Yesterday was release day for A TASTE OF SCANDAL, a multi-author box set I contributed to. Indeed, even the cover is so scandalous that Facebook wouldn’t let one of us boost her “Hooray! New release! With pretty new cover!!!” post. Because, you see, you can plainly discern a man’s neikkid back and shoulder. *gasp*
Let’s not forget that lovely biceps!!! *pats screen*
(I do hope you’re keeping your smelling salts nearby in case you’re overcome by so much scandalous scandalousness!)
And here’s is the scandalous blurb:
Heat up your history with eight amazing novels from USA Today bestselling authors and brand new voices [and, well, me] in this box set! From Regency ballrooms to Victorian bedrooms [and garden follies adorned by giant stone pineapples!!!] [how could you possibly resist those stone pineapples?!!?], there’s something here for every lover of steamy, sexy historical romance. Scottish highlanders, noble spies, and witty aristocrats use humor, wits, and intrigue to get whatever — and whoever — they desire. But these daring heroes meet their match when they encounter bewitching beauties who want more than just a taste of scandal…
(In case you wonder: the fabulous Elizabeth Cole aka the mastermind behind this box set wrote the blurb. Now I just need to find out how I can get her to write all my future blurbs.)
If you don’t quite know how to become properly scandalous yourself, never fear: We have assembled a list of handy tips from some of our heroes & heroines on how to be truly scandalous. Let’s start with a bit of a garden theme:
“If you suspect a beautiful, unmarried woman is a spy, lead her to a dark garden where you can kiss her senseless while discovering whether she has hidden assets.” ~ Sebastien Thorne from A HEARTLESS DESIGN by Elizabeth Cole
“Garden follies (even those adorned by giant stone pineapples!) are most wonderfully suitable for seduction.” ~ Sebastian “Fox” Stapleton from BEWITCHED by Sandra Schwab
For our next tip, you don’t need a garden, but having a brother is kind of essential:
“Blame everything on your roguish brother so that your darkest secret will never be revealed to the woman you love.” ~ Patrick Rochester from DARK PERSUASION by Vicki Hopkins
So far, our list might lead you to think that only romance heroes have scandal on their minds. But nothing could be further from the truth! So let’s hear from two of our heroines:
“The easiest way to get one’s self married is to make a man dizzy with desire. And not let him get undizzy until after the wedding.” ~ Elinor from TO WED THE WIDOW by Megan Bryce
The next one is my personal favorite. It’s a great line to use when you have to deal with a stubborn or annoying hero:
“I don’t think I could kill you, even though you deserve it. They would probably behead me at the Tower if I murdered a duke.” ~ Elizabeth from EDUCATING ELIZABETH by Kate Pearce
If you want to find out about all the scandalous things that happen in A TASTE OF SCANDAL, you can pick up your copy for just 99 cents at the following sites:
And now let’s hear from you: What is the best scandalous thing you’ve ever encountered in a romance novel?
Leave a comment for a chance to win a signed copy of the very first edition of BEWITCHED (yes, that would be the old Dorchester edition from 2008) (and yes, I still have a few brand new copies of that edition), my contribution to the box set. I’m going to pick a winner (randomly chosen) on Sunday, 11 October.
I love to feature new authors! I love it so much I gave up my blogging day to tell you about No Conventional Miss by Eleanor Webster. No Conventional Miss is Eleanor’s first published book and I’m delighted Harlequin Historical took her on! You see, Harlequin Historical has tended to back away from paranormal elements in their line, but they’ve taken the plunge with No Conventional Miss!
Here’s the backcover blurb for the book:
She’s always been different…
Amaryllis Gibson is an unlikely debutante. She favors fact over fashion, cares not for “proper” conversation and is haunted by ghostly visions which could land her in the madhouse! Marriage is definitely the last thing on Rilla’s mind…
But when she’s caught in a compromising position with Viscount Wyburn, suddenly she finds herself betrothed! And worse, his powerful presence only increases her visions. By shedding light on the viscount’s past, can Rilla gain his trust and win him round to her more…unconventional traits?
“…the perfect book to read at Hallowe’en if you like just a touch of spookiness mixed in with your historical romance.”
“…well-researched and emotionally gripping.”
“The author has spun a tale which kept my attention from beginning to end.”
Eleanor has generously agreed to give away a signed copy of No Conventional Miss to one lucky, chosen-at-random commenter from North America or the UK.
So here she is! Welcome, Eleanor!
Tell us about No Conventional Miss?
Thank you for inviting me to Risky Regencies, Diane.
The protagonist, Rilla, is a fascinating and unusual character. She is an inventor. She has a keen interest in force, momentum and any number of ‘unladylike’ activities. However, she has always been plagued with moments of second sight and rejects this aspect of herself. Indeed, a maternal aunt had been institutionalized for similar traits. A part of Rilla’s interest in the scientific is that this will serve to subdue that mystic element within her nature.
