When Andy’s school announces a new no-uniform policy, her classmates are over the moon – but her heart sinks.
All she wants is to dress like everyone else, but her mum’s the owner of a run-down kooky vintage boutique, so she’s bound to look – well – different. But when Andy finds a gorgeous bag full of designer goodies in the shop’s storeroom, everything changes. Can she learn to love vintage, and help transform her mum’s shop into something truly special?
From the acclaimed author of the Secret Cooking Club series, this is a fresh, authentic, and totally addictive novel about how real makeovers go so much deeper than clothes.
Hello everyone, today I’m delighted to welcome Laurel Remington, author of THE POLKA DOT SHOP, to the blog for an interview.
Q1: Our heroine, Andy, is pretty anti-fashion at the beginning of the story, almost the opposite of her vintage obsessed mum, Eliza. How did you come up with the contrast between these two characters?
I loved the idea of Andy being quite realistic and down-to-earth, while her mum is a bit airy-fairy. I think that when children are young, they often want to be like their parents, but as they get older and start recognising the flaws in the people they love, they try to become the opposite of them. I think this is the case for Andy. The beginning ‘problem’ in The Polka Dot Shop is that both Andy are her mother are looking at the other through filters of what they like, and their own point of view, rather than putting themselves in the shoes of the other to see a different point of view. This has resulted in a lack of communication, which is the thing that causes the problem to magnify itself. The journey that the story then takes involves bridging this gap, and learning to see the flaws in ourselves in order to accept the flaws in others.
Q2: THE POLKA DOT SHOP is all about vintage fashion, so what would your ideal outfit be?
I love the clothing of the 1920s and used to collect beaded flapper dresses. Ten or fifteen years ago, I could even fit into them. The problem with vintage clothing is that people were a lot smaller back in the day! But I think for me, it would be something from the Roaring Twenties.
Q3: And on the other end of the spectrum, what’s been your worst fashion faux pas? (Mine was definitely the sparkly red leg warmers that I inexplicably wore for the whole summer when I was 13)
I feel like most of my teenage years were a fashion faux pas. We didn’t have school uniforms (most American state schools don’t) and I feel like I was always ‘chasing’ the popular crowd. I was never sure if I wanted to fit in with the goths or the preps, or the geeks or somewhere in between. By my final year, I think I pretty much just wore black. In college I went through a bad rah-rah skirt with ankle socks stage, so that definitely makes my worst-dressed list. And the cupcake skirt I made myself that I had planned to wear for my Secret Cooking Club school events was pretty bad too.
Q4: I loved Andy’s two best friends, and the fact that they had their own goals and challenges throughout the story. I especially related to Stevie, as I too had to learn to walk again after a bad knee dislocation. What kind of research did you do to capture the realities of a disabled character?
My partner broke his leg very badly around the same time as I was finishing the first draft. I was actually quite surprised at how flappable Mr Unflappable actually became. That said, it was quite a traumatic – and dramatic – process, that even now is continuing. It was a very personal glimpse into the life of people with limited mobility and the difficulties they face.
I have a great deal of respect for people who live with physical disability, and the incredible amount of hard work that it takes to overcome this, not only physically, but mentally.
I think that for me, there is one thing that Stevie says that sums it up: it’s one thing thinking about recovery in the abstract, but quite another thing when you actually start the process. But succeed or fail, it takes great courage.
Q5: At the heart of the story is Andy’s relationship to her mum, and them exploring the changes in their relationship now that Andy is a teenager. Was it difficult to capture the intricacies of this?
Although I am a mum of three girls, one of whom is nearing her teenage years, when I’m writing, I always find that the ‘voice’ in my head is that of the young character, Andy, in this case. I suppose that there’s a part of me that has never grown up!
But I think the crux of it is that both Andy and her mum are very human characters – that is, both of them are flawed. Andy really loves her mum, and yet sees things that she wishes she could change. I think all of us experience this kind of niggle at some point with the people we love. It’s often easier to see the flaws in others than the flaws in ourselves, and easier to come up with a plan to change others rather than change ourselves. This inevitably leads to friction. There is not a one-size-fits-all answer, and in real life, sometimes it seems impossible to bridge the gap. Communication has to be the starting point, though, and someone has to be willing to start the conversation.
Q6: I LOVED that this book dealt with topics like mental health and had a prominent trans character. Was it important to you to include diversity?
I do believe that diversity in children’s books is very important, and I am a strong advocate of it. When I visit schools, I am always very happy to see that my books are embraced by a wide variety of different students, from all different backgrounds and situations. I think this was something that I wasn’t so conscious of when I wrote my first book, but certainly am now.
That said, I didn’t intentionally set out to include a trans character, or a girl who uses a wheelchair, at the onset. In other words, I wasn’t setting out to include diversity for its own sake. To me, the characters come to life as I write, and they have their own traits and characteristics. This may sound strange, but it’s the way I work. That said, once I had them down on paper, I was determined to keep them in throughout the editorial process.
Q7: I loved that Paris featured throughout the book (I can definitely imagine Andy strolling through the streets scouting for awesome dresses). What’s the one place you’ve always wanted to visit?
I just finished writing a book (for adults under my penname) that had a very prominent Russian character, and also involved a retelling of some Russian folklore. I was lucky enough to visit Moscow and St Petersburg about twenty years ago, and I would really like to go back. I’d like to go there in the winter I think, just for a different perspective. It’s been fun watching the World Cup and seeing the scenes of Russia (though not that place with all the midges!).
Q8: What are Andy, her mum and her friends doing five years from now?
I think that Andy’s strengths lie in her business skills and entrepreneurship. She may feel torn as to whether to study something creative involving fashion, but I think she would be best going to uni and getting a degree in business. Maybe someday, she can apply to go on The Apprentice.
I think Andy’s mum will need to make sure she employs someone who has a lot of business acumen. I am a big believer that people should focus on their strengths, and Andy’s mum excels at the fashion and customer-facing side of the business. As a creative person myself, I don’t excel at the ‘business and marketing’ side of being a writer. My dream is to be able to someday hire a personal assistant.
Q9: Can you give us a hint of what you’re working on next?
I’m pitching several ideas to my publisher to see which of them has the most merit. The one I’ve been working most on, though, involves a really awful caravan park with mud and bad plumbing, and a King Arthur connection.
Q10: Finally, what’s the best book you’ve read so far this year?
I’m enjoying reading ‘Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls’ with my 9 year old. I think that the stories are very inspiring and are written in a very accessible way. There are so many good books out there for children right now, and I’m grateful that Chicken House, my publisher, is so passionate about the work they publish and keep pushing the envelope to produce better and better books. There are so many influences out there that children have to contend with and sort through, but as a parent, I am relieved that children’s books, and the strong positive influence they assert, have never been in a better state!
A massive thank you to Laurel for answering my questions! THE POLKA DOT SHOP has just come out (on July 5th), and it’s a fabulous story all about friendship, fashion and growing up! Get your copy here or follow Laurel on Twitter!