In honor of the American publication of The Forgotten Seamstress today, the novel’s author, Liz Trenow, has joined us to write a guest post! This is the first-ever guest post for Read-at-Home Mama, and I’m honored and overwhelmed that an author of a book that I truly love has been gracious enough to answer my questions about the novel! Read on to find out what she had to say!
Q1: We often hear the phrase, “Write what you know.” How did you develop the plot for The Forgotten Seamstress?
Like so many debut authors, I raided my own background for my first novel. My family have been silk weavers for 300 years and are still weaving in Sudbury, and this long heritage made for rich pickings.
So when it came to the second novel, The Forgotten Seamstress, I panicked, slightly. I knew that silk would feature somewhere – it is ‘in my blood’ – but what did I have left to write about? The dilemma was solved when I went to the Warner Textile Archive in Braintree, UK. There, I chanced upon a case of the ‘May Silks’: beautiful damasks and brocades, some with interwoven gold and silver threads, hand woven by Warner and Sons for the trousseau of Princess May for her wedding to the heir to the British throne in 1893. The silks themselves were entrancing but it was the story behind them which most intrigued me.
When her fiancé the Duke of Clarence died just six weeks before the wedding it was decided, with typical royal pragmatism, that the princess should instead marry his younger brother George, who later became King George V. Rather than waste the May Silks, they would use them for this occasion instead.
Q2:Why did you choose to tell this story?
I have always been captivated by the way that quilters manage to juxtapose and manipulate fabrics into such extraordinary and unexpected effects.
A few years ago I went to the Victoria and Albert Museum’s Quilt Show, in London, featuring quilts dating from 1700 to the present day, and this fascination was revived. Most of all, I wasreminded of the many different ways in which quilts tell stories, and decided that I would one day write a novel in which a quilt would become a ‘main character’.
To ensure that the quilting details were right, I needed an expert, and was fortunate enough to be introduced to the internationally-acknowledged Suffolk quilter, teacher and author: Lynne Edwards, MBE. Lynne has also written guidelines for anyone wishing to make ‘Maria’s quilt’, which are available for free on my website.
Q3: Why these characters?
That is always such a difficult question to answer. I love books that juxtapose characters in different eras because I strongly believe that the events that shapes the lives of our ancestors, grandparents and parents resonate through the generations into our own lives. I am also fascinated by the effect and impact of memory, remembered lives and family legends.
So, it started with Maria in the early part of the 20th century and I can honestly say I do not know where her character came from – she just happened, and grew in strength as I wrote. The other main character, Caroline, is very much a 30-something metropolitan girl, not unlike my own two lovely daughters!
Q4: Did you write from personal experience, or were you inspired by something you read?
Of course every writer is inspired by other authors. I can’t say that The Forgotten Seamstress was directly inspired by any other novel, but there is always plenty of an author’s ‘personal experience’ in every novel. The most obvious example, in this one, is my experience of the setting. A large part of the The Forgotten Seamstress is set in Helena Hall, based closely on Severalls Hospital, a Victorian former mental asylum on the outskirts of my home town in Colchester, Essex.
As a teenager, I was an inpatient in a ward at the hospital which had been set aside for minor clinical operations, and the sights and sounds of the place left a deep impression on me. It was like a country mansion set in its own grounds but with bars at the windows and surrounded by high fences – outwardly grand and yet with such an oppressive and ominous atmosphere. Even now that the place has been abandoned and will shortly be developed into housing, it has a powerful presence that I hope comes through in my writing.
And there you have it! I would like to take a quick moment to thank Liz Trenow not only for guest-blogging, but also for writing such a wonderful novel. The desire to look back at one’s past and to learn more about one’s family history is so widespread and deep-seated, and this novel will definitely spur on some readers to look into an account with a site like Ancestry.com. I hope you, my dear reader, are among those people; you never know, you might discover a completely unexpected connection such as the one between Caroline and Maria! Happy hunting!
Click below to purchase your own copy of The Forgotten Seamstress, and click here to read my review!