History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

26 March 2015

Letter Home from Waterloo

This is absolutely brilliant and not to be missed (this kind of stuff is why I troll The Daily Mail and know more than I every wished to about a certain family whose name begins with "K"). A letter home after the battle of Waterloo has been found and is set to be auctioned. It is from a corporal in the Household Heavy Brigade. It reads in part:

"We had very hard fighting and with men of no despicable size or appearance. I received a cut on my bridle hand, had a sword run through my jacket in the shoulder. We drove them under their own cannon into their own lines and stay'd their (sic) too long, for the infantry began to play upon us. I had my horse shot in a charge against a solid column of infantry...he received another ball, he tumbled over another horse... about 20 yards from the face of the column of 15 hundred or 2 thousand men. I struggled to get clear, they saw me and sent some musket shot at me but they struck the horses. My poor horse had a great many balls in him. I got my legs clear looked over his neck, and saw more approaching to bayonet me. I mustered all my strength and run off faster than I ever went to school in my life, their flankers fired after me ... This was a Glorious Charge we returned and was Huzza'd by the infantry which they had threatened with destruction. Our swords reeked with French Blood."

I love this kind of stuff and am always happy when I stumble across it, it makes everything so vivid. And military stuff like this always makes me think of Heyer's brilliant An Infamous Army...I really need to reread that.

08 March 2015

The Perfect Girl is Gone

Growing up I loved fairytale. The only Disney princesses in my childhood were Snow White, Cinderella, and Aurora (which definitely dates me). I liked all of them, had books and records with their stories (dating myself again) and was particularly attached to my Aurora and Phillip paper dolls. But from a young age I also always liked flawed heroines like Emma Woodhouse or Barbara Childe or villainesses  like Achren in Llyod Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain or Milady de Winter in The Three Musketeers. As I said in my a blog on my website, "for one thing (as I noticed as a child) they usually get to wear the best clothes :-) (only compare Emma with Fanny Price or Becky Sharp with Amelia or Milady with Constance). But more seriously, I think it’s in large part that they often are characters who break rules and defy conventions." As a child, I liked them because they *did* things instead of waiting around to be rescued. Conventional heroines tend to be too perfect. Which tends also to go with a lack of inner conflict.

When I started writing, my favorite of my heroines tended to be those who pushed convention the most. Until I got to Suzanne in my current series, definitely flawed and conflicted, definitely a rule breaker, and definitely not the sort to wait around to be rescued.

Fast forward a few decades to the holiday season of 2013 when I heard about a new Disney movie that was supposed to have heroines outside the traditional mold. It seemed like a good time to take my daughter Mélanie, then two, to her first movie in a theater. We settled into seats with peppermint hot chocolate, and there was Anna, who is sweet but also human enough to make mistakes and brave enough to try to fix them and who saves herself by committing an act of love instead of being the passive recipient of a true love’s kiss. Anna is an interesting heroine in her own right. But she isn’t the one who sings that song, the song little girls are singing on countless playgrounds. Elsa apparently was originally going to be a villain in the mold of Maleficent or Ursula or Snow White’s stepmother. Her character evolved as the movie was being made. In fact when "Let It Go" was first written, they weren’t sure whether Elsa would be singing it as a heroine or a villainess. But instead of a wicked queen she ended up a Disney princess who is also a tortured heroine, struggling with her powers and her identify, trying to be perfect, facing the fact that she has to be herself.

Mélanie likes both Anna and Elsa for Halloween she wanted to be Anna and wanted me to be Elsa (picture above), but we saw far more Elsas than Annas out trick or treating. The Elsa toys are by far the hardest to find it stock. Mélanie sings all the songs from Frozen but she particularly loves to belt out “Let it Go.” “The perfect girl is gone” is a long way from “Someday my prince will come” or “Someday I’ll be part of your world" (Ariel is probably Mélanie's other favorite Disney princess). No matter how ubiquitous the song has become, i don’t think I’ll ever get tired of hearing my daughter sing “Let if Go.” Or of hearing it on our CD, or our video, or her singing Elsa doll or her Frozen karaoke microphone…I'd much rather have my daughter strive to be herself than to be perfect.

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24 February 2015

They keep a man servant, do they ...

One of the discussions I see rather frequently on social media is about the lack of servants in a lot of books. I think a lot of modern people (especially Americans) are uncomfortable with the idea of servants. But our characters wouldn't have been! Basic living was HARD. Cooking was HARD. Cleaning was HARD. Caring for your clothing was HARD. See the theme here? Anyone who could afford to pay someone else to do all these menial tasks, did. And not just because they were HARD, but because they were time consuming and a person can only do so much themselves.

