You write YA as LJ Adlington – why the name change for The Red Ribbon?
When I started writing there was a sense that ‘boys wouldn’t read books by female authors’ so I, like other authors, used my initials. Fortunately, we’ve moved on from this preconception now. With The Red Ribbon I took a new approach to writing with a brand new publisher, so it was good to signal the new start with a bit of a name change.
What inspired you to write The Red Ribbon?
I’m currently writing a history book about women in the 1940s, called Ready for Action. While researching for this I came across mention of a dressmaking workshop in Auschwitz concentration camp. I was stunned. I knew that many Jewish people were forced to labour in ghetto workshops, and that it sometimes helped them survive. This was different. This was the SS flaunting a love of fashion in the middle of hell. As a costume historian, how could I resist finding out more…?
How did you go about researching for the book?
I’ve long been interested in Holocaust history and literature, reading memoirs of young survivors when I was a child and then immersing myself in the history as an adult. As I wrote The Red Ribbon I discovered testimonies from some of the Auschwitz dressmakers. I visited Auschwitz and other concentration camps, as well as studying museum wartime collections here in the UK. After that it was a question of letting go of the researching to allow the writing to flow.
Who is your favourite character in the book and why?
I admire different qualities in all the four main characters. Ella is so scared but so resolute. She’s got a lot to learn, yet somehow she lets friendship and love balance her fierce desire to survive. Rose is such a dreamer – I can relate to the way she escapes into stories. Marta is unexpected. As for Carla, well she is the most complicated of all. All the character of The Red Ribbon are fictional, but they are drawn from accounts by actual prisoners and guards.
If you could be anyone in history for a day, who would you be and why?
I wouldn’t be anyone different! Even the most famous high-achievers have been troubled with their own doubts and difficulties. I like having the perspective of hindsight as a historian. However, if I could spend a day in history I would never blink: I’d be taking in every detail (especially about the clothes).
If you could arrange a dinner party with 5 people from history, who would you choose and why?
Jane Austen would be such an ironic, insightful and witty dinner companion. Rosa Parks, civil rights activist and seamstress could give fascinating commentaries on her experiences. Noor Inayat Kahn was a children’s author and wartime spy. International couturier Lucile not only created gorgeous gowns, she also survived the sinking of Titanic. Last but by no means least, I’d like to join my grandmother Ella Rose for dinner, so I could finally hear answers to all those questions I never asked while she was alive.
How do you mix your writing and your work as an actor and costume historian?
I love the variety of my work. One day I’ll be on stage surrounded by fabulous costumes; next I’ll be interviewing a veteran code-breaker from Bletchley. Some days I just have to camp on the sofa with books, tea and a lap top to write. It’s never dull. Taking time off is tricky. I live on a farm, so the lovely Yorkshire countryside is just outside.
Which authors inspire you?
I admire writers who have found their own style, and who have a genuine love for their subject. As a child fantasy stories made my imagination sparkle. As a teenager I discovered the passionate writings of the Bronte sisters and the Regency romances of Georgette Heyer. Since then I’ve raided bookshops and libraries for an endless supply of books of all genres. I’m insatiable!
Do you get much time to read? If so, who do you turn to?
Is it possible not to read?? I read every day, and often late into the night. History books are my addiction, particularly women’s history and wartime histories. To unwind I turn to crime fiction and thrillers, and science fiction.
What is next for you?
Right now I’m writing a non-fiction book about women in the 1940s called Ready for Action. The stories of women from cultures and countries around the world are woven together through textiles. I’m also working on a novel to follow The Red Ribbon (no spoilers!) New costume presentations include show about Laura Ashley and Gustav Klimt. There’s always more to learn and enjoy!
THE RED RIBBON
By Lucy Adlington
The critically acclaimed YA Author
Published 21st September 2017 by Hot Key Books £10.99 Hardback
• Inspired by the lives of real girls sewing at Auschwitz during World War Two •
• Based on survivors’ testimonies and personal interview with Eva Schloss (Anne Frank’s stepsister) •
• Costume historian Lucy Adlington is an expert on 1940s social history and fashion •
• Lucy will be presenting bespoke talks on The Red Ribbon this autumn •
• Lucy Adlington’s YA novels previously nominated for the CILIP Carnegie Medal •
“The Red Ribbon is the best YA novel about the Holocaust I have read. The Red Ribbon deserves to be very widely appreciated indeed, and I urge teachers and Holocaust educators especially to read it.” – Professor Robert Eaglestone, Holocaust Research Institute
As fourteen-year-old Ella begins her first day working at Birchwood, she steps into a world of silks, seams, scissors, pins, hems and trimmings. She is a dressmaker, but this is no ordinary sewing workshop. Here are no ordinary clients. Every dress she makes could mean the difference between life and death . . . Ella is a prisoner at Auschwitz concentration camp. And this place is all about survival.
Ella seeks refuge from this reality, and from haunting memories, in her work and in the world of fashion and fabrics. She is faced with painful decisions about how far she is prepared to go to survive. Is her love of clothes and creativity nothing more than collaboration with her captors, or is it a means of staying alive? Will she fight for herself alone, or will she trust the importance of an ever-deepening friendship with Rose
One thing weaves through the colours of couture gowns and camp mud – a red ribbon, given to Ella as a symbol of hope.
A powerful read for anyone who was moved by The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, The Diary of Anne Frank andBetween Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
‘Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction and it was as part of Lucy’s research on historical fashion that she discovered an extraordinary story: that Hedwig Hoss, wife of the Camp Commander at Auschwitz loved fashion – so much so, she demanded that a tailoring workshop be set up within the camp to create beautiful clothes for the female guards, with the seamstresses to be gathered from the female prisoners. When I turned the last page I realised I had read a truly powerful evocation of a tale that even within the grimness of despair reveals the hope and the warmth of the human spirit.” – Emma Matthewson, Children’s Publishing
Lucy Adlington is a writer, actress and costume historian. Her novels for teenagers, written under the name L. J. Adlington, including The Diary of Pelly-D and Burning Mountain, have been nominated and/or shortlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Medal, the Manchester Book Prize, the Leeds Book Prize and the Rotherham Book Award. She also writes non-fiction for adults about the history of clothes, including Great War Fashion and Stitches in Time: The Story of the Clothes We Wear. She founded the historical costume events company, History Wardrobe, has appeared on BBC Woman’s Hour discussing the history of underwear and she lives on a working farm in Yorkshire. She is currently writing a non-fiction book about women in the 1940s.