The Story of the Rewrites of The Dressmaker’s Secret
I need to do something with my mind that is obsessive but not as obsessive as my ceaseless scrolling through Instagram, which has now decided I am going through IVF*.
For this reason, I will be talking about the drama behind the drama. So let’s get going.
*Yes, it is very saddening. Yes, I do wish I could find my way back to “sixty-three writing memes & a scattering of Christian, country, and conservative reels.” Yes, I do need to stop clicking onto the Discovery feed, which is basically the hall of depression mixed with evil dopamine hits—a deadly combo indeed. No, I’m not going through IVF. If that ever did happen, it’d be like a bajillion years in the future when I am rich.
I was scrolling back through old emails looking for something specific and found a set of messages copied to an email that had been sent to a friend at like 1 in the morning.
Yeah. I don’t know what year this was from exactly, but the email I copied them into was December 2018. So I’m going to say it was around then.
Before we go any further, spoilers for The Dressmaker’s Secret. Not even the fun kind. Depressing spoilers. Got it? Let’s go.
Further: trigger/content warning for talk of rape, immorality, etc. Basically, the things in the book are discussed.
Talkin’ About The Original Idea
The messages begin as such:
Okay, so I have never in the history of ever told anyone this, not even Bailey [note: anything I don’t tell Bailey but DO tell Aimee is NOT A GOOD THING], but I was thinking about it, and I thought you might enjoy it even though it’s super dark. [EDIT: because it’s super dark – y’all don’t know Aimee] I have literally had this headcannon since I wrote the first draft of The Dressmaker’s Secret, and in fact draft 1 hints at it more (Steven Parker questions Alice’s fatherhood a lot more, remarks repeatedly that she looks like him, etc.)
A promising start, eh? 😉 It continues:
So, basically, this is my self-head-fanfiction which I have never written down before because like I said, dark and immoral. [I mean, it’s not really IMMORAL any more than all the other stories of sin and sinners I share, especially the way I write it and view it, but dark, yes.]
Basically, my headcannon is — Nettie is Alice’s mother.
So basically, to go back a bit, Claire goes to Pearlbelle Park when she’s 17 with her trusty maid Nettie. Claire takes a liking to and starts falling for the American nephew of the owner, John Elton, and in no time at all, she’s swapping love letters and sneaking out to meet Philip Knight.
[Random Fact: in the new canon, which is basically this canon but with some added details, Claire had known Philip throughout her childhood but never considering marrying anyone but Steven Parker due to his status as the heir. In book 5, Claire tells her daughters she’d been an idiot, and … yeah.]
Now, we all know Steven Parker had a thing for Claire, or at least he was willing to consider marrying her. And he has no morals. So what if he was just frustrated enough with Claire going for his much less handsome and charming cousin who at that time wasn’t in line for the inheritance (as it was going to Steven at that point) … that he either seduced or raped her maid? (I don’t know which is worse, honestly.)
[Dear younger self … I still don’t know. At least Nettie wouldn’t be “crazily scarred,” as my 17-year-old self put it, if it hadn’t been sexual assault.]
Anyways, so Nettie is broken up about it either way, crazily guilty or crazily scarred, and she runs to tell Claire and beg her to help her or something because she’s absolutely horrified and terrified and just generally unable to think how to deal, but Claire has big news — she’s running away with the poor American cousin, she’s going to marry him, and Nettie has to help her pull this off so her daddy can’t stop her.
[Yeah, this is still the way Claire is. Though now the sexual assault Nettie endured happened AFTER Claire had already left with Philip.]
So Nettie buttons her lip and helps whisk Claire off to France. Then she remains quiet, steady, and supportive. Perhaps she feels too guilty to admit what she’s done, and maybe she doesn’t want to risk having the filthy rich (or he will be filthy rich after he inherits) heir go against her, so she keeps it a secret.
[Honestly, Nettie’s reasons for keeping it a secret at first are foggy at best, but as I work on drafts of Nettie’s story, I believe it had a lot to do with Claire’s faith in Steven Parker. She knows Claire won’t believe her; what’s the point?]
