Today, Passages to the Past is pleased to bring you a guest post by Liz Trenow, who is on tour for the release of her novel, The Last Telegram! Thanks to Sourcebooks I also have one copy of The Last Telegram up for grabs.
And now, please enjoy this post...
They say you should write what you know, but it took a friend to point out what familiarity had blinded me to – what a unique background I come from.
I grew up next door to a silk mill, in Sudbury, Suffolk, which is the oldest family-owned silk company in Britain and one of very few operating today. It was started in around 1720 in Spitalfields, London, and is still going strong, weaving luxury fabrics prized by top name designers from all over the world, and even for the royal family such as the Queen’s Coronation Robe and Princess Diana’s wedding dress.
Although I later became a journalist, I worked at the mill in school holidays, and found the place fascinating, the way that an unpromising-looking raw filament unraveled from a caterpillar’s cocoon is turned, like some kind of alchemy, in to the most sumptuous, lustrous and beautiful and luxurious of fabrics. I loved the roar of the looms, the unique sweet, nutty aroma of raw silk, the dexterity and skill of the weavers – all fluent lip-readers – and the remarkable workplace camaraderie. But, perhaps because of this familiarity, I didn’t at first recognise its potential as the setting for a novel.
It was when I started talking to my father, then in his nineties, that I found my story. In 1938, when war looked inevitable, they knew the market for luxury fabrics would disappear and needed to find ways of keeping the mill going. Soon enough, they had contracts for surgical dressings (silk has remarkable antiseptic properties) and electrical insulation (plastics weren’t yet good enough) and ‘escape and evasion maps’ which were secretly sewn inside airmen’s jackets, in case they were shot down over enemy territory. The largest contract was for parachute silk.
But parachute silk was tricky – the weave and the finishing had to be perfect. If it’s too loose the air flows through too quickly, with obvious consequence. Too tight, and the canopy fails to open properly. The finished fabric was rigorously tested: they knew that getting the silk right, and delivering on time, was critical for the war effort.
My father also told me how his family had become increasingly concerned about the plight of their Jewish friends and business colleagues in Europe, which prompted them to sponsor five German ‘Kindertransport’ boys to travel to England and work at the mill. One of them fell in love with a local girl and, after internment in Australia and fighting for the Allies in the jungles of Burma, returned to work at the mill, married and had a family, and lived a long and happy life. This wonderfully romantic story inspired one of my main characters.
Finally, at a Weavers’ Company dinner when I met a man who told me about the extraordinary mission undertaken by his father to source vital silk supplies from the Middle East at the height of the war. I couldn’t ignore such a remarkable tale, so that got included too, as readers will discover.
So, as you see, although my characters and the events in the plot – especially the problems with the parachute silk – are of course entirely fictional, my inspiration was certainly rooted in real people and real events, and for that reason the book means a good deal to me, personally.
I hope you enjoy it – and tell all your friends! You can find out more about me and my next book, The Forgotten Seamstress, at www.liztrenow.com.
Publication Date: April 2, 2013
We all make mistakes. Some we can fix.
But what happens when we can't?
ago, as Nazi planes dominated the sky, Lily Verner made a terrible
choice. She's tried to forget, but now an unexpected event pulls her
back to the 1940s British countryside. She finds herself remembering the
brilliant colors of the silk she helped to weave at her family's mill,
the relentless pressure of the worsening war, and the kind of
heartbreaking loss that stops time.
In this evocative novel of
love and consequences, Lily finally confronts the disastrous decision
that has haunted her all these years. The Last Telegram uncovers the
surprising truth about how the stories we weave about our lives are
threaded with truth, guilt, and forgiveness.
PTTP has one copy of The Last Telegram to give away!
Giveaway is open to US and Canada residents only and ends on April 20th. Good luck!
a Rafflecopter giveaway