My reading list: The Secret Life of Dresses

secrect lives of dresses bookcover

Author: Erin McKean

I bought this book from a second-hand bookstore in Fremantle as air-travel distraction and it was quite good at doing just that. It’s the usual formula for chick-lit, I suppose. Young educated yet emotionally torn woman learns value and self-worth from the Elders in her life (usually after a situation of some kind has occurred), and then finds acceptance and love from a man who loves her particular brand of quirkiness. All that happens in this story, true, but it’s the side-story that surrounds the formula that makes or breaks this genre.

And the side story of The Secret Life of Dresses is the life and hobby of the grandmother, Mimi. Dora, the main character, escapes a going-nowhere relationship with her boss to be with her grandmother who has suffered a stroke and lies comatose in hospital. Mimi’s hobby and passion was collecting vintage outfits, which she wore, kept or resold in her vintage boutique. We’re talking vintage designer here not thrift store. For all of Dora’s life, Mimi has also been collecting outfits that suit her to a “T”. Unfortunately, for Dora, they were nearly always not in fashionable and therefore not acceptable to her teenage peers so she rarely wore them.

Of course, now that she’s twenty-something and has raced off without packing a change of clothes, Dora finds the collection not so bad (and better than nudity). Luckily for her, Mimi had a whole room full of outfits just for Dora.

Part of Mimi’s fascination with vintage outfits had been the stories that went along with them. Some came with the pieces, others she made up. Each dress with a story was labelled as such and, when sold, the story shared with the new owner. Mimi was quite the creative writer and the stories behind the dresses are well-done. Some, as Dora finds out later, are mixed with the truth and help her to understand her deceased parents as well as the earlier life of her grandmother.

I thought the novel interesting, sad in places and happy in others, with an original side-story. I’ve always been fascinated by the stories that old houses have to share about the generations of people that lived within their walls.  I also love vintage dresses.

An interesting link (if only in my own head) is the story behind the Darnell Collection of International Vintage Couture, which has recently been on exhibition at the Hazelhurst Regional Gallery in Gymea. Some beautiful outfits (and some not so; really, what were people thinking in the 1970s?), all in good original condition or restored. The collection includes dresses from the late 1700s to the present. I stopped at the end of the display to read some of the history behind it all. Doris Darnell’s hobby was fashion. She collected dresses her entire life and had them on display, loaned them out and, of course, wore many of them. When she died she left about half of what she owned to her niece, Charlotte Smith… including the stories behind many of the outfits.  Darnell was as interested in the stories as the dresses, which makes the collection a fascinating, and extensive, social history as well. Take a look at this video: In conversation with Charlotte Smith

If you liked the book, you’ll love the exhibition. My favourite dress was the long blue evening gown… and you’ll find the author’s blog: A Dress A Day interesting as well. It’s focus is on vintage sewing  patterns (Erin creates a story for each of the pattern covers), fabrics, and clothing.

If you love vintage fashion, keep outfits in your wardrobe because they remind you of a special moment, or just need an interesting read for a plane trip, you’ll enjoy The Secret Life of Dresses.



I’ve been so busy this week with one thing and another that I haven’t been able to get my scheduled blog post to the editing stage. I wrote two book reviews earlier, which a languishing on my harddrive waiting for the spit and polish.

In the meantime, I thought I’d share this post from one of my older blogs. I’ve chosen this particular article as I wrote it late last year about the manuscript that is being turned into a novel earmarked for release later this year. How happy I am now that I stuck with the story and tried one more time…

The post also talks about why I love to write.

I love it when a plan comes together

If you like this one, read on for my “exclusive” on the day I met Hugh Jackman.

A treasured moment & object. Hugh Jackman autographing a photo for us.

A treasured moment & object. Hugh Jackman autographing a photo for us. On the set of Wolverine.

Top 10 Social Media tips for Authors.

