Shining Threads


A new historical novel based on the life of the composer and suffragette Ethel Smyth

It is the late 19th century and Queen Victoria is on the throne. Upper-class girls are expected to get married and be content with entertaining, embroidery and elementary music-making. But from an early age, Ethel has other ideas. She will need to be forceful, determined and persistent if she is to fulfil her dream of becoming a composer, and having her music performed. Meeting with the best musicians of the day in England and Europe, she shows how good she is, and begins to make her mark as an opera writer. Yet time and again, the musical world fails to support her. Her performances go wrong, forcing her to take drastic action, sometimes with dire consequences. 

Her relationships with both women and men are stormy. Who does she love, and can it last? As the 20th century dawns and the campaign for Votes for Women becomes ever more militant, will her life take a different turn?

This inspiring historical novel is based on the real life of composer Ethel Smyth (1858-1944). It shines a light on an overlooked pioneering composer.

Comments about Shining Threads

You have brought Ethel Smyth and her indomitable character to life, and given us a window onto her rich, varied and long life.This historical novel – it’s so much more than that – portrays a life punctuated by some amazing friendships (including with Emmeline Pankhurst), by Ethel’s sense of her own agency and refusal to subordinate herself in ways that were expected of women, and by her music – her very raison d’etre.

Helen Pankhurst – Activist, academic, granddaughter of Sylvia and great granddaughter of Emmeline Pankhurst.

A fascinating, highly-readable novel, based on the life and times of Ethel Smyth, from the drawing rooms of Victorian London, to the Opera Houses of Europe and the grim walls of Holloway prison. What a defiant, gifted big-hearted woman, totally committed to her craft and determined to weather the constant obstacles put in her way.

Caitlin Davies – author of Bad Girls: Rebels and Renegades of Holloway Prison

A wonderful insight into how life may have been for a woman composer fighting for her music and talent to be acknowledged in a male-dominated world. This imaginative piece underlines the difficulty Dame Ethel Smyth had in gaining recognition and opportunities as an outlier in musical society. Her never-ending determination to have her music heard and to carve a path for other women following in her footsteps shines through. This well-researched book gives a vivid insight into what Smyth’s personal life may have been like, traces her development as a musician, and presents her as human, flawed, rather than portraying a perfect but unrealistic image we sometimes form of a famous composer. A thoroughly enjoyable and enlightening read. 

Nicola Hands, Tailleferre Ensemble

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