Today Menna van Praag, one of our featured winter authors, gives a peek inside her office and also the inspiration for THE DRESS SHOP OF DREAMS.
I’m given – by the creative writing gods – about one great idea a year. Which is fine, since I write a book a year. But the way the idea for The Dress Shop of Dreams came was my favorite so far. I was talking with my mom who’d seen a news piece on the BBC about workers in a Cuban cigar factory who gave a little of their wages everyday to employ a reader, someone who read them novels and plays while they rolled the cigars. Sometimes, they’d name the cigars after their favorites stories: Romeo and Juliet or The Count of Monte Cristo. While my mom was talking, I got that special feeling: a new book was being born. Immediately, I began imagining this world. I thought, what if this reader had a magical voice, one that enchanted the workers who heard him and transformed their lives? And what if he fell so in love with one of the workers that his love rendered him mute? And what if she was illiterate? Now, the finished novel, is very different from these beginnings. For example, I knew I’d relocated the setting to Cambridge, England, because this is where all my books take place. And, since we don’t have any cigar-rolling factories here, that too would have to change. In fact, a great deal changed as I was writing, as it usually does. But it was the passion I had for the initial idea kept bringing me back to the blank page everyday. And it’s an idea I’m still extremely grateful to the creative writing gods for bringing me. Now, I only hope they don’t wait too long to give me the next one!