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!

 

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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’.

Louisa Leaman full length

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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Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

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…?

Reluctant Blogging is the New Blogging

I’ve said it before. I know. But this time. This. Time. There will be blogging, as sure as there is half-price Cathedral City cheese.

I will make amends for all my excuses-excuses online absenteeism, beginning RIGHT HERE, with a pledge (yet another) to make monthly – and sometimes bi-monthly – contributions to the community in the screen.

The rhetoric is embarrassingly familiar to me now: a writer needs an online platform, i.e. a blog, vlog, podcast, website, instagramming, tumbling whatsit, in order to publicise their work to the world, in order to raise awareness of their writing, in order to sell more books, in order to make more money, in order to keep their children stocked with fidget spinners for the rest of their damn lives.

Otherwise…said writer’s career will wither and die like so many bad sitcom scripts and THEY WILL BE NOTHING.

I get it. I have good intent. Alas, however, I also have barriers:

1, children

2, children

3, shyness

Okay, so shyness is stretching a point. I’m actually not a shy person, but I’m definitely an introvert, so the concept of flashing my wares to a vast(ish) public makes the edges of my soul curl and crinkle. But I love writing, so I am duty-bound to make the grade.

It occurs to me that people use blogs for either information or entertainment. Unless you want lists of dos and don’ts on topics such as ‘Fast-Track Procrastination Techniques’, ‘Bubble Guppies Versus Paw Patrol: How to Manipulate Your Child with TV Programmes’ or ‘Writing the 2 Minute Plot Synopsis (…Because 2 Minutes is All You Damn Get)’, then I’ll aim for entertainment. Fun with words – and a few pictures.

A lot has happened since my previous pledge to blog (which perhaps explains the lack thereafter): my youngest shed his sweet baby disguise, to reveal his true identity as Toddler Destroyer Extraordinaire; I married and moved house; some very bad things happened in the political world; while various pop-stars of my youth popped their clogs. I, and this is the significant bit, also had several writing successes, which you probably wouldn’t know about, because I kind of *forgot* to brag about them online. So here’s the gist:

Firstly, my novel, Last Night I Dreamt of You, has been picked up by Goldmann (part of the Random House empire) and will be published in Germany and hopefully other territories thereafter. It is my first adult novel – a romantic mystery thriller set in Cornwall, my ode to Daphne du Maurier – and I’m intrigued and excited to see how it all unfolds. I will promise with all my heart to post updates on here. In the meantime, brush up on your GCSE German…

Secondly, I am delighted to have been taken on as one of the writer/editors creating content for the V&A Museum’s new website. As an Art History graduate, painter, and wannabe interior designer, it’s nothing short of a dream job. Plus, the V&A has long been one of my favourite London haunts, so I sometimes feel a little star-struck by the whole experience, should it be possible to be ‘star-struck’ by a large building (and all of it’s magnificent contents)!

My V&A work can be seen here:

Wedding Dress

And here:

Art Deco

Okay, so I’ve bobbed my head above the parapet and now hopefully you know a little more of where I’m at. I’d like to linger some longer, but a large piece of Duplo has just been flushed down the toilet. I guess I’ll see you in a month…

(…or five?)

Post-Swimming Lesson Shower Rage!

As much as I admire those committed little 5, 6 and 7 year olds in my daughter’s swimming class, who struggle and splash to keep their bodies horizontal in the deeper water, it’s their parents I truly respect. Week after week, they make the sacrifice of an evening at home, to ensure that the life-saving skill of basic swimming is accomplished.

I see it in their eyes, mostly as they stand by the poolside showers, bottles of no-tears shampoo at arms length, instructing their slippery-skinned offspring to remove swimming hats and goggles and stand fully under the shower, rather than just a tiny bit under. I see it in their florid cheeks and slightly huffy expressions, that they’d rather be sipping a nice Pinot Noir and watching Netflix.

But they’re doing it for their children.

Click here to read this article on the Guardian-Series website…

And perhaps for that precious twenty-five minutes of quiet in the viewing gallery, while said-children are gainfully engaged with their swimming instructor. Of course, twenty-five minutes is a meagre amount of time to many, but to an in-demand working parent, its like manna from the gods. Twenty-five whole minutes to answer essential work emails, send texts to neglected friends, find a plumber for a leaking toilet, read the news, drink a coffee, play a few games of Candy Crush, or simply stare exhaustedly into space (I mostly do the latter).

Enjoy your twenty-five minutes, swimming folk, because, really, that little slice of me-time is the calm before the storm. When the swimming lesson is over, it is time to face The Changing Room. Ah, the changing room. Where do I start? A friend recently told me she’d witnessed a full-scale row between two mums. Smart, sweet, normal mums. The cause: one of them was allowing her son to take too long in the shower. Outrageous! Unbelievable! Well, of course it’s not, but that changing room environment does something to the nerves. It’s an annoyance amplifier.

There’s something about the combination of oppressive heat, harsh lighting, loud noise, repeated splashing from poolside showers, and frenzied negotiation of adequate shampoo lathering that pushes parental patience into the crunch zone.

Hence the phenomenon of post-swimming changing-room rage: an outward venting of the inner disgust at being trapped in that hot, noisy, splashy sweatbox. It’s not pretty. It’s not clever. But it’s not surprising either.

And all of this, before I’ve even mentioned the ‘intense’ behaviour of the young clientele. Over-excited children towel-whipping their siblings, shutting each other in lockers, dropping socks in puddles or making nerve-grinding screechy sounds. Then there are the tantrums – the tired, hungry ones rolling on the cubicle floor, screaming about how unfair their evil parents are for daring to ask them to put their shoes on.

And as for those horrid, blue, plastic shoe-covers…

Sigh. A medal for every parent. Although a large glass of something strong might do.