Monday, October 08, 2007

Behind a Mask - The Joys of Pretending (and Dressing Up!) Annie West

We’ve all done it, or dreamed of doing it – pretended for a short time that we are someone else. Someone exotic and interesting, perhaps a fascinating femme fatale or a heroine from a favourite book.

Here in Australia, whenever Book Week rolls around most schools have a costume parade where children get the fun of dressing as Harry Potter, Heidi or whatever fictional character most appeals. And the kids respond enthusiastically – there’s something so liberating about becoming someone else, even for a few short hours.

Costume parties are a perennial favourite and I know that all around the world festivals abound where people are invited to tug on a costume or a mask and enter a world of make believe for a few hours. Mardi Gras, Carnivale, Fasching and Halloween all beckon as chances to let down your hair, frock up in something outlandish or stunning and take on a new persona. In a world where most of us are busy being responsible, sensible and careful (most of the time) the lure of a mask or a costume is irresistible.

My most recent experience of this was at the Romance Writers of Australia Conference where the cocktail party theme was Venetian Carnivale. Wow! What a night. So many smiles. So many masks, cloaks, feathers, fabulous costumes and general glitter. The idea of a costume party at the Conference has been fantastically successful since so many people love to dress up and because there’s no pressure to do so. The rest of the attendees get to admire and chat about the costumes. It’s a terrific ice breaker as well as being enormous fun. The woman in gold here is one of our members. Hi Christine!

Perhaps too, some of the success of that party was because these were authors attending, people who make their living, or hope to, from exercising their imaginations and creating fantasy worlds. For most of the year we work alone, in well appointed offices (I wish!) or in a corner somewhere, trying to block out the rest of the world and enter the realm of our latest story. After a year of solo writing no wonder we were ready for some outlandish celebrations. But more than that, I think people who love books also have a love of make believe which allows them to enjoy fictitious worlds, even if only for a few hours.

How many romance readers would love to spend an evening being Cinderella at her ball or Elizabeth Bennett being courted by Mr Darcy? One of my own personal fantasies as a girl was taking Grace Kelly’s place in the movie ‘To Catch a Thief’. I’d go to the masked ball wearing that stunning gold ball gown and dance with Cary Grant!

I’m sure learned books and articles have been written on why people like to make believe, explaining the primitive urge for fantasy, escape, release, or just plain fun. I just know it works, especially if I haven’t had to spend a fortune on a costume.

I suspect that writing romance feeds the desire to escape from the mundane world and stand for a while in someone else’s shoes. To experience the exotic for just a little while. When I write I can be my heroine – strong and confident in situations where I’d be a nervous wreck in real life. Or petite and delicately vulnerable (at around 5’10” I’ve never been described as petite!). I can live my heroine’s exciting life just for a little while, then safely return to my own. The best of both worlds!

What do you think? Do you like to pretend by playing make believe in costume or do you unleash that urge only in the books you read or write? What would be your favourite costume or character for a masquerade?

Annie is currently grappling with another fictitious world, one where the heroine occasionally gets to wear silks and satins and where the hero has just FINALLY realised he can’t live without her. Sigh.

If you want to dip into one of Annie's favourite alternative realities, check out her most recent release for Harlequin Presents – 'For the Sheikh's Pleasure'.


Anna Campbell said...

Annie, what a great post! I was at the costume party in Sydney for the RWAustralia conference and some of the costumes were absolutely amazing. I think everyone likes dressing up as kids - I know I spent a lot of time trying to squeeze my short blonde self into Audrey Hepburn lookalike costumes (thanks to a mother who was quite a fashion plate in the 1950s and early 1960s - they don't make clothes like those any more!). As writers, we continue to dress up in our imagination so we never grow out of it. What fun!

Lois said...

Oh geez, I've never done a masquerade. . .only ever dressed up for Halloween. LOL :) I guess I get it from books. Don't have to expend any energy or money to buy anything for it other than the book! :)


Annie West said...

Hi Anna, I love your 'we continue to dress up in our imagination' - what a great way of putting it. I feel sometimes that's exactly what I am doing.

Giggling here at the pair we'd have made - you as a blonde Audrey Hepburn and me as a brunette Grace Kelly!


Anna Campbell said...

Actually, I did have a laugh at me as Audrey in Breakfast at Tiffany's and you as Grace in TCAT. Basically, the only way I could manage it was a headscarf, sunglasses, lots of makeup and these gorgeous clothes from my mother's salad days. Oh, and wonderful high heeled 60s stilettos in Italian leather. If you couldn't see anything at all of me, you might have almost believed I was Audrey!

Annie West said...

Lois, it sounds like Halloween costumes can be a lot of fun. It's not an Aussie tradition so I don't have any experience of it.

Like you, I don't like to expend lots of money or energy on costumes. One of my favourites was a costume for a Fasching party in Germany. We were students and had no spare money so I wore a sheet draped vaguely in toga style, dangly earrings that cost me about $1 from a costume store and lots of eye makeup. It was a freezing night and I had to wear snow boots and a huge thick coat over the top. You should have seen the looks when I took off my outer layer!


Annie West said...

Anna, you've hit on another of my faves. I always wanted to do that headscarf round the throat and over the hair with the dark glasses look! It was so chic!


Christine Wells said...

I wish I hadn't succumbed to the dreaded lurgy and missed the RWAus cocktail party, Annie, it sounded like a hoot!

Annie it's apt that you're speculating on this subject, because you write those sweeping romances that transport the reader into a fantasy land full of heat and sensuality. Your heroines are women just like us, but your heroes--wow! Who wouldn't like to be caught up in a fantasy world with Arik from For The Sheikh's Pleasure?

Annie West said...

Christine, thanks so much for the compliment on my heroes. After reading 'Scandal's Daughter' I consider you an expert on heroes!

You've hit on one of my soft spots - Arik. Sh, better not say it too loud or my husband might object!


Nathalie said...

I never have dressed up... even at Halloween!

Authorness said...

Hi, Annie! Love your cover for The Greek Tycoon's Unexpected Wife. Gorgeous colours.

My fantasy costume is Scarlett O'Hara's green-and-white tiered dress in GWTW's opening scene. Don't think I could get down to a wasp waist, though!


Lily said...

You are right that Scarlett dress is just to die for!!

deseng said...

Hi Annie,

I have never been to a masquerade but have dressed up millions of times for Halloween. My most memorable costume was a belly dancer! I rented that costume from a costume shop. My husband and I went to a disco, (this was in the 80's) and we had a ball! One guy tried to put money in the waistline of my costume!

Another memorable costume was when my husband and I went to a costume party at a restaurant. I went as a poodle and he went as a big furry dog! That was a laugh! I actually got him to wear brown tights to that one!

Your books are fantastic by the way! I loved FOR THE SHEIKH'S PLEASURE! Arik made me swoon!