When I was growing up one of my favourite books was Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. I must have read it at least a hundred times, and I’m pretty sure I still know the opening pages by heart (‘“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug…’)
As a girl who loved books, I knew that my favourite of the four March sisters was supposed to be Jo – the bold and independent one, a reader and a writer. But secretly I preferred Meg who, in one of my favourite scenes, goes to a ball wearing a gorgeous blue dress and some wonderful-sounding ‘high-heeled blue silk boots’.
In the same way, when I read the Famous Five books, I knew I was supposed to like headstrong George best. But secretly, it was Anne who was my favourite: I felt an affinity with her when she wanted to get the camp organised, making beds out of heather or arranging the tins of pineapple on the shelf in the secret cave. When it came down to it, I knew that I too was an organiser of tins – and what was so wrong with that?
But liking Meg and Anne made me feel guilty. I knew I ought to prefer Jo or George in the same way that I ought to scorn Barbie dolls and My Little Ponies in favour of Meccano sets, or Lego. Or that I ought to prefer wearing jeans to a party-dress with a sticking-out skirt.
The truth was though, I didn’t. And I didn’t really understand why liking any of these things should make me any less capable of being brave, being clever, having adventures, or being the heroine of the story.
Now, that’s something I often think about when I’m writing. For my Sinclair’s Mysteries series, I wanted to write heroines that childhood ‘me’ would have loved – and so, whilst Sophie and Lil are as dauntless and intrepid as they come, their detective exploits never stop them enjoying a fancy hat or two along the way. For my latest book, Rose’s Dress of Dreams, I’ve taken it a step further, taking a cue from my long-standing love of fashion to write a story inspired by real-life designer Rose Bertin, set in 18th century France.
Rose Bertin was truly a bold girl. From humble beginnings, she went on to become Marie Antoinette’s favourite dressmaker, responsible for creating the queen’s most iconic outfits. Bertin’s flair and imagination made the young queen stand out at Court: soon, she became a powerful figure in Royal circles, known as the ‘Minister for Fashion’. Today, she’s often described as the world’s first fashion designer, and the creator of haute-couture as we know it.
Rose’s Dress of Dreams tells the story of how Bertin’s epic career began. Beautifully illustrated by Kate Pankhurst, it is packed with enough gorgeous gowns and spectacular shoes to delight little readers who love fashion – but I hope they will also be inspired by young Rose’s ambition, determination and creativity.
Most of all though, I hope this book will show them that there’s no one way to be a bold girl. You could be a groundbreaking designer like Rose – or a trailblazing inventor, athlete or politician. You can love fashion or sport or science or all three. You can be a Meg, a Jo, a Beth or even an Amy (don’t @ me). You can be a George or an Anne, or a bit of both. You can set out for your adventures in trainers, or sparkly shoes, or even high-heeled blue silk boots, if that’s what you happen to fancy. There’s more than one way to be a heroine.