Interview: Laline Paull, The Bees author
Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction finalist Laline Paull talks about stunning debut novel The Bees and shares her literary loves with Culture Whisper.
LP: I’d been a writer for twenty years in different forms – writing for both big and small screens, and then theatre – all because I was putting off what to me was the greatest challenge – seeing if I could write a decent novel.
How much of your own experience is reflected in your work?
I couldn’t have written The Bees without intimate understanding of the primal experience of mother love. Or the alienation of my youth. Or without my being the child of immigrant parents. Or knowing unrequited love. Or reading and loving the work of so many wonderful writers. I could go on and on.
Describe your daily routine while you’re writing. What are your tricks for overcoming distractions?
I go to my shed far down at the bottom of my garden, where I can be on my own, and away from all things domestic. No phone, no email, I’m not overlooked, and my shed is a wonderful space (and warm). I make coffee, inspect the plants, feed the birds, and stare out of the window… But I have already started work from the moment I leave the house. If I turn up on time in good shape, and clock on, something will happen.
What was the last book you read that really wowed you – and what was so special about it?
I’ve just finished A God In Every Stone by Kamila Shamsie, which is so ambitious, passionate, erudite and impressive. I learned and I felt.
What are you reading at the moment?
How To Be Both, by Ali Smith.
What’s your favourite place to work and why?
My shed, as above.
What have you booked to see this year (shows, exhibitions, concerts)?
I feel like such a Philistine, having to trawl through my diary to remember. I know that Tracy Chevalier is in conversation with Joanna Trollope at the RSL in December and I’ll be booking for that, and next week I’m going to check out an artist called Louis Masai whose work you might have seen around the streets of London – he puts bees on buildings – and I’m also going to catch the Swedish film Force Majeure before it comes off.
Booking for things tends to get a bit expensive if family circumstances mean my plans must be flexible (that’s happened a lot recently) so I’m being spontaneous. But I love popping into the Bollinger Gallery at the V&A whenever I can, to ogle Edith Sitwell’s enormous aquamarines, and the throb of all that geological beauty and human art.
What would you be if you weren’t a writer?
The Women’s Prize for Fiction was set up in response to a lack of recognised female writers. Is the industry still a Boys’ Club? Have you ever experienced any nastiness in that respect?
I’m very lucky, I’ve only experienced great support and encouragement. But I do strongly believe the more women are equally represented in politics, in economics, in trade and industry, the better an environment we will all find ourselves living in, so The Baileys Prize is a beacon for recognising and celebrating the powerful contribution women can make, in one form of the arts.
Is there a female writer you think deserves more attention, and why?
Sylvia Engdahl, the American science-fiction writer, now in her 80s and still working. I read Heritage of the Star (US title This Star Shall Abide) as a child, and it made a huge impression. Sci-fi is too often written off, and not seen for the elegant allegorical vehicle it certainly is in her case.
The Bees by Laline Paull is out now.
The Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction finalists will be reading at the Southbank Centre on 2 June.
Click here for more information and to book.