Tuesday, 28 January 2014 04:15

It's not every day that a writer becomes a cover girl. Certainly, this writer has never been one. So when Melanie Grondin, the editor of the MRB, informed me that my new book and I were going to be on the cover of the next issue of the magazine, I was pleased and excited. I imagined myself posed pensively at my desk, or holding up my book for the camera. Not very original, I realized, after I received an email from literary photographer Terence Byrnes. He and Mel had put their heads together and had in mind "something a little stagey with a period flavour."

Preparing for MRB CoverPortrait of a Scandal (Véhicule Press) is a work of creative nonfiction set in Montreal during the era of Confederation. Because the eponymous scandal took place in the family of the great Montreal photographer William Notman – famous for all kinds of visual trickery in his work – Mel and Terry were on a creative trajectory involving costume, make-believe, and a certain amount of hamming it up. That is to say, I was to don a costume and go along with hamming it up. Did I feel a bit silly at the idea? Yes. Did I want to be a cover girl? I have to say yes, again. Could I be a good sport and even try to enjoy the quirky? Why not!

Which is how I came to be in the basement of the Segal Centre for Performing Arts one recent afternoon, trying to find an appropriate get-up for a simulation of the year 1868. Though I've been attending plays at the Segal Centre for years, I hadn't the slightest inkling that a treasure trove of costumery exists below stairs. Racks and racks of clothing for virtually every historical period and every size.

While I filled my arms with likely garments, Terry Byrnes and Segal Head of Wardrobe Lorraine Miller Emmrys held knowledgeable discussions about the exact dating of hoop as opposed to balloon skirts, and the fashion arc of the bustle. Such a lot of attention to detail, and all for one picture!

I was quite relieved when an Alice-in-Wonderland hoop didn't work on me at all, and came away with a beautiful two-tone bodice over a simple skirt fitted with a double crinoline to achieve the desired balloon effect.

And all this before the actual shoot and my anticipated nanosecond of fame.