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:
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.”
In the midst of seemingly endless proofreads and edits it’s been easy to lose sight of the fact that the publication date for Precious Things is almost here. Just over a month until the book hits shelves, and this is what’s happened since the end of last year:
We have a cover! Remember my post about working with the HarperCollins design team to come up with one? They ended up creating one version to send me, and it was love at first sight. They’ve tweaked here and there to come up with a more readable font (especially handy when online covers are no larger than thumbnails) but I’m thrilled with the design, what do you think? It should be even more lovely in the flesh with tactile spot gloss, embossing and gold foil features, and it’s going to be amazing holding it in my hands when it finally arrives …
My agent Jane Gregory has sold the rights to German publisher, Verlag Kiepenheur & Witsch and HarperCollins Holland so far. We don’t have a firm date yet for publication in those countries, but Precious Things should be international within the next year or so – I can’t wait to see the translated versions. ‘Precious Things’ in Dutch? Doesn’t quite translate. So they’re calling it De reis van de parels or The Travel of the Pearls. How gorgeous is that?
Australian company Bolinda Audio will be publishing the audio book worldwide, with an English accent! The narrator should be confirmed soon. With my main protagonist living in London this seemed fitting, although I have a feeling it’s going to make the experience of listening to it even more surreal (and I was only a wee bit disappointed they didn’t want to record my nasal Aussie brogue narrating it ;-).
HarperCollins sent the book out far and wide for pre-publication endorsements last year. Here’s some of the feedback that’s come in. I can’t tell you how wonderful and strange it feels to have people I admire saying such lovely things:
‘A sparkling, feminine narrative, highlighting that what is lost can also be found’ – Kirstie Clements, Author of The Vogue Factor and former editor of Vogue Australia
‘An intricate mystery… love, life and fashion intertwine to create worlds that set the imagination alight.’ – Julie Carrol, New Idea Magazine
‘The stories of the different women Doust imagines are so touching and poignant. I loved it.’ – Kristy Allen, Australian Women’s Weekly Magazine
‘A mesmerising and sublimely told tale about how our stories and secrets outlive us, intertwined in the threads of our precious things.’ – Jacinta Tynan, author of Mother Zen and Sky News Presenter
‘Captivating, mesmerising and an absolute pleasure to read, Precious Things does not disappoint.’ – Dijanna Mulhearn, Author of Wardrobe 101
‘We are drawn in from start to end; this is a novel to get wonderfully lost in’ – Pia Jane Bijkerk, Blogger and Author of My Heart Wanders
‘Wonderful storytelling – I was bewitched.’ – Charlotte Smith, Author of Dreaming of Dior
And the book got a special mention in the annual ‘novels to look out for in 2016′ round-ups in both The Australian, Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers.
More to follow soon, with a blog post about the long and winding path to publication. Stay tuned!