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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

SoniaVelton Mon 18-Feb-19 16:28:50


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.

The book was already in my mind, Betsle, but Anna Maria Garthwaite and her designs gave me historical precedent for the fact that my protagonist could not only have ambitions to be a silk designer in a male dominated industry in the eighteenth century, but also fulfil them.

SoniaVelton Mon 18-Feb-19 16:29:44


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.

It was a combination of the two, Buddie. First the setting, then Anna Maria Garthwaite. I think I will be turning to earlier in the eighteenth century next time…

SoniaVelton Mon 18-Feb-19 16:31:26


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.

Hello Mrsking64, I think I’ve covered the inspiration for the book, so on to the plot! I drew heavily on the real historical events of the Cutters’ Riots, so to that extent the latter part of the book had its structure already. I tend to have a basic idea of where the story is going and what the major twists/plot points are, but I also leave plenty of room for the story to unfold organically, too. You get to
know your characters as you start writing them and sometimes they take you places you didn’t expect.

I entered the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize with the first 20K words of the draft I was working on. I’d already written the book in full, but it wasn’t quite there yet, so I’d scrapped it completely and started again. Once I’d finished the redraft, I sent it to the two agents I’d made contact with through the shortlisting (one was part of the judging panel for the Lucy Cavendish prize, and the other had approached me having seen my opening chapters on the Lucy Cavendish website). I also sent it to Juliet Mushens who was the person I considered to be my ‘dream agent’. Happily, Juliet quickly responded to my slush pile query and offered me representation.

SoniaVelton Mon 18-Feb-19 16:32:40


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?

It’s interesting that you mention the Foundling Hospital, Granhl. I was really captivated by it and intend it to feature again in the further book I have planned also set in the eighteenth century. I am currently working on the contemporary novel first though, so that might be book three!

SoniaVelton Mon 18-Feb-19 16:34:40


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).

What a lovely question to end on! Yes, absolutely. Hogarth was a key inspiration for me, and the novel contains references to him and his work. I love it when someone picks up on them! The opening scene with Sara and Mrs
Swann is indeed a literal representation of the first plate of a Harlot’s Progress. The journeymen weavers from Industry & Idleness come later

Itsmyfirstrodeo Mon 18-Feb-19 17:29:16

SoniaVelton Thank you for giving us all a glimpse of the inner workings. I'm full of admiration and quite awestruck blush
Can't wait until your next book smile

Doreen5 Mon 29-Apr-19 15:18:04

Delightful book and so well written. Historically informative and captured the period. Didn't want to put it down. Very attractive cover - looks lovely on the coffee table. Highly recommended.