Paul is also conflicted. He believes love to be destructive based on his mother’s suicide which he thinks was caused by his parents’ unhappy marriage. Therefore, he has little interest in marriage and even less in love.
But a scandal forces the match and Rilla faces her greatest fear as she is increasingly haunted by Paul’s mother’s ghost,
The question is; can Paul and Rilla work through these challenges and achieve acceptance of self and each other or will these challenges destroy them?
This is your first book! Tell us about your writing journey and “The Call”.
My writing journey has been long, like two decades! I’m a multi-tasker which has both positive and negative aspects. I believe that one seldom has sufficient time to properly commit to one’s long term goals and, if one waits for that perfect moment, one can procrastinate into ‘never’. Therefore, each day I put aside time, however small, to write,
The downside – it took 18 years. On the flipside, I eventually made it.
‘The call’ felt surreal. I live in Canada and my editor is in England, so we had to communicate via e-mail to ensure that it wouldn’t happen at 2 a.m. Therefore, I had a good idea what was coming!
However, I believe I had quite the mega-grin at my day job that morning.
What is risky about No Conventional Miss?
No Conventional Miss is a departure from the traditional Harlequin historical because it involves a paranormal element. In fact, I was advised somewhere along my journey to remove that element from the plot as it did not fit with the traditional regency.
I have gladly accepted a lot of feedback during this journey. It is how I have learned and grown as a writer. However, this did not feel right and, although I knew it kindly meant and from a knowledgeable source, I chose not to take it. I felt that to remove it would take away that spark. In any element of life, it is a risk and takes courage to know when to take feedback and when to follow one’s own path.
Did you come across any interesting research when writing your book?
Yes, absolutely! As I described Rilla’s inventions, I wondered whether any ‘real-life’ Regency woman might be similar to Rilla. Then I found Sarah Guppy (1770-1852). Sarah was born in Birmingham and patented numerous designs. Indeed, she achieved considerable financial success, earning a contract from the British Navy worth £40,000 for a device to prevent the growth of barnacles on ships. And then there is my personal favorite; Sarah’s invention of a tea or coffee urn which also cooked eggs and warmed toast.
What is next for you?
I have a two book contract with Harlequin so a second book will be released at some point… This is set slightly earlier with the backdrop of the French Revolution.
And now a question for the readers–If you could chat with any Regency hero or heroine from any book, who would you choose and why?
Answer the question or just make a comment and you’ll be in the running for a signed copy of No Conventional Miss! (selection will be made after midnight Weds, Oct. 7)
I have a “wish list’ of charities I’d like to support if I ever won the lottery. Do you? What kinds of causes do you like to support? I’m gearing up to host a fund-raising event (on Facebook) for a friend who is on the national kidney transplant waiting list (more about that later), and it made me think about subscriptions and charitable associations and fund-raising events the way they worked in the Regency. The concept of computers, the Internet, and a place called Facebook where people from all over the country –the world– could gather “virtually” for a pretend party would really blow the mind of someone from our favorite era!
Naturally, as soon as I started to delve into this topic, I realized how huge it was. So many different threads, so much information. Where even to start the conversation? So I thought about our stories, the ones we love to read and write. How often have you read (or written) characters who were engaged in supporting or championing some charitable cause? Have you come across, or written, characters who are attending events for charity as part of their London season? Or attending meetings of a philanthropical association? I certainly have read books where this is the case, but I don’t feel as though I see it often.
I think in very general terms modern society has shifted away from the kind of “giving” mindset that prevailed in Regency times, and that philanthropy is not as fundamental to our daily lives as it was then. We have higher expectations of what our tax dollars should accomplish through the government, we have “lost the religious underpinnings of society”, as one scholar put it, that helped make charity a priority, and we have a society now where a majority of women work at jobs outside the home, which robs them of the time to be actively involved in charitable works. Does that make it harder for us to imagine a world where this was not the case?
I’m talking in broad generalities, of course. But in the Regency, supporting charitable causes was much more personal, more “hands-on”, if you will. The mail was too expensive to be used to send out appeals, and of course there weren’t any telemarketers badgering people to give. (Hmm, think of that!) But there were a variety of other ways one’s generosity would be solicited.
Your local church (or I assume, the synagogues as well) would present you with causes and solicit your support. I’ve been reading Woodforde’s Diary of a Country Parson and was impressed, as he was, by the generosity of even his poor parishioners who dutifully would contribute pence whenever he put forward a need during the Sunday sermon. You might be accosted on the streets by beggars, although by the Regency there were more institutions in place to help or relocate them. And of course, your friends might beg you to support whatever cause had caught their attention, through a subscription or attendance at an event. (Getting back onto more familiar ground!)
