How many of us have sat in front of a computer screen late at night, typing about our experiences, hoping this text eventually reaches an audience who appreciates it? Hayley Lawrence has been there … working through the midnight hours and into the dawn – but her efforts have paid off! Hahley’s first novel, “Inside the Tiger”, will be released by Penguin Random House this month, and you can meet her – and purchase her book – at BookFace on September 8.
Hi Hayley. What’s your association with the Greater Port Macquarie area?
I’ve lived in Port since 2005, when my husband got his first job here as a pilot. All five of our daughters were born here, and are now in school and preschool here.
When/how did you first become interested in writing?
I don’t think there’s a specific moment when a writer becomes interested in writing. I’ve written ever since I was able, and I think my love for the written word came from my passion for stories as a young child.
Storytelling is the most ancient form of passing down collective wisdom. It reaches back through the Dreamtime, through biblical stories and mythology. Writers simply shape their stories with words, and if they’re any good at it, the words reach into readers’ hearts.
Your first novel, Inside the Tiger is about to be released through publisher Penguin Random House … Firstly, what was the inspiration behind the novel?
I’m thrilled that my debut novel is being launched in September, and Penguin Random House is an amazing publishing house to work with.
The inspiration for Inside the Tiger came from the five years I spent writing to a death row prisoner in Thailand. Our letters were all censored by the prison guards, and sometimes things I sent to him wouldn’t reach him, especially if they had monetary value.
My husband and I eventually went over to Thailand and met my prisoner pen pal inside BangKwang prison. The conditions inside were notoriously inhumane, and many non-fiction books have been written detailing its horrors.
So, I decided to write a young adult love story that would shed a bit of light on what it’s like to be facing the death penalty, or to love someone who is.
Run us through a brief synopsis of the story (without giving away any surprises or the ending!)
Bel’s mother was killed by a drug addict when she was only a few days old. Since a young age, she has attended a Sydney boarding school so that her father, the Justice Minister, could dedicate himself to victim’s rights.
Seventeen years after her mother’s death, she is tired of her dad’s rallies, and has sworn off politics. So when she’s forced to align herself with a cause for a school assignment, Bel opts for an easy way out. She writes to a Death Row prisoner, whom she thinks will never write back.
But, when nineteen-year-old Micah responds, Bel finds herself drawn into the horror of his daily life. And as the letters continue, she begins to develop feelings for him. But her friendship with Micah starts to threaten the people Bel loves at home. By caring about a convicted criminal facing the death penalty, will Bel pit herself against her father’s ideals? She’s already lost her mother. Will loving Micah cost her everyone else she loves too?
Inside the Tiger is an exploration of idealism, justice and personal loss, with two very different love stories at its heart.
This story has already received some industry acknowledgement (being shortlisted for The Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award). Tell us a bit more about this and how it made you feel to receive recognition of this kind?
I first heard about the Vogel Prize for writers under 35 when I was in my late twenties, but I was 34 by the time I submitted for it. The manuscript left my inbox at two minutes before the closing deadline, and I never expected to hear back, so I was shocked when I heard that Inside the Tiger was a finalist.
I was invited down to Sydney for the presentation evening at Allen & Unwin’s headquarters, where I got to meet the prize judges, the three other finalists and the winner. It was incredible to be mingling with literary judges and writers across all different genres, publishers and editors.
Writing is usually a very solitary venture. You sit in a room on your own, often in some vulnerable state, at night, or early in the morning, and pour your soul into a screen. So, to have recognition from industry professionals that your imagined world meant something to them is humbling and uplifting. It gave me belief in my work and also some visibility from publishers.
And only weeks later, I was offered a contract for publication by Penguin Random House. It also confirmed to me that as a writer, you have to be willing to put your work out there. You never know what may come of it!
Our local bookstore, BookFace, are hosting a special launch for you on September 8. What time will the launch commence, and will you be there to sign copies of your book?
Yes, BookFace have been incredibly supportive, as they are of all local writers – which is very encouraging.
The launch is happening on Saturday 8th September at 2pm. There will be afternoon tea, a Q & A session, and I’ll be doing a short reading from my novel. And yes – I will definitely be there for book signings.
What other activities do you have arranged to help promote Inside the Tiger?
Penguin Random House have arranged book launches for me in Melbourne and Sydney. I’ll also be meeting various booksellers, and joining the Penguin Teen Showcase team in January as they tour Sydney and Melbourne, to talk about writing and the growing young adult book market, which is now being read not only by teens, but by adults in vastly growing numbers.
I’ll also be doing talks on ABC radio, at schools, and other such opportunities as they present.
Where’s the best place for us to find more info about you and any future projects you may have planned?
You can find me on my website at www.hayleylawrence.com.au and I am also on Facebook at Hayley Lawrence Author, as well as on Twitter and Instagram at hayleyblawrence.
Interview: Jo Robinson.