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Brenda “Jade” Hiatt
On Researching her Regency Romances
Like most (all?) of the Jewels, over the years I’ve amassed a considerable research library, which I’m now dusting off after a whole decade away from writing Regencies. It’s fun revisiting all the places, people and customs I once knew so well but which had squirreled themselves away in the back of my mind while I was away. To help me gear up for writing Harry Thatcher’s long-awaited (and oft-requested) book — a 5th Saint of Seven Dials installment — I first wrote a Regency short story set in that world and involving the Saint, to use as a free giftie for my newsletter subscribers. And oh, my, it was disconcerting to discover how much I’d forgotten!
Luckily, I still have reams of material to draw on from all my accumulated books, the internet (which didn’t have nearly as much info on the Regency a decade ago) and all my notes and pictures from research trips.
My favorite-ever trip was one I took several years back with a group of other Regency afficionados, all either authors or avid readers. We had a hired motor coach driver named Giles, who took very good care of us as we toured around London, Brighton, Bath and the Shires. Looking over all of my notes and pictures from that trip, I thought I’d share just a couple of highlights with you.
As most of my books have been set in and around London, I was particularly fascinated to see so many of the actual places I’d written about before ever having the chance to visit. The gentlemen’s clubs, for instance! White’s, Boodle’s and Brookes Clubs are all still there, much to my delight. What a thrill to stand in front of White’s famous bow window, where Beau Brummel and his chums used to lounge on display for fashionable (and unfashionable) passers-by to admire.
I also found it rather eye-opening to see the London Town houses in and around Mayfair. While I’d already known they were tall and narrow, I don’t think I’d realized just how tall and how narrow! In our books, we often make it sound as though the London ton are all staying in grand mansions. In reality, those houses were generally only two rooms wide and one or two deep, with attics for servants stacked on top of a couple of floors of bedrooms for the family, on top of the “receiving” rooms of drawing room and possibly a (small) ballroom, on top of the dining room and perhaps a breakfast room or library on the ground floor, with the kitchens below that. Lots and lots of stairs, needless to say! Still, they managed a remarkable degree of elegance and an illusion of space in those narrow residences, as you can see in this breakfast room in the Sir John Soames house and museum.
At the time I took this tour, I was finishing up the last of my Saint books and plotting the first Odd-Sock book, Tessa’s Touch. So I also loved the part of the tour that took place in the foxhunting country of the Shires. I learned about how hedges were “laid” at a certain time of year to create the dividers between fields, and saw firsthand the beautiful rolling, green countryside. It was easy to imagine my characters galloping across the landscape!
Writing this has been a lovely trip down memory lane and makes me quite anxious to get back to England for more on-the-spot research now that I’m back in the Regency-writing saddle, so to speak. Must start planning!