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January book club - Blackberry & Wild Rose

(58 Posts)
NatashaGransnet (GNHQ) Fri 21-Dec-18 14:10:08

Hi everyone,

This is the official January book club thread! grin

You should start to receive your copies of Sonia Velton's Blackberry & Wild Rose soon, so once you've read it, please do leave your questions and comments for Sonia below.

If you've borrowed or bought a copy yourself, you're very welcome to join the conversation too.

Happy reading! cafe

obag Mon 07-Jan-19 09:40:21

What a terrific book, I couldn't believe it was a debut novel,so well written the story just flows, it was a complete pleasure to read, I shall be passing my copy on to my Daughter.
Thank you so much for my copy.

GrannieAnnie123 Tue 08-Jan-19 17:43:16

Thankyou Gransnet for this fantastic book.!
I have not read such a good book in a long while! I cannot believe that this is a first novel!
The intricate details of the silk weaving and the history behind it was a revalation. Spitalfields came to life with the difference in the class structure and the harshness of those times. Could not put it down!
Have recommended it to my book club.

Pittcity Thu 10-Jan-19 15:10:35

Just finished this fabulous book.

The story was well told, easy to follow and had you rooting for different characters as the plot unfolded.

The lives of both of the main characters were constrained to strict guidelines because they were female and neither, whether rich and privileged or poor and subserviant, was able to live the life that they wanted.

I wonder if Sara told her mother that in sending her away to save her from a man's advances she had pushed her daughter into prostitution. I hope that she embroidered the truth to spare her mother's feelings.

I had to Google "Bastardy Bonds", an early manifestation of the Child Support Agency, which I had not come across before. Sonia's attention to historical detail both informed and entertained.

I will pass the book on and recommend it.

bets1e Thu 10-Jan-19 18:46:13

I have just finished reading Blackberry & Wild Rose. I find it incredible it is a debut novel. I was quickly drawn in and thoroughly enjoyed every part of the storyline. I could visualise the silk weaving taking place. I loved the fact the cover was based on Anna's work in the V&A.
My question for Sonia is did seeing Anna's work give you the inspiration for this book? Thank you gransnet, quercus fiction and Sonia Velton for such an enjoyable read.

Valski Thu 10-Jan-19 19:19:28

The book was officially released today (10th January) and I posted my thoughts onto the Amazon customer reviews. Apparently the number of reviews for a book is directly related to how much Amazon promote the book on their platform (e.g. suggestions for other customers bought and you might like...). As I wanted to recommend the book to other potential readers I thought it might help.

Buddie Wed 16-Jan-19 11:23:57

What a thoroughly enjoyable read Blackberry and Wild Rose has proved to be. The stories of Sara and Esther are as skilfully interwoven as the silk that binds the story together. Generally I do not find it helpful to have a story that ducks in and out of viewpoint but here it works so well as the reader feels sympathy with both characters that it seems the natural way to tell the story.

The background is obviously well-researched and my first question for Sonia would be to ask if she intends setting more stories in the period. Was it this setting or finding the story of an influential individual of the period that compelled her to write this novel?

I think the story of these individuals has reached a natural conclusion but are there any other historical stories she would consider expanding into a novel?

I hope that we will be hearing of more novels to come from this talented writer and will be sharing my enjoyment of Sonia's debut novel with others.

grandMattie Wed 16-Jan-19 17:13:05

I found the story fascnating. I had had no idea of the amount/problem of Indian printed cottons caused so early in history. This was emphasised as I subsequently went to a lecture on the smugglers in Kent in XXVIII century, when an huge amount of wool was smuggled out of the country, to the detriment of local weavers.

chloe1984 Sun 20-Jan-19 17:45:32

I did enjoy reading this I found the whole subject matter fascinating. I lived the description of life within the house/kitchen/servants. I also lived the cover almost as much as the book itself . Have passed it on to my neighbour and we both look forward to reading more from this author.