Besides these types of what is called “casual charity”, there was organized giving. This includes giving of alms, paying the poor rate tax (set up by the Elizabethan Poor Law of 1601, administered by the parishes and based on land and buildings, it funded the workhouses –“indoor charity”—and “outdoor charity” such as the dole, clothing, and food, among other things), or supporting any number of philanthropic organizations and associations. Bequest charities administered by parishes and guilds had a long history, but “associational charity” began to grow in the middle of the 18th century after it became illegal to establish charitable trusts through a will at death.
The famous Foundling Hospital was the first of these new kinds of socially active charitable foundations. The Marine Society (which placed poor adolescent boys into careers at sea), and The Magdalen Hospital for Penitent Prostitutes soon followed, and then many more, focused on particular social problems, and dependent on public support. Annual subscriptions, publicity campaigns through pamphleteering, and charity events including concerts and balls were all employed. Some societies levied a weekly fee on members to support their work. Medical charity took on a new approach, too, with the establishment of charity hospitals, dispensaries, and asylums. As we see so often, these changes were the beginning of a more modern way of thinking and doing, well established by the Regency period. There’s a great article here.
I tackled this topic because on October 30 I am hosting a “virtual” Halloween Party on Facebook, and any of you who are reading this (and are Facebook members) are invited! It’s going to run 4pm-midnight (Eastern) so you can drop in at any time. It is a fund-raising event, so I am asking people to donate $15 –or whatever amount they wish – to my friend’s fund at the Help Hope Live Foundation. (Her name is Joyce Bourque). If you would like to come to the party, you can send me a “friend” request (Gail Eastwood-Author) or drop me an email, or I think you can just find the event page I will be setting up and ask to be invited in. (I think we’re calling it “Virtual Halloween Party for Joyce Bourque’s Kidney Fund” and I hope to have it set up this weekend!) I am also going to set up a dedicated email address where non-FB folks can leave Joyce a message of support or Halloween wishes. As you may –or may not—know, people who are on transplant waiting lists are required to do fund-raising while they wait, every year. These folks have to show that they can cover their part of the cost to save their lives, or be dropped from the list. Foundations like Help Hope Live are designed to hold and manage the funds until they are needed. Here’s a link to the foundation: https://helphopelive.org and here’s a link to Joyce’s page there, if you’d like to “meet” her! If you like, you can pretend her page is a handbill that I passed to you when I stopped in for tea! J
Meanwhile, let’s chat about whether charity giving belongs in Regency romances or not. What do you think? Please comment below.
Jenny Crusie has a great piece of advice for writers: “Don’t look down.” Meaning, don’t stop writing to worry about details or character arc or research.
I am not capable of following this advice. And I’m not saying it’s efficient, but it works for me: my writing is constantly enriched because I stopped to research. Scenes take fresh and exciting directions, I learn new things about my characters, and I understand more about the context in which the scene is taking place. I once stopped writing for two hours while trying to answer the question “Were there wastepaper baskets or equivalent in the Regency?” because my hero’s mother had to do something with her apple core. (Short answer: no, because very little was thrown away.)
While writing my current WIP (about a young woman who co-owns a gaming den with a 1790s theme), I’ve come across a startling number of amazing objects. So I thought I’d share ten supercool scraps of Regency and late–eighteenth century material culture with you this week!
(When links go to Pinterest, in most cases if you click again on the image, it will take you to the original website from which the image was pinned and you can read more about the item.)
3. Roulette was not yet played in England during the Regency (although it existed in France). Variants called roly-poly and E.O. (standing for Even and Odd) were, though. E.O. was originally designed in the 1730s to exploit a loophole in anti-gambling legislation, but was quickly outlawed itself. Despite that, it remained very popular! You can see an E.O. wheel here, and this 1786 Rowlandson engraving shows one in use.
4. Playing card decks are different throughout Europe! Did everyone know this but me? The deck we use in the States (52 cards, using hearts, clubs, spades and diamonds as suits) is the French deck. Spanish decks use the suits cups, coins, swords, and batons or sticks—familiar to me from Tarot decks! Furthermore, the pip cards only go to nine, so a full deck is 48 cards (or 50 with jokers), not 52. German decks use acorns, leaves, hearts and bells for their suits. So cute!
Portugal used to have their own pattern, but they switched to French decks sometime in the first half of the 20th century. (The transition left some idiosyncrasies; for example, the old face cards were King, Knight, and Page, but the pages were female! So “page” was mapped to “queen” on the new decks and many games rank the cards King-Jack-Queen.)
I tried especially to find examples of Portuguese decks and card games since my heroine is Portuguese. I haven’t found much yet except that the aces have dragons on them, and that modern Japanese karuta decks are based on decks brought by Portuguese traders in the 16th century. But I’ve got a request in to interlibrary loan…
I also love this set (the queen of spades is a personnification of “Freedom of Marriage”, holding a sceptre labeled “Divorce”—divorce was briefly legal and widely available under the Revolution) and this one (in which the jacks are Republican citizens, the queens are the cardinal virtues, and the kings are philosophers)!
