Love and Courtship in Regency England

I admit I’ve been out of the dating scene for (ahem) a few years now. However, from what my single friends tell me, not much has changed since I was dated. In today’s world a man asks out a woman, (or if she’s braver than I ever was, she asks him out). They might meet online, or be introduced by a friend, but eventually they end up on that first date. It might be dinner or drinks or just coffee (in my case, hot cocoa). It might involve a movie or miniature golf or a museum. It might even occasionally include another couple but it never involves parents or chaperones, and no one thinks anything of an adult man and a woman being alone together in a car or a house.

Dating in Regency England was very different. For one thing, it was called courting or wooing. But most importantly, a young lady of good breeding who wished to keep her reputation pristine so she would be a candidate for marriage never, ever put herself alone with a man. (The double standard is, of course, that the man was expected to have “sown his wild oats” and could have a very sullied reputation and still be considered a good match if he were wealthy and well-connected enough.) Therefore, courting was a very public affair.

First, they needed an introduction by a mutual friend before conversing. They often met at balls which were THE places to meet those of similar social backgrounds, but they might also meet at a dinner party, soiree, musicale, or even the opera or the theater.

If the man wished to get better acquainted with the lady he’d met, he might send her flowers the next day (but never gifts or letters), and later pay a visit upon the family during their “at home” hours where her mother or aunt or other chaperone would be present. He might take her for a stroll in one of the walking parks, with a chaperone close at hand. He might even take her riding on horseback or in an open carriage—open being the operative word since riding in a closed carriage could ruin her reputation as quickly as being alone in a house with a man.

Courting could be short or take place over a long period of time. At a ball, if she refused to dance with any other man but him, she basically announced to the world that they were engaged. If she danced with him more than twice in one night, everyone assumed she was either engaged to him or was “fast,” a terrible label for a proper young lady. If he spent a lot of time with her to the point where people began to notice how much they were together, public opinion placed them as engaged. If he failed to make an offer of marriage for her, people said he had failed to come up to scratch and shook their heads and wondered if she were unsuitable or if he were. Either way, the couple’s reputations suffered. At that point, their only option would be to marry or live with tainted reputations. Depending on his status, his reputation would probably recover but hers would likely remain tainted.

Such courting practices may sound rigid and even sterile to the modern-day woman, but I think it leaves so much open. For one thing, they relied on witty conversation rather than getting physical to get to know each other. And since the courting practices were pretty predictable, a man had to use creativity to impress a lady.

Once he felt secure she returned his affections, the gentleman would make an appointment with the girl’s father and formally ask for her hand in marriage. His income would be scrutinized and they would draw up a prenuptial agreement called a marriage settlement which included her pin money, dress allowance, jointure, and other ways he’d provide for her, as well as what dowry would go to the man. With all that settled, the father would break the news to the girl and the wedding preparations would commence.

My goal as Regency romance author is to keep in mind these social customs known as ‘manners and mores’ and yet find unique ways for my hero and heroine to meet and fall in love. I enjoy creating a unique twist on acceptable courting, throwing lots of obstacles in the way of their happily ever after, and revealing the final, happy, triumphant ending.  That doesn’t make me a hopeless romantic, it makes me a hopeful romantic.

My tagline is ‘Believe in happily ever after’ because I do believe in it. Do you believe in happily ever after?

Chimney Sweeps and Climbing Boys

by Guest Blogger H. Linn Murphy 

Recently I was doing research on chimney sweeps for a book I was writing called HEART OF FIRE. It turns out the life of a chimney sweep (and especially that of his poor Climbing Boy or girl) isn’t at all like that of the glorified happy-go-lucky, slightly bespattered-yet-still-dapper man in Mary Poppins. Sweeping was hazardous, demeaning, and low-paying. Chimney sweeps often had to do double duty cleaning out privies, a job known as a “nightman.” 

