Showing posts with label antique dealing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label antique dealing. Show all posts

The Posy Ring: Coming Soon.

The Posy Ring, the first novel in a planned series called The Annals of Flowerfield, is due for publication by Saraband on 12th April. 

Here's what it's all about! 

When antiques seller Daisy Graham inherits an ancient house called Auchenblae, or Flowerfield, on the Hebridean island of Garve, she's daunted by its size and isolation. But the building, its jumble of contents, its wilderness of a garden and the island itself prove themselves so fascinating that she's soon captivated. She's also attracted to Cal Galbraith, who is showing an evident interest in the house and its new owner, yet she's suspicious of his motives – with good reason, it seems.

In parallel with their story runs that of sixteenth-century cousins Mateo and Francisco, survivors from the ill-fated Spanish Armada who find safe passage to the island.

There, one of them falls in love with the laird's daughter, Lilias. The precious gold posy (poesy) ring he gives her is found centuries later. Are its haunting engraved mottoes, un temps viendra and vous et nul autre, somehow significant now for Daisy and Cal?

Well, are they? You'll have to read the book to find out. And if I can get my head down and get out of my usual winter malaise, there will be another one in due course.

I've been dealing in antique and vintage textiles for some years now. It's my other day job alongside the writing. I've always collected textiles, always loved finding out their various histories, and they often find their way into my fiction. But when I realised that my collection was getting a bit too large for comfort, I started dealing in them as well. I've done antique markets and boot sales as a buyer and as a seller, and still go along to browse and buy.  As soon as online selling became possible, I set up a dedicated eBay shop, specialising in textiles with the occasional foray into vintage clothes, teddy bears and costume jewellery, although I'm about to transfer my 'niche' shop to another site called Love Antiques. 

The fictional Isle of Garve
I've known for some time that I wanted to write a novel about this world, and I've always thought how wonderful it might be to find a house full of 'stuff'. but I've also known how horribly challenging it would be. How on earth to sort out the rubbish from the treasures? It's difficult enough when you buy a large quantity of boxes of old linens and lace at auction. I've hauled things about, (textiles are incredibly heavy especially when linen is involved!) and spent hours deciding what to keep, what to sell, and what to recycle back into the saleroom or charity shop. I've observed too - I am a writer, first and foremost - watching the hierarchies in the salerooms and among the dealers, watching the quirks of various auctioneers, watching how the whole business works. 

I've also lived in a two hundred year old house for almost forty years, so I know all about the challenges of old buildings as well. Taking on an old house when you're rich is still, I think, challenging. (Not that I've ever been rich enough to experience it.) Doing it without enough money to tackle it properly can be an ongoing nightmare. 

But this isn't all that the book is about. Because in parallel with the modern day story, there's the story of the house and the island at other times, layers of events, people, relationships, like the layers built up in the agates I sometimes find on our nearby beaches. Nobody goes back in time in the Posy Ring. It isn't that sort of novel. But the past always, in some sense, influences the present, and various artefacts discovered in the present day still have something of their past clinging inexorably to them. 

As nice Paul in the BBC antiques programme called Flog It is so fond of saying - 'That's what it's all about.'

Meanwhile, I've never yet found a posy - or 'poesy' - ring. But I sure wish I could! 

Young Woman in Yellow - my inspiration for Lilias.

Bear Necessities.

Family of very elderly bears
Some people reading this might not know that, wearing my other hat, I buy and sell antique textiles - partly because the contribution to our family income is essential when it comes to buying more writing time, and partly because I'm daft about them and have been since I was in my teens.

But just occasionally, I'm tempted by teddies as well. And last week, it happened again. I managed to acquire the sad little family of bears you see on the left. Mostly, I don't keep them - I rehome them and these will be no exception. I'd quite like to keep them and add them to my own collection but I can't afford to. Mind you, I did buy a couple of elderly Chad Valley teds a few years ago and they are still sitting in my living room just because one of them is so cuddly, even more cuddly than my own old bears, Mr Tubby and Teddy Robinson, that I can't 'bear' to let them go.

Anyway, this quartet of teds came together in the same auction lot and obviously belonged together and I'm not planning to split them up. Like rescue dogs that have been brought up together, I'll try to find some sympathetic arctophile to take all of them. The biggest ted is the most valuable. This isn't always the case, but he isn't just any old bear, he's a pretty rare antique bear. He has no labels and no, he isn't a Steiff, but with his triangular face, his long arms and longish humped body, his quite chubby legs with definite ankles, his stitched nose, his boot button eyes and low set ears and most of all because of his slightly pointed pads on his feet, I think he's probably a very very early Ideal bear all the way from the USA - pre WW1 - which is a long time to survive. He's a bit threadbare, he's a bit wobbly, and he has some trouble about the feet where you can see some of his wood wool stuffing - but he's so smiley and engaging that I'm sure somebody somewhere will love him as much as I do and - more importantly - as much as somebody so clearly did in his long, long past.