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Visit my Facebook page: Patricia Leslie Author

Over the past couple of years, I’ve worked a lot with social media within an organisation. I’ve managed to learn quite a bit along the way and have picked up a few quick tips I’d like to share.

  1. It doesn’t matter your specific purpose in setting up a social media account, all are designed for one purpose, sharing “brand you” with the world.
  2. Don’t overdo the selling. You want the masses to talk about you in a positive way. They like sincerity and honesty and they can tell when they’re being conned.
  3. People prefer to build relationships, have conversations and share funny or cute photos.
  4. If you’re going to post photos of a product, make it look interesting and intersperse with images of real people doing real things, inspirational scenes with quotes, or amusing animal photos.justify social media addiction
  5. Avoid “posting diarrhoea” and restrict your posts to one or two per day (minimum twice per week) if you’ve got something relative to share. This doesn’t include ongoing conversation. If you have people commenting then you need to be responding.
  6. Follow other accounts.

    Speaking of following. You can find me @PatriciaLeslieA

    Speaking of following. You can find me @PatriciaLeslieA

  7. Be generous and share/retweet posts from other accounts. This also keeps you active on your boards.
  8. Retweet posts that are helpful to other people not just posts that mention you.
  9. Think about what you are posting before you post. This is especially true if you’re responding to an irritating ill-informed idiot.
  10. Change your cover photos occasionally.

Bonus tip: Foremost, I recommend patience. A good fanbase or group of followers will come but you must give it time to grow. Follow the above tips and people will find you, just remember whatever you say on Twitter you say to the world.


Other tips you might enjoy:

A space of one’s own

my brilliant career

This could be me! But is apparently from My Brilliant Career (I could be wrong). I found it at The Writing Spider

It’s a quarter past 12 on a sunny Saturday morning and I’m sitting in the back of my van with a thermos, laptop and a book for company. I am turning waiting around into an art form. You see, my daughter is heavily involved in sport at a high level for her age, which is old enough to know what she wants but not to drive herself places.

For something to do on Facebook while I wait for my soon-to-be-published novel to be, well, published (and therefore much easier to promote), I started posting photos of writing spaces. I’ve found several good ones that I would love to have access to, but it occurs to me that my writing space is not too bad either. What I thought was my space at home has become the place to dump random bits and pieces of paper, books, computer cables, cameras, etc and so forth. Behind where I sit a pile of semi-organised paperwork, artwork, and Christmas decorations and a library of books grows ever outward. I’m not sure if my shelves are overflowing or if it’s the junk from the corner, as it all appears to be blending in. Next to my desk is a bright red sofa, which is meant to be for me to either sit on and read, or lay on when I can’t sleep at night. It’s more often draped with clean clothes than my body.

At any rate, it’s no longer much of a writing space and, while my computer does occupy my desk, the area is less than inspiring.

Back to driving, waiting, and creative spaces. In the back of my little van, I have a make-shift bench, a fold-out chair, and the ability to shut myself away from the world. I have spent hours here writing, reading, and studying over the last few months and it has occurred to me that this is my new writing corner. Handily, it’s also mobile and only a two-seater (so passengers are limited to just the one who runs off to do her netball thing).

My writing space my van

The back of my van is big enough to get comfortable and occasionally stretch my legs. If I want to stand up though, I have to venture outside.

In my private space I have edited my manuscript (for the soon-to-be-published novel), researched my next story, written a dozen or so articles for my blog, tweeted, Facebooked, read several books, and napped. Not to mention picnicking and drinking copious amounts of tea. When it’s warm I open all the doors to let in the breeze or sit outside in the shade with my feet up. In cold weather, I pack a quilt and pillow, and when it’s raining I make sure not to park under trees (water dripping on the roof from their branches is irritatingly distracting). I love it!


Jane Austen had a “mobile” writing desk too though lacking in wheels… Image from the Jane Austen House Museum.

So, if you’re in need of a space to call your own, a corner of the world away from everything, remember to look outside the square, or the house in this case, and pay attention to what’s parked in the driveway.


