I was asked to write an article for The Romantic Times Book Review blog. It appeared on Nov. 9. They called it ‘Maggie MacKeever and the Dark Side of the English Regency’. Here it is:
I was seduced by Georgette Heyer in the 70’s, and haven’t recovered from it yet. Since then I’ve written forty-three novels, most of them set in the English Regency.
The Regency was an era of contrasts, a time of artistic refinement and cultural achievement; social, political, and economic change; bloodshed and warfare. Regency London was an excellent example of the immense contrast between rich and poor. One street might be lined with noble colonnades, bow windows and gleaming doorknockers; the next with gin-shops, pawnbrokers and broken-down dwellings so squalid they oozed filth.
In THE TYBURN WALTZ, I wanted to show both sides of London, without being grimly serious about the business. Summer 1814 seemed the perfect time. Napoleon was safely ensconced on Elba and the Allied Sovereigns had invaded London, ostensibly to work out the details of the peace. However, Czar Alexander was more interested in sightseeing and basking in public admiration than in discussing affairs of state; his sister the Grand Duchess of Oldenburg was continually proclaiming her dislike of loud noises and music and especially the Prince Regent; Prinny was being driven to fits of frustration, Lord Castlereagh to wonder if the Czar might be half-mad, and Lord Liverpool to remark that people who didn’t know how to behave should stay at home.
The background established, I next needed someone who could pass back and forth between both worlds. Not a West End character slumming, but an East End character crossing the class line.
Ragged urchins swarmed the warren of courts and alleys and lanes that lay between the rookeries and London’s fashionable West End. Such children began to steal as soon as they could walk, frequently on the orders of adults who used them to make off with goods from places were larger thieves could not—food; small items of clothing, especially handkerchiefs; brooches and bracelets, combs and looking glasses from the stalls. Women waiting in the street hid stolen items in their barrows until it was safe to pass them on to a fence, or angling cove.
There were class lines in the rookeries, no less than between rich and poor. A nipper went from stealing apples to filching from stalls, and on to swiping stickpins and handkerchiefs. Natty lads aspired to be lifters and then knuckles, the better class of pickpocket who went to public places and snaffled pocketbooks, watches, and that sort of thing.
A shifting lad or lass seldom lived to an old age. His (or her) friends often accompanied him to the gallows, lending him support so that he might die game, and have his last speech written down and sold, and be talked of for a week.
We first meet our heroine in Newgate Prison, disguised as a boy. She is, she thinks, fourteen.
So that Julie can gain access to exclusive establishments, there to practice her pick-pocketing skills, she learns to act the lady, or at least sufficiently ladylike (she’s prone to lapses) to serve as companion to the real thing.
Julie journeys back and forth between the two worlds, in one moment sitting meekly as behooves her position at the back of a theater box; in the next shimmying up and down drainpipes, scurrying across roofs. Part of the pleasure of writing this story was seeing these contradictory Londons through her eyes, and watching her change her opinions about a great many things, most especially the ‘nobs’.
Julie removes items from Lady Jersey’s ballroom; from Carlton House, right under Prinny’s nose; from drawing rooms and bedrooms all around the town, not because she wants to, but because she has no choice.
From a certain earl she steals not only an ugly statue and his pocket watch, but also his heart.
Just as she stole mine.
I always feel sad when it’s time to say goodbye to my characters and send them out into the world. I’m hoping that readers will fall in love with Ned and Julie too.