6. Another Regency card trend: transformation cards! The site links to many examples and explains: “Transformation Playing Cards are those in which the pip cards have been integrated into an overall design thereby ‘transforming’ the playing card into a miniature graphic artwork. The pips must retain their traditional position and shape, so it is sometimes difficult to create a good design. The idea became popular at the beginning of the 19th century as a pastime, when packs were often ‘transformed’ by hand using pen and ink.” It’s this transforming by hand that intrigues me most—wouldn’t that be a great scene or subplot in a romance? (Warning before clicking the link: racial caricatures.)
7. Regency folk did not use poker chips, but “fish”! Fish looked like little fish (no surprises there!) and were commonly carved out of ivory, bone, or mother of pearl.
8. Moving on from gambling, using a segue of stuff carved out of ivory: the renter of a box at the opera received six ivory tickets engraved with their box number and (sometimes? always? not sure) their name. They could give out (or sell) whichever of these tickets they weren’t using themselves to friends, which were good either for admission to their box or for seats in the pit. (I don’t totally understand the logistics of this ticket sharing, TBH, and two editions of the same traveler’s guide to London explain it differently.) Look, here’s one of the Duke of York’s 1804-5 season tickets!
9. This fan is some neat swag for subscribers to the boxes at the King’s Theatre (home of the Italian opera in London) for the 1787-88 seasons! Shows a floor plan of the boxes with subscribers’ names.
Speaking of useful information, some amazing opera fan to whom I am forever grateful kept a list of every opera performance (with dates!) at the King’s Theatre for the years 1801–1829, and published it! They include detailed information on the performers, performances, and backstage gossip (very opinionated information: “Another Catalani season, in which she sang every night except two; but in which, mirabile dictu, sterling good classical music prevailed in the ratio of 38 to 26”). This is the motherlode, OMG.
10. There’s nothing particularly special about it, I suppose, but there’s something about seeing this Regency parasol fold up just like a modern one that pleases me greatly. Be sure to click through to the V&A for more pictures and information about the telescoping handle and a Regency gadget shop called “Weeks’s Royal Mechanical Museum” (“This rather official title appears to be a purely commercial establishment; there is no evidence of royal patronage and items were for sale”).
There is no doubt that the outside world seeps into our stories — even in a Regency. You have only to look at Mary Balogh’s excellent Survivor series to see that. Her characters are all recovering from various injuries that are a result of the Peninsular wars, from blindness to classic PTSD trauma. She makes it work in her Regency world but every reader has to make the comparison with today’s veterans.
The impact on my writing is not quite as obvious. At least I don’t think it is. So I am going to share one with you. And want to know yours as a writer and a reader.
When I started writing Lovers Kiss in 2006 I was enjoying a Bible Study class led by one of the most amazing women I know, Marika Ullanowicz. She brought a fascinating, often unconventional perspective to whatever we studied and many of her thoughts and the resulting discussions made their way into Lover’s Kiss.
The most enduring is the phrase “You stupid Galatians.” The King James Bible as well as the New American Bible translates the phrase from the Greek as “You Senseless Galatians” (3:1) but Marika suggested that we look at the literal translation which is — ta da — Stupid. We all laughed at this and discussed how that was so much more Paul than the more temperate word “senseless.”
So the phrase “stupid Galatians” became the ultimate insult the resident and aging vicar used as he searched through the night for lost sheep, a sure sign of his age and the need for him to retire. Michael Garrett finds him out wandering one evening and as Michael escorts the vicar home they have the same discussion re the translation of the word and the vicar’s conviction that stupid is much more appropriate.
When they reach the vicar’s home Michael leaves the old man in the care of the housekeeper and as he departs Michael says to her “Do tell him I am sorry he found no lost sheep tonight.”
The housekeeper responds, “Oh, but he did. He found you.” And that is the first step on Michael’s road “home” and the current series I am working on where Michael Garret is now the Vicar of Pennsford and dealing with both stupid Galatians and lost sheep.
But I digress. In the current wip “Stupid Galatians” has become his family’s most forceful condemnation referring always to someone who is on the wrong path and totally unaware.
That’s a long story for a short phrase but a favorite of mine. Tell me, authors, what parts of your world have made their way into your historicals, or contemporaries? And as a reader tell us about a book that has connected most directly to something in your world?
Of the many museums I visited in Paris this summer, some famous, others obscure, I particularly enjoyed the morning I spent at the Carnavalet Museum of the History of Paris. At the time they were hosting an exhibit on Napoleon’s Paris, and I thought of my fellow Riskies and our readers when I saw these dresses and accessories worn or carried by the ladies of the imperial court:
Such a deceptively simple dress, but can you imagine the hours of work that went into that embroidery?
This train is sheer grandeur:
And can you imagine flirting behind a fan like this?
