48. 'The Silk Weaver' by Liz Trenow

Sunday 29 January 2017

A novel of illicit romance set against the world of the silk trade in London
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 for women.

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.

I couldn't wait to send my questions to Liz for a Q&A as my part of the blog tour below:

Where did the initial concept for the book come from?

My heroine, Anna, is inspired by the eminent silk designer, Anna Maria Garthwaite, who lived and worked in a house just a few doors away from where my family’s silk weaving business started in the 1700s. I was intrigued to think that they must have known and worked with her.
Anna Maria was one of the most celebrated textile designers of the eighteenth century, her silks were worn by royalty and nearly a thousand of her designs are in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.  Yet no-one knows how she learned her craft or how an unmarried middle-aged woman managed to develop such a successful business in a male dominated industry. It is this mystery that sparked the idea for the novel.
The boy she falls in love with, Henri, is a Huguenot (Protestant) whose family fled persecution in France by the Catholic king. Many Huguenots made perilous journeys in small boats across the Channel to reach safety in England.  I became fascinated by the parallels with what is happening to refugees today and wanted to highlight them in this novel.

You have worked as a journalist before turning your hand to writing fiction, did you always want to be a writer?

I distinctly remember, at primary school, being asked to read out a story I had written about a very cold, pink pig we’d found wandering lost in the snow! I decided then that writing was something I could be good at but I didn’t start writing fiction until much later in life because journalism offered a regular salary.  It’s only now that I don’t have to go out to work, and my children have left home, that I’ve managed to find the time and brain space to write fiction.  

Do you have a particular process you follow when writing a book? 

It varies. Usually there is a very slight idea – a couple of characters, a situation – often inspired by something I’ve been told or have read. That germinates for a year or so and I might start researching the history around it. 

Before I start writing I only know the main characters, a rough idea of beginnings and endings, and probably the ‘inciting moment’, ie the event around which the plot hinges. All the rest evolves as I write and do more research, often changing quite dramatically from my original idea.

Did you face setbacks, and if so - how did you overcome them?

Every writing day is an uphill struggle, with occasional moments of what I call ‘flying’, which is when a character really comes to life, or when you are so into the voice of a character that the writing just seems to flow. 

The other kind of setback a writer must be prepared to face is rejections from agents, publishers etc. The only way of overcoming setbacks is to hold your nerve and plough on. 

Any writing tips for aspiring authors?
  • Write every day
  • Read widely, to provide inspiration and give you an idea of where your own writing  might fit in
  • Writing can be lonely. Join a group of writers, and agree to give each other really honest feedback.
  • Never give up!

Finally - chose 5 famous figures, dead or alive to have a dinner party with?
  • Maya Angelou (ground-breaking American poet and novelist, whose writing inspired me in the first place)
  • Jane Austen (surely the ultimate example for women writers)
  • Hilary Mantel (author of the remarkable historical  novel Wolf Hall)
  • Sarah Perry (my current favourite writer and author of The Essex Serpent)
  • Barack Obama (who will be sorely missed)
Buy a copy of 'The Silk Weaver' by Liz Trenow here

I very much enjoyed reading 'The Silk Weaver'. Trenow has created a vivid and credible world, inhabited by characters whom both tug at my heart strings, and equally drive me bonkers because of their actions - I'm looking at you, William! I think a lot of readers will identify with Anna and Henri, and the challenges that they face. I could not put the book down, so vibrant was the storytelling, and found myself hanging by tenterhooks when I had to put the book down and face real life responsibilities.

Rating: 5/5

If you'd like to catch up with the previous posts on the blog tour, you can find the listing below:

A copy of 'The Silk Weaver' was sent to me by PanMacmillan in exchange for an honest review. 

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