Before the Great Fire of London, which happened on September 2nd through 5th, 1666, Climbing Boys rarely climbed chimneys. Afterwards, people were more worried about the layer of creosote and soot starting fires, so the smaller boys were used. In England, another great increase in the use of small children as Climbing Boys occurred after 1773 in an actual attempt to be more humanitarian. It was found that children were not surviving well in workhouses or orphanages. In many, even surviving for a year was difficult. Parliament passed an act which said children could spend no more than three weeks in a workhouse. In an effort to increase their chances for survival, more children were apprenticed out to occupations such as chimney sweeping and other jobs which needed cheap, expendable labor. 

Italy, Belgium, and France all used Climbing Boys as well. Germans did not, as the Sweeps belonged to Sweep Guilds. Scotland did not allow climbing either. The Sweep used bundles of rags or balls on chains or ropes dropped down from the top.  

Everything was taxed in 17th century Britain, along with hearths. The size of the house and number of chimneys shot the tax sky high. Which meant that builders of new homes or new chimneys connected new flues with the existing chimney, making for a veritable and truly dangerous maze of pitch black, cramped tunnels which jigged and bent around obstructions. 

As the use of coal for household fuel became more prevalent, Sweeps became more and more widely used. Coal dust (creosote) collected in the chimneys in greater quantities and could ignite and cause fires in the predominantly wooden structures. Soot was valuable and sold to farmers for fertilizer. Because the Sweep was generally too large to climb the chimneys, he usually employed two to twenty Climbing Boys, depending on how many of them he could keep alive. 

The parish generally paid a Master Sweep to employ as many four to thirteen year old destitute children and orphans as possible. Most often they started around the age of six, as before that, the children were often too weak to climb the often 400 feet to the tops of high chimneys. The children mainly signed letters of indenture, which forced them to work for the Sweep until they had reached their majority (adulthood). This took the children off the hands of the parish. The Sweep was even allowed to buy children from poor parents or kidnap homeless waifs from the street to use.  

The Master Sweep’s job was to teach the craft and all its secrets, take the child to church, desist in sending the child into a chimney currently on fire, and offer a second change of clothing and a weekly bath. There were, of course slackers who did not follow these rules. Baths were often much more rare than weekly. One sweep only bathed his apprentices on Christmas, Whitsun (just after Easter), and Goosefair (early October). Many only bathed them once monthly or bi-yearly, and that in the frigid river. They were seldom fed well, to keep them small enough to climb the chimneys. Often the child was so hungry he had to beg for food from the clients. Since the Sweep was to provide room and board, the Climbing Boy wasn’t paid and there was no limit to the hours a boy or girl worked. If the child received clothing from a client, dishonest Sweeps might take the clothing to sell for more money. 

The child agreed to obey the master without back-talking or harm, not be found in drinking or gaming dens (in their copious spare time), be thrifty with resources, and not tell their Sweep’s secrets or lend out his gear.  

Flues were often tight (some as small as 81 square inches) with normal flues being 14 inches by 9 inches narrowing to 9X9 inches near the chimney pots on top. The boy or girl would pull their cap over their face to keep out as much soot as possible, then shimmy up the chimney, negotiating the twists and turns which allowed the ever narrower chimney flue to send a shaft of hot gas to suck air down into the fire. The thinner the flue, the better the draw.

When they first started to work, the children often had raw and bleeding elbows and knees from climbing and then sliding quickly down the chimneys. It was the Sweep’s job to harden those spots using salt brine and a brush to work the brine in while the child stood next to a roaring fire. As you can guess, it wasn’t a pleasant occurrence and children had to be punished or bribed to withstand the hardening, which could take weeks or even years.

Often Climbing Boys got stuck in chimneys or lost their way in the maze of Stygian darkness. Heaven help the child that allowed his knees to get stuck next to his nose. If the sweep couldn’t push or pull the child out of the tight spot, the corpse had to be rescued by pulling bricks from the chimney.  Sometimes they burned or suffocated to death. The Sweep would stand on the roof with a bucket to extinguish the child if he called out. Soot could become dislodged with the child’s scraping and fall into his face, suffocating him.

Climbing Boys rarely got to bathe. Also, because the bag of clinker sometimes included warm coals, the Climbing Boy would sleep in or on the bag of clinker or ash for warmth. It was called Sleeping Black. Both meant they often contacted Chimney Sweep’s Cancer, as the clinker was highly carcinogenic and bore traces of arsenic, which nearly always led to death at least by middle age.