gmum24 Tue 22-Jan-19 10:14:37

I really enjoyed Blackberry and Wild Rose. The story is told through tge eyes of the two main characters Sara and Estger which shows how misunderstandings happen. The book leaves room for the reader to use their own imagination. The plot unfurls as new characters are introduced. Some beautiful similes which in a few words conjure up detailed imagery. I felt i learnt a lot about London in the 1700s with all of its unjust privallages of power and gender. The cover is stuning and this is a case when you can judge a book by its cover.

gillycard Tue 22-Jan-19 13:30:55

Book was brilliant. Fantastic read. Could not put the book down. Thanks for sending me a copy. Will be looking out for any book Sonia Velton publishes in the future.

mrsking64 Tue 22-Jan-19 14:35:44

This is a beautifully crafted novel. From the gripping opening chapter to the drama of Sara's labour against the backdrop of the workers' rebellion, and the inevitable final resolution - it was a good story and an absorbing read.
I liked the alternation between viewpoints, the contrast between the two main female characters and the vivid picture painted of the period - of the life, fashion, habits, smells and colours.
I had little sympathy for the scheming naivety of Sara; she did get a far better outcome than she deserved. But can see this is an important contrast to the burgeoning maturity of Esther; her quiet strength and determination to do what was right and what she believes in, giving her the courage (recognised by B.L. no wonder she was attracted to him) to take on the status quo.
Questions for Sonia:
I appreciate this novel was partly based on real characters and events but wondered what started the project - was it random or were you looking for a period in history?
Also did you meticulously plan how the story would unfold or just begin with a few ideas and let it develop as you wrote?
Finally I would be interested to know how many agents you approached and whether the competition successes came before or after securing an agent?
Thank you for a great read and I look forward to your future novels.

CariGransnet (GNHQ) Wed 23-Jan-19 14:40:08

We will be sending questions over to Sonia in about a week, so call out to our other winners to leave their thoughts/questions here before then

granh1 Wed 23-Jan-19 15:56:06

I was attracted by the cover of this book – lyrical and intriguing, it made me want to read it. Then the blurb said historical novel – I was away!
The book is set in the 18th century and reflects some of the social issues of the time. Workers in the silk weaving industry are disgruntled because their wages have been cut, due to imported goods. The role of women is highlighted by the two females in the story, Sara and Esther. The contrast between the well off (Esther and her husband Elias) and poor (Sara and the silk weavers) is woven into the story.
Sara is poor, and finds herself in London, with no friends and family. A life as a prostitute or servant are her only options, and even then she has no choice, fate decides for her.
Esther is the wife of a Huguenot silk weaver, well off as her husband outsources the actual weaving to journey men. She is a disappointment to him because she is childless, so finds it difficult to find a role within the marriage. Her ambition is to design and weave new patterns for her husband, but he does not think that a suitable role for a woman.
Life for the poor is dispensable, with hanging the punishment for quite modest offences of stealing and damage to property. Innocence is no excuse and the idea of a fair trial is of no importance.
I found the description of Foundlings Hospital admission quite touching. I remember visiting a museum in London, sited on a previous such place. On display were books of material swatches. On admission, the mother would supply a material swatch which was cut in two. The mother kept one, the hospital the other. If, at a later date the mother could claim the child, the swatches were compared. From the material, it was obvious that a child out of wedlock was a disaster for any woman, whatever her class.
The book realistically portrayed life and times in 18th century London, so there was not a happy ending for everyone.
A question to the author. You have immersed yourself in the historical period, so will your research be used to write other books, or to continue the story of the characters in the novel?

ginnie Wed 23-Jan-19 22:39:01

What an amazing first book by Sonia Velton! I loved everything about it, including the cover. I like the way it was written from the perspectives of two characters from different backgrounds,but as women in that society, each powerless in her own way, trapped by social conventions of the time. However, I think both broke away from their conditioning, especially Esther, to show an underlying strength. It was a fascinating read and I’m looking forward to her next book!!

an1zee Fri 25-Jan-19 19:57:39

I was pleased to have the opportunity to read this book and will recommend it to my reading group. As others have commented, it’s hard to believe that such a skilfully crafted book is actually a debut novel. 18th century London is so well depicted that I could see many of the scenes in my mind’s eye – the mark of a good historical novel.

