Go on, judge a book by its cover

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We all do it. I’ve bought books on the strength of a good title and gorgeous cover alone – of course I have. But the content has to deliver on its promise as well.

I have an idea of how I want my books to look when I’m writing them because I’m quite visual. I was dreaming about this new one long before I finished it. So when HarperCollins asked me to come up with a few suggestions, I jumped at the opportunity.

You might remember I wrote a post about the mood board and process I went through for Precious Things here. This book has a completely different vibe. It’s lighter and less anxious (as I was saying here). It’s very girly and gossipy and younger in feel (not just the characters, but the subject matter as well – less about a mid-life course correction and more about a mid-to-late twenties meltdown (which is kind of hilarious and a rite of passage… I’ve been there).

I loved the look HCP came up with for Precious Things; the title and the font and (ego speaking here) my name glowing in large gold font… But I’m not sure it’s right for novel two. Here’s how I briefed the cover concept for my new book:

“Catherine,” I said to my publisher, “can we make it more frothy, please… Can it be pink? Or baby blue?”

You might think I’m being horribly reductive here, but here’s some of my favourite books. Take a look at the covers. I’d be honoured to be considered in the same league with any of these authors. So I’m pushing for pink, I’m pushing for illustrations, and I’m pushing for whimsical font and a picture of a dress or a handbag or a couple of champagne flutes.

I’ll let you know how I go, but fingers crossed I haven’t completely missed the mark.

Because I wrote this book to provide comfort. It’s not literary with a capital ‘L’. It’s not going to win any awards and it’s not going to change the world, but it might just give someone a pleasant afternoon or two, and a place to escape to when life seems a bit ‘meh’. Pink says that in spades. And I love those reads myself. Books about friendship and fashion and worrying you’re a bit of a lightweight. This next novel, in particular, is about coming home with your tail between your legs, licking your wounds and then brushing yourself off to start again. My heroine – Sylvie, her name is – is the poster child for that.

So, Sylvie, here’s to you. I hope you end up pretty in pink.

*Artist Jeff Delgado created this magnificent artwork exclusively for Fandango capturing Andie and Duckie in their triumphant moment at the prom.

 

 

 

Better Reading Book Club Live

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We read and reviewed this beautiful novel about grief, loss and forgiveness recently for Better Reading Book Club.

Jesse Blackadder’s Sixty Seconds tells the story of a child drowning in a backyard swimming pool, and the family left behind. As older brother Jarrah, father Finn and mother Brigit make sense of what has happened, we see them question who they are to each other when everything changes. A moving and ultimately hopeful novel with a wonderful coming-of-age story woven through its pages. Four stars.

For our full review, please see here:

Tackling that second novel

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cecil-beaton-miss-nancy-beaton_0

Famous photograph of Nancy Beaton, taken by Cecil Beaton in 1929

Sigh. Of. Relief. The second novel’s been handed in – about a month ago, actually – and I feel lighter already. Not quite, but almost, ready to consider writing another one(!)

A while back I wrote about the pathway to publication for my first novel, Precious Things, which appeared in The Collective Hub’s online magazine here. You’d be forgiven for asking why I’d ever want to go through that again. But the truth is, I’ve felt fairly relaxed throughout the process of writing this second book. It’s been easier from the start, and I really let myself enjoy the journey for a change, despite all the false beginnings, re-working of the plot (essential) and the moments of self-doubt (unavoidable).

The thing is, writing fiction for the first time can be such a fearful process. With Precious Things, I had such big hopes for bringing that story into being because I felt like I’d been dreaming it for so long. But a niggling voice kept on inside my head throughout those years, telling me I was wasting my time. That my book might never make it into print. And what was the point, if it wouldn’t ever be read? I was petrified of people laughing at me. I almost had to grit my teeth to get through it. In a lot of ways, I think I embedded all that fear and anxiety into the writing of Precious Things.

But something’s shifted with book two. I knew that I could do it again because of the simple fact that I already did it once. And I genuinely stopped caring about how it would be received. I had so much fun working on novel two (which I’ll share the title of soon), and it’s with the editor now after a massive structural edit.

This is what I did differently:
One thing I decided early on was that I wasn’t going to waste as much time as I did with Precious Things. I sat down with my writing partner (we bounce ideas off each other and share our work) and told her my idea first. I’d seen a TV series in the UK about a crumbling old manor and the penniless aristocrats who lived there – cobbled together in two rooms of a hundred-room mansion to save cash on the heating bills – and I wondered, what would it be like to inherit a place like that? And what if, over the centuries, your ancestors and relatives had built really famous reputations for themselves by being fabulous and glamorous and generally a hundred times more successful than you in the current day? That was the seed of my idea.

