Just two years after first stepping foot into her newly-built writing shed, Laline Paull published her debut novel. Now, one year on, ‘The Bees’ has put Paull in the enviable position of being shortlisted for the Bailey’s Women’s Prize For Fiction shortlist.
However, speaking shortly after the shortlist announcement, Paull reveals that ‘The Bees’ technically isn’t her first book - that came far, far earlier.
“I started my first novel at the age of seven!” she laughs. “I thought I couldn’t do it because I didn’t realise that writing is actually rewriting, and being prepared, not just to be bad, but to be mediocre.
“And because I didn’t get it with my very first draft, age seven, didn’t tell anyone the thought process and there was nobody to talk to.”
A “secret scribbler” by her own admission, Paull openly considers that the issue of confidence is perhaps one that has a tendency to plague female writers more often, making prizes, like the Bailey’s one, all the more important.
“It takes a lot of confidence to write, and maybe women have more of a problem with that, because what you’re doing, as an artist, is saying, ‘look, I believe this is worth looking at’, be that reading, watching, hearing,” she tells HuffPost UK Lifestyle. “And I think women are quite encouraged to be diffident, and self-effacing and self-deprecating.
“And so it’s a very assertive thing to be a creative rather than a producer of other people’s creativity.”
When inspiration - and assertiveness - took hold, Paull diligently set to work and ‘The Bees’, a tale of Flora 717, a sanitation worker bee born on the lowest level of a complex hierarchy, began to take shape.
“I think there’s no sitting around and waiting for inspiration,” she reasons. “Turning up is a large part of getting inspiration and for me, turning up on time, having no phone and no internet and having a quiet dedicated space is really important, and putting in the hours.”
“I had a friend who was a beekeeper, called Angie Biltcliffe and she died far too young of breast cancer. She shared her love of her bees with me before she died, just by how she talked about them and then she walked me round her hives on her wedding day, the year she died,” she explains.
“It was really magical and poignant and beautiful, and I started reading about honeybees after she died, and realised that there was this incredible world of drama and intrigue, and bizarre happenings behind the world of the hives.
“There’s a society that’s 40,000 years old, where only the queen may breathe and 1 in 10,000 sterile female workers will spontaneously become fertile, at which point they are hunted to death in the hive and their eggs are killed. What a situation. It’s amazing, it was there waiting for me.”
Now, there’s even talk that the book could be transformed into a film - Paull thanks the prize for shining a spotlight on her novel, saying: “I’ve tried to write a really strong story, and strong stories can adapt to many forms so I don’t want to jinx anything, but it’s a strong story that has attracted a lot of attention."
So what advice does she have for budding authors, male and female? First of all: Read, read, read.
“I think you absorb things by osmosis from other people’s styles and it takes hundreds of great books to make a writer,” she reasons. “You have to be a reader first. I’ll read anything from the side of cereal packets to National Geographic.
“I’ll read a very frothy fun novel if that’s what I’m in the mood for, or I’ll go back and reread Jane Austen if I’m in bed with a cold – that’s a brilliant cure by the way.”
Then, after describing the writing process as “like setting off in a sort of old Coracle to row across the Atlantic single-handedly”, Paull adds: “You reach that point where you’ve lost sight of land, and you don’t know if you will ever see it again, but now I’ve done it. It’s a long, lonely process, but it’s also really enlarging.
“It changes you and I would really recommend it to anyone who’s on the verge of going for it.”
The winner of the Baileys Women's Prize For Fiction will be announced on Wednesday 3 June. HuffPost UK Lifestyle is proud to be streaming the awards live on the site. Watch the live stream here from 6.45pm.