SMC: #womeninfiction – a tale of two Katys

I first read ‘What Katy Did’ when I was in primary school. The last time I read it was about two years ago, shortly before I got married. It’ been one of the books that I can go back to and back to again and again, along with the sequels, in particular ‘What Katy Did At School’ and ‘Clover’.

Katy Carr was my namesake. A bright girl, intelligent and fond of books, full of energy. An ungainly and uncoordinated miss, more concerned with fun that her appearance and liable to leave breakages, ripped frocks and destruction in her wake. A writer, a fairy tale enthusiast, a leader to her siblings and friends. She was filled with plans to do something great and worthy in her life.

It all comes to a shuddering halt once she is injured in an horrific accident, and it takes her four years to recover her health and the use of her legs. Katy learned a lot of lessons in those years – about patience and hope and the value of the love people around you bear for you. They were all lessons I needed to learn in my own youth. I’m still learning them now.

I read ‘What Katy Did At School’ in my teens, and then again in my University years, and then again as an adult. And each time I found another lesson in it, something new that influenced my life. I admired Katy’s sense of propriety and decorum, about having self respect and dignity. Not just in her establishment of the SSUC though, but in her dealing with an unjust accusation and the negative opinions of the people around her when she has done nothing to deserve them.

“I can’t bear it,” sighed Clover, with tears in her eyes. “It is so cruel that they should say such things about you.”

“I mean that they shall say something quite different before we go away,” replied Katie, stroking her hair.

Once you lose someone’s respect and good opinion, even if it is through unjust or inaccurate means, it is very difficult to get it back. It’s not like a prize in a war. You can’t go to war for it, or fight for it. The act of doing so often lends weight to the false assumption. All you can do is to live things down. To carry on being the best that you can be and to hope that people will realise their mistakes, that they were wrong about you and that they should view you differently.

One of Katy’s friends writes in her book ‘The better part of valour is discretion’. That was a phrase which it took me a long time to understand the meaning of. The better part of bravery and honour is sometimes the silence with which you greet it. The refusal to say ‘I told you so’ or ‘see, I was right!’. The grace with which you accept people’s apologies and move forward. The grace with which you carry on living even without those apologies.

None of us can control how we will be treated in this world. But we can control how we react to those treatments, whether just or unjust, and how we move forward.

By the end of the story, Katy has managed to live down her false accusations:

“We had ‘lived it down,’ just as I hope we should. That is much better than having it contradicted.”

Just before I married, I discovered the ‘Clover’ and ‘In The High Valley’ books and enjoyed making the acquaintance of Katy Carr, just before she became Katy Worthington. To re-encounter Katy, just before her wedding and just as I was getting married, felt a little like fate. In the end a large chunk of Katy’s discussion with her sister Clover about her hopes for her wedding formed part of my own wedding speech:

” ‘Please not be vexed Clover; but I always have hated the ordinary kind of wedding, with its fuss and worry and so much of everything, and just like all the other weddings, and the bride looking tired to death, and nobody enjoying it a bit. I’d like mine to be different, and more —more— real. I don’t want any show or processing about, but just to have things nice and pretty, and all the people I love and who love me to come to it, and nothing cut and dried , and nobody tired, and to make it a dear, loving occasion with leisure to realise how dear it is, and what it all means. Don’t you think it would really be nicer in that way? ‘

‘Well, yes, as you put it, and ‘viewed from a higher standard’ perhaps it would. Still, fuss and all that is very pretty to look at; and folks will be surprised if you don’t have it.

‘Never mind folks,’ remarked the irreverent Katy. ‘I don’t care a button for that argument. Yes; bridesmaids and going up the aisle in a long procession and all the rest are pretty to look at, or were before they got to be so hackneyed. …I would like my little wedding to be something especially my own. There was a poetical meaning in those old customs; but now that the custom has swallowed up so much of the meaning, it would please me better to retain the meaning and drop the custom.‘ “

Once again, I felt like Katy had gotten straight to the heart of the matter, understanding that what is felt and KNOWN is more important than what is seen. My wedding was beautiful but it was the people there who made it so, both by their help and by their presence and the knowledge that they loved both me and Mr Shandy, and had been willing to travel such long distances to be there for our one chosen day of celebration.

We made it ours, with our own choice of music, readings, our speeches and the help of so many people that we truly loved. We dropped a lot of the old customs because they had swallowed up so much of the meaning. We invented our own, which retained our meanings and expressed our love for each other so much more clearly.

