Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Why I Love Historical Romantic Fiction

Cupid & Psyche, Edward Burne-Jones

There are many reasons why I love reading and writing historical novels. Firstly, I love history. Secondly, I am just a big softie and like nothing better than a Happy Ever After ending.

I began by making a list of things which draw me to my favourite era, the Regency. As it grew, just for fun I thought I would make it a Romantic Fiction ABC. Here, then, is my Top Twenty of why I love Historical Romance novels.

A is for Architecture

I just love Georgian architecture, whether as a London town house or a beautiful country mansion. There is something hugely romantic about the arrangement and shape of windows, pediments and porticoes; of marbled floors and the symmetry of rooms around a central entrance hall; of rococo plaster work on ceilings and mantelpieces, and – far from least – the glorious richness of murals and ceiling paintings.

Berrington Hall, Herefordshire

B is for Breeches and Top-boots

Some ladies find attraction in Giorgio Armani, Gucci and Boss. Not so this romantic author. For me, men in breeches, neckcloths and elegant coats, with top-boots or Hessians, have a swoon factor the half-naked men depicted on some modern covers just don’t have (not that I don’t appreciate a manly chest, you understand!) The sight of Richard Armitage’s Mr. Thornton will always win the heart over his be-stubbled Guy of Gisburne. Although… ahem.

Mr. Darcy's ensemble from 1995 adaptation of Pride & Prejudice

C is for Carriages

There is just something about a four-in-hand and a beautifully turned out equipage that modern cars cannot emulate. Although they were nowhere near as comfortable to travel in (and I appreciate many will disagree with me), cars have nothing to compare with the jingle of harness, the stamp of a shod hoof, the snort of the proud ‘cattle’ poled up. Flying feathers, tossing manes, swinging tails; the glorious, pungent smell of sweat glistening on warm equine hides… ah, sweet bliss to the horse fan!

The Edinburgh - London Royal Mail,
J.F. Herring Snr.

D is for Dresses and Drawers

What can be more romantic than beautiful gowns with frills and flounces? I will confess they have never been my idea of comfortable clothing, but I love to see them and certainly wouldn’t mind possessing an elegant riding habit. I love to read a book where the author has taken the trouble to describe what characters are wearing. For me, that is part of the magic of historical fiction – to be carried away to another time, to escape reality for a while. I hope I succeed in sweeping my readers away to the world my characters inhabit.


E is for Elegance

The Georgian era is renowned for its elegance. Georgette Heyer’s heroes appreciate a well-turned ankle, do not leer over some Page 3 girl. Beautiful porcelain, cut glass and tableware; delicate fans, with their own discreet language; pretty frills and fichus; embroidery, lace and silks; the smooth rotation of a perfect waltz… the instances are many. When I have time, reading a well-written novel or watching an historical drama takes me away from the ordinariness of everyday 21st Century life and allows me the illusion such elegant living has not gone for good.


F is for Furniture

Having longed for a Hygena bedroom in my youth, I now appreciate the beauty of hand-crafted wood and especially that of the Georgian age. I love most old furniture, even utility stuff made during WWII. I should love to have a big kitchen with Welsh dressers, solid oak tables and cupboards. Part of the romance of the Regency era, though, is the elegant mahogany and marquetry you find in many a National Trust property. One day, I have promised myself, I will have Georgian-style winged armchairs and elegant side-tables!

G is for Georgette Heyer

Georgette Heyer is the reason I am writing this blog. Had it not been for discovering her books when I was about eleven or twelve, I probably would not be where I am today. She is the Queen of Regency and although she dismissed her novels as ‘fluff’, you would be hard put to find better written romantic novels. I love her style and wit, her masterly descriptions and the sense of fun her novels convey. When you laugh out loud at a book, it can only be a winner. May I proffer humble thanks, ma’am.


