A new version of Maria’s Quilt!

Maria's Quilt by Mel Terpstra

It’s a source of great pleasure to me that even now, four years after my novel The Forgotten Seamstress was published, quilters all over the world are still beavering away making the quilt from the pattern devised by Lynne Edwards, based on my story about a fictional quilter, Maria.

This one has come from Mel Terpstra in the US.

She writes: ‘I have read The Forgotten Seamstress twice and loved every bit of it! I am myself a seamstress and quilter. I have made the quilt and for me it was a labour of love and healing after a difficult time in my life. I incorporated my mom’s and grandmother’s vintage hankies and some pieces of bobbin lace my mother-in-law made. Although you can’t tell from the photo, there are bits of bobbin lace on the small half moon shapes in the fan blocks as well as the medallion in the center.’

‘Of all the quilts I have made, it is my pride and joy.’

Thank you, Mel, for your lovely quilt and moving words.

You can view more interpretations of Maria’s Quilt here.

 

The story of two covers

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Two covers for the same book: on the left, the original devised by my UK publishers Pan Macmillan for the book published in January. On the right, the amended version developed by my US publishers Bookouture ready for publication on 12th July.  I like them both! Which do you prefer?

PS US readers can pre-order from Amazon now at 

How a postcard inspired a novel

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When I was just starting to research my novel In Love and War, I read to my astonishment that within months of the end of the First World War several thousands of tourists undertook arduous journeys to Flanders and the Somme in a desperate search to find out what had happened to their loved ones.

Why was I so astonished? Because these areas were inhospitable: the towns shattered, their roads and railways destroyed, fields and woodland churned up into hundreds of square miles of mud, trenches, shell holes, barbed wire, broken tanks, unexploded ordnance and . . . bodies. A quarter of all those whose died were never found.

Some tours were run by church groups but commercial organisations like the travel agency Thomas Cook were quick to respond to the new market, which was extremely controversial because many thought it distasteful to make money from people’s grief.

I wanted to write about people who undertook this tour, but I just couldn’t picture it.

So imagine my delight when, on a research trip to Ypres, I discovered this postcard. It shows the devastation of the beautiful town square with its medieval cloth hall and the cathedral in ruins. There, in the bottom right hand corner, is a bus with the words Excursions to the Battlefields written in English along its side. Inside, waiting for the tour to begin, it is possible to see a few ladies looking oh so Edwardian in their wide brimmed hats.

Suddenly, my novel had come to life.

Five remarkable Edwardian women

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Today marks 100 years since women first gained the vote in Britain, but the media seems to be focusing only on the suffragettes such as Emmeline Pankhurst. So to redress the balance, I would like to nominate five other extraordinary women who, in their different ways, fought for equal rights in their own fields. The list begins with two remarkable sisters:

Elizabeth Garret AndersonThe doctor:  Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (1836 – 1917) was the eldest sister born in Suffolk to an engineering family whose parents seem to have had a remarkably liberal attitude to the raising of their daughters. After training as a nurse she was refused entry to medical schools but trained instead as an apothecary, eventually managing to become the first woman to qualify in Britain as a doctor. She co-founded the first hospital entirely staffed by women, became the first dean of a British medical school and the first female doctor of medicine in France. Her determination paved the way for others and in 1876 an act was passed permitting women to enter the medical professions. As if that was not enough, she was active in the women’s suffrage movement, became the first woman to be elected to a school board and, as Mayor of Aldeburgh, the first female mayor and magistrate in Britain.

Millicent FawcettThe Campaigner: Millicent Garrett Fawcett, (1847 – 1929) younger sister of Elizabeth, is primarily known for her work as a tireless campaigner for women to have the vote – as a suffragist, who sought change by peaceful means rather than the more militant suffragettes. She concentrated much of her energy on the struggle to improve women’s opportunities for higher education and co-founded Newnham College, Cambridge, as well as being a lecturer and writer. In 1901 Millicent led a government commission to South Africa to investigate conditions in the concentration camps that had been created there in the wake of the Second Boer War, revealing terrible abuses. Her memory is preserved in the name of the Fawcett Society which still campaigns for the rights of women.

Freya StarkThe explorer and author: Freya Stark (1893-1993) was an explorer who went where few Europeans, let alone European women, had ever been before. Her travels led her into remote areas of Turkey and the Middle East where she moved on foot, on donkeys, on camels and by car, camping along the way. While living in Baghdad, she explored and mapped uncharted areas of the Islamic world and created some of the first accurate maps of the region. She also wrote more than twenty four travel books covering local history, culture and tales of everyday life. In spite of age and illnesses, she never stopped travelling and died at the great old age of one hundred.