And around the same time Claire figures out she is pregnant, so does Nettie. Nettie tells her mother (they’re back at the Chattoway estate by now), who is of course heartbroken but at the same time she knows that she needs to help Nettie because you know even if your daughter has committed a sin (or had a sin committed against her), you still have to help out if she’s going to have a baby, and of course Nettie is either repentant or just sinned against.
[Now I’ve denied Nettie even the basic comfort of a mother. Man, maybe I am evil?]
But Nettie never tells anyone who the father is. She’s vague, she puts them off, but she will not tell because she knows the Eltons are powerful, and she can’t risk the baby being found out and hurt.
But eventually she tells Claire, and Claire blinks twice, asks a few sharp questions, and says, “All right, darling. I’m having twins.”
[Can totally see Claire doing this, even though in my new version, they don’t decide upon the swap until Ivy is born and “Flora Evelyn” dies. Also, yes, Ivy is a twin!]
“What? But you’re barely showing! Surely if you were having two …”
“Shut up, Nettie. It’s all right. Don’t worry about it.”
(And btw this theory totally leaked into my subconscious, because in the prologue for TDS, you’ll notice Claire is five months along-ish, and she’s just then starting to feel the baby moving about — which would be unusual if she’s having twins let alone if she was having an active healthy baby like Alice. But no – she’s just having Ivy, who is already suffering from whatever lung abnormality it was that kept her so sick when she was a baby and child. But I digress.)
[This … is … scientifically … interesting? I don’t think that’s how it works at all? Eh, maybe it is. I might’ve read something about it, but sometimes I just make stuff up without even knowing it. I didn’t keep that prologue, so I don’t have to worry about that.]
So, basically, when the time comes, Nettie gives birth to Alice. And of course she adores her, but she instantly gives her up to Claire, hiding her in her room until Ivy arrives. Of course, she immediately tries to tell herself this isn’t her baby, she doesn’t love her, she can’t get attached, but it’s no use … of course she loves her daughter. And yet she’s not even allowed to nurse her, because of course there is no excuse for an unmarried virgin woman to be able to nurse a small child, so she just backs out of everything even though it’s absolutely killing her.
[Gahhhhh … even the thought of this kills me.]
She even gives up her rights to name the child, which of course results in Alice being named after her two aunts.
[Pfft, as if Nettie wouldn’t have a name in mind from the beginning. This is NETTIE.]
So then Ivy comes along, Claire lets the news be spread that she’s had twins, and because Ivy is so sick that Claire can’t even hold her at first, she takes comfort in baby Alice and is able to bond on a soul deep level with her.
[I still think this happened, though Nettie’s involvement is a little more.]
However, this explains a couple things … first, why Claire is a lot harder on Alice while she babies Ivy. And I know that could be mostly because Ivy was smaller and weaker and IVY, but I think in many ways Claire is less communicative with Alice, pushes her out into the world more, and forces her to be strong … she NEVER does that to Ivy, even when Ivy could sometimes use a little nudge. And she immediately sends Alice to boarding school It also explains why Ivy wasn’t as encouraged to marry as Alice. It doesn’t matter if Ivy marries. She is the legitimate full child of her parents … but if anyone found out that Alice was a maid’s illegitimate child, she would immediately be scorned, and Alice needs the protection of marriage immediately.
[Yeah, this is basically a summary of the whole series! And honestly, both Ivy and Alice have to work through this behavior on Claire’s behalf. Granted, I don’t blame Claire. She saw Ivy and Alice as different people and behaved toward them as such—and I would never say Claire didn’t love Alice, either, or considered her as the lesser daughter. Claire did her absolute best as a mother, which is the most any of us can do. And I think her behavior toward her younger children, after she got a little more time experiencing true love as a daughter of God and as a sister in Christ to other believers, shows her continued growth. She did her best—but this remains.]
*I meant to add: She immediately sends Alice to boarding school while when Philip suggests sending Ivy to McCale House – FOR A SHORT STAY – Claire blows up in his face and can’t handle it. Alice, she is much more comfortable sending away.
[Yeah, pretty much. Claire clings to Ivy until she realizes she needs to let go.]
