THE PERFECT DRESS

It’s here. My debut THE PERFECT DRESS, published by Transworld Books UK is finally available as an ebook and will become a paperback in February 2020 (just in time for Valentine’s!). I’m delighted to say that rights have also been sold in the US, Germany, Italy and Spain.

CLICK ON THIS LINK TO ORDER YOUR COPY!

Praise for THE PERFECT DRESS:

From Josie Silver (author of Times bestseller ‘One Day in December’):

‘I thoroughly enjoyed this . . . it’s an utterly charming and sigh-worthy romance.’

From Amazon and Goodreads reviews:

‘Vibrant and beautiful from beginning to end.’
‘Romantic fiction with depth.’
‘Such a treat.’

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From the perfect vest to the perfect dress (. . . and back again)

Editor Cyril Connolly famously lamented ‘the pram in the hall’. I write and parent simultaneously, sometimes expertly, sometimes not very well. But for me ‘the pram in the hall’, far from being a creative drain, has been the impetus for making a success of my writing career.

Today, Sunday 17th November 2019, is World Prematurity Day, a global movement to raise awareness of premature birth and the devastating affect it can have on families. A mum of three, my youngest son was born two and a half months premature. Less a matter of ‘pram in the hall’; try incubator in a hospital.FullSizeRender 2

There I was, absorbing the surreal shock of having a baby born to soon, full-time in the Special Care Baby Unit, juggling a regime of doctors’ rounds, kangaroo cuddles, milk pumping, worrying, hoping, waiting and trying to make sense of the senseless. And then my editor, unaware of my pregnancy drama, emailed and said: ‘Could we have those proofs back by the end of next week?’

Reader, I did it. I’m pretty sure, under the circumstances, said publisher would have given me an extension/found someone else to finish the task. But actually it was what I needed: a reminder that I was still ‘me’, a distraction from the desperate and relentless ping-ping-ping of the breathing monitors.

My son’s untimely delivery into the world left me emotionally bruised (I wrote a piece for The Guardian about my experience of post-natal post traumatic stress disorder – sorry, that’s a mouthful! – here), yet within the ordeal, I felt kind of elated. My son and I had been given a chance. We weren’t going to waste it. Soon after, I began writing a book about vintage wedding dresses that ‘whisper’ their stories. The Perfect Dress is now published with Transworld (Penguin Random House), with rights sold to the US, Italy, France and Spain. It happened. The book deal of my dreams. And, honestly, it was the pram/incubator that pushed me to go for it. Sorry Cyril.

FullSizeRenderFour years on, my twin worlds of children and writing are colliding again. In the wake of World Prematurity Day, it has occurred to me – given how I have written about meaningful clothing – that I indeed cherished my son’s first fashion. Not exactly a ‘perfect dress’, more a ‘perfect vest’. It was second hand – can I say vintage? – provided by the hospital, a hand-me-down from a previous incubator occupant. Up until then, my son had worn nothing but a tiny nappy, his body temperature stabilised by the heat of the incubator. Suddenly, there in a vest, he seemed less like a hospital patient and more like a baby; more mine, my child.

 

I treasured this vest. When we got home I even put it in a picture frame. It’s hard to see how tiny it is from the photograph, but it would fit a small doll. Today my son is a thriving, zestful four year old, who rarely gives me the time to contemplate those early weeks of his life, but occasionally I catch a glimpse of the vest and it stirs me. It’s not a sombre feeling, but a healthy reminder to have gratitude. I was lucky. My boy was lucky. A high standard of maternal and neonatal medical care enabled us to survive. I’ll never forget what one of my midwives said as I was being rushed to the operating theatre: ‘This is the time to be grateful you’re a western woman living in the modern world.’ Approximately 15 million babies are born preterm every year. Survival rates vary starkly, with low-income countries bearing the brunt. All those little potentials who never get their chance. I write this for them.

For more information look here:

https://www.bliss.org.uk/support-bliss/world-prematurity-day/what-is-world-prematurity-day

https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/preterm-birth

 

The Perfect LBD

Finally my novel THE PERFECT DRESS is on Amazon (available for pre-order – just click on the pink link), so it seems fitting that I celebrate this milestone with a perfect dress of my own, and what better excuse than a good friend’s birthday party. Last week I returned to the ‘Wardrobe of My Mum’ and retrieved another of her fabulous BIBA beauties. This one, in near perfect condition, is a striking column of black crepe from the late 60s. My mum informs she wore it barefoot, flowers in her hair, in Hyde Park – a last blast of hippiedom before starting teaching college.

