Stitching memories with Liz Trenow

Liz Trenow worked for many years as a journalist for national and regional newspapers, and for BBC radio and television news, and is now a full time writer.

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They say the journey to being published is one of the hardest an author can take, please can you describe the journey that you went on?
I have been a journalist all my working life but only turned my hand to creative writing in my 50s, when I started dabbling in poetry and short stories. I enjoyed this so much I promised myself that when I had time I would try to write a novel. When my two daughters left home, I went freelance, and decided to tackle my own personal ‘Everest’ of starting the novel. I knew I’d need help, so took a part-time MA in Creative Writing at City University in London. The tutors and my fellow students were inspirational – I would never have done it without them.

To pass the MA you had to write a ‘dissertation’: a sixty thousand word ‘publishable’ novel. This was the first draft of The Last Telegram, on the basis of which I was eventually signed by the Christopher Little Literary Agency, although I am now with Hardman and Swainson. Many rewrites and publisher’s rejections later, they agency finally managed to land me a two-book deal with Harper Collins Avon. The Last Telegram and my second novel The Forgotten Seamstress have also been sold in the US and Germany. I have just finished The Poppy Factory, the third novel commissioned by Harper Collins, which will be published in August 2014.

Are any of the characters in ‘The Forgotten Seamstress’ anything like you?
No, not really. Although Caroline is quite like a combination of my daughters and Jean is not unlike my late mother in law (after whom she is named).

I love the way we discover the story through the quilt, what inspired you to tell the story in this way?
A few years ago I went to the Victoria and Albert Museum’s Quilt Show, of 70 quilts dating from 1700 to the present day, and this fascination was revived. Most of all, I was reminded of the many different ways in which quilts tell stories, and decided that I would write a novel one day in which a quilt would become a ‘main character’.

When was at the Warner Textile Archive in Braintree, Essex, doing research into my own family history, when I chanced upon a case of the ‘May Silks’: beautiful damasks and brocades, some with interwoven gold and silver threads, hand woven by Warner and Sons 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, so I decided to make them the centrepiece of my novel.

As I set out to write The Forgotten Seamstress, I was incredibly fortunate to be introduced to the internationally-acknowledged patchwork quilter, teacher and author: Lynne Edwards, who in 2008 was awarded an MBE for her services to arts and crafts. We met several times and, over bottles of wine and lots of laughter, ‘devised’ the quilt that Maria made, taking into account the influences and sources of inspiration that she would have had at different times of her life, and the sort of fabrics she might have had at her disposal.

By the time we had finished I had, in my mind’s eye, a very clear view of what the quilt would look like. We very much hope that someone, someday, will be inspired by the pattern Lynne has very generously devised (available for free at http://liztrenow.com) and create ‘Maria’s quilt’. If you do, please let us know!

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If you were told that you could live any day without repercussions for your actions, what would you do and why?
a) I would eat at a wonderful French restaurant and drink delicious expensive wines without having to worry about weight or cholesterol levels.
b) I would tell a few people what I really think of them (no names)
c) I would book an amazing holiday and a new car (no repercussions, no bills)

if there was one saying that could sum up your life to date, what would it be?
‘Count your blessings.’ I have been very blessed in my life and when I am feeling stressed or hard done by, I try to remember that.

What or who in life inspires you?
All people who protest against wrong and for the things they believe in inspire me – I am usually too selfish, lazy or cowardly to join their fight.

What is your all time favourite book?
It changes as the years go by. But if I really had to choose only one, of course it would be Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth Bennett is intelligent and independent in an era when women were not meant to be. I love the novel because it’s clever and funny, and about a woman’s search for herself.

There is a cocktail in honour of ‘The Forgotten Seamstress’ what are the ingredients?
Given the hardships that Maria goes through, it seems far too flippant to create a cocktail in her honour. But if you would like to offer a cocktail in honour of the author of The Forgotten Seamstress (me), then it would be a traditional Margarita (preferably to be enjoyed on a beach, rather than at a dinner party). Caroline would probably enjoy that, too.

Thank you Liz, for talking to The Love of a Good Book

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