Author Talks: Kirsty Manning on Discovering hidden jewels through research

A little over three years ago I was in the final stages of researching and writing my last novel set in Shanghai in World War Two—The Jade Lily—when I stumbled across an extraordinary newspaper article that completely knocked me off track.

It was a review of an exhibition of 500 priceless pieces of Elizabethan and Tudor jewelry – The Cheapside Hoard – that was on display at the time at the Museum of London, and I paused to read it. Who doesn’t love a diamond?

Naturally, I put aside the manuscript I was supposed to be writing and started to research everything I could on this shiny new topic. I trawled the internet, ordered books on goldsmithing, gemstones 1600s London, Shakespeare and Samuel Pepys and Edwardian London. I went to antique jewellery exhibitions and eventually booked myself a flight to London to take some walking tours with historians, visit the museums and see some of these precious pieces for myself.

As my imagination took flight … the same questions haunted me: how could someone neglect to retrieve 500 precious pieces of jewellery and gemstones? Why was such a collection buried in a cellar? Who did all these jewels belong to? Why did nobody claim this treasure in the subsequent years? Who were the workmen who actually discovered the jewels in an old London cellar at Cheapside in 1912?

No-one knows the answers to these questions.

Some of our greatest historians, curators and academics have spent years looking. These are the facts we do know: the jewels were buried sometime in the 1600s, they were dug out of a Cheapside Cellar in 1912 and a antiquarian dealer called George Fabian Lawrence tried to acquire as many pieces as possible for the Museum of London.

The Lost Jewels is my imagined tale woven between these facts. I love bringing to life forgotten pockets of history—in particular, women’s voices that have long been overlooked or dismissed. For me, a novel begins between the gaps of history. This gives me opportunity to explore the dark, difficult and joyful parts of human nature.

I realised the story of The Cheapside Hoard was not just about the jewels, (although they are certainly beautiful). It is a broader story about London and the expanding world.

In the 1600’s, Cheapside (right near St Paul’s Cathedral) was the hub for gold, silver and precious gems that had threaded their way around the world to London. However, this century was also filled with fire, plague, revolution and an expanding empire. Seventeenth-century London was a city equal parts thriving and in turmoil. There were a million reasons why someone might not return for their precious jewels.

The Lost Jewels features London almost as a character. I’m in awe of this heaving metropolis that has been invaded since Roman times, brought to its knees by the plague, razed by the Great Fire, aerial bombardments during the Blitz and shaken by recent terrorist attacks. Always, London and her population gather together and rise: the result is a more diverse, more resilient and more interesting city. These are key lessons to be learnt from history: how a population recovers from trauma and moves forward to reinvent themselves.

Of course, I had no idea when I was researching The Lost Jewels and looking at images of diamond rings and Byzantine white sapphire pendants, that in 2020 Australian would be battling the worst bushfires ever seen along with a crazy virus pandemic that would see most of the world retreat indoors.

The future seems uncertain, and most of us have been reduced to thinking about how we will get through the next few months. Will our loved ones survive? How can I home-school three children for months on end? Will I still have a job after this pandemic passes? Will I–or someone I love—lose their home? And it seems many Australians in this time of crisis have been asking ourselves: do we have enough toilet paper?

History shows us humans and beautifully resilient, and ridiculously flawed. We mock those who hoard toilet paper, but serial philanderer and public servant Samuel Pepys famously buried a large wedge of Parmesan cheese and some red wine in his back yard to protect it when the Great Fire of 1666 raged across London. He is a man after my own heart.

As we retreat indoors and spend time with our loved ones, it’s a time to contemplate what is really precious to us. Also it is a time to celebrate art and beauty—also a time to read and reach for topics that bring a little hope and sparkly magic to our lives.

People can dismiss jewels; diamond rings, necklaces, gold buttons as frivolous and superficial. But the story of a jewel is a story about care and craftsmanship. Lastly, the story of a jewel is always about power, love and loyalty.

Perfect starting point for a novel, right?

The Lost Jewels

Inspired by a true story, The Lost Jewels unfolds an incredible mystery of thievery, sacrifice and hope through the generations of one family.

In the summer of 1912, a workman’s pickaxe strikes through the floor of an old tenement house in Cheapside, London, uncovering a cache of unimaginably valuable treasure that quickly disappears again.

Present day. When respected jewellery historian, Kate Kirby, receives a call about the Cheapside jewels, she knows she’s on the brink of the experience of a lifetime.

As Kate peels back layers of concealment and deception, she is forced to explore long-buried secrets concerning Essie, her great-grandmother, and her life in Edwardian London. Soon, Kate’s past and present threaten to collide and the truths about her family lie waiting to be revealed.

Published by Allen & Unwin
Released March 2020

About the Author:

Kirsty Manning grew up in northern New South Wales. A country girl with wanderlust, her travels and studies have taken her through most of Europe, the east and west coasts of the United States and pockets of Asia.

Kirsty’s first novel was the enchanting The Midsummer Garden published in 2017. Her second book, the bestselling The Jade Lily was published in 2018. Her novels are also published in the US and in Europe.

Kirsty is a partner in the award-winning Melbourne wine bar Bellota, and the Prince Wine Store in Sydney and Melbourne. She lives in Melbourne, Victoria.

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