Category Archives: writing

A Close Shave (or the gentle art of Pogonomotomy)

Life is getting difficult for writers of Georgian and Regency romance

Shave? Our Regency heroes have traditionally been clean shaven. In fact a quick flick through Mills & Boon’s book of cover designs, The Art of Romance, has  only one cover with any facial hair on a man. It is a small, neat  moustache. I confess I haven’t read the book, but I am not convinced that he is the hero. However, a quick look in any street or on social media will tell you that beards are now becoming fashionable. Designer stubble is already creeping in, will full beards follow?cartoon shave for a penny

My latest Harlequin/Mills & Boon release is set in the Highlands in 1746, so I think we can get away with a small amount of facial hair…

but how about designer stubble? It is definitely considered sexy now, isn’t it?

Bridgerton character without a shaveIt  certainly  didn’t  put  off the  fans  of  Bridgerton!

To be fair, stubble isn’t as inappropriate as we might think, in some circumstances. Read on…..


In the 18th century, clean shaven faces were the order of the day for a gentleman. Many had clean shaven heads, too, but one never saw that, because everyone who was anyone wore a wig.

Sir Walter Raleigh with beardBack in the days of Good Queen Bess, neatly trimmed beards were de rigeur for men like Sir Walter Raleigh, who wanted to cut a dash (painted in an excess of finery here by Nicholas  Hillyard). By the end of the 17th century, Peter the Great was slapping a beard tax on his people. He ordered courtiers to shave off their facial hair, to bring his court into line with the (supposedly) more sophisticated courts of Western Europe.

Middle and upper class men could pay barbers to visit their homes, while for the poor, penny shaves were available in barber shops (often weekly, on a Saturday, in time for church).

Some preferred to employ a man who was proficient in the use of a razor. Imagine taking someone’s word for that!

cartoon the shaver and the shavee

In the beginning were the Barber Surgeons

Steel and bone razor for Lord Nelson to shave

Lord Nelson’s razor. Steel and bone

Traditionally barber-surgeons performed tooth drawing and bloodletting as well as shaving but this changed as barbering became its own trade. And in 1745 the Company of Barbers officially split from the Barber-Surgeons Company.

The 18th century brought improvements in steelmaking and master cutlers were producing fine surgical instruments as well as razors.

Suddenly, it was possible not only to have a closer shave, but to shave oneself!

The French had a name for it

Of course they did.

In 1770 Jean-Jacques Perret, a Parisian master cutler whose shop was at the romantically named “sign of the Golden Blade” in Paris,  wrote “Pogonomotomie or the art of shaving oneself”. Basically, a guide to shaving. Perret designed what we would today call a “cut throat razor”. He called it a guarded razor, a folding razor with a guard that fitted over the blade. Apparently, he did not patent his idea, but offered to teach other cutlers how to make it.

Harwood & Co razor with green velvet boxHarwood & Co, Sheffield, began to manufacture such a razor. The illustration shows one such razor acquired  by Museums Victoria. It came in its own green velvet lined box together with a pair of leather strops, one red, one green, and the whole was supplied inside a red leather case.

Safety razors were developed in the 19th century.

The shave was becoming big business

Razor makers were targeting individuals now with their advertising, and master cutlers moved into producing razors and fine surgical instruments. Perfumers, too, offered soaps, creams and pomatums to aid the shaver. Some still do, like Floris, in Jermyn Street.

Window of Floris, Jermyn Street, London

William NicholsonBut shaving was moving beyond mere fashion. Satirists were drawing cartoons and writing poems about the dangers of cheap razors, and facial hair was discussed in philosophical journals.

In 1802, William Nicholson (that’s him on the left, a fine, clean-shaven chemist) wrote in the Journal of Natural Philosophy, Chemistry, Literature and the Arts. He said “the caprice of fashion, or the modern improvements in personal neatness has deprived all the nations of Europe of their beards!” However, far from criticising, he advised against buying a cheap razor, which would never sharpen satisfactorily and give a good, clean shave.

Tastes and Ideas were changing

cartoon of Lord George Gordon

By the end of the 18th century, beards were associated with “wildness”, i.e. hermits or eccentrics.

In 1787 Lord George Gordon (he of the 1780 Gordon Riots) converted to Judaism. However, the beard he grew for his faith was considered by the general public (in England, that is) as confirmation that the man was unhinged.

