Cuppa and a rather posh cake with Kate Beaufoy -author of Liberty Silk

Today is the day that the lady who wrote this wonderful book comes round to Booktrail towers in her Liberty Silk dress and dainty shoes to share the story behind the story with us. It really was a book that made an impression on us – based on real life and the author’s grandmother no less! Given the nature of the novel and the time period in which it is set, we have the posh china out that normally is just reserved for royalty and have ordered a rather fine looking dress cake . Oh that’s enough polishing the cake forks….here is Kate herself…

Kate Beaufoy in the photographic style of Liberty Silk
Kate Beaufoy in the photographic style of Liberty Silk

Hi Kate, How honoured we are to have you over here today! It’s great to see you – your novel Liberty Silk was a firm favourite of 2014 here at the booktrail and it told a wonderful story! Thank you for bringing your photo album to show us as well.

liberty silk

What a remarkable story this is and based on real life? Can you tell us more about your story?

The inspiration for the novel came from letters my grandmother wrote whilst on honeymoon in France and Italy in 1919. My grandparents met while doing war work in Rouen just after the Armistice. They fell in love at first sight, and were engaged just five weeks later. The backstory is based on these letters; however, the rest of the story is fiction. My grandmother in reality had such a carefree life that I had to make things a little more difficult for her, so as to lend the narrative some dramatic tension!

Kylemore Abbey School - Liberty Silk, page 243
Kylemore Abbey School – Liberty Silk, page 243

What kind of research did you do of the locations in the book?

The Irish locations I was already familiar with, especially the area around Kylemore Abbey, where both Lisa and Cat were educated: my daughter boarded there. Sadly, I didn’t make it as far as Hollywood, but I did travel to Italy, where I followed the route my grandparents took, as prototype backpackers. They spent some weeks in Florence – the pension they stayed in is still there, overlooking the river Arno – my grandfather made a sketch of the view. In the Piazza della Repubblica I sat at the terrace of the café where they celebrated my grandfather’s birthday, and where Jessie gave him the beautiful sketchbook that features in the novel. 

Antibes, 1920s - Liberty Silk page 321
Antibes, 1920s – Liberty Silk page 321

How did you ‘get into’ the time periods? Paris in particular

I am one of the few people I know who actually hates Paris! Any time I have visited, there have been rail strikes or museum strikes or it has been raining nonstop, and I can’t stand the snootiness of the Parisiennes. However, reading about the city was fascinating; biographies of Coco Chanel, Ernest Hemingway and Picasso were particularly helpful, and George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London was an invaluable insight into the seedy underbelly of the city.

The Hollywood sign. Until 1949, it read ‘Hollywoodland’. Liberty Silk, page 86.
The Hollywood sign. Until 1949, it read ‘Hollywoodland’. Liberty Silk, page 86.

As for Hollywood – I have countless books set around the time of its glamorous heyday, which were invaluable for research purposes. Writing the book gave me a great excuse to re-read Scott Fitzgerald’s novels, many of which are set in not just the places, but also the eras I covered.  

Are all the characters based on real people? Can you tell us more about your grandmother?

She was a true adventuress! One of the first women to graduate from Cambridge, she was passionate about the arts: in later life she hosted a literary salon in her house in Edinburgh. My grandfather – Scotch – was indeed an artist: he was the template of the rather sexy art master in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Celebrities in the novel – Coco Chanel, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Lana Turner, Picasso, Don McCullin – appear as themselves. The Greek Count, who is the most sinister of my cast of characters, met my grandparents in Florence. He was travelling with a beautiful child, and my grandmother genuinely feared for her wellbeing.

liberty silk

Do you own a dress from Liberty’s?

Yes – the actual evening dress that features in the novel came from Liberty, and now belongs to me. It was handed down from my grandmother, along with other artefacts that provide key plot points in the novel – the cabochon sapphire ring, the Egyptian charm, the leather-bound sketchbook and – of course – the original cache of letters. You can see images of all these heirlooms on www.pinterest.com/libertysilk/

the Liberty Silk dress as featured in the novel
the Liberty Silk dress as featured in the novel

If you could buy something from Liberty’s what would it be and why?

I would love to have the chaise longue that belonged to my grandmother reupholstered in archive Liberty print.

Which song or songs could we listen to when reading the novel – to get us in to the mood for the change of setting?

What a great question! It would have to be Ragtime for Jessie; Big Band dance music for Lisa, and Jimi Hendrix or early Rolling Stones for Cat.

And with that the cake is further demolished and we put a record on the gramophone and start up a ragtime number. Before we know it we’re both out of our chaise longues and dancing to the music. Best leave it there I think. We could be here a while. Take it away!

