NewkidJo here, waffling on a bit about peerage titles. I'm sure I've done this before here, but a few things came together to inspire another go. Why is it that even people who should know better make silly errors in British titles?

Once a duke, always a duke.

I picked up a Regency and put it down again sharpish when in the first pages a duke was also called (Inventing here) Lord Pickingham. I think the author was aware that this was odd and trying to exDucalcoronetplain it by the duke also having the title of Lord Pickingham in his collection, but that's not how it works. It's quite possible that a ducal family could have aquired along the way four baronetcies, three viscountcies, two earldoms and a partridge in a pear tree, but none of them will be used except as titles for his heirs — or in the case of patridge and pear, for dinner. 

For more on that and other details about titles check out my easy guide to titles page. The image is a duke's coronet, worn with his scarlet and ermine robes.Up left we have Billy wearing a very inauthentic crown!

The Smithsonian should know better.

ChatsThen I clicked on a link to an on-line article from the Smithsonian where the writer said that Chatsworth House in Derbyshire was owned by the Duke and Duchess of Cavendish. This is a straight error, but a sloppy one arising from not understanding in the bones that a noble family's surname is rarely their title, and never at the ducal level. The family name is Cavendish. The title is Duke of Devonshire.

Hold on, you might be thinking, being sharp of eye and keen of wit. Didn't I say Chatsworth was in Derbyshire? I did. It is. The story I heard was that when a Cavendish was being raised to Earl of Devonshire in the early 17th century the king made a mistake. It should have been Earl of Derbyshire, but once the king had declared him Earl of Devonshire, no one dared correct it.

This is why the Earl of Devon — who lives just down the road in a manner of speaking, at Powderham Castle — is not the Earl of Devonshire.

So should the New York Times.

Yesterday there was a post on the Regency yahoo list about an article in the NYT called Splitsville For Lady Crawley. As someone pointed out, Lady Crawley doesn't exist. The article is satirical, but that loses bite when the headline is wrong. Splitsville for Lady Grantham would have worked just as well.

So should Downton Abbey?

Someone else pointed out that "Lady Violet Crawley" was impossible. True enough, but I don't remember the dowager ever being referred to as Lady Violet, so Lord Fellowes is exonerated, by me, at least.

I think she is referred to as Cousin Violet sometimes, but "cousin" is a convenient but vague term. In my upcoming book, Seduction In Silk, we have the hero, Perry Perriam, and a distant relative, Giles Perriam. The term "Cousin Giles" covers it without implying a close blood tie.

No one in Downton Abbey is Lady Crawley, because Crawley is the surname not the title. The daughters are Lady Firstname Crawley — the correct use of the surname. They are not, ever, Lady Crawley, not even the imperious elder one, Mary.

Let me try another way of looking at this. The title is not the name.

If Pat Macguire is the Mayor of Ballybridge would anyone call him Pat Ballybridge, or Mr. Ballybridge? Well, perhaps the latter if he was seen that way, but not formally. Nor would he be Mayor of Macguire.

Have any howlers to share?

So there are a few a just stumbled over in the past week. Have you come across any recently? Some authors really don't think it matters, and many readers don't care, but Getting Things Wrong Through Sheer Laziness should not be encouraged!

I'm clearly feeling my inner Violet.




JoblueJo here, talking about penises.

No –pencils!

But did you know that pen and pencil come from the same root word? It's easy to see why if we think about it.

Why pencils?

I started thinking about pencils because my current heroine keeps a journal of sorts, one in which she notes down passing thoughts and observations.
Now it was possible to use pen and ink on the go, and people did if they were setting out to do extensive writing in the outdoors, but it usually involved a mini-desk, and at a minimum a securely-closed inkwell, a quill pen or three and a pen knife to trim them with. This would be somewhat noticeable in a young lady of the ton.

There was charcoal, but that was messy to handle and any writing would easily be smudged.

So she has a small note book and a pencil or two, and I began to wonder exactly what a pencil would be like then and how common they were.

I admit I've taken them for granted in books before, but this is the first time a character will be using one regularly and I felt I should know more.

About research and writing.

I spend a fair amount of time reading primary sources — newspapers, magazines, books, diaries etc — mostly to absorb the little things about daily life back then, but I don't remember mention of pencils.
It's not so strange. Do we note our writing implements?

A modern novel might say, "She grabbed a pad and wrote a note to her sister to explain." I don't think you or I reading that would be bothered or frustrated by not knowing if it was a ballpoint, marker, or pencil (traditional, propelling, stubby carpenter's.)
However, a researcher in the future would have no idea what she wrote with, and in fact could well wonder what sort of pad — paper or iPad. So it's not surprising that people in the past didn't conveniently leave details and I had to go digging.