Belton House, England, post-restoration

Together we bashed out the rough plotline, starring someone who found herself in this predicament. We mapped out a chapter-by-chapter story following her journey from angsty young woman into something else, and quite clinically placed a number of obstacles in her way, giving the plot its fair share of ups and downs and inserting a mystery to drive the reader through.

In those early days, I wrote in a really paint-by-numbers way, starting at page one (rather than bouncing around to whichever part of the book took my fancy, like I had before) and thought of it like getting in the car to drive the shortest distance I could from A to B. I didn’t feel much love for the characters, but the real thing spurring me on was the confidence that I could get through to the end if I just put one word in front of the other. I remembered that moment in the writing of Precious Things – the one where I really started to believe in my characters. When they were no longer just something I’d made up but people who felt alive inside my head, clamouring to deliver dialogue and do all those clever things you just don’t expect… I had faith the love would come.

Life got in the way for a bit. We started renovations on our house and moved into a friends’ while the back part of our home was demolished to make way for a new kitchen, bathroom, living area and courtyard. Project managing the build every day, I stopped writing for six months. But when I finally got back to the manuscript, it was quite clear what was working and what wasn’t. I had the bare bones of my manuscript, and when I finally sat down to write again, it felt a little like re-reading someone else’s work (which is always easier than reading your own).

There’s been a few periods like this throughout the writing of book two. I took a maternity leave cover position at an audiobook company, acquiring print titles to turn into audio. We went overseas for the English summer. We had some ups and downs on the home front. But each time I returned to the manuscript fresh, with a clear idea of how to make improvements.

This novel is still very much in the works – it won’t be out until sometime in mid-2018. I have another big edit coming my way, I know, but I can honestly say I feel good about how it’s tracking, and I never really had that conviction during the writing of Precious Things.

If you’re feeling the way I did during Precious Things, stay strong. You can do it. One word in front of the other, remember. I’m cheering you on – it gets easier from here!

More to follow soon.

xx

Poem

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Dawn on the bay

Can you remember the last time you read a poem? When I heard this I realised it’s been too long. My yoga teacher shared this during savasana (corpse pose; the relax-at-the-end-bit of yoga practice) today and it so moved me:

In the end
you won’t be known
for the things you did,
or what you built,
or what you said.
 
You won’t even be known
for the love given
or the hearts saved,
 
because in the end you won’t be known.
 
You won’t be asked, by a vast creator full of light:
What did you do to be known?
 
You will be asked: Did you know it,
this place, this journey?
 
What there is to know can’t be written.
Something between the crispness of air
and the glint in her eye
and the texture of the orange peel.
 
What you’ll want a thousand years from now is this:
a memory that beats like a heart–
a travel memory, of what it was to walk here,
alive and warm and textured within.
 
Sweet brightness, aliveness, take-me-now-ness that is life.
 
You are here to pay attention. That is enough.

– Tara Sophia Mohr

You can read more about Tara and her work here.

De reis van de parels

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Dutch cover

Precious Things will be published in Holland next month… squeee! More info below, and to order click here.

*POSTSCRIPT: I just found out this is actually being released in the European Spring of 2017 instead! A little pre-emptive but it’s on its way…

BESCHRIJVING

Normandië, 1891: een jonge vrouw naait kleine pareltjes op de kraag van haar trouwjurk. Ze huilt.

Shanghai, 1926: sensuele danssensatie Zephyr vindt een met parels versierde haarband op de vloer van een balzaal. Ze neemt de band mee naar Maleisië, waar ze een gevaarlijke liaison aangaat.

Istanboel, 1974: een model wordt op de foto gezet met een bijzondere tiara in het haar.

Londen, nu: Maggie – vrouw, moeder, stiefmoeder, medewerker in een veilinghuis – vindt in een nalatenschap een verkreukelde, verwaarloosde diadeem. Getroffen door de subtiele pareltjes wil ze achterhalen waar dit sieraad vandaan komt.

De reis van de parelsvertelt het verhaal van een prachtig sieraad en
zijn reis door de tijd in de handen van de vrouwen die het liefhadden en weer verloren – en de vrouw die betoverd raakt door zijn mysterieuze verleden.

‘Een betoverende en subliem vertelde roman over hoe onze geheimen verweven
zijn met onze meest dierbare spullen.’ – Sky News

Fairfax interview for SMH, The Age & Canberra Times

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A few weeks ago I had a lovely chat with Canberra Times journalist Karen Hardy about writing Precious Things. Here’s the resulting article, which was syndicated across Fairfax newspapers last weekend:

Kelly Doust’s love of fashion finds its way
into her novel Precious Things

Photo by Amanda Prior on location at Ruby Star Traders, Glebe

Photo by Amanda Prior shot on location at Ruby Star Traders, Glebe

By Karen HARDY
2 April 2016

Kelly Doust is the first to admit she has a weakness for vintage clothes.