H is for Horses

One of the best things about historical novels is the horses. Although they are probably more revered today, being much-loved by millions of adoring owners throughout the world, in bygone times they were a necessity. Without horses, Knights could not have ridden into battle, stage-coaches could not have carried passengers and other items, and produce could not have been carried about the country. I have spent my equestrian hours riding astride and much of that time in the pursuit of dressage perfection, the most elegant of equestrian pursuits. Nevertheless, there is no more elegant sight than a lady in a beautiful habit, riding side-saddle. Horses in themselves are romantic. Even the lowliest Dobbin has his own grace and majesty. Take those most noble of Georgian breeds, the Arabian and the Thoroughbred, and you have fire, beauty, courage, loyalty and intelligence besides. And I’m not just saying that because I love horses.

The Horse by Ronald Duncan

Where in this wide world can man find nobility without pride,
Friendship without envy,
Or beauty without vanity?
Here, where grace is served with muscle
And strength by gentleness confined
He serves without servility; he has fought without enmity.
There is nothing so powerful, nothing less violent.
There is nothing so quick, nothing more patient.
England's past has been borne on his back.
All our history is in his industry.
We are his heirs, he our inheritance.

Lord Grosvenor's Arabian Stallion with a Groom
George Stubbs

H is for HEA

I admit it. I am a sucker for a happy ending. While there can be an emotional satisfaction in a sad conclusion to a story, if that is what the plot demands, I do like to see my characters happily settled at the end of a novel and I prefer to read books with either a happy ‘ah’ ending or a witty one. Georgette Heyer was particularly adept at the latter and it always left me with a warm feeling. I try to do that with my own stories, because romantic historical fiction should be about escapism. We have enough reality in this modern world.

I is for Interiors

I love visiting a stately home and seeing a room decorated as it would have been in eras gone by. It is fascinating, especially when it is done in Regency style. Old buildings have an amazing atmosphere. Although a ruin, Witley Court in Worcestershire has the most wonderful feel of secrets and ghosts from times long past. Many years ago I was lucky enough to visit Salzburg in Austria, where the fortress is alive with the spirits of previous centuries. (No, I’m no madder than any other writer, honest!) I try and convey this to my readers through my writing, because for me, romance is not only about the love story.

Ballroom, Witley Court

J is for Jane Austen

What Regency author doesn’t love Jane Austen’s works? She was, of course, writing about her own time and did not invent the Regency genre. Georgette Heyer can be credited with that. However, Jane has bequeathed us so many gems of insight, custom and historical detail. From her works we know the modern delight in contracting words in dialogue (one of my bête noirs in historical novels) is not accurate. She gave us the wicked romp in Lydia and the serene beauty in Jane. She gave us the intelligent, independently minded heroine in Elizabeth and the interfering one in Emma. She also gave us the toe-curling Mr. Collins, the wonderful Colonel Brandon and the worst marriage proposal in English literature! Thanks to Auntie Beeb and Andrew Davies, though, I can no longer read Pride and Prejudice without thinking of Colin Firth and that scene…

Darcy's shirt

L is for Losing myself in another world 

As I’ve already mentioned, one of the beauties of reading or writing historical fiction is the opportunity to become so immersed in another era that time loses all meaning and everyday pressures and worries cease to exist – at least while you are in that world. If a book can do that for me, it is a true romance in the best tradition.

L is for LOVE

Love. One of the strongest emotions, it comes in so many forms: Love of life, a subject, a place, a view; love of family, of friends, of pets… and of that one special person in your life. Love is all you need sang the Beatles and they weren’t far wrong. Love makes the world go round. Within the pages of novels from the Circulating Libraries, ladies of the Regency found solace from their humdrum lives and loveless marriages. Nowadays, we buy romance novels by the zillion, just for the sheer pleasure of that perfect, joyful connection with another person. There are few more satisfying feelings than reaching the end of a wonderful book with a happy ending. That warm, fuzzy sensation is love in itself.

M is for Manners and Courtesy

I am a traditionalist, and appreciate it when a gentleman holds open a door for me or a child says please and thank you. I’m aware I am a dying breed and yes, I am perfectly capable of opening my own door, but it is nice to have it done for me. It is nice when a gentleman helps you out of a car (or down from a carriage!) It is nice to be escorted on a proffered arm and treated with old-fashioned courtesy. It is particularly nice when the gentleman next door mows your front verge with his ride-on mower to save you having to struggle with your old electric one! I love that about Regency novels, that even when people were insulting each other, it was couched in such a manner as to be civil, rather than screaming abuse heavily littered with profanity.