IMG_6911When I was younger I called it the Elvira Dress. It has an undeniably gothic quality. As a teenager I loved trying it on in front of the bedroom mirror. So different from my day-to-day wear (early 90s, lots of stonewash jeans and plaid flannel shirts), it made me feel like a different person, from another era, another domain. The femininity of its plunging neck and draped sleeves, combined with such foreboding blackness, was pure power. In it, I became both fearsome and elfin: a dark fairy queen.

Eventually I found the courage to wear it to a Halloween party, but that was mere costume fun; all its magnificence lost to face paint, plastic Dracula teeth and nasty punch served in plastic cups. I think it’s testament to my 40s and the ‘who cares’ confidence of age, that I’m now able to wear and celebrate such a theatrical dress just ‘because’. No need to disguise my choice with tacky fancy dress reference points. The dress is the dress: uncompromising and fierce.

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The shape doesn’t do a lot for my figure, although the fabric shifts nicely and has a weightiness that feels lush. The magic is in the sleeves: fitted around my shoulders, snug down the biceps, forming billowing bells at the wrists. They’re the kind of sleeves that make you want to hold a white dove to your breast and look wistful as you pace your castle at sunset, hoping your knights will return . . .

Of course, in reality, I sat drinking Prosecco in a suburban back garden, but somewhere inside, deep down, I promise you, I was ruling a mystical realm. All hail the escapist power of a perfect dress!

 

WHAT’S IN A DRESS…

‘…Because it is never about how a bride looks, but how she feels.’

A few weeks ago I had the fun task of getting some professional photos taken by the brilliant @MaryRichardson. Given the images are intended for promotion of my forthcoming book debut, THE PERFECT DRESS (click to find out more), picking an outfit for the shoot felt like a big deal. After all, one cannot sell such a title dressed in jeans and a hoody. Trading standards would chase me down, closely followed by the Crimes of Fashion special unit. A dress of dresses was required – feminine and friendly, definitely not frumpy (nor too edgy), preferably flattering, respectful of my interest in fashion history, and above all, something ‘me’.

I scoured shops, sales and vintage clothing stores. I obsessed over Pinterest. But the answer came in a conversation with my mum, and her reminder that the default dress-up policy of my youth was to raid her suitcase of 60s and 70s leftovers. I say leftovers – she’s kept some cracking good dresses. Immediately I thought of the suitcase gem I’d loved most and knew that it was, in its way, my own ‘Perfect Dress’.

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Original BIBA, in a simple teal daisy print, with ruffles and bell sleeves and a high-low waterfall draping hem, I wore it for my sixteenth birthday, for a friend’s posh university ball, for another friend’s wedding, then forgot all about it during the practical-wear scramble of motherhood. Testament to its thoughtful design, that several decades later, after three kids, two house-moves, cropped hair and a lot of messy, outdoor hobbies, I’ve managed to zip it up again – and it feels amazing.

It’s a dress that thrills me, not just for its form fitting grace, but because of the immediate rush of nostalgia that gets me in the gut. Memories of my sweet sixteenth: blueing light, summer dusk, the sensation of dry grass beneath my bare feet, catching my reflection in a window, tipsy from vodka, and thinking that perhaps I look a little bit like Stevie Nicks, then being told by a random boy that I’m ‘cool’. All the while, uncurling within me, is the buzz and bedlam of emerging adulthood.

