1 December 2012

A Miniature Christmas with Carole Blake

I am delighted to welcome as my Special Christmas Guest, literary agent (and author) Carole Blake. 
Carole has worked in publishing for forty-nine years. After fourteen years in publishing, she started her own literary agency which merged to become Blake Friedmann in 1983; Carole heads the book division, chosen as one of only twelve British agencies commended by the Society of Authors in their first survey of literary agents. Her book, From Pitch to Publication (Macmillan), is a bestseller now in its thirteenth UK printing. Carole’s clients include Elizabeth Chadwick, Barbara Erskine and Julian Stockwin - among many others.

However, I have not invited Carole to my Guest Blog to talk on literary matters, (although books do get mentioned!), but something far more exciting - especially to those of us who are fascinated by the miniature world... over to you Carole....

DOLLSHOUSES by Carole Blake

The Georgian House
When I was a child, I loved my dollshouse, but clearly not enough. It took me a while to realise that it had gone.
‘Woodworm’, my mother said. Even at eight I disbelieved her. 
Fifty years later my father confessed she had hated dusting it and had given it  to the church fete.

Such betrayal.

For decades I harboured the wish for one. My 1730s country cottage was far too small. Later, my large Victorian London house was huge, but no single room was quite large enough. Four years ago I sold it, bought a modern penthouse and though with many fewer rooms, each room was larger than the corresponding room in the previous house.
A dollshouse was now a possibility!

After a year of research, I  bought a huge kit (link to it here) for a six foot high, five floor, thirteen room (plus four wide halls) house. I wanted a long-term project to customise myself, and feel proud of at the end. Have I over-extended myself? Quite possibly.

The Basement
The first Christmas after it arrived I spent several days wallpapering, making skirting boards, building shelves (with mini carpenter tools!) and laying a real terracotta tile floor. That  floor... I have zero DIY skills, experience, or aspiration. But I started it.

The Hall - Note the Tiles!
Tiles (real terracotta, 1:12  scale, width, length, thickness) are easy to glue down. Grouting though: that’s another story. Mix the mini-pot of grouting, cover all  tiles, wipe off with a damp cloth leaving grouting just between tiles? It doesn’t work like that. With such minuscule spaces, ALL the grouting comes off with the damp cloth. I did it again. And again… the air was un-festively blue. But when I finally accomplished  it,  I was inordinately proud. And still am.  If you enter my sitting room and  fail to praise the terracotta tiles you’ll never be invited again!
(Helen *laugh* all aspiring authors take note of this important strategy!)

I realised that building it would be a long term project, but I planned to accumulate furnishings etc while doing so. It’s become – not quite an obsession – but certainly a passion, trading up as I accumulate more knowledge and experience.

The Kitchen (and more tiles!)
Then the buildings collection started to grow …

Jigsaw Puzzle
While late night internet shopping I found a beautiful house listed in the wrong category on e-bay, and so ignored. I made a low offer, went to bed, and next morning discovered I owned it. I recognised it as an individually-built piece. I’m very happy to own it. But – another house? All four glorious Georgian floors of it are now fully furnished and overflowing.

The Georgian house open
I went to Birmingham for two days of a dollshouse collectors fair. Saw a kit for a shop: I could buy and build that and store items there until my house is built. I bought it, built it, am now buying specific items for the shop… which rather defeats the original purpose.

The Shop
It's become a hobby difficult to ignore or deny. But I do have rules:

Sweetie Tin
Always stick to the 1:12 scale.

Anything that should have doors, drawers, shelves, handles, will have the correct  things in or on. My kitchen dresser has cutlery in the drawers, of course.

Bookcases (in rooms, as well as to line each side of the halls on all floors) will only have real books that open. I’m trading up all the time. At the beginning I bought books that now I see have bindings that are too clunky.
Having discovered someone in Tyne & Wear who makes exquisite miniature replicas of antiquarian books (some with 100 readable pages), I bid for all he offers on e-Bay. You would have to kill me to reveal my source for these.

The finished Georgian House I bought has taught me a lot about what to do with the house I am building. I had idiotically omitted to buy enough wallpaper for the house doors/room walls that would open out. I have to repaper the rooms that I had already completed.

Decanter Label (port)
I hadn’t – at the beginning – got my eye in to scale. The shelves I carpentered and added to the walls of the kitchen, pantry and laundry room  I now see are too high. I  must take them down and add them at a height that my ‘family’ could reach.

Some of the Cranberry Glass collection
The basement that is almost complete (kitchen, pantry, wide hall, laundry room, gardener’s room, downstairs loo) must be taken apart and redone.  Better.

Early on I decided not to have people. I’ve never seen dolls (even the very expensive, handmade dolls) that looked realistic. I didn’t like dolls when I was a child, and I don’t like them now.  So my family have ‘gone out’. 

Each room will be as though they have just left it: I’m aiming for a lived-in look. I was inspired here by the Dennis Severs house in London – visit it if you can.

Meccano Set
Fabrics are a problem. Curtains that are four inches long don’t hang right – they aren’t heavy enough.  Same with tablecloths: but I’m working on that. Spotting real life objects that will fit is a joy: a Chinese bead becomes a large floor-standing vase;  a button becomes the top for a garden table.
Meccano pieces
(Helen: I had two dressmakers pins stuck into a small ball of wool as knitting needles in my dollshouse.)