When were pencils invented?

Probably in the 16th century, in the north of England.

Before that there were various forms of styli that marked surfaces such as slate or clay, and the silverpoint ones that artists like Leonardo used to draw on specially coated paper in that distinctive brown colour.

In the early 1500s, however, graphite was discovered in Borrowdale, Cumberland, in the far north west of England. (More accurately, funny black stuff was discovered that could be easily cut and was better than charcoal or soot for marking sheep. Eee by gum!) It is to this day the only known large deposit of graphite.

As said, to begin with the locals only used lumps of it to mark their sheep or a height on a wall, but someone got the idea of using it for writing. They cut the graphite into slender rectangular sticks (but nowhere near as fine as modern "leads") and protected ithem from breaking by wrapping string around them. To reveal more lead, the string was unwound.

Odd Fact.

There has never been lead in the lead of a pencil, but people have suffered lead poisoning from pencils. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries the paint on the outside of pencils contained lead, sometimes a lot, so chewing a pencil could be dangerous.

Cumberland Pencils

Growing up in England pencils were from Cumberland, from the Cumberland Pencil Company, and I never questioned that. Most school children had a pack of Lakeland colour pencils. As I was born and raised in North Lancashire, close to Cumberland, this all seemed unremarkable to me.

What sort of pencil would my heroine be using?

I couldn't find out exactly when the string-covered pencils were overtaken by the wood encased ones, though apparently the idea rose in Italy in the 16th century.

Originally a stick of wood was hollowed out to take the graphite, but eventually someone came up with the easier method of using two wooden halves, putting in the graphite, and glueing the halves together.

Modern leads

These are a combination of graphite and clay, fired in a kiln, providing a harder, tougher lead and also the ability to produce leads of different hardness for different purposes.

Because they were extruded, they were a tube. Previously, the graphite had always been rectangular, because cutting it that way created no waste.

The invention came about in the Napoleonic Wars when the French couldn't get graphite from England. (Perhaps there's a plot in that — daring Cumberland heroine prevents smuggling of graphite to the enemy.) There already was powdered graphite from various sources which people had been trying to make into pencils, but now a man called Nicholas Conte came up with the kiln method so the French could continue to scribble on the go.

Period References.

From Wikipedia, I find that Benjamin Franklin advertised pencils for sale in his Pennsylvania Gazette in 1729, and George Washington used a three-inch pencil when he surveyed the Ohio Territory in 1762, though the latter has a "citation needed" tag on it.

I checked a little for other period references. The first Encyclopdia Britannica, 1797, mentions "black-lead pencils" as necessary for a budding artist. The need for the distinction is clear when they also mention the camel-hair pencil. Originally artists' brushes were also called pencils and in the 18th century I found a number of references to pencils that are clearly brushes, used wet to apply colour. Similar references were common earlier in he 18th century.

I didn't check earlier than that.

So for my book I'm assuming my heroine has one or two pencils of the wooden sort, and a penknife to sharpen them. That penknife might come in useful in her adventures. I don't know because I rarely know what's going to happen in a book. I didn't know she was going to be a scribbler!

Any observations on the above?

Have you ever read of a historical character writing outdoors and wondered what they were using and what it involved?

There are so many tiny details of life that are still unclear to us, aren't there?



Where and what

DewflowerHi, Jo here, first sharing a photograph my husband took of dew on a crocosmia flower. Click on it to expand. It's really pretty.

We're finally having some consistently nice weather here in Devon, though it has the autumn chill in it, and some of the annuals which seemed to have decided their year was over have perked up again, which is lovely.

I'm not, however, blogging about flowers and gardens today, but on geography/nationhood and historical romance. I'm hoping to read your thought on why as readers we seem to have such a fixed idea about what stories suit what places, particularly in Britain.

In the past, Edinburgh and Dublin had societies to rival London, but have you read an historical romance set there? If you have, I'd truly like to know so I could extend my study of this phenomenen. It seems to me that we reserve the aristocratic delights for England, and mostly for London, and expect rougher adventures in Scotland.

Check out this great site about Georgian Edinburgh, with plenty of photographs.

I mentioned geography above, because some people might say the difference in stories is dictated by geography, but the land doesn't always follow national lines. Large parts of northern England are very similar to lowland Scotland, so could be suitable for wilder stories, but I haven't seen any set in Northumberland, Durham, or Cumbria/Cumberland. Know any?

