BookPage Icebreaker is a publisher-sponsored interview.
In Regency England, handloom weavers and textile millers are at war. The Industrial Revolution may bring progress, but it also threatens a simpler way of life—and the livelihoods of the villagers of Ambledale. Kate Hathaway is the daughter of a weaver; Henry Stockton returns from war as the heir to his family’s mill. In The Weaver’s Daughter, Sarah E. Ladd’s new kisses-only romance, love between Kate and Henry grows—but so does animosity between the village’s opposing sides. Kate’s brother has already chosen the side of the millers, splitting Kate’s family in two. Which side will Kate choose?
In this heartfelt tale of loyalty and forgiveness, love has the power to bridge any divide—but how do we begin? Ladd shows us the way.
Cat: Your Regency romances often explore spaces other than just your standard drawing rooms and ballrooms. Take us back to this world for The Weaver’s Daughter—why did you choose this moment of industrial change?
Sarah: For the Regency period as a whole, I’ve always been drawn more to the social structure of the time period, more so than to the balls and the parties and the gowns. I’ve always been more fascinated with the changes happening and the social structure.
Just for a little bit of background, this is a time when the middle class is emerging. We have the Napoleonic Wars, there were a lot of economic problems—just a whole bunch of changes really impacting the way people lived. The Industrial Revolution was obviously in full swing during this time period. I stumbled across some research years and years and years ago that just stuck with me. It was the Luddite movement that happened in the early part of the Regency. Basically, a bunch of the people who made their living by weaving were getting wind of newer technologies, and these new machines were taking their jobs. So they started revolting.
Anytime there’s change, there are adjustments all around it. Both sides of this argument really felt that they were in the right, and they were both fighting for it. I just thought, man, what a great setting for a story!
Within this feud, we discover sort of a Romeo and Juliet love story but not nearly as tragic or sad. The prologue gives us a glimpse of how far back this family feud and its pain go. It’s not just patriarch versus patriarch—it affects Kate’s former best friend, Frederica, who ditches Kate as the battle lines are drawn. What do you think makes it even remotely possible for Kate and Henry to come together? What do you see in their hearts?
If we start with Henry, I think that war changes people. When you are brought to a brink where you are literally dealing with life and death as opposed to something like a machine, it really shifts your perspective. I think Henry being removed from that community and that environment gave his mind space to become free a little bit. So when he did return, it seemed almost petty to him. He was almost able to rise above some of the preconceptions and start to see things from a different vantage point. He had dealt with life-or-death situations, and this just wasn’t one of them. He was able to bring a bit of an outsider’s perspective (he’s not an outsider, but almost) to the situation.
As far as Kate goes, I think that the fact that her brother had already defected—I guess is the word we would use!—she really didn’t want to break that relationship. In order to keep that relationship alive, she had to open her mind up to what he was saying. If you really listened to his argument, it is valid. It was a good business decision, it was the way the industry was moving, and there was no way to get around that. I think that being of that younger mindset, she wasn’t as ingrained in it as her father was. She was able to be swayed.
You’ve set them up in such a way that it is possible for Henry’s and Kate’s minds to change, but it’s still a difficult process.
You’re choosing basically family over family. Your father over your brother. It seems to us, in our day and age, almost silly, because it’s over wool. But you’ve got to keep in mind, that for the master weaver—her father was a master weaver, very well respected—that was their life. Everything in their community circled around the way that they produced cloth. Anything that threatened that, anything that wanted to take away from their quality of life was seen as very, very bad.
Part of revisiting those long-held preconceptions is forgiveness. That seems to be a really big part of that process.
When I first set about to write this book, I wanted it to be a book about loyalty. Why are we loyal to the people we’re loyal to? What happens when loyalties change? What happens when people on either side change? Or what happens when we find ourselves being loyal to something that maybe isn’t right? As I dove deeper into that, it comes back to just what you said, it comes back to forgiveness. We’re all human, and everyone has their own free will, and everyone is going to hurt somebody at some point—not necessarily meaning to, but that’s just the way, when you love somebody, that’s the risk you take. We always assume that the people we love are going to be loyal and behave the way we think they’re going to. But at the end of the day, that loyalty will lead us to forgiveness. If we really love those people, we have to accept those people for who they are, accept that they’re flawed, accept that we’re not necessarily always right either. It goes both ways.
Progress and loyalty don’t seem, in my mind, to be mutually exclusive. But in the story of this community, it can be. Advancements like Henry revisiting working conditions, and Henry and Kate’s decision to leave behind the sides they were on and to not take quick offense without knowing the whole story—these are things that help bring the community together. But even still, the community did resort to violence and tremendous heartbreak. Which begs the question: What is the best way to bridge a divide like this?