He became the target of the cruel humour of the 18th century cartoonists.

Hair on the head (or lack of it)

Beethoven in need of a hairdresserNow that was quite another matter – it still required the touch of an artist.

After the Lockdown of the last twelve months most of us can empathise with the problems of hairdressing and the disasters that can occur when cutting one’s own hair, so I think we can see why barbers still had an important role to play.

(Maybe someone should have told Beethoven?)


Illustration, Mr and Mrs BennetWigs were already fashionable at the dawn of the 18th century. A gentleman could choose between the Comet, the Cauliflower or the Rose. Or perhaps he might prefer the She Dragon or the Snail. Some of course, preferred to keep their own hair, curled and powdered to look like a wig. By the end of the  century, however, wigs were becoming old hat, if you see what I mean, as was the use of hair powder.

You might refer me to Mr Bennet’s famous line in Pride & Prejudice “I will sit in my library, in my night cap and powdering gown, and give as much trouble as I can – “ but although this was published in 1813, Jane Austen began work on this novel in 1797, when hair powder was still being worn, especially by the older generation.

Men were wearing their own hair, and it was cut short!

Joseph Chinard, painted 1801

Joseph Chinard, painted 1801

I admit that as a sculptor, and French, this guy was perhaps a little ahead of the English Bon Ton.

But I thought he was rather dashing so was glad of an excuse to put him in.

But this is the look we like, isn’t it?

Beau BrummellBeau Brummell was a hit in the Regency and the short haired, clean shaven look still sets hearts a-beating. Even when we know Brummell spent the whole morning at his dressing table. But we have to face it, dear reader, bearded men are “in” at the moment.

In the 1820’s facial hair in the form of whiskers and moustaches began to creep back in, but for most of the Georgian period, a clean shaven face was a sign of refinement, of breeding and good taste. And I, for one, shall continue to write my clean shaven heroes…

Colin Firth as Darcy

…except, of course, when they haven’t had access to a razor for a day or two…Chris Hemsworth

OK, Ok, I admit this whole post has been an excuse to add these last three pictures!  I am off now to work on creating my next hero. Wish me luck!

Sarah Mallory guest blogs on romantic series


PS… If you want to read more, Dr Alun Withy from Exeter University has produced “Concerning Beards: Facial Hair, Health and Practice in England 1650-1900”, published by Bloomsbury

Springing into Summer, Today, Tomorrow, One Day Soon?

Today the Libertà hive are in celebratory mood, springing towards summer by relaunching our collection of novellas, Beach Hut Surprise.

In spring, says the poet, a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love. (Actually it was Tennyson in Locksley Hall, written when he was twenty-five and presumably knew what he was talking about. At least in the Young Man Department anyway.)

This spring, after a grim year of Covid 19 and at least three lockdowns, most of us, even the least romantic, are starting to think of Getting Out A Bit. It gives us hope. Continue reading

Non-Holidays : What I Didn’t Do on My Holidays

man holding no entry sign in front of faceHolidays? Wot holidays?
Just non-holidays, actually.

Towards the end of last year, Sophie blogged on the perennial school essay topic of What I Did On My Holidays. With Easter coming up soon, I’ve been thinking about holidays too. And I’ve realised how much I’ve missed over the last year of more or less permanent lockdown.
You might be feeling equally stir-crazy?

I haven’t been away from home for a year. But I should have been. I had holidays and trips booked. They had to be postponed or cancelled. So I’m going to muse on might-have-beens. Non-holidays, if you like.

After all, we writers use our imaginations all the time.
So why not holiday that way?

Lake District Non-Holidays (of the working variety)

Lake District in overcast weather. Non-holiday destination

Imagine walking down that beautiful hillside towards the water, smelling the freshness of the trees and feeling the breeze on your face. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to do that? Continue reading

Recommendations and Finding Books To Read

Over the last year I’ve spent a lot of time on reading recommendations and other ways of finding books to read. For all sorts of reasons, I’ve had spurts of reading wa-a-a-ay out of my regular sunny uplands.

One of the few cheering things at the moment is how willing people are to share recommendations – new books, favourite books, books their children love….

