Secrets of the Coronet: Author of Precious Things, The Crafty Minx and A Life in Frocks Kelly Doust tells us about the making of our intriguing Book of the Week, Precious Things
‘In your soul are infinitely precious things that cannot be taken from you’ – Oscar Wilde
Coronet: [kôrəˈnet,ˌkärəˈnet] noun. A small or relatively simple crown, especially as worn by lesser royalty and peers or peeresses.
Normandy, France, 1891: a young woman painstakingly sews an intricate beaded collar to her wedding dress, on the eve of marrying someone she barely knows …
Precious Things is the story of a collar – an alluring, glittering piece – and its journey through the decades, from Paris to Shanghai, Rome to Istanbul, in the hands of the women who made it, wore it, loved it and lost it.
It’s also the story of Maggie, an auctioneer living in modern-day London, who comes across the crumpled, neglected collar in a discarded box, and sets out on an unexpected mission to discover more about its elusive past. Maggie has a journey of her own too. Juggling a demanding job, a clingy young child and a rebellious stepdaughter, and with her once-solid marriage foundering under the pressure of a busy life, Maggie has to find out the hard way that you can’t always get what you want.
This is a wonderful, absorbing and moving novel about desire, marriage and family; about reaching out for so much more, only to realise – in the nick of time – that the most precious things are the ones we carry with us all along.
Falling into fiction by Kelly Doust
Like many of the best discoveries, the idea for Precious Things came to me as a happy accident and evolved into something much more than I first imagined.
My family and I live in a tiny Victorian-era cottage that is bursting at the seams. I’m usually good at editing my pieces – passing on items that I no longer use or love and bringing in newer ones to keep things fresh – but it does get cluttered at times. I am a huge fan of flea markets, so one day I decided to hold a stall of my own to sort out our overflowing wardrobes.
I love the vibe and excitement of a proper flea market, the unique thrill of getting up at dawn and hustling out of the house early, shopping basket at the ready. I can feel panicky at the thought of missing out, so always aim to be there first thing to carefully sift through all the stalls and make sure I haven’t overlooked anything. Sometimes I leave empty-handed, but more often than not I’m rewarded with some treasure to bring home with me – maybe just the item I’ve been looking for, or an essential object I never knew I needed.
On the day I held my stall with a good friend, it was entertaining to watch our preloved things walk away with new people. I found myself wondering about the new lives our old clothes might lead. That afternoon, I posted a throwaway comment on my blog: ‘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?’
A few weeks later, I received an email from a publisher asking me if I’d really be interested in such a project: ‘If you are, could we please talk about it?’ she said. I hadn’t really considered it seriously, but it got me thinking about what stories I could create about the women who’d owned my vintage frocks before me, and how I could share my love for reinventing clothing in a fictional setting.
I’ve written many books and magazine articles about my love for fashion, craft and recycling, and have been lucky enough to have two bestsellers with A Life in Frocks: A memoir and The Crafty Minx: Creative recycling and handmade treasures. But I’ve always harboured a secret desire to write fiction, even when I knew it was a notoriously tricky thing to do. It wasn’t until my publisher friend made the suggestion, that I realised the idea could give me the confidence to start writing a novel.