In the weaving community, before the machines came, weaving was done in the homes. Every single person was involved, from the children to the wives. Everybody worked together. We think, you know, what would bring us to violence? What would make them resort to that level when they saw their children leaving their homes? . . . But they were not only fighting for their livelihood, they were fighting for what they believed to be morally correct. When you add that level on top of basic livelihood, people are going to react, people are willing to be violent and face consequences to preserve what they believe is right. The weavers really did believe that they were fighting the moral battle.
And the millers really believed they were fighting the right battle by improving industry, because the economy was horrible in England at this time. Anything that could be done to provide for the community was seen as a plus.
So they both have valid arguments. It’s just so central to this story that those emotions are understood, because it really provides the motivation for why everyone is doing what they’re doing.
There’s one line in the book that seems to sum it up: “They were two people fighting the same battle on different sides of the war.” I felt like that was happening throughout the book—everyone, despite the bad behavior, were all just trying to do what they believed was the right thing for their community.
Yes, and that was really something I wanted to convey, because it goes back to the research that struck me as so poignant. We see this in other times in history and different settings. I think by looking back, there’s so much that can be learned to see how this was handled. In the end, the government stepped in, and machine breaking is wrong. [laughs]
What are the great joys and great challenges of writing historical fiction? Especially when you’re writing smart women who are trapped in powerless situations. Frederica is just as trapped as Kate is, and Henry’s sister, Molly, is about to have a child out of wedlock.
I am intrigued by the idea of human emotions. Over time, basic human emotions do not change. Everyone, regardless of the time period you’re in, knows what it’s like to be jealous, what it’s like to hate, what it’s like to love. These are basic things that make up human character. We enjoy a lot of freedoms here in America, but what I find interesting is to think that women in the past have the exact same emotions that we do, the basic human emotions, but they were under a different set of rules. So that’s what I really like about historical fiction—I like exploring those emotions and seeing how applying different sets of rules affected the outcome. It’s easy to say how we would respond in our modern society, but to be told that every single thing about your life has already been pretty much been dictated and you have basically no rights, what would women do to get around those rules? I find that extremely fascinating, because it can vary so much from one personality type to the next.
We’re drawn to these strong characters because they teach us something about ourselves, because we can identify with those basic human emotions.
One of the areas in the book where we saw willingness to listen was with Henry and his sister, Molly. I thought that was a beautiful relationship. She’s was one of my favorite characters.
What I really wanted to show with her character was the restraints put on women at the time, to put a little backdrop of what the Fredericas and the Kates were facing. She took part in an action that resulted in a child, and she was so ashamed of it that she resorted to lying. It was a very fine line for me to walk, because it is a Christian publisher. Lying’s a sin. It would’ve been really easy for Henry to be like, you are going to tell the truth, you are going to come clean or you are going to hide this. But that was a journey that Molly needed to come to on her own.
Another reason for her was I really wanted to show Henry’s family. It’s not just him and his grandfather working the mills. There is more to it. There are more lives at stake—not just the mill owners but his own family.
She was a fun character to write. She was so vivid in my mind. I did have a different ending planned for her originally, but when you’re writing the story, the story takes over and the path becomes her own. I wanted to stay true to the time period she was in. Her journey’s not going to be an easy one. It will never be an easy one, as long as she’s unmarried with a child. But that’s one of the truths and the realities of that time period.
Things are wrapped up beautifully, but there’s a future ahead that makes me wonder, will there be more stories for some of these characters?
One thing before I answer that question, that I just thought about Molly that is super important. I also wanted to show how important it was to be able to forgive yourself for making mistakes. This idea of forgiveness is not just bestowing forgiveness on someone else or accepting it from someone else. It goes beyond that—not only accepting God’s forgiveness, but letting God forgive. Do you know what I mean? Not holding on so tightly to the guilt and the shame, that there’s freedom in forgiveness. That was another role of her character, was to show another dimension of forgiveness.
Regarding if we’ll see them again, The Weaver’s Daughter is a standalone story. It’s my seventh book, but I had a different connection with these characters than I had with the other ones. It was a deeper connection. I’m not quite ready to let them go yet. There’s not a book planned, but I would love to see a novella or something that wraps up especially Molly’s story.
She got to you.
She did. She’s the one that readers are really relating to, either cheering for her or against her, but she’s really the one causing a discussion. It’s really interesting to see what resonates with people, because I always think I know what’s going to resonate, and then I’m always surprised. Initially, she had a romance of her own that happened, but it had to be cut. I would love to revisit that.
I love that you’re open to people’s reactions to her, that you’re accepting of the fact that a strong reaction to a character, whether they really like or really don’t like her, that is the sign of a great character. She hasn’t just tapped your mind, she’s tapped every reader’s mind.
Isn’t that life? It would be easy to write perfect characters who never do anything wrong, but that’s not life. Life is messy and has a lot of layers. I like that people are talking about it and have opinions about it. Her issues and that idea of forgiveness are real. Regardless of how you feel about what she did. At some point, it was her story, and that’s the story that came out. I like her!
I do, too.