There were other occupational hazards. Often the Climbing Boy’s back, knees, ankles, and feet were stunted from starvation and staying in the same odd position for long periods of time while cleaning, or as the Sweep tried to extricate him. They suffered from blindness due to soot in the eyes, bruises, burns, asthma, and exposure to the elements. Often their only coat was the bag or blanket they used to haul soot and clinker back to the Sweep’s place.

It was a normal occurrence for the boy to clean the chimney in the nude so that his clothing wouldn’t catch on protuberances and get him stuck. They often went up warm or hot chimneys, some of which had fires in the soot, to put out the fire. If the boy or girl wasn’t working fast enough, unprincipled sweeps would light straw on fire beneath the sweep, which is where the saying “Light a fire under him” originates. Another way was to send another boy up through the claustrophobic, cloying soot to poke the Climbing Boy in the feet or rear with pins.

Even girls could be Climbing Boys, and if they survived the rigorous work and dangerous conditions, could become Master Sweeps themselves, employing Climbing Boys of their own.

In 1803 George Smart invented the first mechanical sweeping machine. John Glass marketed a new and improved sweeping machine in 1828, including the newest brush. But people were slow to trust the newfangled sweeping machine. Clearly a human would to a better job than any machine. In 1864, Parliament passed the “Act for the Regulation of Chimney Sweepers” which ended the use of young boys to clean the chimneys and charged a penalty of £10.00 for offenders. It wasn’t until 1875 that the use of Climbing Boys was actively prohibited in England. Another thing which contributed to the decline of Sweeps was the advent of gas or electric heating.

The Sweep is rumored to be a symbol of good luck. In England, a Sweep brought good luck to a bride on the day of her wedding and would often hire himself out for the purpose. There are varying stories about the origin of that belief. In many of the Eastern European countries it’s good luck to rub your buttons when you pass a Sweep. In Germany, Sweep figures of candy (usually marzipan) or ornaments attached to bouquets of flowers are given as good luck gifts on New Years. In Italy, the Sweep is called “Spazzacamini.”

European Sweeps still wear a black top hat and black uniform with golden buttons. The origin story for the top hat is also varied. Americans don’t usually wear the traditional uniform, as the tails and buttons get in the way and they consider it undignified.

Now they use a selection of brushes, chippers, lead or iron balls, vacuums, and cameras, and sweep the chimney usually from the bottom. They can evaluate the situation and are often trained to repair, replace, or build the chimney and cement crown.

 In my book HEART OF FIRE, Joss is employed as a Climbing Boy for a short time. His Sweep is an unprincipled wretch and interested in much more than cleaning chimneys. HEART OF FIRE should be out in April 2017.

Meanwhile, check out my blog at www.murph4slaw.blogspot.com and my newest book, SUMMERHOUSE

 

 

Vote for Courting the Countess in the 2016 Best Book of the Year Award

Thanks so much for being part of my writing journey! Usually on this blog, I share fun trivia and tidbits about the amazing world of the Regency Era. However, today I need your help. My newest Regency Romance, Courting the Countess, has been nominated in the Best Book for 2016 in the non-erotic category against several big name authors on the Long & Short Reviews. ​Voters are encouraged to read the reviews, then vote for their favorite book based on the review or on their own opinion of the book if they’ve read it. Today is the last day to vote so please follow the link and vote for  Courting the Countess, if you feel it deserves this prestigious award.
Thanks again for your support and encouragement. I hope 2017 is a wonderful and prosperous, and above all, happy year for us all.

Gifts for the Regency Geek

This year, I put together a wish list of totally impractical items I’d love to have for Christmas–you know the kind–not a KitchenAid mixer or a new pair of shoes, although I’d love to have those, too. Sometimes it’s fun to get personal, frivolous items that I don’t “need.” Here are some geeky gifts I’d love to have.

This first selection is of hatpins. Ladies wore these to keep their hats from blowing away. Many bonnets tied under the chin, but some of the more decorative hats required pins such as these to keep them in place. You thread these hat pins through the hat and your hair. I have a couple of hats that would look lovely with any of these. I’m partial to the pearl-style hat pins shown here.

