Culture Street

Precious Things coverAuthor Kelly Doust began her working life in the publishing industry and has gone on to build a successful career writing about fashion and craft, including writing for Vogue and Australian Womenís Weekly and publishing her memoir - A Life in Frocks. But her first love has always been fiction and now, she has written her first novel, Precious Things. Kelly shares the inspiration behind her first novel. You can buy the book here.

By Kelly Doust

Clothes Ė particularly vintage and antique ones Ė are my weakness. Iíve always been intrigued by their history and am constantly fascinated by what we wear and why. Thatís 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. Thereís also a modern-day heroine who, like me, finds herself intrigued by the beaded collarís mysterious past.

Let me explain: an antique travel trunk covered in peeling labels looking worn and scuffed around the edges isnít just a rusty, damaged item thatís 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 shipís upper decks. Or a stiff snakeskin purse with a long-ago tram ticket tucked inside its inner pocket Ė 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 peopleís lives Ė 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 Ė which is later transformed into a headpiece or a Ďcoronetí, as I like to think of it Ė might have come into the various womenís lives.

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 Ė my 1950s goddess and artistís muse Ė came from my love of Felliniís 1960 film, La Dolce Vita, and the filmís star, Anita Ekberg who was famously pictured gambolling in the Trevi Fountain. Bellaís character was fleshed out for me when I saw an exhibition of Francis Baconís artworks. I wanted to feature an artist of some sort in the book, but when I read about Baconís muse, Henrietta Moraes, it got me thinking about what kind of world Bella might operate in. Henrietta worked as an artistís 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 thatís exactly what I did. Iíve visited each of the cities described Ė Istanbul, New York, Rome and Shanghai Ė 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) doesnít get a mention, but Iím thinking of remedying that in novel two!

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