Today we welcome Sue Moorcroft who tells us about when she met a hat milliner and how it inspired her to create the character of Ava in her latest novel, The Christmas Promise.
Over to Sue…
I love ‘doing radio’ and have been a regular on chat shows on BBC local radio for the past few years.
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire has a great afternoon show on weekdays where they invite two or three people in to chat. I’ve been lucky enough to be in the studio with a broad range of guests – writers, musicians, charity workers, medical experts, actors, a man who swum the Irish Sea, athletes, conjurers, a lady who ran a cinema and a man who cooked guinea pigs in Venezuela.
And one day I was on with a milliner, Abigail Crampton of Abigail Crampton Millinery. I was fascinated by Abi’s descriptions of how she made bespoke couture hats (handmade hats made to the specification of the client). Her gorgeous creations went to weddings, garden parties and swanky race meetings and I thought ‘milliner’ would make such a cool job for one of my heroines.
I’m rarely shy of hitting up people to help me with research so I asked Abi if she’d be kind enough to talk to me at some future date and she kindly gave me her card. The right heroine didn’t come along for a while and it was two years later that I sent her a Remember me? email. She not only remembered me but invited me to her studio in Cambridge, where she showed me a hat rainbow in different materials such as straw, felt, sinamay, velvet, satin and many more.
Next came a pretend hat fitting, Abigail seating me in front of the mirror and talking about the purpose of the hat we were pretending I needed, colours, materials and what would and wouldn’t suit me. Adapted heavily, this experience makes an appearance in The Christmas Promise when Ava shows Sam what a client – if she had one – could expect. As all her hats are for women it’s not an entirely comfortable experience for Sam but at least making fun of him cheers Ava up. This scene even leads to her making the promise that, later in the book, she finds so hard to keep.
I learned about ‘blocking’, which is the process of stretching the chosen material over a wooden block the required shape and size, coating it with stiffener and steaming it before letting it dry and beginning all over again. The extravagance of a hat depends much on the decorations and Abigail demonstrated how she'd make and attach veiling, feathers, beads – everything stitched, not a drop of glue to be seen.
Much research later, Abigail was lovely enough to make me a cocktail hat for my book launch, I can tell you that to have a hat made specifically for your head is a very special process.
But then Ava is a very special woman so I’m glad I was able to choose exactly the right career for her. (Even if it’s not going so well in Chapter one …)
FIND OUT MORE ABOUT SUE MOORCROFT:
Award-winning author Sue Moorcroft writes contemporary women’s fiction with occasionally unexpected themes. A past vice chair of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and editor of its two anthologies, Sue also writes short stories, serials, articles, writing ‘how to’ and is a creative writing tutor. She’s won a Readers’ Best Romantic Read Award and the Katie Fforde Bursary.
Sue’s latest book is The Christmas Promise (Avon Books UK, HarperCollins). It’s about Christmas, hats, revenge porn, being skint, a WAG called Booby Ruby and a marketing plan that goes viral. Also Ava and Sam.