Last week my niece, who’s nearly 10, showed up with coloured plastic beads threaded in her short dark hair. She’d strung the beads onto three strands of hair near her brow, and they clicked and jingled and looked really cute and funky.
She offered to thread some into my hair and I will confess it was not entirely my desire to be thought a cool aunt that caused me to acquiesce. I secretly yearned to have beads threaded in my hair too.
We retreated to the bathroom, where she instructed me to lean over the sink so she could wet the selected strands of hair. Since my hair is a little longer than hers, we plaited the strands first and threaded the beads on the ends — purple, pink, red and blue. We fastened them with elastic.
I so wish I’d taken a photo.
So for the next couple of days — until I was forced to wash it — I waltzed around with two tiny plaits and beads in my hair. It made me happy.
You see — and I daresay this will sound weird — but it made me feel more connected with the protagonists of my current WIP, who both wear braids and beads in their hair. Not of course coloured beads made of plastic (theirs are made of copper, clay, stone, leather, bone, wood), but the principle is there.
Not only did it give me a thrill to, er, coin their hairstyle (sort of), but it was handy for a spot of experiential research too.
It’s one thing to conceptualise such things in my head, but actually experimenting with them, no matter how peripherally, gives me far better insight. I can figure out things like: how hair behaves when you plait it, whether it needs to be wet, how long it takes, how many beads look good, how hard it is to thread the beads on, whether you can braid and bead your own hair . . . and so on.
These are the tiny cultural details I love having in fantasy. They help bring imaginary worlds to life, and it’s one of the things I try to focus on when I’m writing.
Anyway, my braids and beads experience is my inspiration of the week. Do you think we’re ever too old to wear plastic beads in our hair? Writers — have you ever employed tactics to feel closer to your characters?