Do you own a family heirloom? Maybe an item of furniture or a painting, or maybe, like the heroine in my latest novel, The Lost And Found Necklace, you’ve inherited a special piece of jewellery? I’ve always been fascinated by old objects, a passion spurred by my work for the Victoria and Albert Museum, London’s top museum for visual arts and design, and this curiosity has filtered into my novels. My debut, The Second Chance Boutique, features the wonders of vintage wedding dresses. My latest book, The Lost And Found Necklace, uncovers the twists and turns of an art nouveau butterfly pendant. I aim to tell stories that offer a sense of escapism, strong plot, plenty of emotion, relatable characters, some romance, and some mystery, but I also want to give that little something extra: my love for old things and heirlooms.
I think my fascination began with my own family. My grandparents had an interest in antiques. Their house, in the middle of Epping Forest, near London, was stuffed with them. My grandma was born and raised in South Africa and this was evident in their collection. I remember an ornamental ostrich egg—her parents had been ostrich farmers—that sat on a shelf way out of our reach, and an exotic wood stool carved in the shape of an elephant. I can still picture the pattern of the wood grain across the elephant’s back. It was so shiny and tactile. One of the most tantalising items was an eighteenth-century mirror, in Rococo style, which I thought of as the ‘palace’ mirror. Its miniature gilded columns and elegant enamelled frame, featuring exotic birds, appealed to my fairy tale daydreams. My mother now has it in her house and it’s definitely the thing my siblings and I will fight over when it’s our turn!
I can remember, even as a young girl, the sense of intrigue, of wanting to know where this mirror had come from, what it had seen. It’s a curiosity that has stayed with me. These days, if I go to a vintage market I’m like a kid in a candy store, senses overwhelmed, thrilled by the colours and textures, and like Fran Delaney—the wedding dress shop owner in The Second Chance Boutique—I find it near impossible to contain my imagination. Who wore these gloves/rings/satin heels? To where? With whom? And what happened?
So the next question I want to ask, assuming you have an heirloom of some kind, is how do you feel about it? Does it bring warmth and joy? Does it give you a sense of belonging? Or do you feel indifferent to it, simply glad that it’s worth some money? Perhaps you’re thinking about auctioning it off? Our feelings about our heirlooms can give away clues as to how we feel about our families. In The Lost And Found Necklace, my heroine, Jess Taylor, knows very little about her family background. She is close to her sister, but her mum died when she was young and her dad became distracted with a new wife and children. Jess’s only other close relative is her grandma, Nancy, but Nancy’s always been cagey about the past. In short, Jess feels rootless, disconnected, and often puzzled as to why she is like she is: impulsive, a little reckless, full of passion.
Jess’s family background—and her sense of identity—opens up when her grandma asks her to retrieve a special family necklace. Keen to understand why the necklace means so much to the otherwise unsentimental Nancy, Jess embarks on a mission to uncover the stories of its previous owners—four generations of Taylor women—and in so doing, she learns some extraordinary truths about the lives and loves of her ancestors. These insights enable Jess to claim her own identity, be comfortable with who she is and make some wise decisions about her own romantic life.
Heirlooms root us to ourselves and where we’ve come from. Often they’re all we’ve got left of the people before us. They keep the threads going, long after death. In this way they are more than just physical objects, they are the key to memories. You’ll know what I mean if you’ve ever held or looked at an item—maybe your grandfather’s watch or your great aunt’s armchair—and had a jolt of nostalgia, a memory, a resonance. This is why, in the opening of The Lost And Found Necklace, Jess finds the pendant at an auction house and is immediately spun back to the forgotten memory of taking it out of her mum’s jewellery box and playing with it as a little girl. Heirlooms are a hotwire to the past. They help preserve and unlock what might otherwise be lost.
For me, the critical thing is sentimental rather than monetary value (although it’s always nice to discover those hideous family statuettes you’ve been wanting to ‘liberate’ actually command a handsome price-tag!). For instance, of all the fabulous things my grandparents owned and passed on, my most precious item is a ceramic cooking pot with a loud Sixties floral design. It’s not an antique. I suppose it could be considered vintage, but essentially it was purchased as an everyday kitchen item. Yet to me, it’s sacred, definitely my number one save-from-the-fire piece, because it links me so strongly to my grandma and my childhood. It not only looks but feels resonant of all the fun times and family gatherings at the house. I now use it as a cookie jar, but everyone in my household—especially my children—knows to take great care when getting treats! I’m always reminding them: be careful of mummy’s special pot.
If the pot is still intact when I’m ailing, I’ll be passing it down to them. And maybe one day they’ll pass it down to their children. And on and on. Who knows where it will end up, but secretly I hope, some time way in the future, that my great, great-grandchild will hold it in their hands and get that jolt, that sudden prickle of nostalgia. Perhaps they’ll recall hazy memories of their long-lost grandma, Louisa Leaman, and be reminded of what a funny, spirited, and clever person she was—oh, and that she was a great and successful writer!
Publication Date: July 13, 2021
A charming story of a wayward family heirloom, second chances, and true love. A perfect, feel-good summer read!
Jess has always loved taking chances, but after a terrible accident, she’s ready for a quieter life. No more unsuitable boyfriends or unsafe adventures. More time with Tim, her dependable boyfriend who seldom surprises her.
More time with family, like her ailing grandmother, Nancy, who wants Jess to bring home the lost vintage necklace that has been in their family for generations. The delicate moonstone pendant features a flutttering butterfly, and some say it has a history of leading its wearer to her soul mate. Jess isn’t sure about that, but the necklace belongs to the Taylor women, and she’s determined to bring it home.
All Jess has to do is bid on it at a local auction. But when a rival bidder outplays her and sweeps the necklace off the table, Jess finds herself face-to-face with a charming stranger who has his own reasons for wanting the necklace. He might be willing to part with it, if Jess will have dinner with him…
Desperate to bring back the necklace before her grandmother’s health gets worse, Jess has no choice, even if her boyfriend objects. She has to bring the necklace home, no matter what it does to her own happily ever after…
Louisa Leaman has a degree in art history and currently writes for the V&A (Victoria and Albert Museum), researching and writing about the museum’s archived wedding dresses. She lives in Epping Forest near London. When she isn’t busy writing or rearing three lively children, she paints portraits, goes running, and spends far too long browsing in vintage clothing shops. She is the author of THE SECOND CHANCE BOUTIQUE.