Friday, 6 September 2013

A Hair’s Breadth by Lynda Waterhouse

As an author, do you care about your hair? Can you only get down to work once your barnet has been washed, blown dry, mushed with the mysteriously sounding ‘product’ or welded it into place with Elnette?
Or are you like me and only remember to comb it once a day.
I always hated going to the hairdressers. The noise of the salon disorientated me, the smells attacked my nose and I suffered under the hairdresser’s judgemental glare as they ask, “Who did your hair last time?” Edward Scissorhands!

I was traumatised by a nightmare bad perm experience in the 1970s. Instead of looking like Farrah Fawcett Majors I ended up looking like Hilda Ogden. The smell of perming lotion haunts me to this day.
One fateful Saturday afternoon in 1985 in a narrow alleyway in Chinatown I discovered hair heaven. A salon that was quiet, had no dryers and with its wooden floors was more like a Quaker meeting room. Inside I found Stuart. He has been cutting my hair ever since, creating styles that suit me but work for someone who only remembers to comb it once a day and who hates hairdryers.
At first it was asymmetrical 1980s cuts. The 90s saw me grow my hair long, back to short for the millennium, then a riff on the mid-length bob. And Stuart has been there throughout each decade gently shaping my hair and reflecting my character. And yet we only talk to each other’s reflections.
It is always a shock to arrive for my hair appointment and confront my own reflection in the large salon mirror. Then there is Stuart standing behind me. There is nowhere else where I engage in conversation with someone whilst staring at myself. It takes a few minutes to adjust. Then there is the unwritten rule of never making eye contact with the other clients especially if they are having layers of tin foil applied.
A hair cut is a frivolous thing and yet it can say so much about a character. Hair can be a potent symbol of power, sexuality, vanity and shame. It can demonstrate conformity or rebellion. It can age us or make us look ridiculous. The condition of your hair can reflect your inner health and well-being. It can tell your age. That is why hairdressers can be so powerful. There is no hiding from their fingers. They have the power to transform.
Last week, after a gruelling 10 days of non-stop 24 hour care of a sick parent, I stared at my reflection in the mirror. Stuart stared at my reflection and with very little discussion he began to cut most of my hair off. I smiled at the reflection of my restored old self in the mirror.
So when you are reviewing your writing consider your character’s hair. Do they need a new hair cut to bring out their true self?


Sue Purkiss said...

Stuart sounds like a complete treasure! But I must admit, I don't usually say much about my characters' hairstyles. Probably more so in short stories for adults.

Lynda Waterhouse said...

thanks Sue. sometimes it is fun to experiment with character's hair - change the colour, length etc. It can sometimes help develop plot and character.

Ann Turnbull said...

My own hair has always been inadequate - fine, thin and limp. Perhaps that's why I don't say much about my characters' hair either. But I do make a point of NEVER giving a main character a mass of unruly red-gold curls that she - sigh! - simply can't tame. This doesn't stop that red-haired girl turning up on my covers, though. Publishers know what sells!

Heather Dyer said...

Yes, hair is important to me too! I can't see the character until I have the hair right, and when the hair is right everything else slots into place.