We were lucky enough to speak to best-selling author of The Dressmaker, Rosalie Ham about the success of her novel, and the eponymous film starring Liam Hemsworth and Kate Winslet. The Amplifam asked their questions, and Rosalie answered!
What was 'The Dressmaker' inspired by?
The themes that drove the narrative were hypocrisy, bigotry, competition, vanity and secrets. There was also hierarchy and how costume works as language and disguise, and all of these things came from my own upbringing in a small community and my extensive travels where I noticed communities share similarities, especially in character types. You need recognizable characters to foster empathy, but you need surprises to keep the ‘lessons’ or themes entertaining. So the characters carry the themes, comedy and tragedy collide to produce irony and therein lies the meaning.
How did you choose the names of the characters?
The names are derivative of their characteristics. The story was stylized, ‘gothic’ and slightly melodramatic in tone, so I just cheekily emphasized the ideas behind characters and themes through their names. Some readers seem to connect with that device, which is rewarding.
How would you describe the book to someone who hasn't read it?
It’s a revenge comedy, not at all predictable, warm and nasty amid high drama. The story is strong, the landscape enhances events and the characters are people you know but would prefer not to know. But there is humour and a satisfying, but not entirely ‘fluffy’ ending.
Were you involved in casting Kate Winslet for the movie? If so, what was it like working with her?
I think Jocelyn Moorhouse (writer/director) asked me three questions about my intentions for characters in the novel. Otherwise, I had nothing to do with the screen adaptation, casting, costumes or design. I handed it over to Sue Maslin (Producer) who understands the story and what it means. Sue comes from the same small community I do and she kept me in the loop all the way through. I thought Kate Winslet was an inspired choice – she’s warm, strong, determined, vulnerable, funny, sad and womanly. That is, not conventional, which is how Tilly is. I was an extra on the film so got to know Kate and some of the cast a tiny bit, and I learned a great deal from being on set so much. It was amazing to travel to Dungatar and meet all my characters.
How do you get past writers block?
I’ve not had writers block (yet), but if I did, I would abandon writing, take up something else – drawing, piano, sewing, fencing, singing, pottery – and I’d dedicate myself to it seriously. Then one day, when I wasn’t even thinking about a story or how to end a novel or similar, one would present itself. But writing is about craft and discipline. Once you have the idea, something that gets up your nose that you need to tell the world about, then you know what you want to say and you just figure out how to say it. Never leave your manuscript until you’ve noted what will happen when you next address the manuscript. If you have a body of words, you have something to craft.
Do you often relate situations in your stories back to things that have happened in real life?
Life imitates art and art imitates life. That’s what it’s all about. Artists hold up a bit of life for others to see and consider. Readers might be enlightened, disgusted, informed, entertained, they might agree or disagree. Hopefully readers think about what’s been written, or what’s on the canvas, what the sculpture is communicating and discuss it, even find parallels.
Which Hogwarts house do you think you'd be in?
I’ve no idea what a Hogwarts house is. There are many books to read and very little time. One has to choose what one needs to spend time reading.
If you are keen to find out more about Rosalie Ham and her novels, take a look at her website rosalieham.com and tell us what you think!