INSPIRATION FROM LIFE
Author Elizabeth Kyne reveals how she used an irritating hairdresser
to inspire her latest novel
When people ask me a question, I have to reply with an honest answer, I just can’t help it. This is usually a good thing, as in: “what have you done with the scissors?”; “I think I left them in the kitchen”, which people appreciate, even if I should have really put them back in the drawer in the hallway. There’s a problem, however, when it comes to the standard greeting: “hello, how are you?”. For some reason, I feel compelled to answer this question in an honest manner. Even though I know the questioner isn’t actually interested in the slightest, and merely wants to hear the words “I’m fine, how are you?”. No, I have to tell them that I’m really frustrated because I got stuck in traffic in the rain, then stepped in a puddle when I finally got to my destination, soaked my foot right through and have probably ruined the new pair of socks my gran gave me for my birthday.
It’s an irritating trait, I concede, but not one that is generally a problem. Until a couple of years ago. That was a totally miserable period in my life, loads of stuff had gone wrong and I’d spent far too long moping. To the point where I really didn’t want to talk about it anymore. Which is all fine and good until it comes to the dreadful question, “how are you?”. Because not only did I not want to tell them how I was, they didn’t want to hear it either – and yet, I felt compelled to be honest. You see the problem?
By this point you’re probably wondering what all this has to do with hairdressers and writing novels. Well, I’m getting to that.
The hairdresser, you see, is the mistress of the “how are you?”s. She’s also rather fond of the “where are you going on holiday?”s and the “how are the children?”s too. For someone who’s not fine, isn’t going on holiday and has no children, this is all a teensy weensy bit annoying.
And it’s not just hairdressers. It’s nail technicians and taxi drivers and opticians and – well, almost anyone in the service industry who holds you captive for a period of time. Either you play along with it or you dash out of the hairdressers with only half your hair cut or demand to be let out of the taxi half way through your journey. Neither is particularly productive.
So, I take you back to the scenario of a few years ago when life wasn’t going so well. I go out to have my hair cut or my nails done to cheer myself up a bit, and what do I get? “How are you?”. I try to dodge the question by being both honest, yet dismissive with a “not so good, really” in the hope they will leave it at that. But no! They keep returning with their questions to try to get to the nub of the matter. Followed by the stealth move of asking “what do you do for a living?”. Because as soon as you admit you’re a writer, they’re suddenly interested in you and want to hear all about it. The fact that I don’t really want to tell them is neither here nor there.
Which probably makes me sound like a grumpy old person. Well, back then, I was a bit grumpy because of the aforementioned ‘life not going so well’. So I started to analyze my response to this apparently innocent line of questioning and I started to realize that my honesty was part of the problem. Perhaps I should practice the traditional response of: “I’m fine, how are you?”, even though “fine” was a lie. But why leave it there? Why not litter the whole conversation with little white lies to throw the hairdresser off the scent? Why not, for example, answer the question: “what do you do for a living?” with “I’m an account”? Let’s see the hairdresser get interested in that! (with apologies to all accountants, who I am sure are wonderful people).
I never had the bottle to go through with this plan, but I did think about it an awful lot. And I wondered what it would be like if I were actually an account and, rather than dissuade the hairdresser from asking me questions, I wanted to encourage her to ask me about my interesting life. So I imagined a rather lonely account who, on a whim, made up stories of her life just to make things a bit interesting. She would, for example, when asked about her family, decide to say she was married even though she wasn’t. And, to sound even more impressive, her husband would be the most wonderful man in the world who cleans the house, cooks her amazing meals and is fantastic in bed.
Thus, the seed of a novel was born. I called the woman Rachel and I imagined what would happen if she not only told the hairdressers about her fictional husband, but told her friends and her work colleagues and almost anyone else she could think of. To the point where the story becomes so real that it turns into the truth and, one day, Rachel returns home to discover the man she has told everyone about exists and is living in her house. I wrote it up, with the flourish of a couple of sub-plots, and it became If Wishes Were Husbands.
You see, as writers, we’re in the business of making stuff up. It’s practically the dictionary definition of fiction (except, expressed in more precise and formal language). But it doesn’t mean that real life cannot be our inspiration. Indeed, it is fiction’s job to not only entertain, but to reflect real life to a greater or lesser degree. By taking a scenario and dramatizing it, we can examine life in an entertaining way with, perhaps, greater depth than stating the facts would on their own. And, of course, have a bit of fun.
Rachel re-invents herself when she moves back to her home town of Aylesbury; with a new job, a new house and a new haircut. But people’s eyes glaze over when she tells them about her life as a forty-something singleton who works in accounts. So why not spice things up a bit? Why not tell her new hairdresser and her new friends about her fantastic husband? Everyone wants to hear about Darren, the man who cooks her amazing meals, cleans the house and takes her to bed for orgasmic sex three times a night! What a shame he doesn't exist…
…Until she comes home one night and finds Darren sitting in her lounge. And everything she said becomes true: from his sensuous food to his skill in bed. So real, that she believes it.
Not as if living with a perfect is man is… well, perfect…
She can’t find anything because every time she puts something down, he tidies it away. Then there’s the shock of the credit card bill from buying all that gourmet food. Not to mention the sex! Three times a night is great at first, but sometimes all she wants at the end of the day is a sandwich and some sleep.
Then Rachel decides that Darren has to go - and that’s when her troubles really begin.
Elizabeth Kyne takes the absurdities of the modern woman's quest for love and turns them into an enjoyable romp. She finds the comic in everyday situations, from buying a dress to experimenting with hair dye at home. While, underneath, she comments on the pressure to find the perfect husband and how that quest is doomed for us all.
Elizabeth Kyne trained to be a radio journalist and spent her early working years reading news bulletins and writing for magazines. Later, after learning the meaning of “mortgage” and “gas bill”, she decided to do the sensible thing and drop the freelance lifestyle to get a proper job. The job, however, all went horribly wrong and she returned to her first love of writing, and worked on several novels before finding success with “If Wishes Were Husbands”.