(Yesterday I listened to an interesting radio programme about the Isle of Bute, off the west coast of Scotland, not far from Glasgow. I learned that it straddles the geographic/georlogical division of Scotland, so that even though it's only about 15 miles long the northern part is highland granite and the southern part lowland sandstone.)

Ireland is a special case because of it's troubled history. Perhaps assemblies and balls and characters concerned about fashion and frolics simply don't seem appropriate, but it was an elegant, fashionable place in the Georgian age. This photograph could as easily be of London at the time. What do you think? Is it Ireland's struggles that make fun romance sit poorly there?

(Photo credit. Henrietta Street, Dublin "The original Georgian
street, it dates from the 1720's. It featured recently in David
Dimbleby's "How We Built Britain" as an example of urban decay."   © Copyright JP and
licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.)

Thunder2Then we have Wales. I confess to not knowing enough about Wales so I don't know if Cardiff or any other town there had a gracious Georgian age. I do know that there are very few Welsh historical romances. Mary Jo set Thunder and Roses there, and Mary Balogh, a Welsh woman herself, set at least one novel there, but it simply doesn't seem to suit the romantic imagination of most readers.

I do think this is reader driven, but we writers are all readers, too, with many of the same pre-conceptions and emotional responses.

On to England. In the Georgian age, the north was far from the
administrative south and could be wilder and unruly. My Countess of
Arradale, with vast estates in Yorkshire, rules with a medieval touch
still, summoning her laborers and tenants like an army when required. Instead of the rapacious duke dragging a woman off to his highland lair, why not a chilly place in the wilder heartland of Yorkshire. It wouldn't spark the reader imagination in quite the same way, would it?

(The photo is of a farm near Hathersage, which is actually just over the border into Derbyshire, where the Peak District is wonderfully dramatic. I have the pic because my father-in-law's brother worked there, and my father-in-law frequently visited.)

So let's explore this subject, and there's a book prize for a random pick of responses.

First, what historical romances come to mind set in Ireland and Wales? Any favorites set there? You can include earlier books if you wish, but I'm mainly looking at 1700 on.

If you can't think of any, of if you've not liked any you've tried, what's wrong with Wales and Ireland as a setting?

If you think it's a great setting, are there types of romances you'd love to see set there?

What about Scotland? No shortage of Scottish romances, but is there a different type of story you'd love to see set there?

And England, would you like more stories set in the wilder parts? Do you have some great ones of that sort to share here?

The winner will get the choice of Dangerous Joy, a Rogues book set in Ireland, or Secrets of the Night, a Malloren novel set in wilder Yorkshire.

Have at it!





Cb Here are Charlie and Billy with my recent books, but I'm going to be writing about somethng connected to my MIP. (A wonderfully all-encompassing term. Manuscript, masterpiece, monster-in-progress.) It illustrates the little problems that can trip us up on the way, but I'm also hoping that by some wild chance, someone reading this can help.

I enjoy gardening, and what's more, I'll soon have a garden to play with. We take possession of our ne house tomorrow. Yay! We won't move in until some work's been done, but the garden will need care, and it's only a 15 min. walk from our rental.

That's not relevant to the MIP except that when I'm writing, plants automatically fill in my vision of countryside and gardens, but they sometimes trip me up. Willow

For example, in An Unlikely Countess, Cate's brother collected exotic trees, a popular hobby in the 18th century. Among a few others, I tossed in a weeping willow, liking its connection to mourning. I think that's a weeping willow in the picture. It's gorgeous, anyway, and that's Buckingham Palace behind. (You can click on any picture to enlarge it.)

I thought I'd check how new the willow was at the time…. Whoops! It had only just begun to be imported, and specimens were regularly failing in the south of England, never mind the north!

I made lemonade out of lemons, however, and made it a dying weeping willow. How very metaphorical or something.

In the MIP, A Scandalous Countess, I wanted a plant that gives out a perfume in the evening, and the obvious choice was nicotiana, or flowering tobacco. If you've never grown it, give it a try, and if you have the space, go for the tall, leggy sort.  It's not pretty, but my goodness, the perfume in the evening is gorgeous.

Nicotiana That's what I had in mind, and from there I got a nice little word play between Georgia and Tom about tobacco, pleasures denied ladies, and other matters. But I asked myself, was flowering tobacco known at the time? And I can't find out. I found a gardener's dictionary from 1754 in Googlebooks that describes a number of nicotianas, some of them sounding like the one I mean, but no mention of perfume.