This comb must have sparkled in its day:
I hope you’ve enjoyed this image-heavy post, and that your autumn is getting off to a great start! I promise to bring more actual text next month, when I won’t be scrambling because my daughter is starting 6th grade over a week behind schedule after a teacher strike.
Let’s admit I had a plan for this weeks post that had NOTHING to do with soup, portable or otherwise … I’ve been tinkering with the Georgian Map of London and was reviewing my copy of The Epicure’s Almanack (the 1815 Zagat’s of London) looking for locations when I noticed that soup was a very popular item among the listings. It’s noted again and again at chophouses, taverns, inns, even coffee houses that “good soup is always available”. Ok, I thought. Well, it was the tail-end of a mini ice age, and as such soup was probably pretty welcome most of the time (and it’s one of the cheaper items to offer at a restaurant so it makes perfect sense that lots of places always had a spot over the fire).
Then I started to see “portable soup” on offer occasionally. Intrigued, I fell down the research hole. I was trying to picture some kind of “pastie” filled with soup. A Cup O’Noodles, Regency-style. Maybe even a bread bowl (we know day old bread has long been used as a “trencher” by the poor). So I start searching for “portable soup” and lo and behold it’s basically period boullion!
There’s a great write up on the Lobscouse and Spoted Dog page (another food book I adore, in which two intrepid cooks attempt to recreate all the food from Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin novels). It seems like a lot of work, but as we all know, labor was cheap during our period of fascination, it was everything else that was expensive. And a method of capturing every last drop of goodness in the kitchen offal was going to be widely popular (I totally make stock from the striped carcases of rotisserie chickens and all the odd bits of veg that I toss in the freezer for this exact purpose).
So back to portable soup …
So basically, it’s the ultimate take away. You likely don’t have a real kitchen in your London lodging, which even if it’s in The Albany is a suite of rooms. But you likely have a fireplace and a pot. And now, with a store of portable soup, you have a base for making a stew or hearty soup, or a restorative broth at the very least (see the currant hipster fad for “bone broth).
This is totally something I can see the valets of my younger sons having on hand for when their master has a cold (or when they have a cold), or when someone needs sobering up.
I’ve been even more busy than usual lately, so my apologies for not having a Regency-related post. I recently delivered my oldest back to college and my youngest just started back at high school. It’s been a maelstrom of back to school shopping, helping to plan the children and youth programs for this year at my UU church, plus redecorating my youngest’s bedroom. She was finally ready to let go of the ladybugs and butterflies I painted on her walls before she was born. The walls are now the color of strawberry ice cream–so cheerful! Painting over the murals made us a little weepy (we took lots of pictures). It was also a challenge, requiring 4 coats in some places, but it was also a lot of fun and we’re both thrilled with how it turned out.
Writing, however, has still been on the back burner. Last February, I posted about Going Home, the need to take some time to deal with a situation that has been affecting my writing for a long time. Unfortunately, the situation is ongoing but I’ve grown stronger and recently I started doing some CPR on my writing career.
Due to some rather boring problems related to European VAT tax laws, I had unpublished my ebooks from every place except Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I’ve resolved the problems and recently republished all my titles at Apple and Kobo and hope to get them out to other sites as well.
I’m also working on plans to get back to the writing itself. Although taking a break was the right thing at the time and my situation is still challenging, at this point any work I do will be an empowering act, even if it’s a few hours a week at a coffee shop.
I’m also looking forward to the usual pleasures of the season: apple picking, fresh apple cider, baking with pumpkin, fall foliage.
Anyone else looking forward to fall? Any transitions in your lives?
A book I’ve been waiting for is out! Naturally I bought it immediately. The author, Luke Williams, and I got in contact, and he graciously agreed to be interviewed here at the Riskies. I’m giving away a copy of his book to one commenter, rules below.
The book is Richmond Unchained, the Biography of The World’s First Black Sporting Superstar. Richmond was a boxer from the Regency era whose name would be encountered by any author doing research into boxing of the era. This is one of the most interesting, engaging biographies I’ve read in some time and I highly recommended it to anyone and everyone.
I’m not kidding you here, I stayed up late three nights running because I had to find out what happened. This is a well-written, meticulously documented, and completely engaging story of a man who deserves to be better known. With its wealth of historical and social detail, this book should be on every historical author’s shelf.
You can increase your chances of winning because over at my blog I have a guest post by Williams which is also fascinating reading and I’m giving away a copy there, too.
Richmond Unchained takes an unflinching look at the history of American slavery and Britain’s own in the slave trade and slavery. It places the racism of the time squarely in the middle of a compelling story of a man who lived with the consequences. It’s not possible to read this book and see that not enough has changed.
Richmond’s life is compelling and riveting. As you’ll see in the interview, it took Williams 12 years to complete the book, and his care and attention to detail and chronology shows. From slavery to a position of honor at the coronation of George IV — Richmond is a man who lived an extraordinary life.