Here’s a few other creative spaces around the web.

For fan’s of Jane Austen and British period dramas with dashing heroes in general, visit the Thoughtful Spot.

The Writing Nut has a gallery of famous writing desks starting with Tolkien‘s rather plain desk. I presume it would have had pen, ink and paper on it, and perhaps not been on a pedestal when he was using it.

For more photos of writing spaces I’ve found, come like my Facebook page – Patricia Leslie Author.  I’ll be posting my discoveries weekly.


Looking for Mr, Mrs or Ms Right: People-watching for fictional characters

Every fiction writer has different methods for working out who their characters are. I find mine in TV shows, novels, non-fiction works, and of course, day to day life.

If you know me personally, then yes, it’s likely that at least a part of you will appear in one of my stories. Don’t be worried though as I would never make someone I know out to be evil (or just plain embarrassing) in any way and still be recognisable as that person. I promise! I take only small portions of a person’s behaviour or traits and join them up with others to make a new character (most of the time).

Quite often, I might notice a behaviour or way of dressing or standing while travelling on a train – a perfect place for people-watching! Each carriage section is like a micro-society, a forced grouping of people who want nothing to do with each other while carrying on conversations with their travelling partner as if they aren’t squished into a seat with strangers.

Another way of sourcing personality traits and quirks is at parties or large events. Being a generally reserved person I am an expert at this as while everyone else is chatting, sharing stories, mingling and moving from one person to the next, I’m usually sitting in a corner observing and listening. I don’t sit in stony silence, of course, but offer the occasional comment, smart-arse remark, or question just to show I’m still alive.

People-watching allows for characters to develop in the background of the imagination. It provides an innate understanding of human nature that comes across as more natural in a storyline. For specific details on individual psychology I refer to books. My bookshelf holds a collection of biographies, psychological references, self-help texts, and history books. From these, I find character-types to suit particular time-periods, behaviour patterns, cultures, and psychological profiles.

For instance, in my upcoming novel, one of the characters is derived from Women who run with the wolves by Dr Clarissa Pinkola Estes, The Great Cosmic Mother by Monica Sjoo & Barabara Mor, and numerous other books similar in subject matter. Her personality is aloof and otherworldly as she has grown out of archetypes of the goddess across different cultures. She’s certainly the type of character I haven’t picked up from a train ride into the city (even late on a Saturday night)!

Regular characters (as in those with no particular super powers) are instigated by people I’ve met or seen on television. I note the traits that caught my attention and then research how a person like that might evolve. Each of my current “world” of characters has a family history going back two generations and a life-resume of what they’ve achieved up to the point they appear in my story (yes, that could be construed as a tendency for anal retentiveness, but I should point out that I’m into genealogy as well). This way, I understand how they might react in a given situation and the writing of particular scenes will come smoothly. Also, their place in the story has a more secure footing.

I’ve been working on my manuscript this week and cut several characters. The ones that went were the ones who were fillers. They had no background, no personality, in some cases, no name. This doesn’t mean that I won’t cut a fully-researched character from the story if it’s not working just that the ones with a bit of depth stand a better chance of surviving the editing stage.

As I like to finish posts by sharing a few tips, here are my top 3 for developing characters

#1           Always take a notebook and pen (or Smartphone) on public transport so you can scribble a few notes when needed. The electronic device might work better if you’ve got one as it looks like your texting rather than note-taking…

#2           Wear sunglasses wherever possible. They allow for less-obvious surveillance of the funny looking/sounding/acting person across the carriage/aisle/backyard from you (sorry, I have no tip for covert surveillance indoors but please feel free to post some in the comment box)

#3           Be open in allowing different personalities into your life. You don’t have to love them all, but in accepting that everyone has the right to be who they are and listened to, you’ll have much more fodder for your stories.

My “as yet to be titled” novel is due out by Christmas.

Beat the rush and join me on Facebook today.