Me, You and John Hughes – The Kids Who Didn’t Fit In
Liz Tipping shares her thoughts on John Hughes - his films, his legacy and the inspiration she got from him for her amazing books!
John Hughes has been a huge influence on my writing and particularly when creating Don’t You Forget About Me where Cara, the main character is obsessed with her life being like a John Hughes movie.
Hughes was the genius behind some of the best loved films of the 1980s including Home Alone, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Pretty in Pink but like some of the characters in his movies, John Hughes was a kid who didn’t fit in.
With every film he created, he drew on what he knew, what was familiar to him. Characters were based on people he knew. He used Chicago locations to create fictional Illinois towns. Even the layouts of the houses in his films were based on his own home. Home Alone was based on a memory from a childhood holiday where his mother asked, after he was complaining on the long car journey whether he would like to be left alone instead. Hughes created the town of Shermer, Illinois from several places in the Chicago suburbs. He really did write about what he knew.
Like Hughes, I’ve never needed to look too far away for inspiration and Don’t You Forget About Me, my second novel, uses my own experiences and the settings are a collection of real places in and around Birmingham which I used to create the fictional town of Broad Hampton, a Worcestershire town which is not close enough to the city to be a suburb and not far enough away to be rural. The video store where Cara works and the dilapidated cinema in Don’t You Forget About Me are inspired by buildings on my High St. A lot of the crazy things the customers say to Cara in the book are the very same things customers had said to me when I worked in a video library in the 1990s.
Hughes’ stories are incredibly sincere and touching and because Hughes based all his films on his own experiences, it gives them a powerful authenticity which audiences love. His classic teen movies such as The Breakfast Club and Some Kind of Wonderful are populated with underdog characters who you root for from the start and I hoped to do the same with Cara. The themes such as class, identity, not fitting in and being from the wrong side of the tracks are all drawn from his life growing up in Chicago.
John was raised in Illinois, where his father struggled with a variety of jobs and had difficulty trying to support his family in the affluent Chicago suburbs. Hughes felt he never quite belonged. He didn’t see himself as measuring up to his wealthier neighbours, like Andie in Pretty in Pink and Keith in Some Kind of Wonderful.
Lots of his films mirror his teenage experience. I wonder if, just as his own family struggled, whether a younger Hughes wanted to be the guy who could afford to give the girl the diamond earrings, like Keith in Some Kind of Wonderful.
Hughes attended a High School in Chicago which was dominated by an athletics programme and he considered himself an outcast. He would later use this experience when creating The Breakfast Club, a film which explores subcultures, social dynamics and class in a US High School. Diverse characters who never usually mix are forced together in detention one Saturday and they learn they are not so different after all.
Hughes was very aware of his family’s social standing as he was growing up but for me it wasn’t until I was an adult that I found myself being the kid who didn’t fit in. Unlike John Hughes teenage experience, I never really felt like a kid who didn’t fit in at school. I went to a catholic school in what was at the time the biggest council estate in Europe where pretty much every single one of us was working class, most of us catholic and of Irish descent. This upbringing is definitely what influences my humour – a combination of that self- deprecating Brummie wit, a working class fatalism that everything is a bit rubbish, but you may as well have a laugh about it and some Irish gallows humour thrown in.
It wasn’t until I was an adult and at University that I became really aware I was working class and that my experiences weren’t the same as others. My classmates were perplexed that I had never been on an aeroplane and that I didn’t really understand how restaurants worked. (I still don’t and the thought of going to one throws me into mild panic).
It’s this feeling of being in the wrong space that helped me create Cara’s story in Don’t You Forget About Me. Cara grew up on an estate on the edge of town and travelled into school in a wealthier suburb. She was teased at school about her charity shop clothes and withdrew into the world of movies, finding comfort in the world of John Hughes films. I like to think that someone will come across Cara’s story in Don’t You Forget About Me and see they can find their own magical moments and realise being the kid who doesn’t fit in is a pretty special thing to be. And aren’t we all, at some point, however briefly, the kids who don’t fit in?
Being an author has thrown me into a few situations where I’m one of those kids. There’s been fancy parties where I am pretty sure everyone would know exactly what to do in a restaurant, and there’s been more than one glitzy book launch where people have struggled to understand my accent.
I realise now nearly everyone feels like this at some point and as a writer, feeling a bit different is a particularly brilliant thing. It gives me a unique viewpoint on the world and a distinctive voice with which to tell my stories.
With Hughes, everything that happened to him went into giving him a special voice to tell his stories. Some believe it was his father’s financial difficulty while growing up that drove Hughes to be so successful and the fear of failure motivated him to go that extra mile. Colleagues have said at times he was difficult to work with because he was so focused and driven and determined to do things his own way. In fact, he never stopped working and he never stopped writing – he wrote Ferris Bueller’s Day Off in just one week.
Hollywood life didn’t suit him and he stayed there for only a few years. Preferring to live and work in Chicago and keep his distance from Los Angeles, as though the teenager who felt that he could never fit in growing up was now deliberately choosing not to. He had created a successful career doing things his own way, following his own path, he didn’t need to fit in.
For me, my desire to write doesn’t come from a fear of failure. I’m not driven in the way that John Hughes was, but my writing is very much influenced by my background and is chock full of the “everything’s a bit rubbish, might as well have a laugh” humour that I love.
Writing funny books is such a privilege, I can’t even begin to tell you how happy it makes me when someone tells me they had a bad day at work, but laughed out loud all the way home because they were reading my novel.
John Hughes was taken from us far too soon but he left us with stories that show us that we all deserve our own happy endings. Over thirty years after these films were released, teenagers still continue to discover and adore them. Hughes greatest legacy is probably that millions of kids like me, you and John Hughes who feel like they don’t fit in, watch his films and wonder why on earth they would want to.
Don’t You Forget About Me is available in ebook now