Please tell us a little about yourself
My family has been weaving silk for three hundred years, and I was brought up in the house next to the mill which is still weaving today. Although I didn’t go into the silk business myself, this upbringing has left me with a great love of all things to do with fabrics.
I came to fiction writing quite late in my career having spent fifteen years as a news journalist on regional and national newspapers, and on BBC radio and television news. I always wanted to write fiction (some would say journalism is fiction!) and had no idea how different it would be. I knew that I would need someone to ‘hold my hand’ so enrolled on a part time two year MA in Creative Writing at City University in London. For this degree you have to write a full length novel as the ‘dissertation’, so I emerged with the draft of what would eventually, after many rewritings, become my first novel, The Last Telegram. The Forgotten Seamstress is my second novel.
I live in Essex with my artist husband, and we have two grown up daughters. There’s more about me at www.liztrenow.com and I’d love to hear from you on Twitter @LizTrenow.
Please tell us about The Forgotten Seamstress and your inspiration for the book
Two stories are told in parallel: In 1910 a young seamstress, Maria, is noticed by Queen Mary, patron of the London Needlework Guild, and employed in the royal household. In 2010 Caroline discovers that a patchwork quilt inherited from her grandmother contains unique royal silks. Through the fading memories of her mother, some family letters and photographs, some old cassette tapes and the help of a local journalist Caroline uncovers an extraordinary story involving a royal affair, a life of incarceration and two women whose lives collided with devastating consequences. Finally, she comes to understand what her Granny wanted her to know – the truth about herself and how she wants to live her own life.
I was inspired to write this book when I went to the Warner Textile Archive in Braintree, Essex, doing research into my own family history, and chanced upon a case of the ‘May Silks’: beautiful damasks and brocades, some with interwoven gold and silver threads, hand for the trousseau of Princess May for her wedding to the heir to the British throne in 1893. The silks themselves were entrancing but it was the story behind them which most intrigued me.
I decided to set it in a mental asylum because, as a teenager, I was an inpatient in a ward set aside for minor clinical operations at an enormous Victorian mental hospital close to my home town. The sights and sounds of the place left a deep impression on me. It was like a country mansion set in its own grounds but surrounded by high fences – outwardly grand and yet with such an oppressive and ominous atmosphere.
Can you tell us about your typical writing day?
I write in the mornings when my mind is freshest – usually starting around 8.30ish and continuing till my stomach rumbles for lunch. I start by reviewing and editing the section I wrote yesterday, to get me back into the ‘zone’ and then I usually try to write between 1,000 – 1,500 words each day. I always write in my study, a small room at the front of the house where there are not too many distractions. My imagination seems to close down after lunch so then I do research, admin, replying to emails, blogging and, when I’ve got to that stage, proof reading.
What are you working on now?
I have already written the first draft of my next book, The Poppy Factory. It will be published in August 2014, marking the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War. As the title suggests, the story revolves around the work of the real-life Poppy Factory which still employs disabled veterans making Remembrance Day poppies in Richmond, Surrey. Besides a poignant First World War strand it also has a powerful contemporary storyline based on interviews with two extraordinary young women who served as army medics on the front line in Afghanistan.
My next book will go back in time to the 18th century – set among the silk weavers of Spitalfields in London, where my family’s silk weaving history began.
What do you like to do outside of writing?
Reading, spending time with family and friends, walking on the coast in Suffolk, and singing – especially early music!
Look out for my review of The Forgotten Seamstress, which is coming soon.