Work on the next book continues and I am struggling. For a book about variety theatre, it’s not very colourful. I decide a research trip is in order. While my two main characters are mainly dressed in suits for their acts – a boy impersonator and a comic – the rest of the acts are causing me concern. It’s one thing to think about costume, make up, acrobats, ostrich feathers and the like but I think I’m missing something. And so when I saw that Dr Sketchy’s was doing a Victorian vaudeville event, I bought my ticket.
Dr Sketchy’s is a speed sketching event – live models but with a dash of sauce. Many of the models are burlesque and in between poses there are performances. While Victorian vaudeville is slightly outside my era, it’s close enough to make this relevant and useful. I try to ignore the fact that I haven’t drawn anything for years and I’m not really that good.
The atmosphere is welcoming. We can bring drinks in from the bar (I stick to coffee – my drawing’s bad enough) I take a seat at the back and watch the rest of the audience – many are clearly proper artists and not novelist pretending for the day. It’s now I realise my first rookie mistake – I haven’t brought a pencil sharpener.
We start with a warm up session – a series of three five-minute sketches with a model in black, a corset, a fur stole, carrying a black lace parasol and with lovely auburn curls tumbling down her back. I start off going for the easy parts and realise I haven’t time to attempt her face. In my first sketch she is blank. The second one is better – she turns her back to us. By the time they introduce the other performers I am feeling a bit better about what to concentrate on, and the performance gives me a chance to scrawl notes.
The whole day is great – really fun atmosphere and I win a prize for one of my sketches. We also get treated to a burlesque performance from Queen Victoria who amazes me with her ability to twirl her nipple tassels in opposite directions.
But back to the task at hand. Not only did I get notes on the costumes – the lavish material, the detail in the sequins and embroidery, the accessories and the make up, but also things like the noises their shoes make on stage and the way the light catches the dust. And I watch them off stage – and try to capture how the person on stage, the poised graceful performer, relaxes and becomes a person again when they aren’t in character; I see how relaxed they are in their costumes, going out for a cigarette in the make up and shirt sleeves.
I’m really pleased with the day and go home to insert my notes into my plan, as well as to finish up my sketches. And there it is waiting for me when I get home – the plan and draft of the next novel, now with a little more colour.