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Tansy Rayner Roberts

Fantasy with Frocks

May 28th, 2010 at 10:35

Episode 2 of the CreatureCourtCast is up at the Creature Court website. (use the second link if you want to play it on the site instead of downloading). You can also find it over in iTunes.

The theme for this episode is ‘fantasy with frocks.’ Because yes, this is one of those books where clothes get described, a lot. One of my protagonists is a dressmaker, and that means that she sees the world through clothes. When she struggles for metaphors and similes to describe the strange world she is slowly becoming aware of, she uses crafting terms to do so. As she learns about the mysterious Creature Court, and is introduced to them, one of the aspects that stands out for her is the way that they dress: to make statements, to impress each other, to show off.

They are, after all, part-animal, and as I mention in the podcast, we have a long cultural tradition of anthropomorphising animals and putting clothes on them. Puss in Boots with his floppy hat and awesome footwear! Jemima Puddleduck in her bonnet. Cat from Red Dwarf in his tailored space suits.

Clothes also form plot points in Power and Majesty. The dress pictured on the cover represents a turning point in the story, and I read one of the key scenes for that dress aloud in this episode of the CreatureCourtCast. Ashiol and the Creature Court find out about Velody’s existence because of the dress, and it also introduces the idea that a person’s magic (though the word ‘magic’ is never used in the books) can bleed out into things they make. This will be important later…

There’s another clothes-related issue in the books, one which can be a source of humour, sexiness and… well, inconvenience, at times. Unlike the G-rated werewolves of JKRowlingland or DavidEddingsville, my shapechangers lose their clothes when they are animals. Which means, of course, they spend a lot of time naked! On rooftops. Looking for clothes. Or not. I’ve always liked to throw this sort of hassle at characters, to see how they deal with it, rather than write in an easy out.

The Creature Court themselves are beastly (ha!) careless about nudity. It’s a practical consideration. Which makes it all the more reasonable that they put clothes on in order to impress and attract each other. Once you’ve seen all the wobbly bits on a daily basis, it makes sense that you would derive sensuality from being fully clothed. Right?

That, and they really, really like to look pretty. And no, I’m not just talking about the men Though mostly, I am.

Fashions are also used to show the culture of the city of Aufleur – I was inspired by a mashup of the 1920′s, Victoriana and Ancient Rome when worldbuilding this city, and the clothes worn by many of the characters is one of the way that I show that culture – of the daylight folk as well as the Creature Court. I love playing with historical influences that are not medieval, and it excites me to see so many other people doing the same these days. There seem to be Twenties-inspired books popping up all over the spec fic community now, which makes me bounce like crazy. A movement, people! Do we have enough for a movement yet? Speakeasypunk anyone? Bobbedhairpunk? Or can we just call it Jazzhands?

What has excited me recently about the publication of the Creature Court books is that the cover concept now revolves around ‘iconic frocks’. After a talk with my editor the other week I spent a while Googling Victorian ballgowns to find examples of a particular plot-relevant frock in Book 2. It may say something about me as a writer that it was not the only potential iconic frock in the book, there were several to choose from! The other main contender was worn by the same character as Book 1, though, which left it out of the running. I don’t know yet which frock will adorn Book 3, assuming we carry the concept forward, which I hope we will. Hmmm. (is tempted to write scene in which Ashiol wears awesome frock, in order to get him on a cover – seeing the look on his sulky face would be so worth it!)

Last time we gathered for a ROR, my friends Rowena & Maxine suggested that I needed to set up a website for ‘the Creature Court collection,’ and gather artworks featuring the many clothes worn by characters in the books. I loved the idea, but figured it wasn’t possible to do it for the release of the first book as no one would have read it yet! I will seriously consider it for the release of Book 2, though, possibly as a competition if there is enough interest.

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