk about it! Please comment on anything you read here. :-)

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