Having read Cleland’s “Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure” (aka “Fanny Hill”) and Defoe’s “Moll Flanders,” I was already familiar with the low life of 18th century London, but knew little of the lives of the Spitalfields weavers, and these disparate worlds were well realised and nicely contrasted. Was Sonia partly inspired by Hogarth’s ‘Harlot’s Progress’? (The first engraving shows a young and innocent Moll Hackabout, just off the cart that had brought her to London from the country, being accosted by an ageing bawd, who inveigles her into prostitution.)

Each chapter of this novel is alternately related by the main characters, Esther & Sara, and we only see the other characters from their viewpoint. Some of the events are rather predictable – in particular, the outcome of the weavers’ protests – but there are a few surprises along the way, particularly in the court scenes. I was glad that Sara retracted her evidence against Lambert, as there are times when her deviousness and impulsive behaviour make her an unlikeable character. Occasionally, she’s naïve, however - for example, in thinking that she’ll be allowed to keep her baby and that she and Barnstaple have a future together. I wondered how Sara would make a living for herself and her baby after returning to her mother, once the money given to her had run out. It’s ironic that her mother had sent her away to save her from being abused, only for Sara to fall into prostitution. Both Esther and Sara achieve happiness of a kind at the novel’s end. Just as Sara manages to keep her baby, so Esther realises her dream of becoming a silk designer.

There are many striking images in the novel, often to do with clothing or weaving. For example, the gallows remind Esther of a loom. When she cuts her completed piece of silk from the loom, the childless Esther compares it to “severing the birth cord, both an end and a beginning.”

I was struck by how disconnected and emotionally remote from one another the characters are. Esther and her husband lead separate lives and Elias rejects her when she expresses an interest in his work. The weavers Bisby Lambert and John Barnstaple work lodge and together, yet remain virtual strangers. (At one point, in court, they are described thus: “They were two sides of the same coin…. Their fates were intertwined, yet opposite.”) Sara, despite her affair with Barnstaple, is never close to him. Esther and Bisby Lambert find harmony when working together at the loom, but only reveal their true feelings for each other on two occasions. Esther and Sara have no friends. (Esther can’t tell the kindly Mrs. Arnaud about the true state of her marriage.) In fact, Esther and Sara, despite their different personalities, have much in common – both are betrayed by the men in their lives and Esther rescues Sara from prostitution because her own mother had managed to escape such a life – yet despite their physical proximity (Sara dresses Esther and deals with her soiled linen), they are very rarely close. Indeed, much of the tragedy in the novel could have been avoided, if only they had confided in each other. They only truly come together in the scene before they part (Chapter 45).

CariGransnet (GNHQ) Mon 04-Feb-19 10:36:10

Last call for questions and comments for Sonia - we will be sending them over later today. If you won a copy of the book, please make sure you leave yours before that.

philatel Thu 07-Feb-19 12:57:08

I loved this book - especially the cover! Late 18th century story about London silk weavers - thoroughly recommend.

Itsmyfirstrodeo Thu 14-Feb-19 23:54:39

I loved this book, the detail, the interwoven stories from both sides of the social classes. It seems particularly relevant to the times now, when women are realising that we have a more powerful voice than ever, so we should use it. In the book, the reality that women are not allowed to do a job because it's a man's world, sadly, still could be applied now in certain areas.
Sonia, I salute you, your amazing words, and I wait for your next book on tenderhooks!!
Gransnet, I thank you for being the conduit that brought this story to me, through sheer luck, I am very grateful.

SoniaVelton Mon 18-Feb-19 16:17:32

Could I just begin by thanking the Gransnetters for their extremely kind and generous comments about Blackberry & Wild Rose? I’m so delighted they enjoyed having it as their January Book of the Month!

