My instinct when I first try to describe a woman’s outfit is to say she is wearing a blouse. For some reason, that is the piece of clothing that automatically comes to mind. I’m not sure why, I don’t think I’ve ever actually worn a blouse. Does anyone wear blouses anymore? I’m not sure I’ve even described a man’s outfit but they would probably be wearing a blazer if I did.
There are many parts of A Perilous Margin which make me cringe to think back on, but one of the least consequential, easiest to fix and therefore most annoying is a description of food at a dinner party. It is terrible. A weird combination of dishes which no one, especially an artistic, reasonably well-off, middle-aged couple, would serve to friends.
Food and clothes are the bane of writing for me. They impact on every day of our lives and yet I have no words for them. I have no idea what people wear, what types of material clothes are made of, what different styles are called. Clothes create an immediate impression when we meet someone, and when introducing a character they can provide a cheat-sheet as to what that person is like. And yet, when every woman I write ends up wearing blouses it seems like they are either middle-aged or a complete dag.
The thing with food is I do have some understanding of it. I hate pretentious food and try not to open recipe books if I can help it, but I have a decent, basic understanding of what foods people eat and what those foods taste/look/smell like. And yet, while I am more than capable of noting all the times when characters are drinking tea, it is what they have had for lunch that I struggle with, even though that might give a clearer idea of their personality.
Maybe it is because, while I interact with food and clothes on a daily basis, the choices around them are not my favourite things to think about. Deciding what to wear in the morning is frustrating. I eat cornflakes for breakfast just so I don’t have to think about what to put on toast. I happily eat mushroom pasta every night. I think this ambivalence to two things which many people take a lot of pleasure from seeps into all my characters. They will be blouse-wearing, tea-drinking dags on the first, second and probably third edit, until I decide to put some time into thinking about a part of their life that I refuse to think about in my own. It may call for some research, *shudder*.