Interview With Author Liz Trenow

Today is publication day for the paperback edition of Liz Trenow's book The Forgotten Seamstress and Liz has kindly agreed to be interviewed by me.
Welcome Liz to Books with Wine and Chocolate. I enjoyed reading your book, it won my book of the year award  here 
Now for my first question.
Liz Trenow

 Your first book was about a silk weaving factory and The Forgotten Seamstress is about a silk in a patchwork quilt, is there a reason you enjoy writing about fabrics?

Liz. My family has been weaving silk for three hundred years, and I was brought up in the house next to the silk mill which is still weaving today.  Although I didn’t go into the silk business myself, I am immensely proud of this long heritage and it has left me left me with a great love of all things to do with fabrics. I am a very amateur seamstress and have made a couple of small patchwork quilts in the past, but I could never say that I was at all expert in any of these crafts!

 Where do you find that first seed of an idea for a book? Is it from something you read about yourself or a place you’ve visited or perhaps something else?

Liz. The ideas for my first book were based on real events and people in my family history, so when I came round to writing the second I felt I had already ‘mined’ my own background and needed to turn to some other inspiration.  I was researching my family’s silk weaving history and at the Warner Textile Archive in Braintree (the two companies were closely linked) and chanced upon a display case of the ‘May Silks’: beautiful damasks and brocades, some with interwoven gold and silver threads, woven by hand 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.
I like to have really atmospheric settings for my novels, and decided to set it in a mental asylum because, as a teenager, I was an inpatient in a ward set aside for minor clinical operations at an enormous Victorian mental hospital close to my home town. The sights and sounds of the place left a deep impression on me. It was like a country mansion set in its own grounds but surrounded by high fences – outwardly grand and yet with such an oppressive and ominous atmosphere.

Does your book evolve as you write it or do you carry through on the original idea?

Liz. That’s such a fascinating question. The answer is ‘some and some’. I tend to set out with an outline of the plot, the main characters and a vague idea of what happens at the end. As I start to do research this changes and becomes added to, depending on historical events and developments of the time. Then, as I write, it starts changing again – new characters arrive, sometimes quite out of the blue, and they start doing things you don’t quite expect, so that takes the action in a different direction from the one you first thought of. That’s the fun bit!

You describe the quilt in the book so vividly, were you describing a real quilt? I would love to see a photo if it exists.

Liz. I’m sorry, Maria’s Quilt does not yet exist, although I had a very clear vision of it in my mind’s eye as I was writing.  But there is a diagram of it, and instructions for making it, on my website at, which were generously devised by the internationally-acknowledged quilter, teacher and author: Lynne Edwards, MBE. Already two groups of quilters have shown an interest in making the quilt, so I am hopeful that we may be able to see a real version of it, or at least their interpretation of it, before too long.
My collaboration with Lynne came through an introduction by a friend. I realised that I needed to know much more about the process of quilting and to make sure that all the details were right and, although busy with her own teaching and writing, Lynne completely embraced the project. Over bottles of wine and lots of laughter, we “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. Lynne really helped me to visualise the quilt and how Maria had made it so that I could write about it convincingly.

 What authors would you read in your spare time, if you have any?

Liz. I read all the time – other novelists are my inspiration. I have just finished (and was blown away by) Colm Toibin’s Testament of Mary, and I’m currently reading Canada, by Richard Ford. These two happen to be by men, there are so many wonderful women writers who I admire for different reasons. I love anything written by Rose Tremain, Carol Shields, Tracy Chevalier, Isabel Allende, Alice Munro, Hilary Mantel, I could go on and on.

 If you had to save only three books from your bookshelves which three would you save?
Liz. The answer to this question would change week by week, I suspect! Currently it would be: Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin, Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, and Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

 Liz I have enjoyed both your books and I guess one of my questions has to be, what took you so long before you started writing?

Liz. Good question!  Many journalists say they’ve got a ‘novel in their bottom drawer’ and I suppose it was always in my mind that I would write a novel but somehow working full time and being the mother of two children always got in the way. I dabbled with short stories, plays and poetry along the way, but writing a novel was my ‘climbing Everest’ project. When I got made redundant I couldn’t pretend any more that I was too busy:  I had to bite the bullet and start writing. Doing an MA in Creative Writing helped a great deal because we had to write a full-length novel for the ‘dissertation’ and I also met a group of other people who were also serious about writing, which was invaluable.

 Do you have a date for your next book, The Poppy Factory?

Liz. The current plan is that it will be published in August 2014, marking the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War. As the title suggests, the story revolves around the work of the real-life Poppy Factory which still employs disabled veterans making Remembrance Day poppies in Richmond, Surrey. Besides a poignant First World War strand it also has a powerful contemporary storyline based on interviews with two extraordinary young women who served as army medics on the front line in Afghanistan.
I have nearly finished The Poppy Factory, and early in 2014 I will start the next one: this will go further back in time to the 18th century – and will be set among the silk weavers of Spitalfields in London, where my family’s silk weaving history began.

Thank you Liz for that lovely interview I really enjoyed it and I'm sure everyone who reads it will find your answers interesting.

Liz. Thank you for the opportunity for ‘talking’ to your readers!

The Forgotten Seamstress was reviewed by me  here
Both the paperback and kindle copy can be found at 
or for free shipping worldwide The Book Depository
My review of Liz Trenow's first book The Last Telegram can be found  here


  1. Sounds like you need to make Maria’s Quilt!

    1. I wish I was that creative. Thanks for popping by.

  2. A fascinating interview. What a wonderful family history too - so rich in tradition. I agree, it sounds as if you need to make that quilt! Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us, Liz! And thanks to Anne for the great interview.

    1. Oh Val if only I could. This book is so well researched.


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