A rich historical debut set among the Huguenot silk weavers of Spitalfields in the late 18th century, Blackberry and Wild Rose by Sonia Velton is our book club pick for January.
When Esther Thorel, the wife of a Huguenot silk-weaver, rescues Sara Kemp from a brothel she thinks she is doing God’s will. Sara is not convinced being a maid is better than being a whore, but the chance to escape her grasping ‘madam’ is too good to refuse.
Inside the Thorels’ tall house in Spitalfields, where the strange cadence of the looms fills the attic, the two women forge an uneasy relationship. The physical intimacies of washing and dressing belie the reality: Sara despises her mistress’s blindness to the hypocrisy of her household, while Esther is too wrapped up in her own secrets to see Sara as anything more than another charitable cause.
It is silk that has Esther so distracted. For years she has painted her own designs, dreaming that one day her husband will weave them into reality. When he laughs at her ambition, she strikes up a relationship with one of the journeyman weavers in her attic who teaches her to weave and unwittingly sets in motion events that will change the fate of the whole Thorel household.
Blackberry and Wild Rose is inspired by real characters and historical events. Esther Thorel is based on the fascinating story of master silk designer Anna Maria Garthwaite whose work can be seen in the V&A Museum and has been used in the design of the novel’s cover art. Blackberry and Wild Rose was shortlisted for the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize as a work in progress, was longlisted for the Mslexia novel competition, and is Sonia’s first novel.
Sonia Velton grew up between the Bahamas and the UK. A qualified solicitor, Sonia relocated to the Middle East in 2006 to return eight years and three children later. She now lives in Kent.