N is for Names

There have been lots of great names throughout the centuries which are now virtually obsolete. Joscelin, for a man, is one of my favourites and finally found its owner in the hero of Carpet of Snowdrops. There is a certain romantic beauty in many old names, I feel… although perhaps not Godfrey, Wat or Alf!


O is for Original

Heroines must have something about them. They must be strong and engaging and preferably have some trait or quirk which makes them unique. That strength need not mean they are independent and headstrong, but that they can deal with whatever ‘life’ throws at them in a fashion which is enjoyable to read. They must also behave in a manner befitting the era they live in. If a Regency heroine talks and behaves in the manner of a modern miss, it throws me out of the story. It is part of the charm and romance of an historical novel to discover how the heroine can claim her hero without overstepping the bounds and mores of the time.

P is for Posting Houses and Coaching Inns

I just love old inns, especially if they still have their original stable yards! I am fascinated by the history of them; the stories of past landlords and noble (or well-known) patrons, of smugglers and highwaymen, of ghosts and crimes. I am also fascinated by the growth of such buildings and how they became famous. Romance comes in so many forms.

Yard at Bull and Mouth, St. Martin's le Grand,
George Shepherd 1817


R is for Rakes and Rogues

What reader of historical romance doesn’t love a rake or a rogue? This article would not be complete without them! I admit I do have a soft spot for one – provided he has some redeeming features, loves his lady and is reformed (or at least faithful) by the end of the book. He must be tender as well as masterful and recognize his shortcomings. After all, a gentleman with experience is better set to please his bride! Perhaps my favourite literary rake is Damerel in Georgette Heyer’s Venetia.


S is for Social History

Well-written and well-researched novels are a fascinating window on the way people lived in a previous time – and what a great way to learn! This is one of the best of the many facets of Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen novels: the historical detail. I love to know what people ate, drank, slept in, sat on, used, wore and did for recreation and entertainment. I’m just a nosey so-and-so!

S is for Stables

Horsemastership has essentially changed very little over the centuries. With the advent of the motor car, however, many country houses reduced their stabling or converted into garaging. During the Victorian era, traditional stalls were lost, with loose boxes becoming more prevalent. The now-accustomed ‘half door’ looking on to a quadrangle was yet to become the norm, so beware, authors of Georgian and Regency fiction! Most horses of those times were stabled in stalls, the size dependent on the animal’s breeding and status. Nothing, however, can be more romantic, in an equestrian sense, than a line of heads looking out on to a cobbled yard, ears pricked and nickering (not whickering, that’s American) for breakfast.

The Stables and Two Famous Running Horses,
James Seymour

T is for Tattersall’s

As a horse lover, a visit to London isn’t complete without a look-in at Hyde Park Corner and a walk down Rotten Row. The most famous horse sales and bloodstock agency in the world began life here, founded in the 1770s by Richard Tattersall. The Duke of Kingston’s former groom and trainer rented land behind St. George’s Hospital, close to the Corner. It quickly became the place to be seen among gentlemen with an interest in equestrian matters, as well as the place to buy and sell horses. A weekly sale was held and ‘Black Monday’ became the not always humorous nomenclature for Settling Day. It meant the ruin of many an aristocratic name. Tattersall’s is one of the must-see places for young Johnny Raws from the country in any Regency novel.

Tattersalls, Hyde Park Corner, 1842

V is for Vauxhall Gardens

What can be more romantic than a trip down the river to Vauxhall for the characters in an historical novel? Picture the shadowed paths, the tree-lined walks, the music playing and figures bedecked in their finery, flitting like butterflies and chattering like sparrows. It is the perfect setting for a clandestine meeting, a risqué masquerade or an elegant concert followed by supper and a romantic walk along the lantern-lit paths. Such intrigues can be envisaged, such dastardly actions performed, and all for the stroke of pen or press of keypad… Vauxhall was made for romantic fiction!