Meanwhile, I see in Nettie a more patient love for Alice than in Claire. I see that she probably ended up raising both the girls while Claire was dressmaking, but that there was a more lasting love within her for Alice. And I think Nettie ended up loving Ivy a lot – and I know Ivy loves Nettie almost as much as her mother, if not equally – but you’ll notice … NETTIE picks Alice up from boarding school, NETTIE never cares if Alice comes home wet and dirty with a torn dress…
[Let’s just say Nettie has enough love in her heart to consciously and subconsciously love both her girls—honesty, all her children. She knows what she’s doing, but it’s also something she does without thinking. Simply put, we stan Nettie. Also, I’d say that the whole ‘Nettie picks Alice up from boarding school, Nettie never cares if Alice comes home wet and dirty …’ Let’s just say I firmly believe Claire let Nettie be good cop with Alice, always. She owed her that much.]
And Claire’s thoughts when she’s going to lose Ivy in TDS that one time? They are of the, “Lord, please, she’s all I have!” variety. In fact, she seems to think she should be dying – but I can’t help but think that if she had the same automatic instinct towards Alice as she has towards Ivy, she would be 110% more like, “God, take me, too … I mean, wait, no, that’s stupid. Then Alice would be alone.”
[I edited this all in, so if you were thinking, “Wow, Ivy got a little sick and Claire forgot she has two children!” … That was intentional.]
ALSO, funny how Miss Elton (Lois), who is Steven’s cousin and basically his little sister, is immediately familiar with Nettie … in a, “you’re on my level,” way. I wonder if she knows. But I don’t think she has a second layer of secretness – I think she’s just a loveable airhead. xD
[LOIS IS NOT A LOVEABLE AIRHEAD. I mean, she is, but she has brains, too. She knows Parker is a jerk, and she knows he basically manipulated her sister into inappropriate relations and therefore marriage, and she knows how he treated her niece, and I’d be willing to bet she knows the estate supports Katherine Kirk … Basically, this woman knows SOMETHING is up and feels intense pity for Nettie because of it. She just has no power in any situation until she marries Charlie. <3 At some point I’m going to make you ship those two as hard as I do.]
What comes to mind is one scene in TDS when Alice is pouting, and Nettie’s like, “Why don’t you read?” and Alice is like, “Nope. That’s boring.” A part of me wonders if there was a secret little pain in Nettie’s heart as she thought, “I wish we could share an interest.” Then a bitter little, “She’s too much like her father. Horses, running all over the countryside, careless, too smart, too charming for her own good …” Then she quiets her thoughts, reminds herself that Alice is the greatest blessing life has given her, even if it isn’t perfect, and tells herself that when Alice is 30 or 40, perhaps, perhaps … she can tell her. And she prays to God that Claire will let her, because it eats and tears at her every day as she wishes she could just be honest about it, just speak her true feelings …
[This paragraph is basically why I decided to do this, other than the fact that it speaks more to the themes and messages I want to portray in my books. Just … the PAIN.]
More thoughts: Claire sent Alice to boarding school because Nettie was getting too attached and wanted to tell Alice. “She’s asking questions about her father, Claire … just let me tell her. Just let me tell her I’m her mother. Please. It’s killing me … I could explain to her why she can’t tell others. I could … I’d do anything, Claire, but I need to tell her …” And, because Claire loves Nettie more than Nettie loves herself, she sends Alice away to give Nettie some time to realize that she could never offer Alice anything, even less than Claire can.
[I don’t think this was quite the reasoning now, but I do see that playing in. Claire knew the risks. She’s a woman who separates her emotions from reality and thinks through every situation. Every move she makes in book 1 is practical at its core. She considers the angles with Caleb’s sharp mind, Jack’s forbearance, and Rebecca’s strength—and then she implements in that, “Well, I’d better just do it, hadn’t I?” way Ivy does. Just sayin’.]
And Nettie KNOWS that if she just bides her time, Philip will take both Alice and Ivy as his daughters, and even if Hazel hadn’t died, Philip would have seated them both with a heavy dowry … and Alice would have half a chance, so much more of a chance than Nettie can give her. And Nettie just wants Alice to be happy.
[My sweet girl. Oh, Nettie … Nettie!]
