In celebration of the release of Kathryn Hughes’ latest novel The Secret, Kathryn shares some of the research she carried out while writing.
WHAT WERE WE WATCHING IN 1976?
One of the joyous parts of writing a book is the research. I know some authors hate this part of the process, but for me a trip down memory lane is a lovely way to while away a few hours all in the name of work. The Secret is set in 1976, which was of course a long, hot summer. However, in order to enrich the experience for the reader, I think it is important to consider the other rather mundane aspects of life back then which help to give a real sense of the time period. What were we eating, drinking, listening to, what did we wear, what did we do for entertainment and of course what were we watching on television? As there were only three channels back then, the answer is not half as much as we watch today. Below are just a few of my favourites:-
One of my favourite programmes, it ran to 879 episodes screened from 1972-1984. It was on at lunchtime so I used to run home from school in my lunch hour, prepare my beans on toast and sit down to this hitherto unsurpassed legal drama. Although the cases were all fictional, the jury was made up of members of the public and they decided the outcome. This meant two endings were scripted and rehearsed to allow for the jury’s decision. I’ve got the distinctive theme tune going around in my head now!
Eurovision Song Contest
Back in 1976 the contest had only been running for 20 years and was compulsory viewing in our house. First to the stage that year was Brotherhood of Man, representing the UK, who went on to win the competition with Save Your Kisses For Me. It received the highest score of any winner in the history of the show with 164 points out of 204 and remains one of the most successful winning singles ever. It even had a little twist in the tale. We all believed the song was about a man having to go away but promising to return to his lover. But, no, the very last line of the song delivers the twist. It’s a father talking to his child, who is of course, only three. All together now…Kisses for Me, Save All Your Kisses for Me…
Within These Walls
Before Prisoner Cell Block H and Bad Girls was this little gem. Set in the fictional women’s prison of HMP Stone Park it centred around the wonderfully-named Googie Withers, in the role of Faye Boswell, the prison governor. As it aired at 9.00pm I was only allowed to watch it as a special treat. Unlike the actual prison population who never got chance to see it at all as they’d been locked in their cells thirty minutes earlier.
Who did not want to live on Walton’s Mountain, Virginia and be a part of this huge family? Everybody was nice to each other, the sun always shone and even though it was set during the Great Depression and WW2, there was little doom and gloom. There was a magnificent supporting cast of eccentric characters too including the Baldwin sisters who distilled moonshine, innocently calling it ‘Papa’s Recipe and Ike Godsey, proprietor of the general store and his wife Corabeth, who insisted on calling her husband ‘Mr Godsey.’ You can still watch it on one of the more obscure satellite channels and if I do happen to stumble upon it I’m always transported right back to my childhood. In fact, I think I’m going to ‘series-link’ it right now. Goodnight John-Boy.
Some truly lovely memories for me there then. This is why research is such fun even though it’s so tempting to go off on a tangent. Before I know it a whole afternoon has gone by and I haven’t written a single word.
If you liked this, why not read an exclusive, free extract of The Secret
Read a Q&A with Kathryn here