The Dress in the Window is a sparkling, joyous book full of hope and magic, so I’m thrilled to welcome author Robert Tregoning into The reading realm to talk about the inspiration behind the book and what it was like working with illustrator Pippa Curnick!
Without giving too much away can you tell us about your new book The Dress in the Window?
The Dress in the Window is a joyous tale of boy meets dress! One day, a boy is walking down the high street with his mum, when he sees a sparkling red gown in a second-hand shop window. It’s love at first sight. The boy imagines who might have worn such a dazzling dress in the past and dreams of trying it on himself. Mum suggests he do a few chores to earn the money to buy it. Nothing will stop him. He helps all the neighbours and eventually he’s saved up enough for the dress but will it still be there in the window?
How is The Dress in the Window similar to Out of the Blue? How is it different?
Out of the Blue is very much about how it feels to carry shame and the joy that can be found when you’re able to release that shame. Shame is a feeling I understand all too well and I know it’s something that hangs heavy over the lives of many LGBTQ+ people. I feel fortunate that I’ve been able to let go of a lot of the shame I felt as a child and in my early adulthood but it is something I think I’ll always have to work on, like weeding a garden. I hope that Out of the Blue is a story that can help and encourage people of all ages to release any shame they’re carrying and to find joy in being exactly who they are. With The Dress in the Window, I wanted to write a story about a boy who challenged gender stereotypes, that didn’t contain a single speck of shame. What was tricky was finding where the drama might come from, if nobody told the boy he couldn’t or shouldn’t express himself in the way he wanted to. My husband Billy and I were reminiscing about our childhoods and the ways in which we longed to express our femininity. Billy mentioned a shop that sold incredible dresses that he would walk past every day on his way to school and said “What if one day the dress was gone?” That was it! I knew I had to write the story of a boy’s love at first sight for a sequin covered dress!
I also feel extremely lucky to have created these two books with two incredible illustrators. Stef Murphy has captured the emotion, tenderness and explosion of joy within Out of the Blue more perfectly than I could imagine and brought so much heart to the book. Pippa Curnick has brought The Dress in the Window to sparkling life so beautifully and allowed the story to whirl and twirl its way across the pages. I love all of the characters she’s inhabited the young boy’s world with and the energy in the illustrations makes me want to join in with the dancing by the end of the book!
I know the inspiration for this book is very personal. Can you tell us a bit about it?
Yes, I sort of gave this one away in my previous answer but The Dress in the Window is inspired by childhood memories of my husband’s and of my own. Both of us have always felt drawn to things considered feminine. Billy has the memory of the dress shop on his route to school and I always loved visiting the haberdashery of a department store I would go to most weekends. I loved all the buttons and beads and seeing the fabrics wrapped around mannequins, hinting at the possibilities of what those fabrics could become. Growing up it often felt like the beautiful things I desired were out of my reach, just like the glittering gown in the story, behind the pane of glass. I wanted this story to break through that glass and be filled with celebration!
The illustrations by Pippa Curnick are sparkly and gorgeous! Can you share with us a favourite illustration and talk to us about why it’s your favourite?
Spoiler alert! There’s a double page illustration in this book of the boy wearing the dress and leaping through the air! It brought me to tears the first time I saw it. It’s filled with pride, confidence, sunbeams, sparkles, a mother’s love, cheering neighbours and dogs with waggy tails – so much JOY!
Finally, what do you hope young readers take away from the book and can you describe the book in three words?
I hope young readers take away the image of a beautiful boy in a beautiful dress and the idea that this glittering gown could be for anyone. This might be a story they can see themselves reflected in or it might be a story that inspires empathy and an understanding that we all love different things and we all deserve happiness and love!
Describing this book in three words I would say, twirling, sparkling, joy!