Bessie Coleman courtesy Norman Studios The pilot: Bessie Coleman (1892-1926) flew in the face of race and gender discrimination to become the first black woman pilot in the world. Banned from flying schools in her native America, she taught herself French and travelled to France where she earned her pilot’s licence two years before her more famous contemporary, Amelia Earhart. Coleman flew all over the US performing aerial tricks and lecturing to raise funds for an African-American flying school, always refusing to take part in segregated events. Tragically, her life and dream ended when she died during an air show rehearsal at the age of 34.

Hertha Ayrton courtesy Spartacus Educational The scientist: Hertha Ayrton (1854-1923) was a pioneering woman scientist. She gained a place to study maths at Girton College, Cambridge University – itself unusual – and later attended classes in physics at Finsbury Technical College given by Professor William Ayrton, whom she later married. She was elected the first female member of the Institution of Electrical Engineers and was the first woman nominated a Fellow of the Royal Society of London, although because she was married she could not be elected to this distinction. However, she was the first woman to read her own paper before the society and went on to receive its top medal for her investigations.

This article also appears on the Pan Macmillan website at http://www.panmacmillan.com/blogs/history/five-extraordinary-edwardian-women.

 

What I have loved and lost

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To accompany her review of my latest novel In Love and War, Linda’s Book Bag lindasbookbag.com asked me an interesting question: to tell them about something I had loved and lost. Here is what I wrote:

‘It is tempting to write about the people whom I have loved and lost – my father, for example, who was a remarkable man. He died aged 96 having lived through most of the 20th century and two world wars, having saved the silk weaving company from bankruptcy, and having lived an incredibly full and active life in spite of losing a leg in his teens after a road accident.

And then there was my mother, the most caring, loving, intuitive, home-making mum you could ever hope for. A light went out of my life when she died.

But you have asked for something, not someone. So what I have chosen is a house, the house that my parents built for themselves, a modest bungalow in a beautiful position on the edge of a wartime gravel pit that had filled up with water. It was, literally, the house on the lake. We moved there when I was nine, and I thought I’d arrived in heaven: a large garden, much of it completely wild, an apple orchard and a lake on which we paddled rafts and small boats, playing pirates. In springtime the water was thronged with ducklings, goslings and cygnets.

My father and mother remained very much in love throughout their lives and in my mind this place seemed to symbolise their marriage. They built it together and right to the end both of them relished every aspect of living there. Sadly, once they died, it had to be sold.

Recently, the new owners demolished the bungalow and built a much larger house on the plot. Now I avoid driving down that road: it is too painful to return. But one day I will recreate that place in my imagination, for a novel.’

 

 

 

Just a few weeks to wait!

In Love and War PBB amended (1)I am proud to present the wonderfully evocative cover of my next book, In Love and War, which will be published in the UK on 25th January by Pan Macmillan, at the start of a year marking 100 years since the end of World War One.

The so called ‘war to end all wars’ was the greatest slaughter of fighting men in history. Millions of men on all sides died or returned dreadfully injured.  In some areas, such as Flanders, one quarter of the bodies were never found, recorded only as ‘missing, presumed dead’.

The backdrop of the cover shows the Belgian town of Ypres which, along with hundreds of other towns and villages and many thousands of acres of farmland, were left completely devastated by four years of fighting. Yet, astonishingly, within a few months of the end of the war many thousands of bereaved family members made difficult and sometimes dangerous journeys to these areas, desperately seeking any news of their lost loved ones.

My characters are three such women: a young English widow, a sophisticated American woman trying to find her brother, and a German mother grieving the loss of her elder son. Their meeting at the Hotel de la Paix in a village behind the lines reveals truths about themselves and their loved ones they could never have predicted.

PS Readers in the US, Germany, Spain, Holland, Italy and Russia, you may have a few more months to wait for publication in your countries, but I will keep you posted!

Sudbury, UK capital of silk

I’ve been doing a bit of journalism again! Here is my article for the August edition of Suffolk Life Magazine about the lovely little exhibition entitled From Spitalfields to Sudbury currently on at Gainsborough’s House in Sudbury, Suffolk.