About Luke G. Williams
Luke G. Williams has been a journalist and writer for 16 years. He has worked as a full-time staff writer for uefa.com, sportal.com and euro2000.com, while his freelance work has been published in various outlets including The Guardian, Sunday Express, Snooker Scene, The Independent and 007 Magazine. He has appeared on numerous TV and radio channels, including ITV London, and BBC Radio Five Live. His first book, Masters of the Baize (co-authored with Paul Gadsby) was published in 2005, and was named Book of the Week by The Sunday Times newspaper. He edited the boxing writing anthology Boxiana: Volume 1 (2014) and is the author of Richmond Unchained: The Biography of the World’s First Black Sporting Superstar (2015). Luke lives in London and is the assistant headteacher of a successful secondary school.
About Richmond Unchained
Today Bill Richmond is largely unknown to the wider public, but he was one of the most significant sportsmen in history and one of the most prominent celebrities of Georgian times. Born into slavery in Staten Island, Richmond won his freedom as a young boy and carved a new life for himself in England as a cabinet maker and then a renowned prizefighter and trainer. His amazing life encompassed encounters and relationships with some of the most prominent men of the age, including Earl Percy, William Hazlitt, Lord Byron, the Prince Regent and Lord Camelford. His fame was such that he fulfilled an official role at the coronation celebrations of King George IV in 1821. The story of Bill Richmond is an incredible tale of personal advancement, as well as the story of a life informed and influenced by a series of turbulent historical events, including the American War of Independence, the fight for black emancipation and Britain’s long-running conflict with Napoleon Bonaparte.
(You see??? You see!!! If you write Regency Romance, you need this book. If you love the history, you should read this book.)
Over many years of dogged research, Luke Williams has assembled a wonderful array of new sources to flesh out the fascinating life of a man famed in his own era, but who is only recently being rediscovered by historians. Williams challenges the fanciful Wikipedia myths, and instead reveals the truth to be far more compelling. Richmond was a complex man living in complex times, and has long deserved a biography. It’s heartening, then, that the life of Britain’s first Black sports star is carefully examined by a writer with an obvious passion for his subject.
Greg Jenner, historical consultant CBBC’s Horrible Histories, author A Million Years in a Day: A Curious History of Everyday Life
Richmond Unchained is an accomplished and absorbing study of life and sport in Georgian Britain … A fascinating, and deeply researched, account of one man’s trials and triumphs as he breaches the prizefighting citadel that was Georgian London … A compelling blend of sporting and socio-cultural history, chronicling Richmond’s remarkable journey and eventual recognition as one of prizefighting’s foremost ambassadors … An enthralling odyssey, recounting Richmond’s stellar achievements fought for against the intriguing backdrop of the Georgian prizefighting world … An engrossing biography, and cultural evaluation, that accurately captures the essence of the conflicting qualities of Georgian London’s prizefighting scene.
David Snowdon, author Writing the Prizefight, Winner 2014 Lord Aberdare Prize
This modern biography of Bill Richmond, Britain’s first black boxing superstar, is in my opinion quite simply the most well written, thoroughly researched and historically accurate work of its kind ever produced. Not only does the author touch upon and explore many of the known and lesser known mysteries and themes of Richmond’s life, he also manages to successfully explain the often complicated background history of his times, and does so in a highly readable and fascinating way. If you are interested in sport, or in British social history, or in reading about an icon and trailblazer for black athletes of today, then this book should be top of your current reading list. I think this book is also going to be an inspiration for many people for a long time into the future, and all credit to the author for bringing this boxing legend out of his current state of relative obscurity and putting him back in his rightful place as the founding father of black boxing, not just in Britain, but also the world.
Alex Joanides, boxing historian, Romevillemedia.co.uk, editor Memoirs of the Life of Daniel Mendoza (2011 edition)
First, thank you so much, Luke, for agreeing to be interviewed! I loved your book and I’m really excited to have you here!
Q: In your book, you mentioned that your father gave you a copy of the book Black Ajax. Was that an out-of-the-blue gift or did your father have some specific reason to believe you’d enjoy that book? A: I was incredibly lucky growing up to have a mother and father who really encouraged me to read and develop a love of books. My dad was obsessed with books, in fact I can’t remember a single birthday or Christmas gift from him that wasn’t a book! His other obsessions were betting on horse races (not large amounts I hasten to add), Buddhism and pretty much all sports. An eclectic set of interests! Boxing was one of the many sports we watched together and I developed a real interest in the sport’s rich history, particularly its importance socially and culturally. My dad knew this and when he saw a copy of Black Ajax in a bookshop in central London he guessed I would enjoy it and, boy, was he right! It’s a wonderful novel.
Q: I’ve read a lot of books about historical periods or events that are pretty thin on crucial information like dates. Your book almost always uses specific dates with month, day and year (or for you folks over the pond, day, month, year) and you note when documentation is unclear as to date. Naturally that involves some painstaking documentation and note taking. Did you have a system? How did you keep all the chronologies straight?