Smiley and engaging.
He was very dirty and I have a feeling he had been kept with his companions in an attic - or at least that's what he looked like. The only thing I've done is given him a very gentle, very cautious clean up to remove the worst of the grime and show him up in his true honey colours. With him there's a much smaller blue bear - not half so old, I'm sure, but jointed and with nice eyes. There's a chubby little Japanese bear - much faded pink wool - with a working squeak (like Piglet!) which surprised me when I was brushing him very gently with a soft brush and touched his tummy. And finally there is a very strange creature with upright arms, no eyes, a terribly threadbare knitted jumper and feet that look as though they were intended to be booted at one point. He has clearly been loved almost to bits and only rescued by a grubby canvas covering, crudely stitched. Where it is coming apart, you can just see that there might once have been mohair or similar beneath - but if you touched him too much, he would fall apart!

Woppit? Loved almost to bits.
Looking at him, the shape and size of him, I think he was once a Merrythought Woppit Bear - issued in 1956 from the Story of Woppit cartoon strip. Almost unrecognisable, for sure, but I think that's what he was! His better known (and better preserved) cousin is, of course, Donald Campbell's Mr Whoppit. This one could do with some eyes, and possibly a whole knitted suit, to keep him together. But I find him touching beyond belief - somebody has clearly loved him very, very much.  

That's the problem with dealing in something you love - it's always so difficult to let them go! Meanwhile, if you think you too might like to try your hand at buying and selling antique and vintage items to add to the household income, I've written an eBook about it. It's called Precious Vintage and it's available across all platforms, but I'll give you the Amazon Kindle link, here in the UK and here in the USA. 

My Obsession With Textiles

Detail of an Ayrshire whitework baby gown
Yesterday, I spent a very enjoyable afternoon in the company of the ladies of the Ayrshire Embroiderers' Guild. They'd asked me to speak to them about my collection of Ayrshire whitework - and the history of this astonishing needlework - but it was going to be some time in the future. Since I'm not too far away, I offered to fill in if any of their speakers let them down - and the opportunity arose a lot sooner than we expected. One of their speakers had to cancel so I stepped in.

I'm occasionally asked to speak about this work to various local groups. I take along my own collection, set it out on a couple of tables, talk about the history and then let people handle and examine it. There's nothing quite like being able to see and touch the real thing when it comes to textiles, and since whitework like this is quite surprisingly washable (in spite of its obvious delicacy) I'm happy for people to look more closely - especially embroiderers. I should add that I felt a bit of a fraud because I can't embroider at all, even though I so often write about the textiles I love. My late mum was an embroiderer but I have trouble sewing on buttons!

Somebody in the audience asked me where my interest first started. It was a good question. My mum used to go to the saleroom quite often and in the school holidays, I went with her. She was into pottery and porcelain but even back then, it was the textiles that attracted me: vintage and antique clothes, shawls, baby dresses, linen and lace of all kinds. My first purchase, when I was old enough to bid for myself, was a beautiful but very badly damaged antique whitework baby dress. From then on, I was hooked.

Continental needlework - very beautiful!

Now, I collect textiles, and deal in them from an eBay shop called The Scottish Home, dividing my working life between these and my novel writing. If I have a big writing project on, like now, I will do much less selling online. If times are hard, then I will restock my shop and sell whatever I can bear to part with. But the whitework stays here. That's my own little obsession.

I find that these lovely old embroideries and other textiles find their way into my fiction all the time. Sometimes it's just a matter of getting costume right when I'm working on historical fiction. Sometimes, as with The Curiosity Cabinet and The Physic Garden, the embroidery is more central to the story. I don't know quite why I'm so passionate about these things, but there does seem to be some connection between the interweaving of threads and the weaving of words into stories in my mind!

A little while ago - recognising that a lot of of people out there might be looking for ways to make a bit of extra cash I also wrote a fairly basic eBook guide to buying and selling vintage items online and elsewhere. It's called Precious Vintage and it's available as an eBook on all the popular platforms - for example on Amazon and in the iTunes store and on most other platforms too. So if like me you're obsessed with some particular area of collecting, you could do worse than try to turn your hobby into a source of much needed income.

Detail from a Georgian christening cape that features in
my novel, The Physic Garden

Precious Vintage - Another Potential Income Source in a Precarious World.

