The latest book I’m reading is “T0 the Castle” by Dorothea Malm. Published in 1957, I’m not sure where I got it from, but it cost me a dollar and has a dead insect squashed between the cover the the frontpiece.
It’s described as a gothic romance, and so far the only romance on the horizon is a ‘bastard daughter’ and her long-lost father. Not sure where that’s going, but that’s not what I wanted to talk about that.
There’s a wonderful section where the father and aunt are talking about all their crazy relatives, including Cousin Thibaut who collected his earwax because he thought it must be useful (“His little spoons! No, say something quickly, take it out of my mind!) and Great-Aunt Angele.
Great-Aunt Angele was “of a truly abnormal timidity and had “all sorts of queer ways.”
One of these ‘queer ways’ is that she washes her hair every day.
This really got me thinking about the importance of detail when you’re setting a scene and placing people in it. For me, washing your hair every day or every second day is standard behaviour. In 1957, in a castle where the water had to be carried up two flights of stairs, perhaps once a month was more like it. Elsewhere, today, others will wash once a week and without easy access to the chemicals I use to clean my hair all the time.
Seems shallow, but it means such a lot. The availablility of hot water, the habits of many lifetimes, access to shampoo and conditioner; all of these things need to be considered. It’s hard to avoid writing yourself onto the page, and these small details are the places you can be tricked into doing so!