For my last ever Research Secrets interview for the national Writing Magazine, Writers Forum I was lucky enough to interview Lynne Hackle about how she researched her romantic comedy when she was unable to go out of the house.
Lynne first wrote this romantic comedy novel, back in 2002 and states it is actually more comedy than romance. It didn’t have a title back then and she put it away and rediscovered this gem in 2020 when Covid struck. She explains she had learnt a lot in twenty years and knew it could be improved.
Lynne told me she was about to do a major rewrite when my brother died from Covid. Losing a younger sibling is hard and Lynne revealed she had a sort of breakdown because she found she couldn’t, and didn’t want to, go out. This meant she couldn’t get out to do any research and she really needed to find out how Job Centres worked.
She explained this was a problem because her opening chapter started with my main character, Gail, being in a Job Centre and she hadn’t been inside one since she wrote the first draft. There was only one solution – to set her story back in time. She decided that beginning it in the first few days of the new millennium would save her the stress of trying to go out into the world and risking a panic attack.
Gail starts off in the Job Centre because her boss has made her and her best friend, Dilys, redundant. The two women, both fifty years old and with no qualifications, find it impossible to find work so start a cleaning agency. Gail, stuck between an eccentric mother and a wayward daughter, lists her problems, the final one being to get laid, and then starts to solve them all, with what she hoped would be help from her imaginary agony aunt.
Lynne told me she always had a secret dream to be an agony aunt and always turn to the problem pages in magazines first. She has even used some of the problems she’s read to help her write short stories, many which were published in the weekly woman’s national magazines.
Gail needed an agony aunt but, instead of writing to one, she conjured up her very own. This lady in pink was going to be a proper agony aunt, kind and helpful, similar to the ones in the book, but she turned into one of those characters novelists talk about – the ones who have their own ideas as to what they are going to do. Sometimes she offered advice, sometimes she turned up when she wasn’t wanted, and she also had days off, refusing to answer questions.
Really, she was about as much help to Gail as thermal knickers in a heatwave. Her part grew as the book progressed and grew even more when Cahill Davis Publishing and Lynne came up with the title, Gail Lockwood and her Imaginary Agony Aunt.
The shop from which Gail was made redundant actually existed in Worcester. Lynne revealed she once once worked there selling all sorts of interesting stuff like miners’ knee pads and gas mask holders. There were lots of baskets filled with miscellaneous goods and every morning they would take shoe rails and coat racks outside. she remembered her easy-going manager asking her to make a price label for some men’s grey Mac’s.
Using a felt tipped pen she drew a picture of the back view of a man with no trousers on, arms holding his Mac’ wide open and his bare bottom revealed in the split at the rear and added ‘Flashers Macs’ and the price. All the Macs were sold by the end of the day. She borrowed the men’s grey Mac’s and other stock for her fictional store BJ’s, called that because the owner, Bradley Jones, used his initials for the name, though Gladys and Dilys said it stood for Bloody Junk. Bradley was a cross between the manager of the original shop Lynne had worked at, and her boss from the building society she worked at later. In the novel BJ’s moved itself to an optician’s she had worked at in Malvern.
Lynne kept Malvern library in its original place but replaced Malvern Hills with a new housing estate and moved the whole town a little closer to Birmingham. She explained it was like looking at that entire area and stirring things around to get a new place. Lynne believes you need to be able to see where a story is set.
“I could have drawn a map but because of using a place I knew well, I kept Chenwick, in its entirety, in my head.”Lynne Hackles
To research her other settings such as, Spain and Australia, she started watching A Place In The Sun in particular couples looking for homes in Spain. One pair wanted an apartment near a golf course and immediately, she knew this was exactly what she needed for Gail’s ex-boss to retire to. As for Australia, Dilys uses some redundancy money to go to her daughter’s wedding there.
“I asked my friend Glynis Scrivens, who I call my cyber-sister, for help. She made sure the times and seasons were correct. I’d watched Neighbours in its early years and seen what a hotel could look like and the sort of houses that were in Ramsay Street. Television can come in very useful.”Lynne Hackles
Gail’s mother, Pearl, plays a good-sized part in the story. Her eccentricities included the way she dressed, jumping through different eras. No two days were alike. The 1960s weren’t a problem. Pictures of girls wearing mini-skirts, crocheted dresses, and white boots were all over Facebook. Going back to the 1950s meant trawling though shutterstock.com and pinterest.com. One outfit Pearl wore came directly from the film, Doctor Zhivago. Lynne said she enjoyed researching these different fashions from different eras by looking at photos and dress patterns on the internet.
Her tip for other writers and for anyone unable to go out, whatever the reason may be, then the internet is a wonderful resource. Not just Google, but friends online too. Ask a question and you’ll get lots of responses.
To find out more about Lynne Hackles and her books visit her website: www.lynnehackles.com