Liberty Silk – Hollywood, Finistere, London – Kate Beaufoy

liberty silk

Not a set costume piece as the cover and title might suggest but rather a journey back in time to the glitz and glamour of Hollywood of the 40s and Paris of  1919 and the secrets hidden behind the polished facades

Story in a nutshell

France 1919: Jessie is celebrating the last heady days of her honeymoon. But when her husband suddenly disappears she finds herself bereft. Until a chance encounter thrusts her into the centre of the intoxicating world of Parisian high life.

Hollywood 1945: Lisa has come a long way from her quiet, unassuming life in London and is taking Hollywood by storm. But all that glitters is not gold, and as the smoke and mirrors of the lifestyle she so longed for shatter around her there are some secrets she can never escape.

Liberty Silk tells the stories of three different women in three different eras, Jessie, Baba and headstrong Cat. Their stories intertwine in unexpected ways and a fascinating account of different lives and different eras unfolds.

Place and setting

From London to Finistere to Hollywood, this is quite a journey!
From London to Finistere to Hollywood, this is quite a journey!

Liberty Silk tells the stories of three different women in three different eras –

Paris 1919 –  Jessie is a newlywed and so when her husband vanishes while on their honeymoon, she is devastated and bereft. In a strange city on her own,

Baba soon finds that the dreams she had of hollywood are not all the are cracked up to be and that the reality behind the glitz is something else entirely. She finds herself in situations that she doesn’t want to be in and has decisions to make but not before she explores some of the hollywood landscape further.

London, 1965 – Cat is a photographer who really believes and wants to make a difference in the world with her work. The reality of being in some of the most shocking and war torn places around the world really show her the brutality of human behaviour and suffering and it opens her eyes to so much.

It’s not just the settings that are evocative of a different time and place. For in which other novel do we ‘meet’  Coco Chanel, the Fitzgeralds and Pablo Picasso?

The landscapes and settings are all so wonderfully evoked so when you realise that the author Kate Beaufoy wrote this based on letters from her Grandmother, Jessie Beaufoy, who fell in love with a painter in France, the authentic touch is something that is invaluable and places the novel on another level.

As an extra treat at the end of the book, Kate has written a beautiful situation involving her Grandmother, as well as a quiz to find out which character from the book you would be – it’s a really lovely little touch to finish off.

liberty silk

After having read TheDress Thief by Natalie Meg Evans and The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott, this caught my eye as it seemed to be as sumptuous and fashion orientated as the others. It  unravels in a vintage style theme with letters written long ago about a love affair with a painter during WW1 forming the basis of this lovely winding story. The real inspiration for this story were the letters written by the author’s grandmother jessie Beaufoy a character in the book and this makes for a unique and poignant angle for the story.

The dress – from Liberty’s of London of course – is a feature and is part of the heritage passed down here from one woman to another,coming to mean a lot more than  a simple dress.

It was lovely to read how the author got the idea for this novel from real life  – her own – and how she used this to blend and weave a story of fiction through the ages that all of us could enjoy and take heart in.

If you desire the cover and wish to indulge in the time periods it suggests then you could not do better than to lounge in your finest silk dress and feather bower whilst reading this, a glass of wine in one hand, reclining on a vintage chair.

Its sad, poignant yet full of hope as three different women in different times find their own way of getting through life and doing the best they can. From the glittering streets of Hollywood to the artistic alleyways of Paris, this is a whirlwind tour of some stunning and thrilling locations that you will not have experienced before – well not like this!

Quite remarkable.

Book Advent – Day 22

Book Advnet date 22 comes with a book that is a mixed bag and a bit of a surprise – full of bling and a journey through Canada and America in the 1930s all the way to Hollywood

9781459708495Mary Mabel McTavish is trying to make her mark in the big wide world

She is suicidal and down on her luck but something happens and she finds out that she somehow can resurrect the dead.

This miracle takes her on quite a journey through 1930s Canada and America where she meets and sometimes interacts with characters from history such as J. Edgar Hoover and the Rockettes as she moves through the years.Finally when she reaches Hollywood, she meets people who all want  a piece of the miracle. And the world of Hollywood is quite the charmer at times. Religious zealots all want to share in the miracle and accompany Mary on her journey.

This is a booktrail through time and across two countries into the world of Hollywood and all the trappings of what can be found there. From behind the facade, there are dark shadows, social criticism and dark dark thoughts. Which makes for quite a journey.

Ths book was a shock in that it was a lot of fun and a bit naughty. It was hilarious, close to the edge, weird and a catch you off guard kind of read and the journey throughout the history of Canada and America was a particularly nice theme to the whole story.

I guess the best description I can give to this book is like a sideshow in a circus where you open the curtains and take a peak and don’t know whether to laugh, cry or cry out in shock. Some of the early chapters were difficult to read since there were lots of characters introduced that I had trouble identifying in my mind but like in a circus, you may never get to know everyone but you know that they help to build up the scene and make it what it is.

Roll up roll up for the Resurrection of Mary Mabel McTavish.