It is my pleasure to introduce Marguerite Kaye to my blog, without further ado I will hand the stage over:-
One of my favourite lines from one of my favourite books, Kingsley Amis’ Lucky Jim, comes when the Head of the History Department at a provincial university answers the phone with the unforgettable salutation “History speaking!” But how do you make history speak without resorting to a lecture? How do you capture a sense of time and place without detracting from the main event – the romance? For me, it’s about the detail. Little things really do mean a lot.
Clothes are always a great ambiance-setter. Taking Regency as an example, don’t just say that your heroine is wearing a hat, say it’s an Angouleme or chip bonnet, a shako-style hat, or a leghorn one. Have your hero’s neck cloth tied in a Mathematical, a Mail Coach, a Trone d’Amour or the Oriental. Let him have his boots made by Hoby. Have her robe made of jaconet or figured muslin or sarcenet. Read the descriptions of clothes from the fashion templates of Ackerman’s and La Belle Assemblee and you’ll see that they don’t just say ‘brown’ but ‘autumnal brown’, nor simply ‘blue’ but ‘celestial blue’.
Mentioning contemporary products is always good too. You don’t need to go quite as much to town as I did in this excerpt from Rake with a Frozen Heart, but it’s a good example of the kind of detail I’m talking about:
The dressing table was a litter of glass jars and vials containing such patented aids to beauty as Olympian Dew and Denmark Lotion, a selection of perfumes from Messrs Price and Gosnell, various pots of rouge, eyelash tints and lip salves, a tangle of lace and ribbons, hair brushes, a half-empty vial of laudanum, several tortoiseshell combs, a pair of tweezers, and numerous cards of invitation.
Price&Gosnell was a real perfumiers, but you don’t have to be rigidly historically accurate (in my opinion, anyway!) to give a sense of history. Madame LeClerc, the sought-after French manteau-maker, made her first appearance in The Rake and the Heiress, when I had her escort my heroine from France to England. Henrietta bought her first ball gown from Madame’s shop in Bond Street a few books later in Rake with a Frozen Heart, and in my latest release, Outrageous Confessions of Lady Deborah, my heroine also shops there. Madame LeClerc is entirely a figment of my own imagination, but she’s true to the spirit of the age, and as such she serves her purpose in making my Regency world more real.
How you name something also helps put a story in historical context. What my mum would call a petticoat I call an underskirt, a Regency gal would call a chemise or shift, and a Scottish lass from the same period would call a sark. Trousers, breeches, britches or pantaloons? Knickers, drawers or pantalettes? Make your choice with care!
Books and paintings are good ‘markers’, as are historical events, or including real people in your story. Lord Armstrong, the wily diplomat whose daughters are the heroines in my two Princes of the Desert books, isn’t real, but he wheels and deals with real people. In my current work in progress, he’s off with Wellington to St Petersburg to try to sort out the problem of Greek independence – a real political issue, a real state visit with a real head of state and my fictional character. He pops up in Outrageous Confessions too, to provide a bit more world continuity.
But there are times when I abandon historical accuracy in the name of romance. Personal hygiene in the 18th and 19th centuries was not great. There was a reason why those who could afford it drenched their handkerchiefs in perfume, and wore pomanders around their neck. Teeth were rarely white, and if they were, they very likely were not yours but drawn from a corpse or a pauper. Breath was undoubtedly rank. Would you have wanted to kiss a Regency man – a REAL Regency man? I doubt it!
When my first book, The Wicked Lord Rasenby, came out, one of my sisters told me that she had been truly relieved to read that my heroine brushed her teeth before she kissed my hero, and that both of them had bathed thoroughly before getting up close and personal. Her comments must have stuck, because I’ve made sure all my couples are equally fastidious.
In Julie Peakman’s excellent sexual history of the 18th century, Lascivious Bodies, she points out that the general lack of cleanliness made certain intimate acts with Latin names very uncommon. Since I more often than not have my couples indulge in those same acts, I confess, I do have a bit of a thing for making sure that all my heroes and heroines are clean and fragrant, even though they most likely would not have been. I have my rugged Highlanders take a swim in the nearest freezing cold loch, emerging unaccountably proud and unshrivelled, and I’m forever having maids trundle up to bedchambers with buckets of water for baths – simply because I cannot get into the mood to write any lovemaking scenes if I’m thinking that they might be dirty – I mean the WRONG kind of dirty!
Julie Peakman’s book provided me with more of that all-important ambiance when I wrote my short, Behind the Courtesan’s Mask. The drawer full of Regency sex toys was my historical detail in this case – I confess, I was surprised at just how much variety there was on offer. Like I said, it’s all in the detail, and sometimes the detail can be serious fun!
Outrageous Confessions of Lady Deborah is out now in print and ebook, in the UK, US and Canada. Here is the blurb:
JUST WHO IS LADY DEBORAH? I am the Dowager Countess of Kinsail, and I have enough secrets to scandalise you for life. I will never reveal the truth of my soul-destroying marriage – some things are too dark to be told. But at least no one can guess that I, a famously icy-hearted widow, am also the authoress of the shamelessly voluptuous romances currently shocking the ton…! Only now I have a new secret identity, one that I will risk my life to keep – accomplice to Elliot Marchmont, gentleman, ex-solider and notorious London thief. This adventurer’s expert touch ignites in me a passion so intoxicating that surviving our blistering affair unscathed will be near impossible…
You can find out more about all my books on my website, www.margueritekaye.com