Why Wedding Dresses?

Wedding Koi SamuiIn my previous blogs, I’ve talked about how what my characters wear is a vital to the way I portray them. The clothes are determined by the people, not the other way around, but, sometimes, my stories begin with the clothes themselves.

This train of thought was set off by the publication of my short story “Something Old, Something New,” in Authors Electric Anthology, “One More Flash in the Pen.” The story is set in a shop that sells wedding dresses and it occurred to me that the wedding dress is a recurring image in my work.

It is the trigger for that particular story, it appears again in “Shadows on the Grass,” my current WIP and in “Number Three Belvedere Terrace” the novel, whose first draft is awaiting attention on my hard drive.

There is something very powerful in the idea of a dress, which has to be so special and yet will be worn only once. The style of the dress is very specific, overtaking cultural and traditional norms,Wedding in Kerela

so that on holiday in Vietnam and Thailand we have seen brides dressed in a big white dress. WEdding in Hian

This concept is relatively new. Throughout history, brides wore their best for their wedding, but the dress would go on to be worn on other occasions.

The white wedding, as we know it, began when the young Queen Victoria married Prince Albert and wore a white dress. At first, it was merely a fashionable colour, then it appears to have taken on a symbolic significance, white being seen as the colour of virginity.

I remember, in the fifties, when a girl at our church “had to get married” ie was pregnant, her mother refused to let her wear the traditional white dress and she had to be married in pink. Exactly what this was supposed to say to the congregation I am not sure. It also seemed rather cruel to be pointing out that this was a girl who had obviously sinned.

This symbolism was so deeply engrained in my consciousness that for years I found it difficult when mothers with children walked down the aisle in white. Nowadays, however, the link between the white dress and purity has long gone and anyone can dress in white for their wedding. Whether they should spend so much money on a dress that will have only one outing is another issue.

My daughter Posy Miller used to say that the big white wedding, plus of course the expensive dress, was the one opportunity for many girls to be the centre of attention for the whole of one special day. It wasn’t the dress itself, but the occasion that mattered and that any girl who didn’t get married should still have a “wedding” celebration, where she could be “Queen for the Day.” In her opinion there would be fewer divorces too, as so often the wedding, rather than the marriage, is the aim.

“Reader I married him.” Is, of course, where many romantic novels end, because the depiction of the marriage, although there is, to be fair, a hint of that in “Jane Eyre,” is far more mundane and fraught with difficulties.

Besides, do we really want to know what Elizabeth and Darcy said to each other over the breakfast table? Whether he snores, or she picks her nose?

Enough that our heroine walks down the aisle in a fluff of white. A bouquet of flowers in her hand and her future as misty as her view of the world through her veil.

 

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Food for Thought: Tea at The Grand

Tea at Avon Gorge

On Saturday, I joined my mum, my daughter, my sister, niece and sister-in-law for afternoon tea at the Avon Gorge Hotel in Bristol. We were there to celebrate two big family birthdays, but one of the reasons I chose that hotel from all the others in Bristol is that the Avon Gorge is the model for The Grand in “Picking up the Pieces.”

Being brought up in Bristol and going to school just down the road, this hotel had always intrigued me. Clinging to the side of the Gorge it looks out on the Suspension Bridge and the river far below. I imagined it as a romantic place and conjured up an Art Deco Interior with a large Victorian conservatory, where my characters would meet and Elsa would break the devastating news that sets off the action of the novel.

In real life, however, it was very different. There was no glass Palm Court with a small orchestra playing tunes from the shows, or supercilious Maitre d’ and the customers were a greater cross section of people than I had imagined.

None of this distracted from the day. We had a lovely time, chatting and laughing and eating. It did, however, give me food for thought.

As a writer, I find that my ideas often come from places I know. So far my novels, “House of Shadows”, “Picking up the Pieces,” and the forthcoming “Shadows on the Grass” are all set in Bristol.

Although in most of the books, I am fairly accurate there are times, as in “Picking up the Pieces” when it is either not possible, or I don’t want to be accurate about what I am describing. After all, this is a work of imagination not a travelogue and I wouldn’t expect anyone to be able to find my way around the city from my descriptions.

Places are a starting point, then the imagination takes over as do the needs of the story. At least this is how I work.

The first chapter of “Picking up the Pieces” won’t tell you much about the Avon Gorge. It will, however, introduce you to Liz, Elsa and Bernie, three women in their fifties who have to face the total collapse of their lives with the help of each other and much cake.

The novel is currently on offer on kindle for 99p and makes a good summer read. Enjoy.

PUTP picatAvonGorgeHotel1