The cameo was a popular piece of jewellry for many years in Britain and saw an increase in popularity during King George III’s reign. It was still a preferred adornment during the Regency. I could wear any of these with most of my outfits but the blue is my favorite.

This charm is reminiscent of the quills and inkwells used during the Regency before the invention of the fountain pen. This one has a silhouette of Jane Austen on the inkwell. People had to carefully sharpen the ends of the quills to use them, which required patience and skill. And however did they learn not to dribble ink all over their parchment? After writing, the ink had to be sanded — sand was sprinkled all over the paper then carefully blown or poured off. Sand could be reused.

Here is a pattern of Regency underthings. In my quest to put together a completely authentic Regency ensemble, I’m in need of a pattern for a slip-like garment which they called a chemise, or shift, or chemisette during the Regency. This pattern looks as authentic as any I’ve seen, although the sleeves don’t need to be that long. Shifts were generally made out of a linen or cotton and were also often worn as sleepwear. Since the washing procedures were so harsh, undergarments had to be replaced often. Also shown are “short stays.” Normally only the poorer classes wore these because they didn’t give quite as nice of a silhouette but they are practical because they easily tie in front, unlike long stays which were tied in back.

Lastly, hat wardrobe would not be complete without a parasol such as this one? Parasols were a vital part of a lady’s ensemble when she went out of doors to keep her complexion creamy and un-freckled. Even a hat or bonnet was not always perfect protection from the elements. Besides, being lovely and functional, they could also be a great way to hide one’s face when the occasion calls for it.

Gloves are essential to a Regency lady’s ensemble as well–probably more so than the parasol. However, I have a pair of gloves (not authentic but they work) so they aren’t on my wish list.  Although, I saw some pretty lace gloves I’d love to have. And I’ve always wanted to try a pair of “kid” gloves. Sigh. A costume geek’s work is never done.

What did you see that you’d love to receive as a gift?

 

 

I found these fun gifts at the Jane Austen Centre Gift Shop

Cover Reveal for new Regency Historical Romance Novel

I’m super excited to share with you the cover for my new book titled Courting the Countess. This all-new novel launches a new series, but still features a few characters you may recognize from my Rogue Hearts Series. And since this series pre-dates the Rogue Hearts, you’ll even get the meet the parents of the unconventional Amesbury siblings.

Haven’t read the Rogue Hearts? No worries; this is a stand-alone novel so you can start with this one if you are so inclined.

So, are you ready to see the new cover?

Okay, here we go:

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Ta da!

Isn’t it lovely?

This new novel will be available to purchase in October, but can be pre-ordered now so you don’t have to remember to order it when it is released. Just follow this link to pre-order your copy now.

Here is the back cover blurb for Courting the Countess:

When charming rake Tristan Barrett sweeps Lady Elizabeth off her feet, stealing both her heart and a kiss in a secluded garden, her brother challenges Tristan to a duel. The only way to save her brother and Tristan from harm—not to mention preserve her reputation—is to get married. But her father, the Duke of Pemberton, refuses to allow his daughter to marry anyone but a titled lord. The duke demands that Elizabeth marry Tristan’s older brother, Richard, the Earl of Averston. Now Elizabeth must give up Tristan to marry a man who despises her, a man who loves another, a man she’ll never love.

Richard fears Elizabeth is as untrustworthy as his mother, who abandoned him when she ran off with another man. However, to protect his brother from a duel and their family name from further scandal, he agrees to wedding Lady Elizabeth, certain his new bride will betray him. Yet when Elizabeth turns his house upside down and worms her way into his reluctant heart, Richard suspects he can’t live without his new countess. Will she stay with him or is it too little, too late?

Pre-order your copy of Courting the Countess here.

 

Harps and Music

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Harp belonging to Adrienne Bridgewater

If you’re like me, the very thought of a harp creates a magical wistfulness inside. When I was twelve years old, I had an opportunity to take harp lessons, and something came alive inside me. Instantly, more than anything. I wanted–no, had–to learn to play. It’s been an ongoing love affair ever since.

