"Derek has wedged Mum’s small bottle of water for spraying houseplants onto his silver-studded belt where a pistol would dangle if he were in a Western. He lights a cigarette butt. It hangs from the corner of his mouth.
‘What kind of look do you fancy, then? Something a little bit… edgy?’ He slices at the air with his pair of slim silver scissors.
‘I’m thinking Tanita Tikaram?’ I know I’m safe with Tanita; she’s dead natural with long, black hair.
‘We’ve got to bear in mind what we’re working with here, Harper,’ Derek says, pulling out my ponytail so that my ginger curls fall onto my shoulders. ‘I’m thinking more Molly Ringwald?’
‘Or Belinda Carlisle?’
Seems Derek is harmless if he thinks Belinda Carlisle has edge, so I spread some newspaper on the floor and sit on a dining chair in front of the telly and let Derek spray and trim.” (from What a Way to Go, published on 7 January by Atlantic Books in the UK and from today available for pre-order here).
Like many of us, as a child I had my fair share of haircut disasters. There was the time I hid behind the sofa, aged three, and cut my own fringe with the silver kitchen scissors. Or there was the time as a teen that I asked the hairdresser for a pixie cut, but I didn’t take into account my full-bodied locks and I looked like I’d been electrocuted. And don’t get me started on henna home-dye. I never understood how something that turned your hair so red could make your hands so green.
The 80s were the heyday of hairspray, when we reached peak perm, went crazy for crimping and ga-ga for hair gel. If we had had a hairdo, we made damn sure it wasn’t going to move a millimetre. In What a Way to Go you can almost smell the Elnett; there's also a background atmosphere of ammonia. I particularly had a lot of fun creating the character of Derek, a sixteen year-old Vidal Sassoon wannabe who lands his first job in the local hairdressers, the Haircut 100. I gave my protagonist, twelve year-old Harper, shoulder-length ginger curls because I felt it would give me the most dramatic hair type for Derek to take his scissors to in the scene above. Perhaps you already can guess how it ends...
Harper’s hair was inspired by my six year-old son’s ginger, curly locks. On the rare occasion that I do wash and cut it, I have to slather on coconut conditioner and tease out the dreadlocks which seem to form daily. I wanted to give Harper similar hair to his because I have seen, through being his Mum, how much attention it attracts. People often seem to make assumptions about your personality based on what you wear or your hair, be it natural or salon-styled, in an up-do or down, well-coiffed, dreaded or threaded. In the novel I wanted to have fun experimenting with the characters’ hair, but also subtly expose some assumptions that are made because of peoples' appearances.
Who's your 1980s hairstyle icon? Personally, I always wanted curly, blonde hair like Kylie. And I desperately wanted the black hat she donned on her debut LP, the only hat I have ever seen where the hair is piled on top of it, rather than underneath: can anyone explain how that works?