W is for Witty Dialogue

Of all the elements of good Regency fiction, possibly the one I like best is the witty dialogue. While Jane Austen had an acerbic wit, Georgette Heyer was the grande dame of the concept in her novels. I laugh aloud when I am reading her books and that does not happen with many authors. I love it when I find someone who writes with that same sense of humour. Of course, beside JA and GH, the rest of we poor mortals can but aspire.

This is one of my favourite quotes and comes from Faro's Daughter, first published by Wm. Heinemann Ltd. in 1941.

"You will find it very inconvenient to keep me in your cellar indefinitely, I imagine, but I must warn you I have not the smallest intention of leaving it, except upon my own terms."

"But you cannot let the race go like that!" cried Deborah, aghast.

"Oh, have you backed me to win?" he said mockingly. "So much the worse for you, my girl!"

© Heather King

All photographs © Heather King
Other images Public Domain



Sunday, 1 April 2018

Happy Easter!

Wherever you are in the world, whether you celebrate Easter as a religious festival or just enjoy chocolate, I should like to wish all my lovely readers and blog visitors

A Very Happy Easter!

A little pictorial flavour of Easter. I'm sorry I have been quiet lately but I am currently working on the next release, which will be published soon!

May you all have a lovely, peaceful and restful time.


All pictures are in the public domain.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

St. Valentine's Day


The Lover's Letter Box, George Baxter

Although the custom of giving lace-edged, heart-shaped cards to sweethearts and lovers is Victorian in origin, the association of the fourteenth of February with romance goes back a lot further than that. In Roman times it was the eve of Lupercalia, a pagan festival of youth and fertility. During the festival, those taking part chose their sweethearts by way of a lottery. Stripped naked, the young men ‘chastised’ their chosen women on the bottom with goat or dog-skin whips. This was supposed to improve fertility!

While actually unconnected with the celebrations and traditions of the day, St. Valentine – who was renowned for his chastity as well as supporting love and marriage – was martyred on this same date. In about AD 197, Valentine of Terni, a Christian and Bishop of Interamna (now Terni) was, it is thought, imprisoned for his faith on the orders of a Roman called Placid Furius (yes, really!) and tortured before being beheaded on the Via Flaminia in Rome. Legend has it he was executed on the fourteenth of February; in all probability, however, somebody thought it was too good an opportunity to miss.

In the reign of Emperor Claudius (about AD 289) another priest called Valentine, also a Christian, seems to have been arrested for giving relief to prisoners. Sundry, improbable, stories are attached to his name, where he variously converted his jailer to Christianity by healing the sight of the man’s daughter; fell in love with the daughter and sent her a love letter ‘From your Valentine’; and, when Claudius supposedly banned marriage among young men to make them better soldiers, Valentine was purported to have continued to perform weddings, thus leading to his arrest. Valentine of Rome is also said to have died on the fourteenth of February.

Approaching two hundred years later, in about AD 496, Gelasius, the Pope of that time, ordered that 14 February was to be a Christian feast day and would be named St. Valentine’s Day. This smacks rather strongly of the later claiming of the day following All Hallows’ Eve (Hallowe’en) by the Church as All Saints’ Day somewhere around 835. Originally introduced in May, to commemorate martyrs without a particular feast day, it was moved to the first of November to counteract paganism. The last day of the Celtic calendar, the 31st October was the date when the ancient ritual of Samhain was celebrated. Samhain thus became overshadowed by All Hallows' Eve and the Church took back an edge of control. Claim a pagan rite as your own and you not only save face, you can keep the people under your thumb!

It would seem that the connection with the giving of (generally) anonymous love-tokens stems from the belief held in medieval England and France, that the beginning of the second fortnight of the second month of the year was when the birds began to mate. In 1382, Chaucer wrote, in respect of the betrothal of Richard II to Anne of Bohemia, ‘For this was on St. Valentine's Day/ When every fowl cometh there to choose his mate.’ In the liturgical calendar of Valentine of Genoa, however, the saint’s day was the second of May – a more appropriate time for birds to mate in England. This is considered the first connection of St. Valentine’s Day with romantic love, nevertheless.