And, slowly over the years, Nettie has gotten closer and closer to the Chattoways’ driver, Tom, and she falls for him. But a woman can’t be married and in service, and if she’s not in service, she can’t be with Alice as much as she desperately needs to be
And eventually, to stop him bugging her, she tells Tom under strictest confidence. Miracle of miracles, he loves her anyway. He wants to give her a fresh start. But when he begs her to come away with him and be his wife, she says, as in TDS, “I can’t leave, Tom. You know I can’t.” This isn’t because of her loyalty to Claire … it’s because she can’t leave her baby girl.
But of course Claire talks her into it, tells her she can stay near Alice AND be married to Tom. And Nettie marries Tom, starts having babies, and finds fulfillment in that.
[Claire’s understanding of Nettie’s predicament is there, and you can’t tell me otherwise. Also, Tom and Nettie are an #OTP. I wish I had more time to develop them in the main series, but I’ll let you watch them fall in love some day. Nettie has a lot to work past—a lot trauma she needs to bring into the light. But watching Tom win her is going to be worth it.]
However, she [Nettie] still watches Alice — after the move to Pearlbelle, it’s from an agonizing distance, but she still watches, and she encourages Alice to spend time with her little half-brother and sisters. So you must think those cute little scenes in AFOP [this means “All Fangirling Over Peter” and is an old acronym a blogging friend of mine, Lana, came up with!] … they’re a big sister cheering up her baby siblings, even if she doesn’t know it. So Nettie does get to have a sort of a relationship with Alice, but we mustn’t forget what she’s missing, either.
She’s missing being the one who goes to London and watches Alice find a husband – she doesn’t get to give Alice relationship advice – she doesn’t get to hold her when she’s sobbing because her romances aren’t going right – she doesn’t get to hear about it first when Alice has her miscarriages or stillbirth – she cannot openly grieve her grandchildren … she watches her daughter walk down the aisle from a back row, leaning forward in her seat as the curate says, “Who gives this woman?” Wincing when the response is, “I and her mother.” Knowing Philip thinks he’s talking about him and Claire; aching because she is the mother, and she was not consulted.
[GAAAHHH! This is still kind of true to a degree, but thank goodness for book 5, y’all. Just … thank GOODNESS. The next bit is the angst that might have been …]
Not getting to know her son-in-law even though she tries because obviously Peter is the sweetest friendliest fellow ever but to him, Nettie is just another friend — he doesn’t go out of his way to talk to her and get to know her, nor does he feel that nervous, “I’m her son-in-law, best impress!” urge.
Seeing her grandchild from a distance when Alice brings them to visit
[current version note: pffffftttttt … okay, we’ll see], too afraid her emotions will give her away if she gets to see them up close … too afraid of telling Alice how much she loves her, maybe scaring her away with the intensity, afraid Alice will forget about her somehow.
[Poor Nettie. <3]
Also, it just occurred to me that Nettie probably told Alice not to call her Mrs. Jameson or something to that effect because she wants Alice to call her Mama, but if that can’t be, then she’ll use her first name … her full name is too formal.
[This! This probably will last forever, too. Like, can you imagine Alice calling Nettie “Mama”?]
Anyway, along the line of what I was talking about – Steven ended up marrying his Lydia, Posy’s mother, which led to him getting disinherited, not because he’d married the wrong person exactly, but because he’d rather gotten the cart before the horse in several major concerns *cough* and his uncle realized that he’d picked the wrong nephew to inherit … Steven Parker might be English, but he was not responsible, moral, or prone to settling down — his going off to party after his daughter was born and his wife died only confirmed that, and Philip became the heir. At this point, Nettie could have told Claire, but Steven Parker was trying to get chummy with his former sweetheart again, Nettie knew he daren’t mess with Claire (NO ONE MESSES WITH CLAIRE), so she keeps silent again. But she does tell Claire not to marry Steven. Like #nope, that is not a good plan.
[I emphasized her protests a little more, but I think the logic remains firm. She didn’t tell Claire then because she knew Parker would never actually mess with Claire. No one does.]
Meanwhile, Steven watches Nettie a few times, she puts on a decent act, and he decides she’s fine, nothing came of it, etc. So he has no clue. Yet in his heart, he’s drawn to Alice, doesn’t quite know why, and keeps asking her to call him Uncle Steven, laugh at his jokes, go riding with him, be his daughter because she’s easier on his heart than Posy is, yet … nope. She will have none of it. (And let that be his punishment.)