A:I’m so glad you picked up on this and asked about it. I realised when researching the book that a lot of information already out there about Bill Richmond was either wrong, exaggerated or had been misinterpreted. Mainly this is because boxing historians who have written about him have solely relied on Boxiana by Pierce Egan, and books such as Miles’ Pugilistica and Fleischer’s Black Dynamite which simply aren’t written with any historical rigour whatsoever or reference to any primary sources. One of my principal aims with Richmond Unchained was to assemble the most complete factual account of Bill’s life that I could so that the real facts were on record somewhere. That meant returning to birth records, marriage records, tax records etc and original newspaper reports, rather than later recycled accounts. This depth of research explains why the book took about 12 years to complete from conception to publication! I used a pretty straightforward system – I filed all my paper research by month and year in chronologically ordered folders and, once my research graduated online as the Internet took off, I did the same thing with scans of material I assembled. It was a huge undertaking, but I couldn’t even start writing the book until this volume of research had been completed.
Q: When I was looking around the web I came across your author photo. After careful examination, on the left side of the picture by your shoulder, there is clearly an aquatic creature in attack mode. Is that a Great White or the Loch Ness Monster? Which would you rather face in a duel? In a battle to the death between the shark and Nessie, who wins and why?
A: LOL! You know what? I can resolve the mystery for you of this sea creature. That mysterious shadow is actually a result of my incredibly poor photo-shopping skills. This photo was taken by the pool of a hotel in Los Angeles and originally the shadow was a female swimmer who had a rather pained expression on her face so I tried to remove her! As for Nessie versus a shark, I see Nessie as an elusive Bill Richmond type, whereas the shark would just plough forward relentlessly like Jack Holmes or Tom Shelton. Nessie / Richmond would use superior stealth and movement to tire the shark out and win with ease.
Q: Set aside for the moment the need to draw conclusions only from documented facts. Given everything you’ve read, what do you believe happened in the first Cribbs vs. Molineaux fight. How much of what happened do you think Richmond probably anticipated or was prepared for?
A: That’s the $64,000 question, isn’t it? In a nutshell, I believe that Molineaux was cheated, although I don’t think we can ever prove this beyond doubt. I think there was a ‘long count’ of some sort at some stage as well as a ring invasion, which helped tip the balance in Cribb’s favour. I think that in the back of his mind, and based on his experiences in the ring and growing up in England, Richmond knew that such shenanigans were possible. However optimistically, and perhaps naively, I think he believed these obstacles could be overcome. I know one thing for sure – if time travel is ever invented the first place I am going is Copthall Common on 18 December 1810 because I am desperate to know what actually happened!
Q: My guess is you might be a fan of boxing in general. If Richmond were transported from the past to now, what you do think he’d make of the current state of boxing? Which fighters might he admire? My impression from reading your book was that Richmond was something of a technical innovator in the sport. Do you agree?
A: Yes, I’m still a fan of boxing. I’ll admit that I’ve had my moments where I have fallen out of love with the sport, but I always seem to return to it. I don’t think Bill would be particularly impressed with the state of boxing today. I think he would admire Floyd Mayweather on a technical level, but not on a personal level, as he is pretty far removed from the concept of the gentleman pugilist epitomised by Bill Richmond! Bernard Hopkins would also win Bill’s admiration for the way that, like Bill, he has led an abstemious and disciplined existence, allowing him to box well beyond an age which conventional wisdom holds is advisable. I do believe that Richmond was something of a pugilistic innovator as well as one of the earliest and most effective trainers and fight promoters. Bill probably didn’t originate the concept of ‘boxing on the retreat’, but certainly it was an art that he perfected and succeeded in winning praise for, putting paid to accusations that such a style was ‘unmanly’.
Q: I was intrigued by the photo of you and Earl George Percy unveiling the long overdue tribute to Bill Richmond. Has the connection between the Percy family and Richmond been family lore for them (if you know) or was it something they learned of later? If there were to be a more substantial memorial of Richmond, what form would you like to see that take?
A: It was incredibly gracious and generous of George to unveil the tribute. I managed to meet him through a mutual friend who has a great interest in Georgian boxing. George told me that he only found out about the connection between his family and Bill a couple of years ago, so I think it was a piece of family folklore that had become somewhat lost in the mists of time. Once he found out, he was intrigued and looked through the archives at his family residence Alnwick for more information, but there is very little there. When my friend informed George about my book he was very excited and intrigued and kindly agreed to act as guest of honour at our event. I’m really pleased with the memorial and the kindness displayed by Shepherd Neame brewery in arranging it after I suggested the idea to them. If another memorial was to appear to Bill I would love it to be a statue on a plinth in Trafalgar Square – close to where his Horse and Dolphin pub once stood. (Hey, I can dream, right?)
