A big welcome today to Liz Trenow and the blog tour for her new novel, The Silk Weaver which was published on Thursday by Pan Macmillan.
Anna Butterfield moves from her Suffolk country home to her uncle’s house in London, to be introduced to society. A chance encounter with a local silk weaver, French immigrant Henri, throws her from her privileged upbringing to the darker, dangerous world of London’s silk trade. Henri is working on his ‘master piece’ to make his name as a master silk weaver; Anna, meanwhile, is struggling against the constraints of her family and longing to become an artist. Henri realizes that Anna’s designs could lift his work above the ordinary, and give them both an opportunity for freedom…
This is a charming story of illicit romance, set against the world of the burgeoning silk trade in eighteenth-century Spitalfields – a time of religious persecution, mass migration, racial tension and wage riots, and very different ideas of what was considered ‘proper’ for women.
Liz talks to us today about what inspired her new novel. Over to you, Liz.
My love affair with Anna Maria Garthwaite began on a cold winter day in Spitalfields, East London. I was walking on air, excited by having just visited for the first time the very address at which my ancestors had started, nearly three hundred years ago, the silk weaving company that is still run by my family today.
Just a few yards along I noticed the blue plaque that reads: Anna Maria Garthwaite 1690 – 1763, designer of Spitalfieds Silks, lived and worked here. I was intrigued to discover that Anna Maria was probably the most celebrated textile designer of the eighteenth century whose silks were sought after by the nobility in Britain and America. She was noted for her naturalistic, botanically accurate designs and said to have ‘introduced the Principles of Painting into the loom’. It was thrilling to realise that my ancestors would have known, and very probably worked with this remarkable woman.
The Victoria & Albert Museum has nearly a thousand of Anna Maria’s designs in their collection and I fell in love with her extraordinary and beautiful artistry. I also read everything that the acknowledged expert, Natalie Rothstein, the late curator of textiles at the museum, had written about my new heroine.
Very little is known about Anna Maria’s personal life. Not even Ms Rothstein was able to discover how a talented teenage artist learned the highly technical skill of designing for silk or how a single middle-aged woman managed to develop such a successful business in a largely male-dominated industry.
It is these mysteries that have inspired my latest novel, The Silk Weaver.
About Liz Trenow:
Liz Trenow is the author of three previous historical novels: The Last Telegram, The Forgotten Seamstress and The Poppy Factory. Liz’s family have been silk weavers for nearly three hundred years, and she grew up in the house next to the mill in Suffolk, England, which still operates today, weaving for top-end fashion houses and royal commissions. This unique history inspired her first two novels, and this, her fourth novel.
Liz is a former journalist who spent fifteen years on regional and national newspapers, and on BBC radio and television news, before turning her hand to fiction. She lives in East Anglia, UK, with her artist husband, and they have two grown-up daughter.
(The Silk Weaver is published by Pan Macmillan, 26 January 2017 in paperback priced £7.99)
Novel Kicks is a blog for story tellers and book lovers.