The star of this novel is a vintage sewing machine.
Millions of these efficient black workhorses were made in Clydebank and then shipped all over the world to be used by our grandmothers and great-grandmothers.
The novel is book-ended by Jean, in 1911 and Fred in 2016. Their interleaved family histories are revealed through narrative, notebooks and blogposts.
Jean works at the Singer factory and she is about to go on strike, along with more than ten thousand other workers.
It changes her life.
In an act of defiance, she leaves a message hidden in a sewing machine, where it will be found by the first owner.
More than a hundred years later, thirty-something Fred, a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing, inherits his grandfather’s flat. In order to capitalise on his good fortune he decides to sell as much of the contents as he can, including his grandmother’s old sewing machine. He is frustrated to discover that the mechanism is jammed and when he investigates, he finds a brown paper package hidden in the base. His family history is laid out before him in a sort of code, but he has to decipher it before he can unpick the secrets of four generations.
Like Jean, Fred's life is about to be turned upside down and he must find a way to survive the changes ahead.
This is a novel for anyone who goes to jumble sales, charity shops, American Yard Sales or Australian Op Shops. It’s for people who wonder who owned that old biscuit tin or the tatty cookbook with the writing in the margins, and who are intrigued by the stories these objects might tell.
Tuesday, 21st March 1911
‘There is going to be a strike!’
Jean heard the words as they flowed around her, nudging at the edges of her mind. She tried to put them aside. From across the workroom, the foreman watched her. Every so often he took the pencil stub from behind his ear, an action out of kilter with his recent promotion, and made a mark in his new notebook. Until a few weeks ago he had been one of them, and she wondered if he had realised how things would change when he took on the new job.
The long workspace resembled a schoolroom for a hundred and twenty pupils with individual tables arranged in groups of eight. She didn’t know why it was called the Testing Flat, any more than the reason why the needle making workshop was called the Needle Flat - it had always been that way.
To many of the women in the workshop, the foreman was still the little boy with the sticking out ears who once lived at the poorest end of town. He was the child to whom they had given thick slices of bread when they saw him playing with their sons in the street, the lad who always smelled of stale pee. They weren’t bothered in the slightest about his new position, but he wasn’t part of the group any more.
He cleared his throat and spoke decisively, as he had been instructed.
I have very exciting news.
As you know, The Sewing Machine was published on 17th April this year. As an author, I had a vague idea about how the book was selling, but a lot of that was based on hopes and dreams, cautiously tempered with a healthy dollop of common sense. Authors not knowing how things are going is pretty normal across the publishing world, as far as I know.
I am delighted and chuffed and honoured that we, Team Sewing Machine, have been included in The Guardian's Not The Booker Prize Long List which was published on Monday. A hundred and fifty books are on it, and one of them is The Sewing Machine. The list was created from nominations from the public, so if one of those nominations came from you, THANK YOU!
You know what I am going to say…
We are published!
I'm not using the royal 'we', I mean all of us in Team Sewing Machine. WE DID IT, and you are all part of it. Your names are in the front and back of the book and although many of us have not met, I feel as though I know you.
The book is getting some great reviews on Goodreads here.
And it has some lovely amazon reviews as well.
The paperbacks are now "in…
On Tuesday, the imaginary PRINT button was pushed and my book, OUR book, yours and mine, went into production.
Today you should get an email with several download links to suit whichever device you want to read it on.
Scrumple up the weekend To Do list, bribe the children, order a takeaway and find somewhere comfortable to sit... there is a book to be read.
When it actually happened, I…
I'm pleased to be able to say that we are almost there.
The first round of proofs have been done, and I'm just waiting for the the final page proof copy. At this stage it's really a case of:
'Has my name been spelled correctly?'
'Is there a full stop at the end of the book?'
The cover is being finalised as I speak and I hope to be able to show it to you very soon.
I apologise for being quiet here in the shed, and can assure you it's because I've been working very hard to make this book the best it can possibly be.
The manuscript has been through the copy-edit stage, and has been returned to Unbound this morning to be proofread. The end is tantalisingly in sight.
I've done the acknowledgements - a surprisingly stressful experience. When…
This is a quick blogpost to let you know that the developmental edit is now finished and the manuscript has been sent off for copy editing. `
The cover is being designed as I write, and there are other secret and exciting things happening which I can't tell you about yet. Maddening, isn't it?'
We have closed off the yarn and thread options now and I have a list of the names of everyone who …
It seems as though this stage of book publishing is like waiting for the proverbial bus. Nothing seems to happen for ages and then all the buses arrive at the same time.
My second structural edit is back and there are only minor changes to make. I've been doing a full read-through, which takes longer than you might think because I'm reading it out loud. Yes, Boris the Labrador…
After spending several weeks structually editing the manuscript of The Sewing Machine, which involved more investment in the Post It note division of 3M than I would have thought possible, I have typed THE END and sent it back to Celine to look at for a second time.
Editing is a weird business.
You write a story.
You read it.
You realise that bits of it are ALL WRONG.
Hello again everyone, and a warm welcome to my new supporters - Maureen Wilkins, Sakthi Norton, Riccardo Sartori, Pamela Hilton and Janet Lees.
Things have been a bit quiet around here on the blog, but that doesn't mean nothing is happening with the book.
In the middle of May I sent the manuscript off to the person who is doing the Structural Edit and then I went on holiday for two weeks,…
I'm really chuffed to tell you that Celine Kelly is going to be editing my book.
Celine has worked at Penguin and Headline and has edited novels by Marian Keyes, Jane Green and Jane Fallon, who have between them sold more than 35 million books.
As you can imagine, I'm a bit star struck!
The novel has been read again, several times - I realised only last week that I had somehow called one character…
I'm delighted to be able to say that we have done it, you and me, and a hundred and seventy other people.
We have coaxed, shuffled and in the final hour, wheeeeeeee'd this book over the funding finish line, like a child on a bike with legs stuck out on either side as they barrel down the most exciting hill EVER.
It took 33 days from the time it went live on the Unbound website, to move it from…
Today I thought I'd introduce you to Fred. As a contemporary character, he has a very different voice in the novel.
The story of the sewing machine and the secrets it holds are woven between the past and the present. As the reader, sometimes you will discover things before Fred does, and you'll be sitting there saying "Come on, why can't you see what's going on?".
On other occasions…
As I write this, above the gubbins which says "Write a new blog post", there is a green disc which shows me that we have raised more than half of the pledges needed to make this book into a published novel.
You can probably see it too.
In among the slivers which make up the dark green wedge are pledges by Unbounders, by friends and family, and by people I have only met online…
A shed is a wonderful thing - a place to shelter from the wettest of rain, or somewhere to sit and muse about the world quietly. We won't mention the weeding.
So, slip your wellies off and put them on the newspaper beside the door and draw up a chair or flop down on that sofa over there. I’ll put the kettle on for tea or coffee.
This book was launched just ten hours ago on Unbound, and I can…
These people are helping to fund The Sewing Machine.