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Esme Young’s Behind the Seams was a gift from my daughter, as she knows I’ve enjoyed “The Great Sewing Bee”. So, of course, I read it.

 

It was a quick and pleasant read. Like many celebrity autobiographies, its focus is on who the author knows and who she has interacted with over the years. It is well-written, and her style and voice are engaging.

 

Esme (who grew up being called Emma) seems to live by the philosophy of working hard and partying hard. She describes how in her 70s, she went to Ronnie Scott’s and danced the night away until 4:00 am. The younger friends amongst her, she said, all gave up and went home at 1:30 am.

 

It appears that Esme comes from a wealthy family and Esme provides the expected facts about her parents. She was sent to boarding school at age 5. Aspects of this seem horrendous as shown by how frequently she tried to run away, but Esme, throughout the book, never seems to be overly critical or down on anything, including her school experience.

 

She focuses a lot on Swanky Modes, the designing business she had in Camden, initially with three other women and talks of the camaraderie between them. I kept asking myself if things could really be as idyllic as presented, and it almost came as a relief to hear at one point one of her partners threw a sewing machine onto the floor in frustration.

 

For designers, fashion enthusiasts, and students in the business, I can imagine this book being fascinating. She talks about how to cut a pattern effectively, gives tips on design and sewing, and also shares the names of famous customers they had and films they’ve provided costumes for. I particularly enjoyed the photographs.

 

As is often the case in this type of writing, Esme doesn’t reveal much personal information. We learn about her work ethic, her love of fun, but of the various boyfriends she mentions, we learn nothing about the details of the love affairs or breakups. It’s completely fair enough from the subject’s point of view, but for a nosy reader like me, the sanitized version of events can feel a bit of a letdown. However, it was lovely to see the respect and love she clearly feels towards her siblings.

 

Esme Young doesn’t have much financial security, and preparing a robust pension pot hasn’t been at the forefront of her mind. Esme frequently states that she has never been concerned about money and indeed lived in squats for many years. I’ve heard similar sentiments voiced by various other creatives, such as Jenny Éclair. Perhaps insurance companies should work harder to get on the books of artists!

 

The book’s structure is very linear, starting from early childhood and going until the present day. I found this a little dull and predictable and much preferred the episodic approach adopted by Sandi Toksvig in her autobiography, Between the Stops: The View of My Life from the Top of the Number 12 Bus.

 

I’m neither particularly positive nor negative about the book. Esme seems like a ‘nice person’ and included some interesting insights into the fashion world. I don’t blame her for taking advantage of her current role as a judge on “The Great Sewing Bee” to cash in with an autobiography of this nature.

Book Club Question's on Esme Young Behind The Seams

  1. What was the most surprising fact you learned about Esme Young in Behind the Seams?
  2. Is Esme Young someone you think you would get on well with? Discuss why or why not.
  3. Esme doesn’t have children of her own but frequently talks with love and affection about her nieces and friends’ children. Discuss how you feel about the role of being a favourite aunt.
  4. Esme Young demonstrates a strong work ethic but has little interest in money. Did you find these attributes contradictory in how they were presented in Behind the Seams?
  5. Esme demonstrates a close relationship with her siblings and travels and soemtimes works with them. Is there anything in the text that helps you understand why Esme and her siblings have such close relationships?
  6. Esme talks about how posting on social media platforms seems a little like showing off. She acknowledges the irony of this when she is writing an autobiography about her achievements. Do you think Esme is showing off in Behind the Scenes and do you agree with her observations about social media?
  7. Esme only touches very superficially on her love affairs as she writes through the book. Is this fair to the reader? Discuss.
  8. What did you enjoy the most and what did you enjoy the least about Behind the Seams?

Book Club Question's on Esme Young Behind The Scenes (for those who haven't read the book)

  1. If you were writing your own autobiography, what would you call it? Can you invent a play on words as Esme Young has with Behind the Seams?
  2. Esme Young adored being at college. What aspect of your own educational journey have you most enjoyed?
  3. Esme wanted to move to London, which she viewed as being the exciting place to be. Do you agree that London is a great place for young creative people to live?
  4. Esme often stayed up all night to meet deadlines and support colleagues and friends. How are you at all-nighters?
  5. Do you have a favourite autobiography that you’ve recently read? Discuss why you enjoyed it.
  6. At one point, Esme talks about how Doris Lessing was a friend’s neighbour. Do you think the 60s and 70s were more exciting times to be alive than now?
  7. Are you good at sewing? Discuss your best and worst attempts at making clothes.
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