Publication day for The Silk Weaver

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It’s that day we all long for, and yet when it comes it is always mildly terrifying: the day when the novel you have been thinking about, researching, struggling with, agonising over, fine-tooth combing, worrying for and loving all at the same time, gets published and officially hits the bookshops!

Longed for, because there is no feeling like seeing your book in print, on the shelves, in the hands of strangers on trains. Terrifying because you want everyone to love it but in your heart know that every reader enjoys different things: your book won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but you hope that it will bring pleasure for most of them.

So good luck, The Silk Weaver! Enjoy your journey into the big wide world and may you fare well. You wouldn’t be there without the work of my wonderful agent Caroline Hardman of Hardman & Swainson, and my editor at Pan Macmillan, Catherine Richards. To both of you, we all (that’s me as well as Anna, Henri and the other characters who still live so large in my imagination) say a huge thank you.

Anna Maria and Mr Hogarth

 

What did the silk designer Anna Maria Garthwaite (whose life inspired The Silk Weaverpublished 26th January) have to do with the famous 18th century artist William Hogarth?

In an unpublished manuscript in the National Art Library, unfinished at her death, the late Natalie Rothstein, formerly curator of textiles at the V&A, hints at a tantalising connection between Hogarth and the weavers of Spitalfields: his famous series of prints, Industry and Idleness, published in 1747, show weavers at their looms. Six years later he published An Analysis of Beauty, in which he proposed that the serpentine curve – as seen in nature and the human form – was the essence of visual perfection. It is quite possible, Ms Rothstein suggests, that he had seen Anna Maria’s designs on the loom, and had been inspired by them.

What do you think?

Above: Anna Maria design, William Hogarth’s illustration of the serpentine curve in The Analysis of Beauty, and his etching ‘The Fellow Weavers at their Looms’.

On researching a very different era….

My first three novels were set in various decades of the 20th century, but for my new novel, The Silk Weaver, I have reached much further back into history, to the 1760s in Spitalfields, East London.

I have so much enjoyed exploring a very different era for this one, but it has certainly set challenges. My research was extensive and great fun: visiting museums and great houses all over the country, and immersing myself in 18th century literature and art. But how did characters think, in those way back times? What did they read? What did they eat, what did they eat with, write with, light their houses with? There was so much for me to learn.

Georgian fashions seem to have changed almost as fast as those of today. I needed to find out what wigs men wore according to their status, their occupation, their age. Would clothes have been tied, hooked or buttoned? How did a middle-society woman get dressed, with all those layers? What make-up would they have worn? Where did they wash, and what with?

Of course you can turn to the experts and there are sources of information to be had in almost every field, but a writer must learn and absorb just the right amount of knowledge to write a convincing novel without themselves becoming an expert. There just isn’t the time.

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was to research as fully as possible, writing copious notes and then, when you start to write, close your notebook(s). It takes courage but somehow the knowledge sits there in the back of your head and imbues the writing and the atmosphere of the book. If you refer back to your research too frequently it seems to stultify the imaginative part of your brain and you find yourself writing non-fiction.

Over the coming few weeks I’ll be blogging about this process, what I learned and how it influenced the characters and plot of The Silk Weaver. Then, come publication date on 26th January 2017*, you can read it for yourselves.

* Sorry, US readers, you will have to wait a few more months. For you, the book will be coming out under the title The Hidden Thread in May 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

The real poppy lady

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Anna Guerin

I was thrilled to receive an email from Heather Johnson, whose website Madame Guerin explores in detail the life and work of this remarkable Frenchwoman who, along with the American Moina Michael, ensured that the remembrance poppy has become one of the most powerful symbols of our time.

It was the stories of these two women, along with the work of the real life Poppy Factory, still going in Richmond, near London, today, which inspired my third novel, The Poppy Factory.

It’s great to hear from readers who share my passions and interests!

 

 

 

 

 

Getting the blue ribbon right

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blue bonnet 2

Who’d have thought that going through copy edits on your manuscript could be fun! But I really enjoy it. For the first time, you see your book through the eyes of a professional copy editor who gets down to the finest details: questioning, pointing out inconsistencies, recommending improvements. And most of the time they are spot on!

I’ve just finished going through the copy edits for my fourth novel, The Silk Weaver (due for publication January 2017) and these are some of the things I have learned:

  • When a hat previously had a blue ribbon on it, you need to make sure that it’s still blue when she wears it next!
  • A chaise is either a horse-drawn carriage or the US term for a chaise longue.
  • Quotes from original English 18th century documents often had spelling now only used in the US eg traveling/travelling, toward/towards, judgment/judgement. Similarly, oatmeal was an 18th century term for what we now call porridge oats but it is still used in the States. It’s fascinating to trace the origins and mutations of language.
  • Do you count the basement of a house as a ‘floor’, eg when describing a house as ‘four storey’?
  • You can’t be too careful with historical detail: dame schools were only set up in Victorian times (not in the 18th century)
  • A woman dressmaker would be called a ‘costumière’ not a costumier.
  • In conversation, would my character say ‘Coz’ or ‘Cousin’?
  • Don’t have your character sit down when she already sat down a paragraph earlier!
  • Question: Should this not be ‘The Analysis of Beauty’, if it’s referring to the book title rather than the concept of the line of beauty? Er, yes, almost certainly, now that you mention it!

In general, what you learn through the process of copy editing is that, however carefully you have checked, you will have made silly mistakes such as repeated words and inconsistencies. So bless all those copy editors (Lorraine, are you listening?) who are there to make sure you get it right!

 

 

A long wait, but it will be worth it!

One year today, on 26th January 2017, my next book will be published by Pan Macmillan, my new publishers (in the UK and Commonwealth, US readers may have to wait a little longer).

The Silk Weaver returns to my silk-weaving roots. Nearly 300 years ago, in 1720, my family’s silk weaving company started weaving in a house in Wilkes Street, Spitalfields, East London.

Just a few yards down the road was the house of a famous silk designer, Anna Maria Garthwaite, whose beautiful designs were worn by the aristocracy and royalty both in England and across the Atlantic, in the colony of America. Nearly a thousand of her beautiful, intricate designs are held in the Victoria and Albert Museum (see illustration).

Did my ancestors know Anna Maria? Did they weave her designs? How did she learn her craft? And how did this single, middle-aged woman become so pre-eminent in a largely male-dominated industry? These are some of the questions to which I have tried to provide fictionalised answers in my new book.

I will post more about it in the months to come, to keep your appetites whetted during the long wait!

 

Hello Bulgaria!

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This is exciting: the cover for The Forgotten Seamstress, as published in Bulgaria. It is very odd indeed not being able to decipher a single word of what I’ve written. So welcome to all my readers in Bulgaria!

For the Love of Silk

WeaverIntrigued by this photo? Anyone who is in the Colchester area this evening (Wednesday, 13th January), come along and find out more. My talk for Lexden History Group is entitled For the Love of Silk and will describe how my family’s remarkable 300 years of weaving silk has influenced my novels. http://www.lexdenhistory.org.uk/program-of-events/4580505205. Just £3 for non members including refreshments. What a deal!