By 1601, the feast day was enough of an entity for the Bard himself to have Ophelia lament, ‘For this was on St. Valentine's Day/ When every fowl cometh there to choose his mate.’ Two hundred and fifty years later, love-notes had become popular, and in 1797 was published The Young Man’s Valentine Writer, a guide to messages and verse for the aspiring lover.

As with all such festivals, traditions and customs have become synonymous with the occasion. The Roman introduction of chance into the choosing of a partner can be seen in the custom whereby the first member of the opposite sex one sees on the fourteenth is then said to be one’s Valentine.

Another custom slowly being lost in the mists of time is that where young girls put bay leaves beneath their pillows before going to bed on St. Valentine’s Day, in the hopes of dreaming of future husbands. Other games of divination included this popular one: Name(s) of the favoured one(s) were written on slips of paper, enclosed in balls of moist clay and then dropped into a bowl of water. The first piece of paper thus named to rise to the surface would reveal the future sweetheart. Once a girl had chosen her Valentine, he was honour bound to present her with a lover’s gift.


An Illicit Letter, Vittoio Reggianini


In the Regency era, lovers of all walks of life might exchange little hand-written billets doux or poems, and gentlemen would present posies of flowers to their sweethearts. Little gifts, of ribbons, lace, a book or perhaps a favourite sweetmeat, were considered unexceptionable tokens of affection, although these were not confined to St. Valentine’s Day. That custom had begun to fade as far previously as the mid eighteenth century, although still continued in parts of Northern England. Nonetheless, as the nineteenth century progressed and postal distribution became more accessible to ordinary folk, anonymous cards were possible. Manufactories began to mass-produce tokens for St. Valentine’s Day, and the downward spiral into commercialism had begun. 

All pictures Public Domain

© Heather King

Sunday, 24 December 2017

Regency Festive Fare

Mince Pie

Are you ready for a mince pie? This perennial favourite, you may be astonished to learn (or not), was once actually made with meat. Known in England for centuries, the original combination of beef (or neat’s tongue) and dried fruit has gradually evolved into the individual fruit pies we know today. Here are two recipes from The London Art of Cookery by John Farley, 1811. The first is with meat, the second without.

TAKE a neat's tongue, and boil it two hours; then skin it, and chop it as small as possible. Chop very small three pounds of beef suet, the same quantity of good baking apples, four pounds of currants clean washed, picked, and well dried before the fire, a pound of jar raisins stoned and chopped small, and a pound of powder sugar. Mix them all together with half an ounce of mace, the same quantity of grated nutmeg, a quarter of an ounce of cloves, the same quantity of cinnamon, and a pint of French brandy. Make a rich puff paste, and as the pattypans are filled, put in a little candied citron and orange cut in little pieces. Put close down in a pot what mincemeat is left, and cover it up; but never put any citron or orange to it till wanted for use.

Or, shred three pounds of suet very fine, and chopped as small as possible. Take two pounds of raisins stoned, and chopped as fine as possible; two pounds of currants nicely picked, washed, rubbed, and dried at the fire; half a hundred of fine pippins pared, cored, and chopped small; half a pound of fine sugar pounded fine; a quarter of an ounce of mace, the same quantity of cloves, and two large nutmegs, all beat fine. Put all together into a great pan, and mix them well together with half a pint of brandy, and the same quantity of sack. Put it close down into a stone pan, and it will keep good for months.

Yorkshire Christmas Pie 

No Yorkshire gentleman in Georgian times would have suffered Christmas without this indulgence. It was a good way of showing prosperity. The pie was made from whatever birds were available on the estate and comprised a three to five bird roast which was then encased in pastry. A common combination was chicken, pheasant and pigeon, all of which were boned and then stuffed inside each other. Particularly in Yorkshire, this was often given as a gift.

Christmas Pie

A more elaborate version of this dish caused the great bustard to be driven to extinction in Britain by the 1840s. Great bustards were prized for their flavour and cost about two guineas each in the first years of the nineteenth century. French chef Grimod de la Reyniere included in his book of that time, L’Almanach des Gourmands, a now famous recipe incorporating the bustard. It began with an olive stuffed with capers and anchovies, which was pushed into a garden warbler. This was then put into an ortolan, followed by a lark, a thrush, a quail, a larded lapwing, a plover, a red-legged partridge, a woodcock, a teal, a guinea fowl, a duck, a fattened pullet, a pheasant, a turkey and finally the bustard, each time the whole being placed into the larger bird. The stuffed bustard was then cooked in a sealed pot with ham, carrots, onions, celery, herbs, spices and lard for twenty-four hours. It was the kind of dish which would have graced one of the Prince Regent’s grand banquets.