And that, I think, is the magic of the clothing we cherish. Perfect dresses aren’t just about style, but about heart and soul, the memories absorbed in their fibres, the truths in their stitches. Dressing up in my mum’s BIBA dress I am reconnected to the me of then – sixteen, arty, a hippy-wannabe day-dreamer with hidden fears – and it’s as powerful a marker of how far I’ve come as any.  What’s more, this dress, before I even existed, had a life via my mum – and goodness only knows what she got up to in the late 1960s, but hey that’s her story to tell… 😉

THE CHILDREN’S BOOK THAT INSPIRED ME TO WRITE

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It is no secret that I’m a fan of those pudgy little white things called ‘Moomins’, given that I named my first-born daughter Tove. I’m slightly (only slightly) over the Moomin-esque merchandise that has proliferated in recent years and want to declare my  position on the matter: I was into them way before they became, you know, a thing. Just like I wore floaty coats before Boho and collected an excess of emerald green cushions before ‘jewel’ colours started to appear on Houzz…

The fact is, as a child – and my mother will vouch for this – the only book I read for many years, on repeat, like a stuck record, was Tove Jansson’s Comet in Moominland. She tempted me with Blume, Dahl, Clearly, Fine and many other titans of the early 80s children’s book market, but to little effect. Quite simply, I wanted to stay in the valley – with Sniff, Snufkin and Moomintroll and the cave with the oil blanket and the sour muskrat and the Lonely Mountains and the comedic Hemulen and, best of all, the silk monkey. What even is a silk-monkey? I still don’t know, but I love her anyway.

Such a big subject – a comet hurtling towards the world, threatening to destroy everyone and everything – told in Jansson’s strange, smart way, but for me the story comes second to the magic of the place and its characters. The richness of this is helped by the illustrations – Jansson’s own – which were always as endearing to me as the text. Far from mere page decoration, they were instrumental in bringing Moomin Valley to life in my mind, which in turn, helped me stay there. And want to return there. Time and again.

So Comet in Moominland is my #worldbookday read of choice, but I’ll let you into a secret… my daughter, Jansson’s namesake, isn’t keen.  She kind of tolerates it (for mummy’s sake), but I think she’d prefer it if I’d called her Joanne 😉

 

A Perfect Day For ‘The Perfect Dress’

Happy Valentine’s to you all! It seems timely that today of all days I am finally able to talk publically about my forthcoming contemporary romance #ThePerfectDress, which will be published by Transworld UK this summer, with rights also sold to Germany (Goldmann), Italy (Newton Compton) and Spain (Suma, PRH). Yesterday it was officially announced in the Bookseller. See here.

When I began working on this book, I have to admit I was feeling somewhat despondent about the general state of the world, and had a gut sense that I needed to write the most warm, joy-restoring novel I could – one that would leave readers feeling delighted and uplifted. I kept thinking of the Golden Age of Cinema and how, in the first half of the 20th century, people found an escape from the rigours of the Depression-era by going to the movies. In this way The Perfect Dress is my offer of an escape from today’s issues – with a generous helping of old school glamour!

At the time I was researching and writing about wedding dress for the Victoria & Albert Museum website. See here. The V&A dresses were exquisite beyond exquisite, but what really caught my attention were the wonderful personal stories behind them. My imagination sparked. A wedding dress – arguably the most important dress in a woman’s life – is not just a beautifully designed garment. It’s a symbol of her personality, her lifestyle, her choices, her ideals, her hopes.

With a background in art and design history and a passion for vintage clothing, I became intrigued by the idea that wedding dresses might hold traces of their stories within their fibres, like blueprints. What if there was canny little dress shop that matched vintage wedding dresses, with all their wisdoms and insights stitched within, to modern-day brides? And so Fran and her #whisperingdresses came to be.

I cannot wait for the journey of The Perfect Dress to unfold. I also want to say how chuffed I am to be working with the fabulous @MollyCrawford from Transworld who immediately got what the book was all about. And a massive thank you to the inimitable @SarahSuch, my agent and friend, who has done so much for my writing career. And, lastly, not forgetting my family and friends for all the encouragement and support.

Spread the love. L x

SOCIAL MEDIA OPENS UP… AND SUCKS ME IN

It’s like a gemstone. The more you look into it, the more intriguing it gets. There is SO MUCH and SO MANY WAYS to do it. Writer cliche languishing in solitude for most of the working week, I’ve been reluctant until now to go heavy with social media. It’s seemed like an intrusion, not to mention an effort/inconvenience I don’t have time for. But with a big new book on the horizon I am finally bowing to the expectation that I need it: an ONLINE AUTHOR PLATFORM.

