“The Lost Sapphire is a fascinating and wonderful historical book…. The intertwining of the lives of the characters in this story is fabulous …”
The Lost Sapphire is “Highly recommended.. This charming historical mystery, connecting a young, contemporary girl, Marli, with her forebears and their life in the 1920’s… This unveiling is captivating.”
“Belinda’s books appeal to all ages and her historical fiction novels are some of the best around. ‘The Lost Sapphire’ is a fascinating time-slip novel, and, as usual, Murrell handles the time-slip beautifully..”
Marli is staying with her dad in Melbourne, and missing her friends. Then she discovers a mystery – a crumbling, abandoned mansion is to be returned to her family after ninety years. Marli sneaks into the locked garden to explore, and meets Luca, a boy who has his own connection to Riversleigh.
A peacock hatbox, a box camera and a key on a velvet ribbon provide clues to what happened long ago . . .
In 1922, Violet is fifteen. Her life is one of privilege, with boating parties, picnics and extravagant balls. An army of servants looks after the family – including new chauffeur Nikolai Petrovich, a young Russian émigré.
Over one summer, Violet must decide what is important to her. Who will her sister choose to marry? What will Violet learn about Melbourne’s slums as she defies her father’s orders to help a friend? And what breathtaking secret is Nikolai hiding?
Violet is determined to control her future. But what will be the price of her rebellion?
INSPIRATION FOR THE LOST SAPPHIRE
There is something totally fascinating about walled gardens and abandoned houses. One of my favourite books as a child was The Secret Garden, written by Frances Hodgson Burnett in 1910. Some of the ideas for The Lost Sapphire, were inspired by this book, particularly family secrets and discord, the idea of a girl and a boy, who initially don’t get on, building a friendship and being healed by bringing a lost garden back to life. The cheeky robin, who helped show the way into the garden, inspired my fairy wren.
My father’s family was originally from Melbourne, and I spent many long summer holidays playing and swimming on the banks of the Yarra River. More recently, I have explored this beautiful city on multiple trips, visiting old mansions and gardens; wandering the streets, laneways and markets; and eating food from many different cultural backgrounds including Vietnamese, Chinese, Italian, Greek, French and Russian. It is one of my favourite cities in the world!
1. What is the inspiration for The Lost Sapphire?
The Lost Sapphire, is set in Melbourne during the fabulous roaring 1920s. It was originally inspired by a couple of experiences where I was taken to visit some beautiful historic mansions, which had been abandoned. One of these was in Melbourne and another was in Tenterfield in Northern NSW. With both houses I immediately began wondering about the people who had lived there and why the mansion might have been abandoned. Then suddenly I seemed to stumble across several derelict houses, all with fascinating stories.
2. Is there a particular theme you are exploring in this book?
With all of my time slip books, I am fascinated by the idea of exploring the past, and learning lessons which can help us understand our own time and issues more clearly. The Lost Sapphire is set in the Roaring 20s in Melbourne – a fascinating time where the world shifted. A frivolous era of short skirts, bobbed hair and risqué jazzing, but also of massive social change. The old ways, where on one side of the Yarra River, Melbourne’s aristocrats lived a life of extravagance and wealth, contrasted sharply to life in the slums, just across the bridge, – of poverty, disease and crime, where 13 year old kids had to work long hours to feed their families. It was also a time where prejudices ran strong. Intolerance of Anglicans versus Catholics. Suspicion and fear of different cultural, social or religious practises. Yet Australian society was very much made up of refugees seeking a better life – whether those fleeing poverty in Ireland or Italy or Scotland, or those fleeing war-torn Europe or the Russian Revolution.
3. What resources do you use to research your book?
Research is a huge part of my planning for the books. I can spend months reading old newspapers, magazines, advertisements, history books, diaries, articles on the internet, books written during the 1920s, biographies, letters, and memoirs. I also try to understand the culture of the period by watching historic film clips and home movies and listening to music. Trove, the on-line archive of the National Library of Australia is a fantastic research tool. For this book, I also went to Melbourne to visit historic houses, museums, exhibitions of fashion and clothes, old factories, and ensure that my setting was as accurate as possible.
Life in Melbourne during the 1920s was brought to life by newspaper articles, film clips and memoirs of wealthy debutantes, factory workers, and servants. The Hamilton Glove factory was inspired by the Simpson’s Glove Factory which was located on Victoria Street, Richmond and its collection of artefacts held by Museum Victoria. Riversleigh was inspired by several old Melbourne mansions I visited including Como House, Labassa, Balmerino and Rippon Lea.
4. Which character in your current book is your favourite? Why?
My protagonist from 1922 is Violet Hamilton, a fifteen year old girl, whose mother is dead and whose father is distant, stubborn and conservative. Violet’s life is one of luxury, with boating parties, picnics and extravagant balls. Over one summer, Violet comes to learn about the lives of those who live in the slums of Richmond, just across the Yarra River, and to realise that all is not as it seems for the servants who look after the family – especially new chauffeur Nikolai, a young Russian émigré. Violet must decide what is important to her and to stand up for what she believes in.