Playing the harp takes years to master, and a great deal of time must be devoted to technique, not just learning to read music. It has been said that harp is the second most difficult instrument to learn to play. (Apparently bagpipes is the hardest.)

Back when I used to perform, many people come up to me after my performance and tell me that they’d never seen a harp up close before. I assume that’s a fairly common situation. So, I thought I’d give you a few basics of a classical pedal harp’s anatomy.

The “base” is the bottom part of the harp where it stands on the ground. The little claw looking things all around the base are called “feet.” When the harp is in use, it balances on the feet and rests against the inside of a harpist’s knees as well as lightly against the right shoulder. The long, thin part at the left of this picture is called the “column.” You probably could have guessed that, couldn’t you? The column is filled with long mechanical gears that help change the strings. The column exterior is usually intricately carved. Some of the more expensive harps, like Adrienne’s harp in the picture, are also gilded with gold leaf.

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Adrienne’s harp

The photo on the right is a close up of the harp’s base where you can see the feet. You can also see the pedals (the black things that stick out). There are seven different pedals, one for every note in all the octaves. For example, one pedal controls all the harp’s C strings. Another pedal controls all of the D strings, and so forth. Moving the pedals into different positions can make each string either sharp, natural, or flat, as desired. When the moving the harp, the harpist can flip the feet up using a hinge so they rest closely against the harp’s body, cutting down on the likelihood of damage.

Until about a hundred years ago, harps had an eighth pedal which opened a panel in the back to allow access to changing out strings. Today’s modern harps have oblong holes that provides the same access. Strings must be fed through these access holes, through the holes in the soundboard, and wound around the little pegs in the picture below.

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Harp belonging to Donna Hatch

This photo of my harp to the left is a close up of the top, curving part of the harp, called the “neck,” which also shows the harp string pegs and all those little lever thingies which are called the “action.” These levers move when the harp pedals move, which shortens or lengthens the strings to change key depending on the position of the pedal. To tune, one tightens or loosens the strings, similar to tuning a guitar or violin, but a special tool is required–one cannot turn them with fingers.

You’ll also notice that some of the strings are red, some are black, and the rest are white. The red strings are C, the black are F. This allows the harpist to easily find the correct strings, although an advanced harpist pretty much knows where the strings are by the position of their arms and hands, but everyone needs an occasional guide, especially for performance. The strings are laid out like a piano (minus the black keys)–A, B, C, D, E, F, G. Then it repeats. My harp had six and a half octaves. The full-sized concert harps have seven. Smaller harps have fewer octaves.louisxviharp

The wide part of the harp that has all the scrollwork and painting is called the “soundboard.” Large soundboards usually have the biggest, richest tone. Tone can also be affected by the kind of wood used and age–the older ones have a gloriously rich tone.

A folk harp or lever harp is similar to a pedal harp–just smaller and has levers instead of pedals to change key. Folk harpist use their hands to change keys by flipping up a lever; classical harpists use their foot pedals.

Unlike some images, the harp is played with the body of the harp resting against the harpist’s right shoulder, opposite the column. Reportedly, Harpo Marx, who was a self-taught harpist, started playing the harp backwards–with the column, instead of the body of the harp, resting against his shoulder. When he realized his error, he changed his technique which, I am sure, helped him develop his skill. Many pictures show the harpist resting the body of the harp against her left shoulder which is not considered proper technique and indeed I would find very confusing because one would have to play the treble clef with the left hand instead of the right.

Harpists spend years perfecting the art of harp playing, and if done correctly, make it look easy by the graceful motion of their hands. Because of my great love for the harp, I mention a harp or harpist in all of my novels, and in most of my short stories and novellas.

Since music is such a part of my life, I decided to write a series of  novels about musicians. The first one in the series is called Heart Strings which features a harpist and a violinist. In fact, one of my most beloved teachers was the great Phyllis Schlomovitz. I give a nod to her in my newest short novel when my heroine identifies her teacher Phillip Schlomovitz.

heartstrings2_fullHere is the backcover blurb for Heart Strings, book 1 in the Songs of the Heart Series, coming September 7, 2016, is now available for pre-order on Amazon.