[The punishment is not enough for the crime, but don’t worry. I have ideas. Also, I’m not sure about Parker’s awareness, but we’ll see. We shall see …]
But yes. This isn’t really true, but like … my head made it up during the first draft, I resisted, and yet it still burns and aches and itches at the back of my mind!
And that’s the story.
It burned and ached and itched its way out, y’all. It just did.
This is a story I wasn’t equipped to write at fourteen even though I had thought of it. (Yeah, I’m a dark kid. But I also didn’t know Nettie that well, so it was going to be a seduction situation.)
This was a story I would have been afraid to write at sixteen. You can see I was still terrified at seventeen!
What would people say? Would they think I was broken? Would they not understand that my desire was to inspire through the pain—not to cause trouble, to highlight sin? What would they think of me?
Like Claire, my reputation meant everything—and was nothing.
But, despite my words at seventeen, this new version of the book was re-launched in January 2020. I think I started the rewrites in early/mid-2019, including this drama. So eighteen-year-old me COULD do it … and did.
I think there was something of my granddad’s death in this story, like there was in Souls Astray and Love Once Lost (you’ll see).
When your world starts crashing down on you, you try to find ways to understand it. You write things that are darker because your heart feels dark and empty and caved-in. I didn’t know how to identify the feeling of impending doom when I wrote Souls Astray—and when I hypothesized that Nettie could never be honest with Alice about who she was.
All I knew is that I didn’t have anything left that made me feel like Kell.
I felt identity-less. My grandpa was the symbol of everything that existed in my life, good and not-so-good, and I didn’t see anything around me that wasn’t because of him. The property, the cattle, the family, my very life was owed to him.
My goodness was, at that time, tied to him, too—I was short-sighted, but I believed that when he died, so did his version of me. Never mind that others saw me that way, held me as close, and believed I was as special. To me, I had lost the best version of myself—the version I was in his eyes.
On top of that, I bore the heavy consequences of great sins and a great rift between myself and my God. No one knew but me, and as I took on that weight alone—until the day I was brave enough to confess it—I did not believe that I had a future or a salvation. I believed in God because any other option meant my entire existence was a pointless nothing—however, that is not a faith that can hold for any more than a brief period.
When you look at it that way, it’s no wonder I wrote of a broken little girl who spent the rest of her life being her worst self. It’s no wonder I made her mother tear that little girl to shreds. It’s no wonder I made others suffer because of her. It’s no wonder I drew from Gone with the Wind, from The Great Gatsby, from All Quiet on the Western Front.
Hope was foreign.
It’s no wonder I wrote that a woman would be tugged down by the sins against her and the sins she committed in response. It was no wonder that I didn’t believe she could ever confess the truth. I loved truth—I have always said I loved truth—but then, I knew truth would show me for who I really was.
As always, the truth is the last thing Satan wants to hear us speak. I couldn’t speak it.
But I didn’t stay there.
I can’t tell you what a relief book 5 is. For others, it’s proved a traumatic novel. For me, it is an endless relief. I know that’s a bit of a spoiler, for we like to guess what might happen and when things might be revealed, but I want to give you that thing I tell you I didn’t have …
Granted, you’re probably not nearly as invested in this story as I am. But y’all, let me tell you this: the more honest I am about my past sins, the more I talk about them, the more little they seem—and the greater God seems.
And the more I am able to like myself again. Granted, I always have had an insane amount of confidence, but I knew it was a pretty evil person. Uhhh … perspective shift needed, much?
Look. Self-hatred is literally the worst type of selfishness because it doesn’t immediately trigger our “that isn’t very humble” sensors. But it is true. Self-focus is still self-focus regardless of how you term it.
That ramble to say, it’s always interesting going back in time.
This July I’m ripping off the bandages. Let’s bring everything into the light. It seems risky, but it’s the safest place you can be: in front of God, seen and known … and at last accepted, in a way the darkness never can.
I just dumped so much on you so … thoughts? Also, what do you think of this ridiculously long article?