1--What is the title of your latest release?
A DRESS OF VIOLET TAFFETA: the story of the real-life Lucy Duff Gordon, between the years of 1893 to 1913, who designed exquisite dresses under her label Lucile Ltd.
2--What’s the “elevator pitch” for your new book?
Lucy Wallace has been abandoned by her spendthrift alcoholic husband—again. Now a single mother with a five-year-old daughter to support the only marketable talent Lucy has is her ability to make doll’s clothes which are the envy of her little girl’s playmates. With very little money, and completely untaught, Lucy starts a dressmaking business that will grow to become a fashion empire in London, New York, and Paris. Her success is remarkable for a single woman in the early 1900s in an industry dominated by male designers. Then one bitterly cold night in 1912 a catastrophe occurs that will once again change the course of Lucy’s life—and once again failure is not an option!
3--How did you decide where your book was going to take place?
I wanted to write about the part of Lucy Duff Gordon’s life from 1893 to 1913 when she not only built a fashion empire from scratch but had the audacity and courage to open a fashion house in Paris: the epicenter of haute couture in those days.
4--Would you hang out with your protagonist in real life?
In a shot! I love women who have courage and wit and Lucy had both! I saw an exhibition of her stunning dresses in London and can’t imagine how thrilling it would be go for a fitting in Lucile’s Hanover Square salon for one of her Dresses of Emotion!
5--What are three words that describe your protagonist?
Audacious, courageous, and bright
6--What’s something you learned while writing this book?
The awful reality of what it was like to be a woman in the late 1890s. It really made me understand why Emily Pankhurst’s Suffragettes were so hopping mad. A woman couldn’t open a bank account or create a will without her father, brother, or husband’s written permission. She was legally represented in everything by the male in her family. Women were laced into whalebone, their figures contorted out of all-natural shape. Imagine how dreadfully uncomfortable they must have felt. As soon as they were married off, they were expected to bear children, run their husbands’ households and be decorative. They were given no education worth having—and that was if she was well-to-do. Women from the working or poor classes labored long hours in factories, sweatshops and as domestic menials and then went home to clean and cook for their families.
7--Do you edit as you draft or wait until you are totally done?
It depends. If the book is already sold, then I write an outline and from that I write the story until I am done. Then I go back and edit. If I am working from a sold proposal, then at least the first three chapters are complete…but that doesn’t mean I don’t tinker about and change things once the book is under contract!
8--What’s your favorite foodie indulgence?
I love to cook, and I am fussy about food. One of my rare treats is to make a strawberry trifle in early summer when the berries are at their very, very best. It is all crème anglaise, mascarpone and cream— heaven!
9--Describe your writing space/office!
I write at an old black wood secretary that looks out onto the terrace—in summer it is a mass of flowers out there and a terrible distraction! There is room for one easy chair, where my corgi, Daphne, sits, since she is the alpha. My other corgi, Griff, sleeps under my writing chair—both of them snore.
10--Who is an author you admire?
There are so many. I love Patrick O’Brian and I wish I could write like Hilary Mantel
11--Is there a book that changed your life?
Honestly, there isn’t one book. There are writers who have affected me profoundly: Richard Adams: Watership Down; Kenneth Grahame: The Wind in the Willows. Both authors wrote about the English countryside with such love and in such evocative detail. The make me want to live in England again…the England of my childhood.
12--Tell us about when you got “the call.” (when you found out your book was going to be published)/Or, for indie authors, when you decided to self-publish.
I’ll never forget that call. It had taken me ages to find a literary agent, and I was lucky that I had found a good one. She made me work hard on some elements of my book, and then she sold it in five weeks. When she called me with the news, I saw her name on my cell phone and I knew why she was calling. I could hardly breathe. She repeated herself a couple of times and then said “Tessa, are you there?” I simply couldn’t say a word. To date she has sold eight of my books and she is the very best thing about publishing.
13--What’s your favorite genre to read?
Historical, both fiction and non-fiction.
14--What’s your favorite movie?
Every year I re-watch OUT OF AFRICA. I am well-prepared with Kleenex and wine. From the moment the first credits go up and we watch that long train crossing the African veldt the tears begin to roll. And of course, when Robert Redford washes Meryl Streep’s hair for her when they are on safari, I say to myself “No wonder she loved him!”
15--What is your favorite season?
I am a complete fool in spring. Mostly because I am a gardener. I can’t wait to get out there and inspect everything and watch those tiny little shoots start to emerge. I love the smell of the earth, and the first leaves bursting out from the bud in that glorious fresh lime green!
16--How do you like to celebrate your birthday?
If I am really lucky, we are either in France or Italy on my birthday. If not we celebrate with food and a fabulous bottle of wine.
17--What’s a recent tv show/movie/book/podcast you highly recommend?
I loved DON’T LOOK UP. I know tons of people who loathed it, but I loved it for its cynicism and the ending worked very well for me. I recently read Erika Robuck’s SISTERS OF NIGHT AND FOG, she did a superb job and I highly recommend if you are into WWII women of the resistance.
18--What’s your favorite type of cuisine?
Italian, French, Moroccan, Indian and Asian. It is impossible to have a favorite—okay, so I’ll pick Italian food for its simple, fresh ingredients and their absolutely sensational tomatoes.
19--What do you do when you have free time?
I make lunch every day—it is when we eat our main meal. It is the only time in the day when I do something that I feel I have complete control over—as if I have done something really worthwhile. Gardening comes a close second (it is very like writing all that editing and weeding) and long walks with the dogs just to walk off lunch.
20--What can readers expect from you next?
I am cooking up another historical fiction, again about a real-life woman who wrote a book that was based on her life. It takes place in England and Egypt and that is all I dare say about it right now!
Lucy Duff Gordon knows she is talented. She sees color, light, and texture in ways few people can begin to imagine. But is the male dominated world of haute couture, who would use her art for their own gain, ready for her?
When she is deserted by her wealthy husband, Lucy is left penniless with an aging mother and her five-year-old daughter to support. Desperate to survive, Lucy turns to her one true talent to make a living. As a little girl, the dresses she made for her dolls were the envy of her group of playmates. Now, she uses her creative designs and her remarkable eye for color to take her place in the fashion world—failure is not an option.
Then, on a frigid night in 1912, Lucy’s life changes once more, when she becomes one of 706 people to survive the sinking of the Titanic. She could never have imagined the effects the disaster would have on her fashion label Lucile, her marriage to her second husband, and her legacy. But no matter what life throws at her, Lucy will live on as a trailblazing and innovative fashion icon, never letting go of what she worked so hard to earn. This is her story.
Historical | Fiction Inspirational [Berkley, On Sale: May 17, 2022, Trade Size / e-Book, ISBN: 9780593436851 / eISBN: 9780593436851]
TESSA ARLEN, the daughter of a British diplomat, had lived in or visited her parents in Singapore, Cairo, Berlin, the Persian Gulf, Beijing, Delhi and Warsaw by the time she was sixteen. She came to the U.S. in 1980 and worked as an H.R. recruiter for the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee for the 1984 Olympic Games, where she interviewed her future husband for a job. She lives in Washington.
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