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  • Writer's pictureMelissa Speed

Introducing 'Masterworks' — the new Historical Writers Forum Anthology

Featuring my short story The Lacemaker's Son

That's right! My short story The Lacemaker's Son is now available to read, along with ten other short stories inspired by works of art, in the new Historical Writers Forum anthology — Masterworks.

Wondering if this is for you? Let me tell you a little about my story and how it came to be published.

Having read last year's Historical Writers Forum anthology, which included short stories by some of my favourite writers (including Sharon Bennett Connolly and Paula Lofting), I knew I would love to be published in such a great collection of stories; so when I saw the opportunity to submit a story inspired by a work of art for this year's anthology, I got straight to work on my proposal.

Luckily, being a history-obsessed art lover who happened to have just started to learn traditional bobbin lacemaking, I already knew the artwork from which I would draw my inspiration — and a masterwork it truly is! The Lacemaker is a 1656 painting by Dutch Golden Age painter Nicolaes Maes (1634–1693). It's now part of The Met's collection.

As soon as I saw it I was drawn into the child's world. The lacemaker herself is dressed in clothes I'm familiar with, as I wear a similar outfit when volunteering at Boscobel House. I could feel the fabrics, I could hear the sound of the bobbins (a sound I'd come to love in my lacemaking lessons), and I could imagine the smells of a seventeenth-century house. In fact, I could relate to the woman in the painting a lot, so you'd be forgiven for thinking I'd centre my story around her. Yet Maes painted the child with an incredible gaze that is fixed on the viewer, forcing the viewer to connect with them and their world. So, that's what I did. I imagined a life for this child, a child I named Henry.

Actually, I imagined the child as a grown man, a man who is sure they are missing something, looking back through his memories in the hope of finding whatever that is, starting with his earliest memories of being sat in his highchair as his mother made lace.

Respecting the engagement Maes had created between his viewer and the child, I decided to tell the story in the first person. There are many advantages (and disadvantages) to writing in the first person, and I talk about these in my interview with fellow Historical Writers Forum member Virginia Crow, to which I'll share a link here when the video goes live.

I already knew enough about the seventeenth century from my own research, visits to historic sites, and volunteer work, to create a timeline for Henry's life and story. I wrote out the timeline with fictional events on top and real events on the bottom, to help me keep track as I wrote. I then set to fact-checking and researching some additional aspects (such as language, health, etc.) to ensure I created an authentic world for my readers, as Maes had done for his viewers.

Here is the blurb:

Spanning the life of Henry, a lacemaker's son, from his earliest memories during the English Civil War, through the Cromwell years and the Restoration period to the departure of James II, memories of his mother are woven through his story like the threads in the lace she made. A Shropshire boy whose father fought for Parliament yet saw his mother visited by Cavaliers, it is only by unpicking these threads after his mother's death that he discovers the truth of his life story.

So, if you want to venture into the mind of Henry as he works back through his memories, get yourself a copy of Masterworks — out now on Amazon.

Oh, and if you want to see me in costume, check out my self-portrait which earned me a place in this year's Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year.

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