In just over a month (21st February) my sixth novel, The Dressmaker of Draper’s Lane, will be published by Pan Macmillan (UK only, for the moment).
The story behind it came when I was writing a previous novel, The Silk Weaver, inspired by the history of my family’s silk business, which started in East London in the early 1700s. The company, now based in Suffolk, is one of just three in the country still weaving today.
At first, Miss Charlotte was just a minor, character – a go-between, useful for taking the plot forward – but she soon grew in personality and importance, and I realised that her backstory was begging to be told. Most seamstresses were poorly-paid workers but a very few were fortunate enough to run their own businesses, allowing them financial freedom and an ability to move between the layers of society in a way not available to others according to the strict mores of the time.
Miss Charlotte is different: she is happily unmarried, and an independent businesswoman in the days when this was most unusual. She ought to be content, but something is missing, and the discovery of a rare piece of silk sets her off on a search that will change her life.
I loved returning to the setting of 18th century London. It was a fascinating era, a time of much societal change: trade barriers were relaxed, the industrial revolution was about to begin, capitalism was on the rise as a newly wealthy middle class became consumers, and great thinkers and explorers of the Enlightenment were opening up their knowledge of the world. And of course, it was the time when the first Foundling Hospital was established in London.
Researching and writing my own family’s silk weaving history has brought a greater sense of connection to my ancestors and an appreciation of the remarkable fabrics they have created over three hundred years. As it approaches its 300th anniversary in 2020, Stephen Walters & Sons is certainly the oldest silk company and probably one of very few continuously family-owned companies of any kind in Britain, and I am very proud to be connected with that heritage.
Check out my events page for dates and venues when I’ll be talking about my research and inspirations.