She has always been intrigued by the history of a piece, who wore it, their story, and what first drew them to that dress or jacket.

“Ever since I was about 12 years old, I’ve been collecting old frocks,” says Doust. “I’d take whatever fashion magazine I could find to Vinnies and try and recreate certain looks.

“I’d find these amazing dresses which looked like they’d never even been worn and I’d wonder who the women were who owned them.”

But with the collecting comes the editing process – wardrobes “bursting at the seams” takes on a different meaning when it comes to fashion – and one day she was selling some pieces at a flea market and she found herself wondering about the new lives her old clothes might lead.

“One day I’ll write a book just like Annie Proulx’s Accordion Crimes, or the film The Red Violin, about a cheeky little frock who gets about and lives in more cities than I ever will. Wouldn’t that be fun?” she wrote on her blog later than afternoon.

A few weeks later, she received an email from a publisher friend asking her if she’d really be interested in such a project. And the seed for the novel Precious Things was planted.

As the author of several non-fiction books about vintage clothes, craft and recycling, including the best-selling A Life in Frocks: A memoir and The Crafty Minx: Creative recycling and handmade treasures, Doust had always dreamed of writing fiction.

“But I’m enough of a realist to know that fiction is a totally different process to non-fiction. I had all these lovely ideas and stories, but I didn’t have a solid plot, or any real idea of how to get from A to B.”

But then she stumbled across her hero piece. She was visiting her friend, artist Jessica Guthrie, who used to own a vintage clothing store, Coco Repose, and saw a beaded headpiece.

“I couldn’t stop thinking about it, it enchanted and inspired me,” Doust says.

“How many different adventures had it seen in its lifetime? It might have originally been a collar on a wedding gown, but then refashioned into a crown or a choker. It could have been worn as a bracelet wrapped around a girl’s wrist or added as a bodice detail to a latter-day dress. Or displayed as art upon the wall.”

In Precious Things, it becomes a collar, and we follow its journey from Normandy in 1891, as a young girl sews her wedding dress; to Shanghai, in the 1920s, where it belongs to a flamboyant circus performer; in the 1950s it belongs to an artist’s muse.

At the centre of the story, however is a totally modern woman, Maggie, an auctioneer, juggling marriage, children and a demanding job, who finds the crumpled, neglected collar in a box of junk and sets out to discover more about its past.

Doust loved researching the historical aspects of the novel, indeed is fascinated by how fashion reflects the changing lives of women through the ages.

“Through research I’d done for a previous book, Minxy Vintage, I’d already learned how intrinsic the link is between fashion and social change, and wanted to explore this further,” she says.

“It’s far more than just hemlines lowering or raising with the economy – the women of the 1920s chose to cast off the restrictive, corseted styles of the Belle Epoque in favour of a sportier aesthetic.

“This was championed by Coco Chanel in Paris fashion, but only occurred in the mainstream because women were finally entering the workplace and taking on men’s work.”

Doust is already working on a second novel which has many similar themes: family; women looking for love, direction and purpose; history and fashion.

“I think I’ll always weave my books around these themes to a lesser or greater degree because that’s what I love, and because the question of, ‘What am I going to wear today?’, is such an enduring, constant preoccupation for many of us.”

 

Creating Characters that Matter

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socialmedia_share_image.jpgIs there any better time of the year in the book lover’s calendar than Sydney Writers’ Festival? It’s my favourite Sydney event; when authors, journalists and thinkers from around the world grace our shores and host sessions with my most beloved local authors about books, current affairs and all things important.

I’m thrilled to let you know that I’ll be appearing at this year’s Sydney Writers’ Festival 2016 with a line-up that includes luminaries like Johnathan Franzen, Kate Tempest and Julian Barnes (pinch me now).

Here’s a little bit more about the event I’ll be taking part in:

‘If a character in a novel has ever made you laugh, cry or groan in frustration, there’s a writer somewhere who is secretly thrilled. Novelists Kelly Doust (Precious Things), Antonia Hayes (Relativity) and Inga Simpson (Where the Trees Were) are experts in the art of creating fictional figures you can’t help but care about. In this session they discuss the importance of emotional connection, getting the small details right, and how much material you should borrow from real life with Booktopia’s John Purcell.

For more details and to book a ticket, please click here.