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


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 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.


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 More info at

* 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.


Publication day for The Silk Weaver


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.