Gently bred young ladies don’t run away from home to find employment, but when forced to choose between marrying a brutish oaf or becoming another man’s mistress, Susanna makes an unconventional decision. Following her passion for music, she flees to London with dreams of securing a position as a harpist. Becoming entangled with a handsome violinist who calls himself Kit, but who seems too aristocratic for a working-class musician, may be more problematic than sleeping in the streets.

Kit’s attention is captured by Susanna’s breath-taking talent, admirable grace, and winsome smiles…until a lawman exposes the new harpist as a runaway bride and a thief. With peril lurking in the shadows, Susanna’s imminent danger not only forces Kit to choose between his better judgment and his heart, but he must also embrace the life to which he swore he would never return.

Heart Strings, book 1 in the Songs of the Heart Series, coming September 7, 2016, now available for pre-order on Amazon.

Cover Reveal for Sweet Regency Romance Novel, Heartstrings

Announcing my newest sweet Regency romance novel, Heartstrings.

Synopsis:
Gently bred young ladies don’t run away from home to find employment, but when forced to choose between marrying a brutish oaf or becoming another man’s mistress, Susanna makes an unconventional decision. Following her passion for music, she flees to London with dreams of securing a position as a harpist. Becoming entangled with a handsome violinist who calls himself Kit, but who seems too aristocratic for a working-class musician, may be more problematic than sleeping in the streets.

Kit’s attention is captured by Susanna’s breath-taking talent, admirable grace, and winsome smiles…until a lawman exposes the new harpist as a runaway bride and a thief. With peril lurking in the shadows, Susanna’s imminent danger not only forces Kit to choose between his better judgment and his heart, but he must also embrace the life to which he swore he would never return.

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And now … are you ready to see the wonderful new cover??

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To celebrate, I’m having a cover reveal party on Facebook, going on all day, with lots of chances to win free stuff, including Amazon gift cards. So please come join the fun! Follow this link to the fun!

Writing with My Heart

BooksAs a novelist, I sometimes get the question; Do you ever write real stuff into your books?

That’s a hard question to answer. My definition, I am a fiction writer, so technically none of it is true. And I write historical romance novels that take place during the Regency, or early 1800s in England, so a lot of “real stuff” can’t happen in my books due to the change in culture, technology, and fashion. And much of the events that happen in my books have never happened to me. However, a lot of my writing is colored by my life, and many events within stories come from my own experiences and sometimes from the experiences of others.

Here are some examples:

When I was twelve, I nearly drowned in a river. It was terrifying and traumatic and I had nightmares about it for months. Even though I am a strong swimmer, I am still afraid of dark water and have to “psych myself up” to jump into a river or lake if the water isn’t very clear. This is an experience from which I heavily drew when I wrote the river scene in A Perfect Secret.

Also, in my youth, I found myself in the presence of pushy men, so that comes through in a few of my stories, where the heroine must use courage to forcefully reject a man whose making improper advances. I’ve also felt trapped and under the control of a verbally and emotionally abusive boyfriend, which helped create A Perfect Secret. Also, my mother fled an abusive husband before she met my father, so that influenced the tale a well.

When I was writing The Suspect’s Daughter, my husband, the perpetual athlete, was playing basketball and collided with another player. (I keep reminding him basketball is a no-contact sport but he says I should be telling the other guy 😉 He woke up lying on the floor with people surrounding him asking if he was okay. A CAT scan showed he had a concussion, and he dealt with the side effects of that injury for weeks. So when my hero leaped after my heroine to save her from a fall, I wrote in that he received a concussion and suffered many of the same after-effects my husband did. This made my hero more vulnerable, and susceptible to tender moments with the heroine than his type of character normally would.

Many of my heroines are a bit on the shy or introverted side because I am an introvert who was painfully shy as a child and youth. They also tend to be on the less confident side, feel alone in a crowd, and feel as if they aren’t pretty or talented or smart enough to be of any notice. All of these are traits that continue to plague me.

I know the darkness of losing an unborn child due to a late pregnancy miscarriage, another experience that showed up in my stories twice. I also know the discouragement and sense of loss that comes with failure.