For many years now, I've been supplementing my writing income by dealing in antique and vintage items, mostly on a part time basis, although occasionally, when the income from writing has been particularly abysmal, I've devoted a lot more time to this 'second string' to my bow. I used to write for BBC Radio 4 which was a good way of earning a day to day living, but when commissions pretty much dried up about ten or fifteen years ago, I had to find another income source.

It wasn't that I stopped writing drama, just that the BBC, for reasons they have never divulged, stopped wanting what I wrote. I went from being an experienced radio writer with more than 100 hours of well reviewed and varied radio drama under my belt, to being the kiss of death on any submission, almost overnight. There had been no falling out, nothing that I could ever put my finger on. And I still had producers queuing up to work with me. It's just that almost nothing we proposed was ever accepted.  I write this not so much to complain - well, it's a bit of a complaint, or I wouldn't be human! - but really to point out the tenuous nature even of a career that appears to be quite successful.

In reality, it was a blessing in disguise, like so many of these unpleasant crises can be, because it forced me to take stock and make other plans.

With hindsight, and although I had loved radio and had thoroughly enjoyed most of what I had written for this most imaginative of media, I should have quit well before I was pushed. We are much too inclined to stay with what we know. We are also - of course - reluctant to abandon something that pays the bills. But even so, any career that relies on submission and commission from an organisation as capricious as Aunty, is skating on very thin ice indeed. It's one of the reasons why I keep banging on about the need for writers, like all creatives, to be well aware of business realities. You need to think of yourself as a sole trader rather than a humble supplicant, and act accordingly! Most of us learn this quite late in the day.

My husband and I are both freelances, so times were hard for a while. But two things came to my rescue. I had been collecting antique and vintage textiles in particular since I was very young and first went to the saleroom with my mum, who loved pottery and porcelain. Over the years, I had amassed not just the textiles, but a certain amount of knowledge about them. Meanwhile, fiction writing had really taken over from drama for me (although I would never say never if the opportunity to work on a new stage play came along) and my love of antiques in general and textiles in particular began to find its way into my novels and stories, especially my historical fiction. The Curiosity Cabinet and The Physic Garden both involve embroidery and textiles, albeit as only one among many themes in both novels. Some of my short stories involve antiques too - including a few ghost stories.

It occurred to me that one way of filling the income gap left by radio might be to try dealing in antique and vintage collectables. With the wealth of television programmes and magazine articles as well as the general interest in 'vintage', which I had loved well before it became fashionable, this seemed like an idea whose time had come. But my current home area was not the ideal place to take on shop premises and besides, I didn't want that kind of commitment. I had too much writing to do.

It didn't matter. The relative ease of selling online meant that I could work from home. One of the most appealing aspects though was the idea of being in charge, taking control. It's hard to explain to somebody who hasn't been involved with the submission/rejection process central to the 'creative industries'  how difficult it can be. We're not talking about the necessary learning process here. We're talking about a giant game of snakes and ladders during which you can be an experienced professional, climbing the ladders (not making any fortunes, but surviving) but can suddenly and without warning, find yourself sliding all the way down to the bottom of the board within a matter of weeks. In these circumstances, my love of vintage became very precious indeed.

I've been dealing in Scottish and Irish antiques, mainly textiles, but really, whatever takes my fancy, for more than ten years now, and have learned a lot along the way. I've also found my research invaluable in providing inspiration for so much of my fiction. The other factor that helped immeasurably was the ease with which it is now possible to publish, and republish work in eBook form, the possibility of being a 'hybrid' writer, of working with a publisher on certain projects, self publishing others. It makes for a complicated but undeniably interesting working life.

I notice that an increasing number of my friends and colleagues are willing to try their hand at antique and collectable dealing, either online, or at antique markets, or with a combination of both. Often it's because they could do with some money to supplement the family finances but need something that can be part time and flexible. It also occurred to me that some of them were very knowledgeable about their favourite area of collecting, more knowledgeable than some of the dealers I had met, but a little bit nervous of dipping a toe into the waters of selling.

That was when I thought about writing a short guide - by no means a definitive 'how to'  - but something that summarised all the hints and tips I had learnt over ten years or more of trading. Precious Vintage is the result. I should caution that this is in no way a 'get rich quick' scheme. However you decide to do this, hard work and good customer service are the key to making some kind of income. As with writing, other people's experience will be different from yours, and that's fine. But if you've been clearing out your granny's attic and wondering if you might have a go at some trading, then this little eBook guide might be a helpful preliminary read.

You can download it on Amazon UK here. 
The guide is written from a UK perspective, but since so much buying and selling is conducted worldwide, readers elsewhere may find it helpful. You can download it on here.