'Travellers crossing the wheat-‐yellow plains to Dungatar would first notice a dark blot shimmering at the edge of the flatness. Further down the asphalt, the shape would emerge as a hill. On top of The Hill sat a shabby brown weatherboard, leaning provocatively on the grassy curve... At night, light from the house could be seen from the surrounding plains – a shaky beacon in a vast, black sea, winking from the home of Mad Molly. One winter night, Myrtle Dunnage searched for the light from her mother's house through the windscreen of a greyhound bus."
So begins a modern Australian classic, the tale of Myrtle -Tilly' Dunnage's return to the small Victorian town of her childhood. After she was wrongly blamed for the accidental death of a young classmate, Tilly was forced to leave Dungatar, first for Melbourne and then Europe, where she trained as a dressmaker and earned herself a formidable reputation among the fashion houses of Paris. She puts these skills to good use on her return, whipping up couture creations for the townsfolk and earning their grudging respect in return.
But, when tragedy strikes, Tilly is wrongly blamed once more and she and Mad Molly become outcasts yet again. This time, Tilly will take her revenge, plotting while she shears and hems, stitches and sews, against everyone who has wronged her family.
The Dressmaker is a darkly comic story about small towns and the characters who live in them, a novel about love, revenge and haute couture.
Rosalie Ham grew up in Jerilderie, NSW, and worked in aged care before writing The Dressmaker, which went on to sell more than 75,000 copies. The idea for a film adaptation came from an encounter with an old school friend, producer Sue Maslin (Japanese Story), and the pair saw their idea realised in 2015, brought to life by director Jocelyn Moorhouse (Proof, A Thousand Acres) and starring Kate Winslet, Hugo Weaving, Liam Hemsworth, Judy Davis, Rebecca Gibney and Shane Jacobson.
Rosalie has written two other critically acclaimed novels, Summer at Mount Hope and There Should be More Dancing. She lives in Victoria.
Author: Rosalie Ham
Question: What inspired you to write The Dressmaker?
Rosalie Ham: The Dressmaker started out as an idea for a short story or perhaps a play, but never got around to writing it. The idea became a novel when the teacher at RMIT told us to write down in 500 words what our novel was going to be about. I had enrolled in novel class because I thought (wrongly) that we were going to study lots of novels very closely, rather than learn to write them. The Dressmaker was an accident, but after a few weeks I knew I was in the right class.
Question: Suspicion, malice and prejudice are throughout the book. What's going on with this?
Rosalie Ham: Suspicion, malice and prejudice are three things I find annoying about humans but it's rife among all of us. I hate the petty, nasty, tiny mind but at the same time it can be very observant -‐ just not a particularly nice observation. In this book I'm attempting to show how destructive and ridiculous it can be.
Question: Did you grow up in a town like Dungatar?
Rosalie Ham: I grew up in a small country town just like any other small country town -‐ there were the usual types: the town gossip, the sexual deviant, the secret cross dresser, the snob -‐ and there is a smattering of hypocrisy and bigotry, as in any community. In small rural communities you are conscious of and cushioned by a society in which you either succeed or fail very publicly. My parents divorced in the full glare of scrutiny when I was young but I didn't feel insecure or alone for very long -‐ there was a whole town that I knew and who knew me, and a neighbourhood that watched out for each other. People in small communities can be very forgiving and tolerant, but if you do the wrong thing they will let you know.
Question: How long was the process of writing it?
Rosalie Ham: I wrote the novel over 3 years.
Question: When do you write?
Rosalie Ham: I write in the morning and once I start I tend to keep going until I start writing gibberish. I also write in my head randomly so I keep a note pad and pen by my bed, in my bag and in the car to make notes, as most writers do.
Question: Who influences your writing?
Rosalie Ham: I'm not sure who I am influenced by. I'm a bit eclectic. I love Cormac McCarthy and I also like Anne Tyler to name but two. I love Under Milkwood, and I also love poets and songwriters because they tell big stories using few words and you are left to imagine what's not said.
Question: What bits of you are in Tilly?
Rosalie Ham: There is none of me in Tilly but I wish I was a bit more like her. I'd like to be the strong, silent, clever type.
Question: Can you sew?
Rosalie Ham: I did sewing at school -‐ I can sew, and used to sew a lot of my clothes when I was a student. They never fitted well and the seams always unravelled.