SoniaVelton Mon 18-Feb-19 16:18:45


Warning! Slight spoilers!
Yet again I have thoroughly enjoyed a GN book club choice. An amazing first novel by a very talented author. I found that I couldn’t put it down but did not want it to finish. To me this is the sign of a very good book.
I found the descriptions so well written that I could really visualise the silk being woven. (Not an easy process to describe, as it really has to be seen to be understood.) This being the time before mechanisation when a ‘drawer’ had to pull down the threads by hand.
I knew little of this period of history especially the industrial unrest among the silk weavers, their plight so well explained and the terrible punishment for damaging silk . (which was so much more important than the people producing it.)
This is the story of strong woman who wants to design her own ideas and Ester’s character is very well drawn. She takes in Sara from a brothel and tries to help her, only to find that she is very selfish and brings down her mistresss by betraying her. Sara is not a likeable character but there is a sign of redemption.
I would like to ask Sonia Velton if she is writing another novel and if it is about the same period in history?

Hello, Gillyknits. Yes, I have two current book projects. One is sticking with Georgian London, but exploring some other fascinating people and events during that century, and the other is contemporary, albeit sticking with
something that I think worked about Blackberry & Wild Rose; that is, having dual female protagonists who are connected in an intimate - although in the case of this book, not immediately obvious - way.

SoniaVelton Mon 18-Feb-19 16:20:26


I really couldn't believe this book was the first novel by the author, it feels such an accomplished book that it felt it could only have been from an experienced author.
Sonia weaves characters as intricately as the masters weave silk.
Without giving any spoilers away, I would like to ask Sonia :
Did you always have in mind that the story would end badly for some? For me that made it all the more believable, I also think there could be another book to follow on, what happens next to the people involved? When the industry starts to wind down, where do the weavers go? What happens to the Masters and the households whose very existence depends on the silk ? Have you plans to write a follow up or are you planning something else entirely ?
It was a really good read, believable characters and an involving plot line, well researched. I look forward to hearing more from you Sonia, Thank you.

This is an interesting question, Rocketstop! Yes, I’m afraid I was always clear from the very beginning that the story would have to end badly for some. It was unfortunately the most likely outcome during that time, and also the most
historically accurate given the real events that inspired the story line.

The turbulence in Spitalfields at the end of the eighteenth century marked the beginning of an eventual decline in the silk weaving industry. Many weavers fell into poverty and the whole area began its descent into the slums of the East End characterised by Dickens and the Victorian era. For me, the magic of Spitalfields is in its hey day as a world centre for production of the most exquisite silks. It was this that I wanted to capture in the book, so, no, I have no plans to write a follow up as such.

SoniaVelton Mon 18-Feb-19 16:23:41


I am unsure if this is the appropriate place to post a review, but a summary of my thoughts on a gripping novel is given below:

Set against the backdrop of the silk weaving rebellions in 1760s Spitalfields, Sonia Velton’s debut historical fiction novel brings to life the story of two woman from very different backgrounds in one household and captures the fraught relationship between them which threatens to be both of their undoing. Wide in scope and capturing the changing fortunes of the silk industry evoked through a cast of realistically flawed characters, Blackberry and Wild Rose is a multifaceted drama that captures a time, place and a story that truly belongs to Spitalfields. Utterly enthralling, unexpectedly suspenseful and thoroughly involving, I cannot remember becoming so thoroughly immersed in a historical fiction novel since Minette Walters Black Death saga. Packed full of intrigue, secrets, lies, scandal and ultimately, betrayal, this wonderfully atmospheric drama culminates in a poignant denouement that proves nigh on impossible to predict. Sumptuous prose throughout is the icing on the cake of an exquisitely assured debut from an author whom I certainly hope to hear more of.

Questions for Sonia:
Did you always have a burning desire to write and had simply never come across a story that captured your imagination before seeing the stunning silks in the V & A?
Do you feel any desire to expand of the story of Anna Maria Garthwaite or continue exploring the changing face of industry within Spitalfields?
Both Esther and Sara are strong women and the irony is that despite their differences in class they certainly seem to share more in common with each other than either realises. Was this always an intention when you were plotting the novel?
Finally, can you recommend any standout novels that you read in 2018 and any other, London set historical fiction novels?

