Thursday, 16 January 2014

Precious metal: the secrets of The Silversmith's Wife

Today's guest blog is by debut author Sophia Tobin whose novel The Silversmith's Wife is published today by Simon and Schuster.  She previously worked in Bond Street for an antique dealer specialising in silver and jewellery and currently works for the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths.  The Silversmith's Wife was shortlisted for the Lucy Cavendish College Fiction Prize.
When I started writing The Silversmith's Wife, I was immersed in its mystery, just as my characters were - I didn't even know the identity of the murderer until I finished the first draft. But the one thing I knew, right from the beginning, was that the victim of that murder would be a silversmith, and the setting would be eighteenth-century London.

This is down to one individual. During my work for an antique dealer, I developed a fascination for Thomas Heming – an eighteenth-century silversmith – and my research into him introduced me to his world, so rich in dramatic possibilities. As part of my research, I went to visit his grave, and was surprised by what I found. I had read his will; I knew he had married twice, and that his second wife was buried with him. But the only name on the memorial plaque was his. In reality, there could have been many reasons for this, but it sparked my imagination and sent it tumbling off down one particular route. What if you married an ambitious man, and disappointed him, so that he wanted to write you out of the history of his life?  What kind of secrets would lie within such an unhappy marriage?

My fascination with the silver world also links to my fascination with the metal itself. An eighteenth-century silver candlestick is a piece of history, and a witness to it; I can't help but imagine the people who, over the centuries, have held it in their hands. It is also a work of art, designed according to the artistic tastes of the time, and crafted by someone who served a challenging apprenticeship to earn their skills. If you go one step further, and imagine the world of the people who sold it, you might see a goldsmiths' shop on Bond Street, it's shelves glittering with precious metal, a target for high-paying customers, but also for thieves.

So for me silver, and its story, combines history, art and a certain dangerous glamour, which I find irresistible.

All of these elements inspired The Silversmith's Wife. Set in London in 1792, it asks the reader to walk along the busy, and sometimes dangerous, streets of London, which are populated by rich and poor, masters and servants. Pierre Renard has served his apprenticeship, and risen to own a shop in Bond Street. Such a feat has taken skill, tenacity and intense ambition; he is a complex character, at the heart of a network of contacts that stretches from manufacturing silversmiths in the City to rich customers in Berkeley Square. When Pierre is found dead, everyone in that network falls under suspicion. But is it his wife, Mary, who has the most to hide?  A night-watchman, a lady's maid, and another silversmith who Mary first met long ago all have their part to play in the story, as we learn the dark secret at the heart of Mary and Pierre's marriage.

I hope the reader of The Silversmith's Wife sees a glint of silver here and there as they read, and feels some of the fascination I feel for it. Amidst this story of murder, love, and secrets, is the story of this precious metal – and the way in which it shaped the lives of those who made and sold it.

You can find more information about Sophia on her website.  You can also follow her on Twitter @SophiaTobin1.  You can also see some images and objects that inspired her book on Pintrest.

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