Major plot points come from my own life, as well. In my novella, A Perfect Match, the heroine is horrified to realize she is falling in love with the man her best friend loves. Like many teens, I too experienced this. Unfortunately for me, I justified my actions because the guy I had a crush on had a chance with my friend and she didn’t give him any encouragement. But when he and I started dating, my friend felt hurt and betrayed. Our relationship never survived that. Later, after he and I broke up, he did end up dating her. My relationship with my former best friend could not be salvaged, despite my efforts. However, because I write romance and want happily ever afters with neat tie ups, the story I wrote has a better ending.

I know what it’s like to choose between my heart and my better judgement. Sometimes the logical choice, the obvious choice, is at odds with my heart. Other times, the yearnings of my heart (or perhaps my hormones) need to be tempered with logic and self control. The agony of making these choices seems to be a common thread in many of my stories.

choclate covered strawberriesIt’s not all dark, though. Little things sneak in, like my love of going for long walks, for music, reading, chocolate, and dancing.  If you’ve read my books, you may have noticed that most of them mention a harp, or a harpist. I do that deliberately because I was a harpist for many years. Putting mention of harp in my stories is a subtle signature.

harp 85 petiteTwo of my upcoming releases, Heart Strings and Courting the Countess, have heroines who are harpists. This was so fun to write because I could express in a limited way the joy and peace that comes from playing the harp.

In each story, there is a time when the harpist must give up her harp (temporarily). In Heart Strings, I write a scene in which the heroine bids her harp farewell. That was a very emotional scene for me to write because I recently bade farewell to my harp. We were moving from Arizona to Washington, due to my husband’s extended unemployment and under-employment, we lacked the cash reserves for a down payment. Our only real commodity was my harp. So we sold it to provide a home for our family. I cried as it was driven away. Much of my identity was wrapped up in the harp, as well as much of my time and heart. So, when I wrote that scene, I put in some of that heartbreak. In that same story, I also wrote about the euphoria of playing. And it was nice not to have to do research for something for a change 😉

Sarah, Janette and me telling secrets at Tea PartyGood experiences make it into my stories, too. I write about friendships and what a lifeline that can be. I know the sweet moments with a beloved mother. I understand the euphoria during the beginnings of new love, all those tender touches and admiring glances, the exciting bliss of the first kiss, and of course, the sense of home and belonging when the words “I love you” are finally exchanged. All of those universally human emotions and experiences shape and color my stories.

Tom and Donna at parkI also have a firm belief in happily ever after, partly because I am a romantic and an optimist, and because my husband and I have been married for over 25 years. Yes, we’ve dealt with sorrow, disappointment, internal and external conflicts, family issues, and money problems. We have endured and our love is deeper now than ever.

A great deal of the real me is in each story I write. No, I’ve never been kidnapped by pirates, or abused by my mother, or held at knife point, but many of the same perceptions, fears, hopes, and joys I experienced appear in every story I write.

I hope they touch a place in the hearts of my readers.

 

19th Century Firearms

179114_411185115585451_1139554877_nSometimes, staying true to the Regency era can create some problems, yet further research almost always provides fun answers. While writing my Regency Romance, The Guise of a Gentleman, my Regency lady grabbed her gun and faced down a group of bad guys. I knew if she were to defend the man and boy in danger, she’d only be able to get off one shot because of the time and difficulty reloading guns in that era. I considered either having her ride with two loaded guns or have a groom with her but I wasn’t crazy about either option.

Then, I found just what I needed: existence of a double-barrel flintlock which could fire two shots using two different triggers. Huzzah!!!

Some rifles also had a side-by-side barrel, like a double-barreled shotgun. Like the shotgun, this type of weapon has two hammers, though it’s hard to see the second one behind the first in most photos. It also has two triggers, one for each barrel. I found a .54 cal. with the damascus barrel measuring nine inches long and weighing close to three pounds. Unusual for its day, the double-barrel configuration provided a decided advantage over its single-barreled counterpart, given the notoriously slow reloading procedure for flintlocks. The barrel is generally about eight inches long and it weighs about 2 pounds.

Most Flintlock pistols measured between 10 to 16 inches long, from butt to barrel muzzle. They weighed from one to four pounds, depending on the caliber and the number of barrels. There were a number of styles of double-barreled pistols during the Regency, but they were generally big and heavy. There were two types, the over and under, with a revolving lower barrel, but only one hammer, so that the pan had to be primed before firing again.