The exhibition could not be more perfectly timed to reflect the issues that have inspired my latest novel, The Silk Weaver: Spitalfields weavers, Huguenots and the designer Anna Maria Garthwaite. And it is truly lovely to see that the unique and remarkable Sudbury silk weavers (including my own family’s firm) are at last being celebrated in their home town.

So, I ask in the article, why has Sudbury always been so coy about its unique claim to fame? Few seem to appreciate the truly remarkable fact that for more than two hundred years the town has been a major centre of silk weaving, and is today the only place in Britain where silk is produced in any quantity. And yet hardly anyone seems to be aware of this.

Four companies between them employ several hundred highly-skilled local craftspeople creating exquisite fabrics that are in demand from top end fashion and furnishing houses across the world. Representatives of internationally famous couturiers – among them Prada, Hermes, Hugo Boss, Liberty of London, Armani, Chanel – regularly beat a path to Sudbury’s door in search of special silks of exceptional quality and design to grace their next catwalk shows.

Only the tourist authority credits the town with the title it truly deserves, a title of which local people should be immensely proud and which, for the avoidance of doubt, should be emblazoned on town signs, leaflets, websites and all other tourist and marketing materials. It is Sudbury: The UK Capital of Silk.

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Remembering Geoffrey

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Today we are remembering Geoffrey Foveaux Trenow of Epping in Essex, my husband’s great uncle, who died at the battle of Passchendaele four months after receiving the Military Cross for ‘conspicuous gallantry’, saving many lives during a bombing raid.

He joined up in 1914 and gained a commission the following July in the 5th City of London Battalion, London Rifle Brigade.  When he died, he had been married for just nine months.

On a visit to Flanders researching my forthcoming novel, In Love and War, we discovered his name inscribed on the Menin Gate (seen here with my husband David Trenow), among the tens of thousands of others whose bodies were never found – a quarter of all those who died.

The novel is about the people who travelled to the battlefields within months of the end of the war in a desperate search for any evidence of their lost loved ones. It is dedicated to our brave ancestor.

 

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22 June: a date with The Silk Weaver at the house of Mr Gainsborough

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This is the house where the famous 18th century artist Thomas Gainsborough lived, in my home town of Sudbury, Suffolk (UK). It is now a gallery and museum which is about to mount an exhibition about Silk: From Spitalfields to Sudbury, starting on 17th June.

The exhibition will naturally feature my family’s company, one of just three still operating in Sudbury and the oldest family-owned silk weaving company in Britain, having started in Spitalfields nearly 300 years ago. It is this family history that has inspired several of my novels, including my latest, The Silk Weaver (The Hidden Thread in the US)*, which is set in Spitalfields. The exhibition will include several examples of the work of Anna Maria Garthwaite, the 18th century silk designer on whom I based my heroine, Anna.

As part of the exhibition, I shall be giving a talk about all these wonderful links at Gainsborough’s House on Thursday 22nd June at 6pm. Entrance is FREE – what’s not to like! To reserve your place please ring 01787 372958 or email mail@gainsborough.org. More info at http://www.gainsborough.org/events/category/events/

* In the UK, The Silk Weaver is published by Pan Macmillan and is available from all good bookshops. In the US it is published under the title The Hidden Thread, published by Sourcebooks.

 

The Hidden Thread arrives in the US!

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Ooh, look what’s just arrived at my door!

It’s the US version of my latest novel, The Hidden Thread (known in the UK as The Silk Weaver) with its beautiful, elegant cover design and several pages of additional material, including ‘A Conversation with the Author’ and excerpts from my two previously-published novels in the US, at the end of the book. It is published by the wonderful Sourcebooks on 2nd May 2017.

It has been more than three years since the US publication of The Forgotten Seamstress and it is thrilling to see, just above my name on the title of this new book, the words ‘New York Times Bestselling Author’. This is because all you fabulous readers in America bought so many copies that The Forgotten Seamstress reached number 18 in the NYT Top 100. It was a pretty exciting moment, I can tell you. Thank you folks for making me a very happy author!

Just as in The Last Telegram and The Forgotten Seamstress, The Hidden Thread draws on my family’s 300 year history of silk weaving, only this time we go back to 18th century London, where it all began. Researching this era has been fascinating, and I can’t wait to write about it again. For more on this please click here: On researching a very different era….For more on the real people who provided the inspiration for The Hidden Thread, please click here: The Silk Weaver and here: Anna Maria and Mr Hogarth.

I do hope you enjoy reading The Hidden Thread. I’d love to hear from you.