Of course, recommendations aren’t the only route. I find a lot of my experiments by following some byway that takes my fancy. I must tell you how I found the wondrous  Goblin Emperor sometime. Continue reading

Reading the Shorter Romantic Novel Short List

A couple of weeks ago I splurged with glee over this. Libertà is sponsoring the award for the shorter romantic novel this year and the short list was out!

As it happened, I hadn’t read any of them, so added them all to my TBR list, in the full expectation of some cracking reads, when time allowed. And then life got complicated.

Cometh the Hour, Cometh the Shorter Romantic Novel

Well, make that disastrous.

There was a water leak in my road. Actually, more of a small fountain. It continued to flow for the best part of twenty-four hours. My basement flooded.

(Not for the first time. And yes, last time it was also down to the utility company which provides my water.) Continue reading

Author’s Voice, And Spies: Can They Help?

author's voiceThis week, four things have conspired to make me think again about the author’s voice. First, a friend asked me a question about some editorial revisions he had received. Then I started the second draft of a new book and found myself uncertain about my own voice. Was it too – well – romantic? There will be romance in this book (actually series) but not for a long time after Chapter One.

Author's voiceOn top of that, a very good friend strongly recommended a novel. Excited, I bought it at once. I’m a great fan of her own books and we very often love the same authors. But I am really struggling to get into it. I admit I put it down and walk away a lot. Which pleases the cat. We will discuss it when next we zoom. AAARGH!

And then I started reading a book about spies. Continue reading

Formatting front matter: hints for independent publishers

essential front matter: copyright symbol on computer key

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

A while ago, I blogged about formatting ebook text. Quite a lot of people found it useful. So, as I promised then, I’m doing a follow-on blog about front matter—recommendations about what to include and how best to format it.

As with my previous post, these recommendations are based on how I format front matter for ebooks. You—or your book designer—may want to do things differently. Your choice. You have a good reason for doing it your way, don’t you?

Front Matter: what is it?

It does what it says on the tin 😉

Front matter is everything that comes in front of the text of the work.

Some of it is essential.
And some of it is optional.

Essential front matter consists of a title page and a copyright page.

Optional front matter can include any or all of: Continue reading

A Happy New Year, or is it? Kill the doomscrolling

La Dolce VitaI don’t usually make resolutions, but this New Year I have. And it’s one I need to keep if I am to enjoy the next twelve months.

The problem is I am spending far too much time worrying about the State of the World. I cannot stop looking at the news, online articles and other people’s (often ill-informed) opinions. I have even been waking up in the early hours and switching on my phone, to see if I have missed something of vital importance. Which I haven’t, of course.

Apparently, this is Doomscrolling

woman surrounded by social media icons, doomscrolling

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Endlessly scrolling through your phone or laptop for bad news and overdosing on negativity. I have discovered plenty of information from scientists and medical experts about this phenomenon online. It’s not new, but became much more prevalent in 2020.

So it’s not just me, then Continue reading

Romantic Novelists’ Association 60th Year

RNA 60th Anniversary logoOne of my biggest regrets of 2020, this Year of Sorrows, is that we never got to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of the UK’s Romantic Novelists’ Association. The first meeting was in January 1960. This anniversary year will soon run out.

It occurred to me, therefore, that I should do something now, before Christmas takes its irresistible hold.

There are excellent up-to-date entries on the RNA’s website for current information. And I heartily recommend it.

This blog, however, is wholly personal. Here you will find a few random memories of the RNA and, above all, the wonderful people I have found there, in books and in person.

Romantic Novelists’ Association and Sophie Weston, Debut Author

Continue reading

Writing Settings out of Sequence

Writing energy, happy writerI love starting a new book

It is a lovely feeling, a clean sheet  with so many possibilities. New story, new characters, new settings. It’s the time I can let myself dream as I begin weaving the story.

That is the point I am at now.

I have an idea for the book and the settings will be Regency London and mainly (probably) at my hero’s country house. And it is summer.

I first began thinking about this idea in September, when my current work in progress was coming to an end. Now I wonder if I chose a summer setting because the seasons were changing? Maybe I was hoping to hang on to those hot days and balmy summer nights. But I shall be writing the story throughout the winter: bare landscapes, long nights, icy days.

 It shouldn’t be a problem, I am a writer, aren’t I?

Continue reading