Pushed for time, I find myself watching ‘HOW TO TO TWEET/BLOG/PROMOTE/#HASHTAG’ Youtube video guides (big up @brittanywang and iWriterly) while fixing tea for my kids. Its the perfect solution. My husband loves cooking, but works too late to be home in time for the daily kitchen. I hate cooking, but love learning, and love the possibility that, if I up my social media game as the videos suggest, I can sell enough books to buy said husband out of the rat-race, thus making him available to provide the smalls with a regular decent meal rather than the ‘rice surprise’ they have come to loathe. Put another way, buy my books and you will feed my children…

So, after a little learning and conseicentious application, suddenly I find myself in some kind of social media mind-warp takeover. The switch has flicked. Everything – from cups of tea to unusual umbrella handles – has become fair game for the feed. My life must be lived through opportunist flashes of instagrammable prowess. I’m just itching to send you snaps with the filter of Clarendon to show all the snow that has fallen and frozen in suburbia. Although your feed is probably clogged with these already, right? Do you really need another?

Then there’s the browsing. Twitter is fun, albeit confusing (…I’m not sure but I might have inadvertently offended @joanne harris). Facebook is steady. Instagram is a feast. I like visuals. I could do this all day, gaze wondrously at images of exquisite dragon jewellery, artfully staged vintage wedding scenes, and ‘takes-me-back’ photos of 90s pop icons. I could do it so much, I could forget/neglect to write that new novel.  Which kind of defeats the purpose of plugging in in the first place. Plus there’s some pesky Brexit thing going on in the background. And three children. And life in general.

So I will be back. There will be more. But patience please, I’m new. And in the mean time… here are some charming photos of cats in bomber jackets… #VicandBob

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2019 IS MY YEAR!

I’m not sure how many times I’ve announced words to the effect of ‘This year I’m going to post every hour/day/week/month!’ – only to find this poor, sorry site languishing in silence. Well, here I go again, except, this year, I really am going to up my social media game, because this year EXCITING THINGS ARE HAPPENING!  More details to follow soon, but just to say… there’ll be a book involved. Beams with pride. Watch this space.

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Michael Jackson for Biscuits

Firstly, let me congratulate me on actually delivering the second of my promised monthly blogs, especially after the parenting shock-fest that was half-term. Suffice to say, this post has been written in snatches: while standing in queues for ice creams and buses, sweltering in swimming pool changing rooms, hovering around slide-diving kamikaze 2 year olds, and waiting, lots of waiting, for you-tube clips to load.

Secondly, I guess I should explain the randomness of the title. It’s a writer cliché, I know, but I genuinely do jot down ideas as they pop into my head, mainly to reduce the chance of losing them in the chasm of my forgetfulness. I used to carry a tatty notebook (another writer cliché), but latterly have upgraded to one of those popular fruit-based electronic devices.

I am currently researching and writing about opera for the V&A Museum website, so note-making has been at fever pitch. But whatever I was trying to say in my latest effort, I sincerely don’t think it was: ‘Opera feels like it’s always been like Michael Jackson for biscuits’. What? WHAT?? Effing, bloody predictive text.

As a phrase it’s kind of likeable, but woefully nonsensical and useless to my needs. What’s more frustrating is that I can’t even remember/decipher what I was trying to say. A great(ish) thought lost.

I now dread to look back through the pages of notes and dictations that I have taken over the last few months, that will no doubt have come out awry. Latest novel is not going to pull together on this basis. That said, could it be a way to push the envelope, to introduce an unexpected and surrealist touch to my work, although I’m not sure it would win me many readers.

Anyway, my third point, strangely related (since I blame my forgetfulness, thus need for note-making, on the constant ‘fullness’ of my mind), is how much I love cramming said mind with new knowledge. As I get older, my appetite for learning seems to increase, rather than diminish. When I was offered the opera topic, I admit I winced with a dose of ‘not for me’ suspicion. Within a few hours of research, however, I was enthralled. It seems that wherever there is opera, there is power, deceit, conflict, scandal, money, monstrosity, revolution, riot, romance – everything exciting, all bound up with some of the most extraordinary music ever written. It’s a delight to be able to bury myself in such an intriguing subject and call it work, thus I eagerly anticipate the V&A’s forthcoming exhibition ‘Opera: Power, Passion & Politics’ – if only to find out whether opera really is like Michael Jackson for biscuits…?