Egg cracked open
The internet fuels the fervour of my miniature shopping, but I should be more circumspect. Occasionally I purchase unwisely. I blame publishing parties and alcohol. But that which is bought on the internet, can be sold on the internet.

Anything – anything at all – that you can think of will be made in miniature by someone, somewhere. A tin with individual biscuits, knitting patterns, working clocks? They  all exist in 1/12th scale.  My favourite collections are the cranberry glass and the books. I probably own far too many of each already to fit in to my houses but I’ll keep buying them.

Decanters in a tantalus
Aiming for perfection, i.e. realism. I’m sure I won’t make it, but there will be a lot of fun on the way.

I’m preparing my Christmas tree right now …

The Utility Room
Tips: subscribe to the various dollshouse magazines to get building tips, news of forthcoming festivals, and to see advertisements for dollshouse shops and websites

I keep a county by county list of all shops I hear of, so when I’m on my travels I can  to visit them.

Needlework set

I keep a list in the computer of all the miniatures websites I discover. 
E-bay is another good source of items.

... and its size!
~ ~ ~ 

Carole's Dinner Guests

Mostly historical, because how else could I resolve the burning questions that are left after reading their biographies?

Richard III : a member of the Richard III Society for decades (and therefore very pro him), I’m fascinated by the eternal questions about him and his two nephews.

Eleanor of Aquitaine : such an intriguing woman. Seeing her interact with the others could only be interesting.

William Marshal : have been in love with him – and in awe of him - ever since I first read the ms of Elizabeth Chadwick’s THE GREATEST KNIGHT. Would have to watch the body language between him and Eleanor …

Alain Fournier (author of LE GRAND MEAULNES, one of my favourite novels ever). So many questions to ask him about how he came upon the story.

Caravaggio : How did he learn to paint light in that way? And did he really commit  murder?

Carlo Gesualdo Prince of Venosa and Count of Conza. How did a member of the nobility, a gifted composer, become a murderer?

Hildegard von Bingen : I wouldn’t agree with her views on religion, but oh to meet the composer of that ethereal music.

Giotto : Because I cried the first time I entered the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua and saw his frescoes.

David Munrow : the inspired and driven early music pioneer. Fascinated by his life and to find out why he killed himself.

George Clooney :  Just because.

~ ~ ~ 

 The books.....


 and other lovely items....


Cat bookends

Decanter label and hip flask



© copyright Carole Blake 2012

For anyone wanting a dollshouse kit for Christmas, here again is the  LINK to the one Carole purchased.

and the link to the Blake Friedmann website

Glass Cabinet

Thank you Carole - that was great fun - and fascinating
(I'm off to get my dollshouse out I think, its been in a cupboard for almost seven years!)

Merry Christmas to all....
...whether real size or miniature!

with best wishes from Helen


  1. Wonderful post! I am so intrigued by the houses --and I loved the books and toast! Not a hobby for the faint of heart or wallet, it would appear. Thanks for sharing this!

  2. Beautiful, brilliant post. Oh, those books...

  3. Absolutely wonderful. The books are beautiful.

  4. That's amazing. I love those Venetian masks, even creepier than the full size.

    I can't do big wallpapering, but the thought of 1/12th wallpapering makes me realise that I'm all thumbs. As for redecorating ....!

    Hope you won't re-do the tiles which look perfect - but, if you had to,could you get an icing bag nozzle of a suitable size for the grouting? Or is that cheating?

  5. I've seen the odd picture when you've just bought something, but not like this. I agree with Jenny - please don't change the tiles. Asolutely fascinating.

  6. Thank you for this fascinating post. I had no idea how exact these miniatures were and can only admire the skill of the people who create them, and Carole for putting these beautiful houses together.

  7. I started reading and thinking, 'Why?' But by the time I got to the end, I was hooked! These tiny objects are utterly charming and show such skill. Thanks for sharing.

  8. thank you for all the nice comments: Carole's particular interest is collecting everything that is in scaled detail, which, as someone above mentioned, can be a bit draining on finances, and probably not ideal for children to use. The pleasure of dollshouses, though, is infinite. It is a plaything, with or without dolls, it is a door through which you can escape into a different world - it is, as in Carole's view, a collector's item or it is a DIY hobby. My personal pleasure for my dollshouse was the adventure of finding things to use in it - a cottonreel makes a table, a bead makes a lamp - tiny magazines made by cutting an advert from a real mag and pasting it on cardboard, a toothpaste top for kitchen container jars or flowerpots - making a bed from a large matchbox. No, not as awesome as some of Carole's wonderful items, but as enjoyable!

  9. This story is fantastic! Thank you for posting. I loved the story and the pictures. Elizabeth I was known to carry a miniature prayer book which she wore around her waist. I think the miniatures are beautiful. My best wishes

  10. Wow, fascinating. I would love to shrink myself and have an explore of those houses! Thankyou Helen, and thankyou Carole for letting us into your miniature world!

  11. Thank you so much. I seem to have discovered this post at a serendipitous moment, as I am currently quizzing my parents on the whereabouts of my childhood Tudor dollshouse. The miniatures are amazing and so sweet, particularly the books! Carole, how DO you find the time? A gem to read, ladies.


  12. thank you everyone for your comments!


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