I was intrigued, even bemused, by this bit. "The two smaller Sorts of Tobacco are preserved in Botanic Gardens for Variety ; but are seldom propagated for Use. The first Sort is found growing upon Dunghills in divers Parts of England. These are both very hardy, and may be propagated by sowing their Seeds in March, upon a Bed of light Earth, where they will come up, and may be transplanted into any Part of the Garden.

The first of these Sorts is the most common in England, and is generally raised by the Gardeners near London, who supply the Markets with Pots of Plants to adorn Balconies and Shop windows in the City. This Sort, when raised early in the Spring, and planted in a rich Soil, will grow to the Height of ten or twelve Feet, provided the Plants are duly watered in dry Weather."

Ten or twelve feet! On balconies and in shop windows? I'm having trouble forming the picture, but I'd like one of those plants as a show-off specimen!

S1 cute Chiffchaff in orange tree, from Nerja flat Talking of showing off, here's another lovely bird photograph by my husband.

There are many articles about tobacco, but I've found nothing about the introduction of the ornamental sort, in my books or on line. My gut feel is that the leggy, perfumed kind did arrive early, but it'd be great to know. If anyone can come up with something definite, I'll acknowledge it in the book. Out next February.

Adding this, supplied by a reader on my yahoo chat list. "A native of Brazil, Flowering Tobacco was introduced into garden cultivation in England in 1829."

There's no source, so as it's not what I want to hear, I'm still looking. After all, a plant collector could have had some earlier, couldn't they?

If you haven't bought your copy of An Unlikely Countess yet, hurry, hurry, hurry! I'm delighted by the reviews. Readers seem to really be enjoying Cate and Prudence, and many have also picked up on the way it touches on the roles of women at all levels of society in the 18th century. I didn't plan that, but I thiAncountsmrnk it is interesting.

If you're having any trouble finding it, in print or e-form, I've put together a page of suggestions. What a complicated world we live in! 

All best wishes from sunny Devon,







Whitby, North Yorkshire.

Having been here as an interviewee so recently, I'd thought I'd do a short blog about Whitby. I recently bought a local book called Life In Regency Whitby by Prudence Bebb. It's more bits and pieces than a coherent whole, but still full of interesting material. I see she's written a number of Life in Regency xxxxxx books which could be useful for using any of those places in a Regency novel. (check out Amazon UK for a listing.)

The View From On High

There are lots of aerial views of Whitby here.  You'll see, for example on this one that the town sits on both sides of the River Esk, and it's the safe harbour of the Esk that made Whitby a good port back to early times.

The North Sea Coast is a rough place for shipping, even though so many people have made their living up here from the sea. This picture of a rough sea was taken on a day pleasant enough for a walk into town! Bebb has interesting detail about the way captains caught in a storm would see if Whitby could offer refuge. I high flag on the harbour tower meant deep water in the river harbour. Middle meant a shallow draft, and low meant impossible.

Famous Connections.

One Whitby wreck was a Russian ship, the Demeter, which carried Count Dracula to England — fictionally speaking. Hence the famous Goth weekends here. The next one is on the 24th and 25th of this month.

Cook The other important connection is Captain Cook, who trained here as an apprentice and then began his seafaring career, which is why there's a statue overlooking the harbour.

The Past Is Not Always Comfortable.

In the Regency, Whitby was a whaling port, which brought in a lot of wealth as whale oil was used in oil lamps.I just looked whale oil up on Wikipedia and was interested to learn that it's a liquid wax not an oil.

I also came across an interesting article about old oil lamps.

I assume most of us aren't too happy about killing whales for their oil. Will this affect our reading of a novel in which the characters are using oil lamps? The oil was also used to make candles, so unless beeswax is specified….

Is this yet another way in which the past can be uncomfortable for the modern conscience. Would it bother you?


Let's Hear It For Young Heroes!

 Whaling, good or evil, demanded heroics, and I liked one story because William Scoresby, the captain of a whaler, was only 26. I write young heroes but sometimes people seem to think that young means callow.

Briefly, the ship the Esk was holed by ice in Greenland. Other ships came to help, but everyone thought the ship lost. William, however, came up with a plan. Everything was taken off the ship onto the ice so it floated high, then it was rolled on its side and the huge hole mended. Then, with the help of his brother-in-law, the captain of another ship and no older, the Esk limped home to Whitby.

William was also a scientist and made important discoveries about the Arctic. You can read more about him here.

My sort of guy!


Some Regency Houses.

A few years later he rented a house in what is now called Saint Hilda's terrage. I'm not sure this is the one, but it would be like this. The annual rent was 34 pounds.

Here's another candidate.


And to balance the picture — how the lower orders lived. Some 17th century cottages, which now sit below street level.


I hope you've enjoyed this little bit about Whitby.