An aside: my best friend from college is half Turkish. Until recently, his family still had a place in Istanbul. The first time I went, I was uncomfortable with the servants. Several of them didn't even seem necessary, which made me even more uncomfortable. Then my friends dad said something that really stuck with me: They didn't have servants because they needed them; they had servants because as wealthy people (he's a cancer surgeon) they had a duty to employ people. That really stuck with me and made it easier to understand the mindset my characters might have had.

So, I was flipping through my copy of The Complete Servant before loaning it to a friend and I found some very frank discussion of costs and how many servants (and what type of servants) various households would be expected to keep. Someone with only 100 pounds a year would have still kept a maid. Elinor and Edward after their marriage in Sense and Sensibility would have had several (a cook, a maid of all work, a man servant to act as footman and groom, and perhaps a gardener). Bingley and Jane would have had a full complement, and Darcy and Lizzy, still more.

09 February 2015

A Visit to Houghton Hall

Over the holidays, my daughter Mélanie and I made two delightful visits to Houghton Hall, an English country estate built by Robert Walpole. But we did it without leaving the San Francisco Bay Area. The Legion of Honor Museum had a wonderful exhibit (currently touring the United States) which brought Houghton here. The exhibit included furniture as well as art treasures from the estate. And by projecting photographs on the walls, they actually recreated rooms so that one had the experience of walking through the estate (or castle, as Mélanie called it).

We arrived and had the experience of strolling up the house.

We explored the marble hall.

And strolled into the library.

Mélanie was delighted by a child's bed in the bedchamber.

And by coronation robes.

It was wonderful writing inspiration - like walking into one of my books. Watch for the exhibit to come to a city near you.

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03 February 2015

Fabulous 18thC Dressing Presentation

I'm testing out the Blogger App ... a friend posted this very cool video to FaceBook today, and I thought you might all enjoy it. Not sure the app will embed it properly though. My apologies if you have to follow the link to youtube.


28 January 2015

Travels in Englandc 1782: The Theatre in the Haymarket

This week Mr. Moritz shares his opinions and observations on a trip to the theatre (and most unpleasant it sounds, too):

"Last week I went twice to an English play-house.  The first time “The Nabob” was represented, of which the late Mr. Foote was the author, and for the entertainment, a very pleasing and laughable musical farce, called “The Agreeable Surprise.”  The second time I saw “The English Merchant:” which piece has been translated into German, and is known among us by the title of “The Scotchwoman,” or “The Coffee-house.”  I have not yet seen the theatres of Covent Garden and Drury Lane, because they are not open in summer.  The best actors also usually spend May and October in the country, and only perform in winter.

For a seat in the boxes you pay five shillings, in the pit three, in the first gallery two, and in the second or upper gallery, one shilling.  And it is the tenants in this upper gallery who, for their shilling, make all that noise and uproar for which the English play-houses are so famous.  I was in the pit, which gradually rises, amphitheatre-wise, from the orchestra, and is furnished with benches, one above another, from the top to the bottom. Often and often, whilst I sat there, did a rotten orange, or pieces of the peel of an orange, fly past me, or past some of my neighbours, and once one of them actually hit my hat, without my daring to look round, for fear another might then hit me on my face.

All over London as one walks, one everywhere, in the season, sees oranges to sell; and they are in general sold tolerably cheap, one and even sometimes two for a halfpenny; or, in our money, threepence.  At the play-house, however, they charged me sixpence for one orange, and that noways remarkably good.

Besides this perpetual pelting from the gallery, which renders an English play-house so uncomfortable, there is no end to their calling out and knocking with their sticks till the curtain is drawn up.  I saw a miller’s, or a baker’s boy, thus, like a huge booby, leaning over the rails and knocking again and again on the outside, with all his might, so that he was seen by everybody, without being in the least ashamed or abashed.  I sometimes heard, too, the people in the lower or middle gallery quarrelling with those of the upper one.  Behind me, in the pit, sat a young fop, who, in order to display his costly stone buckles with the utmost brilliancy, continually put his foot on my bench, and even sometimes upon my coat, which I could avoid only by sparing him as much space from my portion of the seat as would make him a footstool.  In the boxes, quite in a corner, sat several servants, who were said to be placed there to keep the seats for the families they served till they should arrive; they seemed to sit remarkably close and still, the reason of which, I was told, was their apprehension of being pelted; for if one of them dares but to look out of the box, he is immediately saluted with a shower of orange peel from the gallery."