I despair of reading ‘chick lit’ at times, especially the wedding-themed variety. Because so much of the story seems to have gotten caught up in the customs of a wedding and dropped all the meaning behind it. This was the first book I read in the run up to the wedding, alongside my other old favourite Little Women, where the real meaning of what a wedding and indeed a *marriage* should be formed the bigger part of the story rather than the trappings and trimmings. What message are we giving to young women through the fiction market? That your vintage dress and trimmings and keeping your bridesmaids happy are more important than the person you are choosing to bind yourself to legally and in love? What truly makes a wedding, and afterwards a marriage, are the people involved, first and foremost the people getting married. In the days of the Kardashian wedding debacles and tabloid fodder stories of on-again-off-again engagements and online articles about the size/value of people’s engagement rings, it’s easy to lose sight of that.

‘Clover’ offered a nice and timely reminder of what’s important in all this stuff, a back to earth bump of the pleasant variety.

So if I am to recommend someone for the #womeninfiction hastag, then of course it has to be Katy Carr. For her grace and patience during her childhood, her quiet strength of character in her adolescence and her sense of perspective in her early adult life. Not bad aims for any little Katy to keep in mind as she grows up. I know they did me some good, and will continue to do so. After all – I am still growing up.

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CSSB: Looking Bridal

It feels a bit like the run up to Wedding season at the moment. Wedding fayres are everywhere, my sister Ms Moo seems to spend every other weekend at them advertising her services and the radio is full of adverts for wedding services.

I got married last September after two years of planning. And it dismays me to see how much other people spend on their wedding day under the illusion that they need to do so.

I occasionally watch ‘Don’t Tell The Bride’. It’s a guilty pleasure. And I watched a lot of it during my wedding preparation, as much so that I would know what NOT to do, rather than what to do. For those who haven’t seen the programme, a bride and bridegroom to be are separated for three weeks and the groom is given £12,000 to plan the wedding. Everything from the venue to the celebration to the dresses, cake and entertainment. The only thing he can’t do is tell the Bride.

£12,000 is roughly two and a half times what our budget for the wedding was. Including our honeymoon. People ask how I did it. Particularly how I managed the way I looked. So I figured there might be a post in that idea for any brides-to-be who are planning their own big days. So here are my top tips on how to look your best without bankrupting yourself in the process for the sake of one special day and one big party.

1: Invest in a good photographer

What’s going to last, apart from your memories, after the day is over? (Apart from your marriage, natch!) Photos. Wherever you are making economies, do not make this one of them. You will need a good photographer. If you want to look your best forever in everyone’s memories of your wedding, including yours, then you will need them. I hired a professional photographer, but I was very lucky to already know the fabulous Miss Rain, who runs Luna Photography, as my sister’s business partner. Miss Rain was spectacular – pleasant, discrete, thorough, friendly, approachable, professional and – above all – willing to listen to what we actually wanted without pressuring us.

If you’d like to see her work, here’s an example:

All together now... Awwwww.!

All together now…


2: Don’t think you have to go to a wedding dress shop to find THE DRESS

I love my wedding dress. I loved wearing it, I loved the way it looked on the day and how it looks in all of Miss Rain’s delicious photographs.

It cost considerably less than £200 and was made to measure to my exact specifications, with alterations for the colour of the lining and the trim. My dress had no corset, I could dance, drink and dine without feeling like I was about to burst out of my clothing. And yet I still felt like a wonderfully elegant Bride.

When you are thinking about your wedding dress, make sure that you do your homework. Look at the photos online before you go anywhere near a sales-woman’s patter.  And do this ALONE. Make sure you get what you want, what suits you personally both in terms of style and personality.

It might be that your perfect wedding dress is not what you would think of as a stereotypical wedding dress. There was one design that was really popular when I started looking:

We've all seen this  sort of dress in the magazines, right?

We’ve all seen this sort of dress in the magazines, right?

Bare shoulders, low back, corseted, long train, figure hugging…

I could not look good in a dress like this if I tried. I am not thin, blonde, shaped like this or able to function without eating and breathing. So I decided to go look elsewhere. I didn’t go into a single wedding dress shop, because the dresses in the window all looked like this. And if that was the best they had to offer, I didn’t want it.

If you feel the same, I highly recommend looking for small businesses who will make your dress as YOU want it, not talk you into a dress you didn’t really want. I found my dress designer on Etsy, after spotting her shop on Ebay. My bridesmaid’s dresses were made by the delicious Boo Boo Kitty Couture. And they cost less the be made-to-measure for the girls than it would have cost to hire them from a high street boutique.

Team Bride - with added ice creams!

Team Bride – with added ice creams!

3: If you can stretch to a makeup artist – DO!

