What an absolute corker of a month! Three extraordinary books dealing with super strong female characters. We will be interviewing the super famous Sarah Vaughan about her latest novel (also about to be made into a tv series like her previous book “Anatomy of A Scandal”) as well as looking at Kate Mosse’s latest book “Warrior Queens and Quiet Revolutionaries”. The amazing textile designer Julia Brendel is kindly sponsoring this months book chat which ties in beautifully with Julia’s latest project “Wake Up Your Inner Warrior”.
I have long been an admirer of Julia’s stunning fabrics, they make you gasp with joy at the intricate designs and the extraordinary quality. Her use of colour and her combination of patterns is outstanding. She is a true artist (she studied at the Poznan Academy of Art) drawing upon her Hungarian and Polish heritage to create beautiful designs with traditional authentic roots.
I have spoken in the past about my husband’s amazing Great Aunt (the artist Muriel Pemberton) who was not only a very talented artist but quite an extraordinary woman: she won a place at the Royal College of Art but quickly realised that she wanted to study fashion design, unfortunately no such course existed so she badgered the head of the design school until he agreed that she could write her own curriculum. Thus she became in 1931 the only student to graduate from the Royal College in Fashion Studies. She went onto tutor at Central St Martins as well as designing for Libertys, drawing for Vogue Fashion and becoming a successful painter.
This is the heart of Kate Mosse’s new book which unearths forgotten women whose names we should know better. As Rebecca F puts it: “Mother’s of invention and Women of Courage”. Julia and I bonded over a fear of being left behind once our children were grown, she has created a super successful textile business which celebrates an “eclectic patchwork of cultures and different styles” and has built up an incredible reputation through hard work and serious talent.
Over to Rebecca F for this month’s Reputations…
Shakespeare’s Othello is centred on it. Jane Austen’s readership was obsessed by it. For the Victorians, it underpinned society. Desirability, social standing, gender politics, public and private morality, even fortune and family was wagered on its weight. Women throughout time have staked their lives against it – lost or gained because of it. What can she possibly be getting at I hear you ask? Reputation, of course.
This month, Rebecca and I are delving into the murky world of reputation and integrity, how it’s played (and still, continues to play) its part in our perception of women in society and literature and the narrative it curated for women who’ve shaped history. Wily women of wit and substance, exploring the nuances of how we scrutinise women in the public eye and a whole cast of wonderful women whose achievements have been omitted from history books – welcome to November’s Are You Sitting Comfortably.
‘I hoped the heels were balanced out by the message on the crisp white T-shirt: Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History. I’d seen no reason not to scream this sentiment from the rooftops: it was something I vehemently believed. Only, when I saw myself on the front cover – with that defiant slash of red lipstick, my armour against a hostile world, and my thick bob blow-dried into a dark halo – I hardly recognised myself. I’d morphed into someone else, entirely. Sex and power: that was the not-so-easy subtle subtext of that photo.
Sex, power and unequivocal ambition.
Even before the publication, I’d felt uneasy.’
A body lies at the bottom of the stairs. Emma Webster is a respectable MP, a devoted mother, a campaigner for women. She’s sacrificed relationships to reach this point in her life. What if the reputation you’ve spent a lifetime building could be torn down in seconds?
From the bestselling author of Anatomy of a Scandal, now a Netflix Original, Sarah Vaughan’s Reputation is a page-turning political thriller that examines the stories we tell about ourselves and the lies others choose to believe. Under the glare of the media spotlight, Emma Webster finds herself fighting fires on all fronts as she lobbies for justice for girls and women who have faced online abuse. When the unthinkable happens, Emma is discovered standing over the body of a tabloid journalist. Is Emma Webster innocent or is she a liar?
“The world is a looking-glass, and gives back to every man the reflection of his own face. Frown at it, and it will in turn look sourly upon you; laugh at it and with it, and it is a jolly kind companion; and so let all young persons take their choice.”
