Feb 6 2012 9:30am

Pencil on Fire!: Carolyn Jewel’s Inspirations for Not Wicked Enough

Doorknob image by takomabibelot via FlickrToday, author Carolyn Jewel joins us to explain what faulty apertures  and a writing implement have to do with her upcoming release, Not Wicked Enough.

What do these two things have in common?

—A doorknob malfunction

—A flaming pencil

I will immediately end your suspense. Both of these things appear in my historical romance, Not Wicked Enough (Berkley Sensation, out Feb. 7). I don’t think it’s possible, or even desirable, to write a historical novel that is completely and infallibly accurate; there’s just no way to be sure about everything. All the same, I do like to be more accurate than not.  For my flaming pencil scene, I already had primary historical documentation that sparked the idea. The doorknob malfunction required separate research to be sure my idea was possible.

The Great Doorknob Malfunction

There is a scene in Not Wicked Enough in which the hero and heroine are trapped in a room after a doorknob breaks. When the idea first occurred to me I realized I did not know enough about Regency era doorknobs to know if this was even remotely possible. How did doors work in this period? Where there even actual doorknobs? All I really knew is that doors opened and closed and could be locked, just like today. I’d seen old door hardware in pictures and in person that was not like the door hardware of today. But I did not know how that other hardware actually worked or whether it existed in the Regency era.

I strongly suspected that the turning knobs of today had not yet been invented, and I was right. The latching and locking mechanisms of doors were somewhat varied, and an old house would, as you can imagine, be very likely have a range of hardware, depending on such things as the age of the house, when the interior might have been remodeled, and, even, the preferences of the owner.

Where could I find information about Regency-era door technology? None of my print references were anything like specific enough. I turned to the internet and, after several frustrating finds that were interesting but either light on facts or dates or both. Eventually, I discovered there are Antique Doorknob Collectors, and that they have websites and newsletters. I got in contact with one and was quickly in possession of two detailed articles about doors and door hardware in my period, with pictures. From that I was able to determine it would be possible for a doorknob to break off and leave the people on that side in need of rescue or a clever way to lever the door open.

And so, In Not Wicked Enough the hero and heroine are temporarily trapped in a room, quite alone, because the interior knob has broken off. I was greatly relieved to confirm that I did not have to think of something else!

One of my All Time Favorite Research Books

A couple of years ago, I just happened to wander into an antique store that had a tiny book section that was amazing. AMAZING!! And there I found and purchased an 1815 edition of The New Family Receipt Book. The book is sort of a Farmer’s Almanac of household and domestic advice. (You can get several of the editions of this title from Google Books, by the way.) In my copy of the book, the paragraph for a toothache remedy is starred in pencil. Whenever I see that page, I thank goodness for modern dentistry.

In Not Wicked Enough, there are several references to information I gleaned from this book, including the title of the book itself. My heroine, you see, has brought along her copy. Hijinks ensue because there is a section of this book about making a phosphorus pencil (so you could write letters that, literally, glowed.) Here’s the instructions in their entirety:

The Phosphoric Pencil

Is a small bit of phosphorus, put into a quill, and kept in a phial, in water ; when you write, dip your pencil often in the water, to prevent its taking fire. (emphasis added)

When I read that description, all I could think was ohmygodwtf? A pencil that could catch fire? Is that awesome or what? My answer: awesome. I immediately imagined a Regency-era wife explaining to her husband just how the kids managed to set fire to his office desk.

There is, not at all coincidentally, a flaming pencil in Not Wicked Enough. And although the house does not burn down, there are some very interesting consequences.

P.S. I do not recommend attempting to make your own phosphoric pencil for reasons I hope are pretty obvious.

Doorknob image by takomabibelot via Flickr


Carolyn Jewel’s Not Wicked Enough is out this week. You can visit her website at or follow her on as cjewel on Twitter.

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
Heather Waters
1. HeatherWaters
What a cool post, Carolyn! I'm not an author myself, so I'm always curious to hear about the research that goes into books and especially historicals (I do love history, and, I confess, I enjoy research too).
I immediately imagined a Regency-era wife explaining to her husband just how the kids managed to set fire to his office desk.
Ha ha, oh, man. Another example of truth being stranger than fiction? Looking forward to reading your take on the flaming pencil.
Carolyn Jewel
2. cjewel
Thanks @redline! Always nice to meet a fellow research nut.
3. Lexi
Oh what a great post! I had no idea where you were going with that at first, but now it all makes sense.
Carolyn Jewel
4. cjewel
@Lexi: Thanks!

You have no idea how hard I had to work to keep myself on track for this article. I wrote a whole section on the other books I found in that store and then ended up deleting it. For example there was a 1650 book of Dutch maps, ALL MAPS INTACT. Several of them folded out to very, very large sizes. $5,000. Thank goodness I didn't have $5K lying around or I would have bought it.

Another wonderful book was an 1400's Italian Prayer book, hand-lettered and illustrated of course, covered in velvet. It was gorgeous and, oddly, to me, only about $1500 or so. I didn't have $15oo either.

It's getting very rare to go into an antique store and find actual antique and rare books.

OK. I'll stop now. Sorry.

And thanks for stopping by!
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