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.

Culture Street article

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spanish-diamond-coronetDo you follow Culture Street? It’s a great site featuring reviews of the latest films and books, recipes, giveaways and interviews. I’m thrilled to be featured as their April Author of the Month, and wrote a short article recently about a few of the inspirations behind Precious Things which I thought I’d share with you here:

Desire, marriage and writing fiction

Clothes – particularly vintage and antique ones – are my weakness. I’ve always been intrigued by their history and am constantly fascinated by what we wear and why. That’s why I decided to write a novel about an antique French collar. Precious Things tells the story of the women who wore this special piece; those who created it, loved it and lost it over the course of more than a hundred years, and the crucial events it witnessed in their lives. There’s also a modern-day heroine who, like me, finds herself intrigued by the beaded collar’s mysterious past.

Let me explain: an antique travel trunk covered in peeling labels looking worn and scuffed around the edges isn’t just a rusty, damaged item that’s seen better days. To me it brings to mind tumultuous sea journeys, the smell of salt and gulls cawing, as well as the image of a fetching skirt suit worn to stroll a cruise ship’s upper decks. Or a stiff snakeskin purse with a long-ago tram ticket tucked inside its inner pocket – where was the woman who owned it going that day? Did she meet her lover for lunch, visit a gallery, or find herself fidgeting nervously in a job interview? This is what I mean; I love how old things give us a tantalising glimpse into other people’s lives – lives we can only dream of.

As I started to think about it more carefully, I realised I wanted to write a sweeping, romantic story that took in many generations of women and covered the significant eras of the twentieth century. I started envisaging how the collar – which is later transformed into a headpiece or a ‘coronet’, as I like to think of it – might have come into the various women’s lives.

A Francis Bacon portrait of Henrietta Moraes

A Francis Bacon portrait of Henrietta Moraes

My favourite part was researching the historical sections. I chose some of my favourite times and places, and my imagination was sparked by long-held passions and what I was seeing or reading at the time. For example, Bella – my 1950s goddess and artist’s muse – came from my love of Fellini’s 1960 film, La Dolce Vita, and the film’s star, Anita Ekberg who was famously pictured gambolling in the Trevi Fountain. Bella’s character was fleshed out for me when I saw an exhibition of Francis Bacon’s artworks. I wanted to feature an artist of some sort in the book, but when I read about Bacon’s muse, Henrietta Moraes, it got me thinking about what kind of world Bella might operate in. Henrietta worked as an artist’s model and became the inspiration for many artists of the Soho scene in the 1950s and 1960s. She was also known for her marriages, love affairs and hedonistic lifestyle, which saw her ending up in Holloway Prison after a failed burglary attempt.

There are other instances in the book where I wove in real-life events and embellished them to enrich the narrative. They say you should write what you love and that’s exactly what I did. I’ve visited each of the cities described – Istanbul, New York, Rome and Shanghai – and used to live in London, so there was also a huge element of nostalgia at play as I slipped into those different places in history and imagined the drama of what my characters were experiencing. Unfortunately my current home (Sydney) doesn’t get a mention, but I’m thinking of remedying that in novel two!