Blogger and historical fiction enthusiast Theresa Smith recently interviewed me for her site – I thought I’d share the post here. Thank you so much, Theresa! x
I recently read the most gorgeous novel, Dressing the Dearloves, and is often the way, I absolutely had to dig deeper and ask the author for an interview. So today, I have great pleasure in welcoming Kelly Doust to Behind the Pen.
I really loved the style in which you told Dressing the Dearloves, with the different forms of writing providing an alternate context and/or perspective for the characters. What inspired you to tell the story in this multi-media way?
Thanks Tessa. Writing in different voices can be really fun and seems to bring a fresh energy to the story. Minette Walters sometimes used this device in her crime fiction, and I always thought it was a clever way to illustrate the story from various viewpoints. It’s tricky, because you need to not go overboard, but whenever I was feeling stuck in the writing of Dressing the Dearloves I wrote one of these intersecting pieces and it seemed to help the story flow again. Some did get cut in the final edit, though.
Do you have a favourite scene from Dressing the Dearloves? One that was more fun, or more emotional, or even more challenging, to write?
I enjoyed writing the scene between Sylvie and her friends in the bar at the beginning – it was exciting to bring the cast of characters together for the first time and create their relationships from scratch, because they were riffing off each other from the get-go. I also really loved writing the scenes between Sylvie and Nick, and teared up when writing a later part of the story where Sylvie has a long-overdue conversation with her dad. Sometimes the writer is surprised, too, by how the story plays out.
Dressing the Dearloves has such a wonderful bunch of characters in it. Were they all already a firm picture in your mind before you started writing or did some of them develop a personality of their own as the story progressed?
Not all of them – Lizzie, Victoria, Rose and Gigi were always going to be there and were part of my original plotting, but Sylvie, her parents and her friends evolved around them, and helped me to fall in love with the writing of it when Sylvie and Tabs became a big part of the present-day thread.
There’s lots of different ways to write a novel but with my first one, Precious Things, I actually wrote so much from a place of inspiration, but it made it difficult to wrangle the story when I had all these separate threads. With Dressing the Dearloves I started out with an overarching plotline, but the inspiration didn’t really come until I’d set up that framework and built all the characters’ interactions in layers over it, if that makes sense.
Now, let’s talk fashion. How did you come up with all of the amazing outfits and pieces that were described throughout the novel? What sort of research was involved in this creative process?
From years of obsession and too much shopping! Also, an almost scientific approach to what people are wearing. I just adore clothes, and I have to stop myself from letting descriptions of them take over the story.
In 2012 I published a book on vintage fashion called Minxy Vintage: how to customise and wear vintage clothes, and undertook a huge amount of research (and shopping) for that, learning all about the different eras of the twentieth century and how social change affected what people were wearing. So I drew from that, and all my visits to the Victoria & Albert museum in London, and the magazines I’ve been reading since I was twelve.
Moving on to my other area of interest from Dressing the Dearloves, to that of the ‘old English estate’. Did you tour any of these newly rebuilt estates for inspiration? Any favourites that stood out?
Lots. My family are members of the National Trust in the UK, and when I lived there (and whenever I visit every few years) we spend a good portion of time exploring old homes and estates. Last year we went to Montacute House in South Somerset, and that was brilliant. They have a needlework gallery and an outpost of the National Portrait Gallery London featuring Tudor artists in the style of Holbein… it’s absolute heaven. The gardens are gorgeous, too.
Where do you normally write? Is it in the same place every day or are you an all over the place writer?
All over the place and whenever I can. Usually at the kitchen table or in a café – yes, I’m that person sitting on a cup of tea for too long, tapping away at their laptop in the corner.
Are you balancing a different career with your writing? How do you go about making time for your writing within limited hours?
I also work as a book publisher, so I slot in my writing around that, but I work four days so tend to write on my day off and over the weekend. Also very early in the morning or late in the evening if need be… it’s not always easy to fit it in, but I’m a mum as well so very used to juggling.
How far has your writing career evolved from when you first began to write to what it is today? Is this in line with your initial expectations?
I don’t know about expectations, but it was always a dream to write full-time. I did that for maybe seven years, but I actually missed the day-to-day interactions with colleagues and was feeling too isolated and stuck inside my own head after a while. I’m always thinking about balance. Writing and working is good, and feels more fulfilling than the dream of being a full-time writer actually was in reality. Overall, my writing career hasn’t turned out the way I expected it to, but I’m content with the way it’s played out so far.
To finish up with, let’s keep it all about the fashion. If you could wear one pair of shoes for the rest of your life, what type are they and what colour?
Oh my goodness, just one?!? At the moment I’ve fallen completely in lust with a pair of pink leather Chloe boots with gold studs. But they wouldn’t be terribly practical for my entire life, would they? Probably my white Puma Baskets… I hope that’s not too much of a disappointment 😊
Thank you so much for joining me today Kelly!
You’re very welcome.
About Dressing the Dearloves:
One crumbling grand manor house, a family in decline, five generations of women, and an attic full of beautiful clothes with secrets and lies hidden in their folds. Kelly Doust, author of Precious Things, spins another warm, glamorous and romantic mystery of secrets, love, fashion, families – and how we have to trust in ourselves, even in our darkest of days. One for lovers of Kate Morton, Belinda Alexandra, Fiona McIntosh and Lucy Foley.
Failed fashion designer Sylvie Dearlove is coming home to England – broke, ashamed and in disgrace – only to be told her parents are finally selling their once-grand, now crumbling country house, Bledesford, the ancestral home of the Dearlove family for countless generations.
Sylvie has spent her whole life trying to escape being a Dearlove, and the pressure of belonging to a family of such headstrong, charismatic and successful women. Beset by self-doubt, she starts helping her parents prepare Bledesford for sale, when she finds in a forgotten attic a thrilling cache of old steamer trunks and tea chests full of elaborate dresses and accessories acquired from across the globe by five generations of fashionable Dearlove women. Sifting through the past, she also stumbles across a secret which has been hidden – in plain sight – for decades, a secret that will change the way she thinks about herself, her family, and her future.
Romantic, warm, and glamorous, moving from Edwardian England to the London Blitz to present day London, Dressing the Dearloves is a story of corrosiveness of family secrets, the insecurities that can sabotage our best efforts, and the seductive power of dressing up.