The path from writing to publication has been a long one for me. I had written two novels before The Emerald Dress was picked up by Poolbeg Press last year. Like other emerging writers, I had sent my previous novels out to agents and publishers over the years and while some requested the full manuscripts, none had proceeded further with my work. However, I did receive some lovely words of encouragement along the way. I also continued to write short stories and flash fiction and entered them into various writing competitions to build up my writing CV.
The inspiration for The Emerald Dress initially came about when I visited Rathfarnham Castle about ten years ago. A tour guide told a haunting story and it had stuck with me over the years. At first, the thought of writing an historical novel was daunting as I didn’t know where to start. I did know however that the book would be centred around the world of dressmaking due to the nature of the story. I was inspired to set the novel in early 18th Century Dublin when I read Professor Norma Clarke’s non-fiction book Queen of the Wits: A Life of Laetitia Pilkington which brought this time period alive for me.
Laetitia was a memoirist and contemporary of Jonathan Swift and her father was a medical doctor. This influenced my decision to have the heroine Abigail Harton’s father a medical doctor too. At that stage, I started to further research this period to build up a background knowledge of what life might have been like back then, including the general trade in the city at that time.
I had also attended a Faber and Faber Academy weekend course on writing the historical novel given by Tracy Chevalier and Louise Doughty in 2010 which outlined the basis of how to practically create fictitious historical characters. This course gave me the confidence to believe that I could achieve an authentic feel for the city of Dublin in 1719.
In 2014, I saw The Lord Mayor’s Certificate in Local Studies evening course advertised at the Dublin City Library & Archives on Pearse Street and I immediately signed up for it. The course included an introduction to the various resources that are available in Dublin for historical research and it was invaluable to me when researching primary and secondary resources.
In looking for a heroine for the book, I wanted someone who was striving for independence and I had to look at what that might mean practically for a woman in early 18th Century Dublin as women then obviously wouldn’t have had the same education, status or opportunities that women have today. Dublin at that time was growing in population with an influx of immigrants from Europe. The Viceregal Court at Dublin Castle also brought many aristocrats to Dublin which created a demand for luxury goods and cloth in the city. I also discovered that middle-class and upper-class women would embroider cloth as a pastime and so I gave my heroine Abigail Harton that skill. I also gave Abigail a grandfather who had taught her how to design silk cloth and a mother who had taught her the intricacies of embroidering metal threads onto silk. With those skills Abigail Harton had the means to achieve an independent life which fit perfectly with my plot.
I found that there weren’t many primary documents on dressmakers at the time, so I read up on the luxury clothing trade as well as textile production in general and its merchandising in the city. With this information, I had the knowledge to set the general context for the novel and to create the weaver Hugh Gavin, another central character in the novel.
After my initial research, I completed an early draft of The Emerald Dress. In the meantime I had submitted my second contemporary novel to Poolbeg Press who came back to me stating that while they liked my writing, they were more interested in the historical novel I had mentioned in my cover letter. I sent Poolbeg an early version of The Emerald Dress and while Paula Campbell of Poolbeg Press liked the story, she felt it needed further work. So I developed the plot and asked if she would read it again. Paula kindly agreed and about a month or so later I received an email back offering me a three-book deal. I couldn’t quite believe that my dream of becoming a published author was finally becoming a reality.
It’s been a long and winding road, but I’ve learned a lot along the way and no doubt will learn more as I continue on my journey as an author. It has also been an unpredictable path but I am glad that I kept on it. I hope this offers hope to all of the emerging writers out there. If it’s happened for me then there’s no reason why you can’t get that book deal too. Just don’t give up.
(c) Vivienne Kearns
About The Emerald Dress:
PRESENT DAY DUBLIN
Lucy Young travels to Dublin to search for her ancestor Hugh Gavin who emigrated from Dublin to Boston in 1720. She brings with her a 300- year-old diary written by the Duchess of Alden of Boden Castle, Dublin. When Lucy contacts Professor Patrick Ralley of Trinity College Dublin to donate the Alden diary to the university, she asks for his help to research Hugh Gavin s life and her family s possible connection to the castle. In their search they will uncover a secret that has lain hidden for three hundred years.
Abigail Harton s father is a medical doctor who has used the last of his family s savings to fund a charitable hospital in the city. He has saved the lives of the wife and son of the Duke of Alden in childbirth and hopes that the Duke will provide an annuity to support his work.
Meanwhile Abigail and her mother must use their considerable talent at embroidery to provide for the household, and Abigail designs an emerald-silk damask cloth for weaver Hugh Gavin. She also accepts work from Hugh s sister Mary to embroider a dress made from the cloth, which has been commissioned by Miss Elizabeth Goulding to be worn at the upcoming Duke of Alden s Ball at Boden Castle.
But an event occurs at Boden Castle the night of the ball that will lie secret for the next three hundred years, until Lucy and the Professor uncover the secret of the emerald dress.
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