Q: I would love to see a movie or BBC production about Richmond. Idris Elba could play Richmond. Who would you cast in such a production?
A: This is one my dream scenarios as I think that Bill’s life story is crying out for a multi-part BBC or HBO mini-series! I’m a huge admirer of Idris Elba, ever since I first saw him in The Wire (incidentally the best TV series ever made IMO), however he doesn’t quite fit my mental image of Bill, largely because of his build, which is larger and more imposing than Bill’s. If Idris was a little younger then I think he’d be a great Tom Molineaux. I’d cast Chiwetel Ejiofor as Bill – I think he is one of the best actors working today. His build is right for Bill, and he would be equally comfortable with the urbane and erudite side of Bill’s personality, as well as the physical challenges. He is such a versatile performer, who possesses such depth of dramatic power. Funnily enough, I went to high school with Chiwetel and had the pleasure of acting with him in a several productions. If we needed a younger actor as Bill, perhaps to play him in his late teens or twenties, then Michael B. Jordan, based on the charming mixture of vulnerability and strength he displayed in the brilliant Friday Night Lights, would be a good choice, if he could master the English accent which I’m sure Bill possessed.
Q: What’s next for you?
A: Fatherhood! My wife is expecting our first child any week now, which is incredibly thrilling. In terms of my writing and research, I want to continue to spread the word about Bill Richmond. I’ve lived with his story for so long and have such admiration for him that I want as many people as possible to know about his life. I would love it if my book resulted in more information about Bill emerging, particularly in terms of tracing any descendants. If that’s the case then I would love to produce a revised edition of Richmond Unchained in the future. I’d also like to have an expanded edition published which includes all the references and sources which couldn’t fit in with the page restrictions I was working with.
(I’ve made a start posting these on my blog at billrichmond.blogspot.co.uk). I have a couple of other ideas for books I’d like to write, which would also connect with Georgian boxing, however the process of research is so painstaking that I think any further book is a long way off. Above all, I’m looking forward to spending time with my wonderful wife and baby, and continuing in my role as assistant head-teacher of a fantastic school in south London where I have now worked for 11 years.
I’m giving a copy of the book to one commenter. It’s out in digital format now, print forthcoming. So I can send you your choice. If you’re in the US, it should be pretty easy. If you’re outside the US, it’s a little trickier, but we’ll work it out. I might not be able to get you a digital copy.
Rules: Must be 18 to enter. Void where prohibited. No purchase necessary. Prize will be awarded to an alternate winner if the winner does not respond to notifications from me.
To enter, leave a comment to this blog post. If you have questions for Luke, ask away! It would be awesome if you comment about the post, but telling me what color breeches you think Richmond should be wearing is fine. (It’s yellow on the book cover.) Leave your comment by 11:59:59 PM Eastern Time Thursday September 10, 2015.
Do you remember the first book of historical fiction you ever read?
For me it was I Was There With Ethan Allen And The Green Mountain Boys. I don’t remember how old I was. Probably third or fourth grade and I can’t recall anything about the story except that it placed a boy about my age into the excitement of a dramatic moment in history. The whole premise of the series was placing a boy (not a girl) in a dramatic moment in history.
I tried to find something about the book, but it seems to have disappeared. If it has been re-released it lost the I Was There With part of the title. (This is not the correct book cover either)
The next historically set book I fell in love with was Little Women, definitely a book to win the hearts of little girls. It did not have the excitement of the Green Mountain Boys, but I cried buckets when Beth died and I wanted to throw the book against the wall when Laurie doesn’t wind up with Jo. I think I was hot-wired for Romance fiction even then.
I was also a voracious reader of Nancy Drew and Cherry Ames (anyone remember Cherry Ames books?). While technically not historicals, they took place in a time period that seemed a distant past to a little bookworm like myself. I loved that Nancy Drew drove a “roadster” and that Cherry Ames traveled to exciting places. I still remember a scene in one book where Nancy and Ned get caught in quicksand and Ned lifts her out. In Cherry Ames, I remember that head nurses were always scolding her for wearing rouge, but, you see, her cheeks were just naturally rosy.
A huge appeal for me at the time in the Nancy Drew books was her relationship with Ned Nickerson. Whenever Ned showed up, I perked up. Romance, even then. Cherry Ames had the occasional romance and I liked that part of her stories as much as the other parts.
I don’t remember reading a great deal of historical books in my teen years. I read what was assigned in school and that is how I read Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. Both made an impression on me, because, unlike all of the above books besides Little Women, I remember the stories, but I’m not sure I can say I remember them fondly. There was cruelty in both books and I didn’t like it. And, even at a tender age, I scoffed at Jane Eyre winding up in a ditch and then getting rescued by–who else?–long lost relatives.
Somewhere in my teen years I also read Pride and Prejudice, but I only vaguely remembered the story.