Yes, we can do our own makeup. We do it every day. But this is not every day, and it is the day when everyone will be looking at your face. This is the day when it is better to have the best of quality makeup rather than the stuff we put up with and have to nip to the loo several times to replenish during the day at work or the night out. You won’t have time to do it, you won’t think to do it, and the last thing you want is bleeding lipstick, smudged mascara or flaky skin as you get hot, dry and busy during the day.

I did have a makeup artist in the form of my sister. She was generous enough to do the makeup as my wedding present, but honestly – I would have found the money for her if she had anything else in mind. All of us looked amazing, all day. No shine, no smudges, no rogue colours clashing. No smears, no flakes. I looked just as fresh at the end of the day as I did when I started out in the morning.

I could have bought the products myself, but that would have cost a fortune in and of itself, and I only needed it for one day. Also I wouldn’t have had a clue how to put it on properly. And that is more than half the battle.

4: Once you’ve found one thing you like, ask the place where you got it for other suggestions. And ask everyone you know for recommendations. You don’t have to take them. But there might be some good gems in among them!

My dress designer recommended the person who made my tiara.

My sister recommended Miss Rain and Boo Boo Kitty Couture.

My mother-in-law found someone she knew to make The Cake. My own mum made the Other Cake.

One of my oldest friends drove me to the wedding and the reception.

My bridesmaid’s sister designed our invitations.

My husband’s colleague was in a band, who played the reception and allowed us to have complete control over the set list.

One of the things that made our day work was that all of our ‘suppliers’ – many of whom were friends – worked together as a team and were aware of what each other was doing. We paid the people who provided services for them (or they were provided as wedding gifts in lieu of us having a gift list). But we knew exactly what we were getting, and because of that it was tailored down to size rather than us having to up our budget to get the elements we wanted.

5: Look for small suppliers

My floral hoop, the corsages and the decorations were not made by a flower shop, or a professional florist. They were put together by an ethical gardener, from Pixee Garden Maintenance. Why? Well, because she knew exactly what sort of plants and trees would be in bloom and in flower at that time of the year and she had access to organic, affordable and fresh material.

When you pay a florist, you’re paying for someone to put natural products together in a fake way in order for them to look natural. If you want flowers, you can just have flowers. If you know what sort of look you want, you might want to think about putting it together yourself. The flowers are for one day, your bouquet will be the centre of attention for all of one hour, tops.

6: Consider comfort and practicality over style when it comes to your feet.

Here’s an idea. Your dress will, 99 times out of 100, be a long dress if you want a traditional wedding dress. So your feet will be covered. Hence – why are you forcing your feet into delicate little high heels which will hurt like holy fuck by the time you are wedded?

My shoes were from Shoezone. They cost £5, they were flat slip ons. They were comfortable, elegant, suitable for one day’s wear. Good for dancing, good for walking.

Far better than something like this, which was the first image that came up when I searched for wedding shoes:

Oooooh lordy!

Oooooh lordy!

Walking down the isle? I’d have been walking into A&E in those!

7: Go with what you know for what people won’t see

Continuing a similar theme – how much does the average bride spend on her underwear?

Too much. That’s how much. Yes there’s something sexy about wearing nice underwear under your wedding gown and knowing that your husband (HUSBAND!) is the only person who’s going to see it, but that’s no reason why your bank account needs to hurt. Some of the sets I looked at were as much as £70 (!) which was half the cost of my dress…

Having swallowed my pride, along with my notions, I took myself off to Matalan.

Less than £20 later, I had new tights, a matching bra and pants and a new silky slip. Everything a bride could need. They were new, fresh, pretty, with bows and little ribbon bits, trimmings of lacy material and – most importantly – I knew that the Matalan brand sizes would be exactly right for my shape and size. I didn’t spend the day tugging at my waistband, pinching my waist, fidgeting with bra straps or feeling like I was being manhandled out of shape by my own clothing.

8: Second hand is good enough for accessories.

I spent a long evening trawling through the Ebay listings for handbags. I got through 129 pages with 50 items on each page, before I found what I wanted. A wee bag in cream with a flower and leaf design. It cost £5.

The fact that someone else had used it before me did nothing to detract from its suitability for the job. It looked just as beautiful with my dress and the rest of my outfit.


When you’re a bride, the last thing you want is to spend the day itself feeling fake, artificial, uncomfortable and uncertain about anything to do with your clothing. Unfortunately this seems to be what’s required now and an entire industry has sprung up perpetuating this high cost version of the fashion industry myth that looking good is expensive.

I had a wonderful wedding day. My makeup looked great. My dress was what I wanted. My bridesmaids looked amazing. My decorations were gorgeous. The photographs were, and still are, amazing and something I will treasure forever.


I did not need to spend a fortune to achieve any of this. And neither do you. You just need to think a little bit outside the box.

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