Many thanks to Sonia, Gransnet and Quercus.

Valski, thank you for including a lovely review in your post, and for the support you have shown Blackberry & Wild Rose.

Writing was something I came to a little later in life. First, I was a solicitor and it was when I struggled to find fulfilment in that profession that I turned to writing. At the time I was living near Spitalfields. I was captivated by the
history of the area - the Georgian architecture, the many waves of immigration into the East End, the fascinating Huguenots and their incredible talent for weaving complex figured silk - and I just thought, I’m going to write a book
about all this! It was the Blue Plaque on a house in Princelet Street that led me to Anna Maria Garthwaite, and later the silks in the V&A. Garthwaite, her extraordinary career, and of course her beautiful watercolour silk designs, didn’t so much give me the idea for the book, as give me the inspiration for my protagonist, Esther Thorel, and the path in life she would take.

Yes, Sara and Esther do have more in common than perhaps each realises! I wanted to explore the dynamics of their relationship, particularly the irritations that arise from the rather forced intimacy of their relationship. I suppose they both had to be pretty strong characters to drive that conflict!

My choices for London-set historical fiction novels would be Anna Mazzola’s The Unseeing and Michael Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White. Also, Emma Donoghue’s Slammerkin, but only the first half or so takes place in

SoniaVelton Mon 18-Feb-19 16:24:47


I thoroughly enjoyed reading Blackberry & Wild Rose, the story ran along easily and although I don’t always enjoy books that seesaw between either two people, or eras, this was so well written that it helped to read the storyline from the different perspectives of the two main characters.
I also enjoyed the ending as it neatly told us what happened to all the characters, something sadly lacking in a lot of books these days.
My questions for Sonia are:
I was surprised Sara did not seem to think of returning to her mother earlier in the book, especially when it became clear that John Barnstaple would not take responsibility for the child, what was the reasoning for that?
If you are thinking of writing a second book as a follow on, would you trace the fortunes of Sara, or the Thorel family.
Thank you for a great read, I will be passing this book on to my family for their enjoyment.

Hello Shandi6570. Sara thinks of returning to her mother often, but two things stand in her way. Certainly, the financial means to get back, but probably more important is the fact that she cannot go back to her mother a whore. She needs to reinvent herself first, and be able to return to her mother a respectable woman, having made a success of her time in London. It’s Sara’s quest for both those things that drives her narrative, and her relationship with Esther.

SoniaVelton Mon 18-Feb-19 16:25:51


Wow what an amazing book. It is such an enjoyable read I found it hard to put down. I love the way the story alternates between Esther and Sara, they seem so different on the surface but as we got to know them they had similarities. I must ask Sonia if she plans a sequel as I would love to know what happens to Ester and Ives as well as Sara and Anna.
The descriptions of life at that time are so realistic, they really came to life on the page, the sounds and the smells. I now feel a while lot wiser about that period in history and the lives of the weavers.

Sonia I really hope you have another book planned whatever period of history you set it in. Thank you so much for the excellent read and to Gransnet for letting me have a copy of the book which I will always keep.

No sequel planned at the moment, Miriam, but I definitely feel I have another book set in the eighteenth century in me! So glad you enjoyed Blackberry & Wild Rose so much, thank you for your lovely comments.

SoniaVelton Mon 18-Feb-19 16:27:08


Just finished this fabulous book.

The story was well told, easy to follow and had you rooting for different characters as the plot unfolded.

The lives of both of the main characters were constrained to strict guidelines because they were female and neither, whether rich and privileged or poor and subserviant, was able to live the life that they wanted.

I wonder if Sara told her mother that in sending her away to save her from a man's advances she had pushed her daughter into prostitution. I hope that she embroidered the truth to spare her mother's feelings.

I had to Google "Bastardy Bonds", an early manifestation of the Child Support Agency, which I had not come across before. Sonia's attention to historical detail both informed and entertained.

I will pass the book on and recommend it.

She did indeed, Pittcity, don’t worry!