In Carpet of Snowdrops, Joscelin brings a Christmas Pie for Eloise and Goody. Goody is somewhat tickled:

     “Christmas joy to you, too, Goody. I have a gift for you as well.” Joscelin handed over the basket.
As Goody removed the blue and white cloth, a small gasp escaped her.
“Christmas Pie, what a treat! Thank you.”
“I had my cook prepare it for you this morning.”
Eloise screwed up her nose at the large domed pie. It had golden pastry decorated with crimped edges and elaborate pastry leaves and berries.
“What is in it?”
“Pigeon, chicken and pheasant, each bird being used to stuff the next in size,” Joscelin answered.
“My mouth is watering already,” Goody put in with a smile. “If you have no objection, my lord, step into the kitchen. I have some mulled wine heating.”
“I will be there directly. There is one more gift for you both. I will fetch it in.”
He went back outside, returning almost immediately with a small fir tree.
“Whatever have you brought that in for?” Goody demanded, reappearing with a steaming glass in her hand.
“I spent some time in a Prussian camp after Waterloo,” he explained. “It is a tradition in Prussia to bring a tree into the house and hang decorations on it. I also read somewhere that Queen Charlotte caused one to be put up at a children’s party a few years ago.”
“What a delightful idea!” 

Here is a recipe from the time: 

HAVING made a good standing crust, with the wall and bottom very thick, take and

bone a turkey, a goose, a fowl, a partridge, and a pigeon. Season them well, and
take half an ounce of mace, the same quantity of nutmegs, a quarter of an ounce of
cloves, and half an ounce of black pepper, all beat fine together. Then add two large
spoonsful of salt: mix all well together. Open the fowls all down the back, and bone,
first the pigeon, then the partridge, and cover them. Then proceed in the same manner
with the fowl, goose, and turkey, which must be large. Season them all well, and then
lay them in the crust, so that it may look only like a whole turkey. Then have a hare
cased, and wiped with a clean cloth. Disjoint the hare into pieces, season it, and lay it as close as possible on one side; and
on the other side put woodcocks, moor-game, and any sort of wild fowl. Season them well,
and lay them close. Put at least four pounds of butter into the pie, and then lay on the lid,
which must be very thick, and let it be well baked. It must have a very hot oven, and will
take four hours baking at least. This crust will take a bushel of flour.

Plum Cake

No Christmas is complete without cake. The forerunner of the present day Christmas
Cake, this was first known as plum porridge and dates back to the beginning of
Christianity. The porridge evolved into a cake long before the sixteenth century.
To a pound and a half of fine flour, well dried, put the same quantity of butter, 
three quarters of a pound of currants washed and well picked; stone and slice half a
pound of raisins, eighteen ounces of sugar beat and sifted, and fourteen eggs, leaving
out half the whites; shred the peel of a large lemon exceeding fine, three ounces of
candied orange, the; same of lemon, a tea spoonful of beaten mace, half a nutmeg
grated, a tea-cupful of brandy, or white wine, and four spoonsful of orange flower.
First work the butter with the hand to a cream, then beat the sugar well in, whisk the
eggs for half an hour, then mix them with the sugar and butter, and put in the flour
and spices. The whole will take an hour and a half beating. When the oven is ready,
mix in lightly the brandy, fruit, and sweetmeats, then put it into the hoop, and bake it
two hours and a half.

(Half) Pound Cake (C) Heather King

This cake, based on a traditional recipe, uses approximately half a pound of each ingredient and is far less complicated than the Regency receipt quoted above.

Whatever you are eating this Yuletide, I wish you a joyful and peaceful Christmas, and Best Wishes for the New Year.

Happy Christmas!

All images public domain unless otherwise stated.

(C) Heather King

Apologies for formatting ~ having issues correcting.