When it comes to treading the fine line between reputation and rebuke, you simply couldn’t find a better anti-heroine than Becky Sharpe in William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair. In a tale of class, society and corruptible behaviour set against the backdrop of the Napoleonic wars, Becky Sharpe strives to escape her impoverished life and rise the social ranks. This story chronicles the lives and reputations of two women who couldn’t be more different – wily and upwardly mobile Becky and her school friend Amelia Sedley, the naïve and pampered daughter of a wealthy family. Don’t let the length of this one put you off. Thackeray has a way of making the reader bounce along with the story so happily that you’ll be dying to see where Becky’s devilishness will take her next.
‘My hope is that this book will inspire as I have been inspired. It’s a love letter to the importance of history and about how, without knowing where we come from – truthfully and entirely – we cannot know who we are.’
I’ve long been a fan of Kate Mosse. Anyone who has read her Languedoc trilogy which began with Labyrinth or The Burning Chambers series, will know her talent for bringing stories from the past to life. She is not only an award-winning and bestselling author but also Founder Director of the Women’s Prize for Fiction – the largest annual celebration of women’s writing in the world – and sits on the Executive Committee of Women of the World. Her global campaign – #WomanInHistory – launched in January 2021, honouring and promoting women’s achievements throughout history and from every corner of the world. She was awarded an OBE in 2013 for services to literature and women and was named Woman of the Year for her service to the arts in the Everywoman Awards.
I couldn’t love her latest book, and our wildcard this month, more. Enter Warrior Queens and Quiet Revolutionaries: How Women (Also) Built the World.
What started off as discovering the missing threads of the life of her own great-grandmother, Lily Watson, who slipped from all remembrance as a famous and highly successful novelist in her day, led to Kate writing about over 1000 women whose names we should know better. It’s fascinating, accessible and designed as a beautifully illustrated dictionary of women to dip in and out of. From those who dedicated their lives to the natural world and medicine to trailblazers, Mothers of Invention, women of courage and unsung heroines of literature, stage and screen, Warrior Queens and Quiet Revolutionaries spans time and place in a fascinating look at many forgotten women who have shaped our world.
Julia Brendel explains below how she built her phenomenal reputation as a textile designer and gives wonderful advice on how to make the leap and start your own business.
Building any business from scratch can be extremely daunting, especially when you don’t live in your own country, and you have no former business experience, but also exciting. Not knowing is often a bliss. I don’t think anyone would ever jump if they were fully aware of how much is really expected of you. How much sleep, and personal life gets sacrificed, often for not much financial reward, especially at the start.
I had to learn new skills from scratch, from accountancy, photography, styling, marketing, customs, social media to website administrating etc. Since I launched my business I went on corses in soft furnishing lampshade making, upholstery, photography as well as IG and Social Media courses. I am not a real expert in any of these fields but I needed to understand how things are made.
Due to lack of finances to cover all those professionals every time I wanted to have a new photo-shoot (also due to my compulsive micromanaging) I had a need to learn and to do it all by myself. Of course I do know better now and I will hire an upholsterer or a curtain maker due to simple lack of time, but I still like to know how things are made and I love to style my own photo-shoots. I think my business started gaining visibility after my first Decorex show in 2014 where so many Interior Designers visited. It is a great venue to launch your business to the right audience.
I think it is imperative to show your work in situ, so designing room sets and showing how my fabric, wallpaper and accessories can be used is the best way for people to imagine my designs in their own homes. I strongly believe in consistency as well. I had a few wobbly years with my Mum getting ill and I needed some time to heal but in some ways my work helped me to keep some kind of a routine. A very important part of getting noticed is to have a good relationship with the press. I do hire a professional PR firm who are absolutely amazing and we have been working together for years.
It is important to keep doing what you are doing and not looking at everyone else. I think my designs inspired mainly by folk and Worlds heritage patterns are pleasing to a lot of people because they come from the past and everyone can find something familiar in beautifully woven Jacquards and printed linen. I think it is also important to stay professional and admit to any mistakes as they happen, which are often out of our control e.g. fabric print being delayed, an order going missing or a random overlooked flaw in a fabric. Just treating people with respect and lots of smiling will get you further than making up excuses for a temporary benefit and leaving a bitter aftertaste.