Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Stephanie Tillotson, Editor of Cut on the Bias

Chosen as one of the new EI titles, is Cut on the Bias (Honno Press). This is a delightful selection is: a Haute Couture collection designed to reflect the complex relationships between women and the clothes they stand up in. Stephanie Tillotson, Editor of Cut on the Bias, has graciously provided us with a blog detailing a 'behind the scenes' snapshot into the formation of such a unique collection.

Personally, I’m not what you would call a ‘dedicated follower of fashion’. I can’t remember the last time I bought ‘Vogue’ or ‘Cosmo’ and I’ve never seen Gok Wan on anything other than a poster outside one of our more famous high street chains. My idea of image was changing the buttons on a charity shop garment or routing about in my mother’s left over balls of wool. I wasn’t one of those who were ‘born to shop’ and, to be honest with you, now I can only just remember why I suggested we take fashion and image as the theme for an forthcoming anthology of fictional short stories – but I’m glad I did.

When the call for submissions was put out for writers to send in their stories for inclusion in a collection called ‘Cut on the Bias’, it was 2007 and the economy was still booming. Cash registers and credit cards were groaning across the length and breadth of the country. Then, as now, celebrity had become the new heaven, the place where existence was perfect - and the entrance key was image. It was like Alice in Wonderland: buy this and you could be bigger, eat this and you could be smaller, drink this and you could be younger, sexier, more popular. Yes, right; in an adman’s bank balance! And although it was madness, people were having fun!

Dressing up is fun; make-believe is fun! It’s something to do with hats and wigs and shoes and handbags, yes and changing the buttons to get it just right. There is a childish delight in disguise what many of us share and I suspect that is why I was interested in stories about women and the clothes they wear. Not only does ‘Cut on the Bias’ show the work of writers trying to make sense of the shapelessness of human experience but it features authors, each one of whom has understood that the question “What shall I wear today?” is really, “Who shall I be today?”.

So, taking image as the central metaphor for transformation, all the stories included weave colourful pictures full of humour and joy, love and friendship, illness and grief, of unfulfilled lives and ugly ducklings that discover their own way of becoming beautiful swans. One story asks what you wear to meet the mother who gave you up at birth; another tells of the death of a long dead, beloved brother; a third describes the wardrobe full of armour that a modern politician must learn to wear. There are, of course, stories that explore our very human fascination with celebrity and the worlds of fashion, marketing and advertising. Others are rites of passage – a wayside bomb in Afghanistan rips a soldier’s life apart; a young woman with Down’s syndrome decides to face the future with confidence and someone is even prepared to gamble all for that pair of ruby slippers.

Yes, well, maybe I do remember why I thought editing an anthology of short stories about fashion and image would be a good idea. Maybe I lied earlier – because, of course, if naked is the truth then clothes are lies, fictions that touch us closely, intimately, making contact with our most sensitive parts: clothes, as we know, are sexy too. So after all the reading of submissions; selecting of stories for the collection; conversations via email and phones; the editing and re-editing; the copy-editing, proof-reading and printing, enter the super-model of the season – ‘Cut on the Bias’. After all, when everything is said and done and gone, nothing survives but the stories we tell.


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