Ladies’ pistols were generally six to eight inches long–too small to hold a ramrod. A bullet for such a small gun would be no wider than this: / / roughly the size of today’s ammo for a BB gun.  Ladies’ pistols weighed between 12 oz to one and a half pounds. The problem was that the flint, amount of powder, and mechanisms has to be smaller, which made firing them successfully more difficult.

Even though ladies’ pistols and double-barreled pistols look different, they were loaded the same way as all flintlocks. Most all flintlocks were smoothbores. Some were rifles, with spiral rifling in the barrels. They were difficult to load because the bullet had to be seated against the rifling grooves to spin the ball, so it was hard to ram home. Using cloth or leather wrapped around the ball made it easier to get down the barrel.

In the early 1800s, guns were hand made, and could be customized to fit the buyer’s specifications, so there were almost limitless options.

 

Note: I tried to add photos to this blog, but couldn’t find any that I was certain weren’t copyrighted. If you go to your browser and type in: “18th century black powder flintlock” or “18th century black powder ladies’ guns” you will find some beautiful images, mostly from places that have them to sell.

 

Why Pirates?

Blackbeard_battle_colourPirates. Few words conjure up more dramatic, terrifying, and yet oddly romantic images than pirates. They captured the imagination of Robert Lewis Stevenson, J.M. Barrie, Walt Disney, and many others. I even used pirates in my Regency Romance Novel, The Guise of a Gentleman, book 2 of the Rogue Hearts series. But what is it, exactly that makes a pirate both the perfect villain and the perfect hero?

When I was a child, one of my favorite rides at Disneyland was “The Pirates of the Caribbean. I loved Peter Pan, Treasure Island, and any other pirate story I found. The Pirates of the Caribbean movie made millions with fans divided between Captain Jack Sparrow and Will, who pretty much turned pirate to save Elizabeth. When my husband and I were in Las Vegas, we went to the (then) new Treasure Island Hotel which used to (maybe still does?) put on a great show outside with a reenactment of the navy battling pirates. When the pirates defeated the navy, everybody cheered. Including me.

Are we all a bunch of sociopaths?

Nah. I think it goes back to the bad boy allure. They were non-conformists. They had the courage to buck the system. They wore blousy white shirts instead of those stuffy coats and ugly hats and white powdered wigs. They were totally free to go where ever they pleased and do anything they wanted. And they had the money to do it, thanks to the plunder they took. In the case of Las Vegas, the pirate captain was hunky and drop dead gorgeous, which never hurts.

We think of pirates as swashbuckling hunks who carried big curved swords, although having an eye patch and a parrot on the shoulder never hurts. Not to mention a certain allure in a map with an X that marks the spot to buried wealth. Maybe we all secretly wish we could steal from the rich, throw social norms out the window and make our enemies walk the plank.

It’s really just a fantasy. Most real pirates are nothing like the men in the stories.
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While researching for The Guise of a Gentleman, I discovered that pirates were first and foremost sailors. They had a hard life and faced many dangers. They also preyed upon any ship that had the misfortune of crossing their path. Then, they’d go to a nearby port and waste their money. They also often ransacked towns, tortured men, and ravished women. And they were notorious slave traders. Not very glamorous, is it?

After studying real life pirates like Black Beard, Calico Jack, and others, I decided pirates make better villains than heroes. They were for the most part, ruthless and unconscionable. Yet, I still cheered for Captain Jack Sparrow and Will Turner. And in truth, some real pirates really were good men caught in difficult circumstances.

In my novel, I created a fictional problem of having a lot of out of work sailors and captains of privateer ships now that the Napoleonic War was over, so some turned to piracy and created a pirate ring led by a peer of the realm. The hero, Jared Amesbury, is a government agent assigned to to become a pirate in order to infiltrate the ring and expose the leader.

So enjoy the fantasy about pirates. And “Argh, matey! Don’ forgit yer sword!”

The Guise of a Gentleman, book 2 of the Rogue Hearts series, is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and everywhere books are sold.