11 January 2015

The Incomparable Inspiration of Georgette Heyer

Happy New Year! I'm starting off the new year revisiting the start of my writing career. The first three of my mom's (Joan Grant) and my Regency romances have just been re-released as ebooks (originally they were published under the name Anthea Malcolm; they've been re-released under Tracy Grant). Georgette Heyer was a huge inspiration on my mom and me when we began to write Regency romances, so I've been thinking about her books a lot lately. My fascination with the Regency era began with Jane Austen’s novels (and before that with Garson/Olivier Pride and Prejudice that I saw at the age of six), novels that were actually written in the Regency, it was further cemented by reading Georgette Heyer’s Regency and eighteenth century-set historical novels. I still remember my first introduction to Heyer’s books. I was nine-years-old, and though I was reading to myself, my mom still read outloud to me as well. One evening we were at a bookstore, and I asked what we were going to read next. She held out a book with a cover showing a dark-haired young woman with side curls in a high-waisted pale green dress and said “let’s try this and see if you like it.” “This” was Heyer’s The Grand Sophy one of my favorite novels to this day. From the first chapter where Sir Horace Stanton-Lacey calls on his sister Lady Ombersley, I was entranced by this vividly created world. Over the next few years, I went on to read most of Heyer’s historical romances and several of her contemporary mysteries, some outloud with my mom, some to myself.

I reread her books frequently, and I’m hard-pressed to pick favorites, though I do have a fairly consistent top three. The Grand Sophy which has a wonderfully tough, independent heroine, a nicely understated love story, a sharply-detailed cast of secondary characters, laugh-outloud humor, and an hysterically funny ending in which all the characters and plotlines converge. Veneita which beautifully captures the wonder of finding a friend and lover and manages at once to be deeply romantic and yet have a keen edge of reality (I also realized writing this that Venetia and Damerel toss quotations back and forth, which is probably yet another reason why my Suzanne and Malcolm do the same). And An Infamous Army, set in Brussels in the weeks before and then during the Battle of Waterloo. An Infamous Army started my interest in the Napoleonic Wars and introduced me to a collection of real historical people who figure in the book and who I’ve gone on to use in my own books (Wellington, Fitzroy Somerset, the Prince of Orange, the Duchess of Devonshire, Georgiana Lennox). And its rebellious heroine and quietly honorable hero are a fascinating pair. I wanted to write a book about Waterloo ever since I read it and finally did with Imperial Scandal.
Those are my favorite three, but they leave out so many others I love–Sylvester, Arabella (after whom I named my Madame Alexander doll when I was ten), Frederica, These Old Shades, Devil’s Cub, Friday’s Child

My mom's and first two books in particular were modeled on the style of Heyer’s later Regencies (her earlier books have more adventure elements) - London season settings, banter between the central couple with sexual tension beneath the surface, humorous subplots involving secondary characters, comedy that plays off the manners and mores of the time, Our first book, The Widow's Gambit (begun when I was thirteen and published when I was still in college) is the story of three orphaned sisters who gamble their small inheritance on a London season in the hope of the beautiful eldest sister making a good marriage. Our second, The Courting of Philippa, concerns a young novelist who blossoms from an ugly duckling into a swan and finds herself with two unexpected suitors but is still intrigued and maddened by a fellow writer of more serious novels who had the audacity to write an unfavorable review of one of her books. Our third book, Frivolous Pretence, is set against the back ground of the divorce trial of Queen Caroline, the estranged wife of George IV (the former Prince Regent). The hero and heroine are a married couple with tensions in their own relationship. It is still set against the social whirl of the beau monde, but my mom and I were developing our own style which has carried over into my Malcolm and Suzanne books, with an intrigue-drenched plot, real historical characters and events intertwining with fictional ones, and a central couple with a complex history. Still Frivolous Pretence has a lot of Heyeresque elements, including, like our first two books, a finale in which all the characters converge on a single location and the subplots intertwine and complicated each other. Heyer excelled at these endings. The finale of The Grand Sophy is particularly brilliant and hysterical, and Devil's Cub and Friday's Child are also favorites of mine. Even now,  writing thrillers, I lean towards these types of  endings though with less humor and more suspense (The Paris Affair concludes with the characters converging at an inn in the French countryside). Heyer continues to influence my in myriad ways, from her sharply drawn secondary characters to her wonderful action set pieces to her vivid period detail.

Have you read Georgette Heyer? Any particular favorites? What makes those books stand out for you? Writers, has Heyer influenced you?

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