Reader, I married them (while researching the rake)

statue of a rake?As anyone researching the Regency period knows, the rake — the real Regency rake — was dangerous, unscrupulous and sometimes even a vicious womaniser.

I am very sorry, dear reader, if I have shattered your illusions.

Many of us like the fantasy of “taming” a bad boy, but most of us know in our hearts that it is nigh on impossible. Not quite impossible, of course. There are exceptions to the rule, but these are probably as rare in real life as the number of real live dukes in existence (which may be material for another story, another time).

silhouette of man's head in question markquestion mark being broken by handThere is always something to research for a new book. Often it seems obvious — military history for instance, when one sets a book around the Battle of Waterloo; or costume details for the period.

We have to invent a history for each of our characters. It may not feature in the actual book, but it is very necessary. As my latest book has proved.

Researching Beauty and the Brooding Lord

cover of Beauty and the Brooding Lord by Sarah Mallory

Click to see in your local Amazon

The working title of this book was “Only a Rake Will Do”. My heroine, Serena, is the younger sister of the main character in another book — The Ton’s Most Notorious Rake.

You may see a theme developing here 😉

Serena’s family is renowned for its loose living. Her mother ran off with an Italian Count almost as soon as Serena’s father died.

Serena was left to the care of her half-brothers, one the rake, the other an exact opposite. (She thinks he’s stuffy and boring.) Naturally, the brothers try to shelter Serena from the dangers that abound in the Regency world.

The answer’s a rake — what’s the question?

Bored, Serena thinks that a rake would make the perfect husband.

After all, her charming brother Russ was a rake, wasn’t he? But having met the love of his life, he is now a model husband.

woman blowing kissesHowever, this conundrum does not worry our heroine. She blithely courts danger and flirts with a notorious rake, who turns out to be nothing like her chivalrous brother Russ.

Without giving away too much of the story, I can tell you that Serena suffers A Rude Awakening. She is saved, just in the nick of time, by the real hero of the story, Quinn, the “Brooding Lord” of the title.

Rufus Quinn is not a rake.
He is a gentleman who suffered a setback early in life. He is living a quiet, reclusive existence until suddenly he finds himself responsible for a traumatised young woman whose reputation is in tatters.

The author’s dilemma — but research helps…

loving couple happy ever after

Somehow, as an author, it is my job to bring these two characters to the happy and satisfying ending that a romance requires. Serena must regain her self-confidence, Quinn must learn to live in the world again. And the two of them must discover the deep and abiding love that will carry them on forever, beyond the final pages of the book.

Whether I have succeeded is ultimately a matter for the reader to decide. An author can only do her humble best.

However, along the way, the research continues. I needed to know a little bit of psychology — Serena’s suffering cannot be taken too lightly — and then there are the minutiae…

…for the minutiae — such as Titian

Titian's painting Venus with Mirror

Titian: Venus with Mirror

What about Titian? I hear you ask.

Well, Serena reminds Quinn of a Titian painting he has acquired, “Venus with Mirror”. They need to discuss it, to grow closer through their appreciation.

So first of all, I need to know just what the painting looks like. Plus a little technical information about the brush strokes. Plus something about the way that love and beauty were often allied in the Renaissance.

Then there is the fact that Titian and his assistants made about fifteen copies of this painting.
So is Quinn’s painting the real thing?

… and Regency London pubs

Next there are details about their journey from London to Quinn’s house in Hertfordshire. They drive through Camden and Kentish Town, an area of London I know something of, although not much.

There is a pub on Camden High Street called The World’s End, but until the end of the 19th century it was known as Mother Red Cap. You can see it on Cary’s 1787 map of London, so I decided that would be a good marker for showing the road Quinn was taking to leave London.

Off I go again, following up clues and leads.

Old Mother Red Cap pub c 1746

Old Mother Red Cap, c 1746

I discover that Mother Red Cap was an old crone who used to live on that spot. She had a foul mouth and a bad temper, and she was considered to be a witch. (Very handy to threaten people with a curse if you want them to leave you alone.)

Later pub signs portrayed her as a brewer, which was probably an attempt to make her more likeable.

By the bye, at one time there was, apparently, a rival pub on the opposite side of the road. It was called Mother Black Cap, possibly Old Mother Shipton, the witch from Yorkshire who foretold the fire of London.

alchemy magic witchcraftOld Mother Red Cap was actually Jinny Bingham, also known as Mother Damnable, or the Shrew (or Witch) of Kentish Town. She is supposed to have killed off several husbands, practised witchcraft and died a sad and lonely death. She was not seen for some time and when locals finally plucked up the courage to enter her cottage, they found her body crouched by the ashes of her fire.

Legend also has it she still haunts the heavy metal club, The Underground, which is now on that spot. You have been warned!

I could go on but don’t worry, I won’t. For one thing, I have more books to write.

…and colours?

So, to end on a lighter note — pun definitely intended — we come to the taxing business of colours.

Blonde Jean HarlowSerena is blonde. I want her to look her best, so I have to imagine her in numerous gowns of various hues. But we all know the importance of colour on our skin tones. Apparently cool colours such as mint or olive green can make a warm blonde’s skin look grey, and her highlights brassy — not at all what I want for my heroine — jewel colours in starswhereas jewel colours can be very becoming.

However, my story also has Serena’s very unsympathetic sister-in-law taking charge of our uncharacteristically subdued heroine and putting her in what she considers to be “suitable” colours. Which, of course, are not suitable at all.
A nightmare for a reclusive author who has no fashion sense and spends all her time avoiding mirrors!

Writing a novel is easy?

So, there you have it. The trials and tribulations of writing a novel. Perhaps some authors are founts of all knowledge, but that definitely does not apply to yours truly.

And now, having laid bare my soul, I am off to begin all over again, researching for the next novel. Who knows what highways and byways that will lead me into?

Sarah Mallory author image


5 thoughts on “Reader, I married them (while researching the rake)

  1. Sarah Post author

    Thank you, Elizabeth. Yes, they can be distracting, but sometimes they can even lead to another book! So much to learn, so little time…..

  2. lesley2cats

    Oh, Mother Red Cap – notorious! My territory there, and used in a Jonathan Creek episode, if I remember rightly. I’ve got a thing about old London pubs…

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