Laline Paull Interview, plus links to author biography, book summaries, excerpts and reviews

Laline Paull
Photo: Adrian Peacock/Ecco

Laline Paull

An interview with Laline Paull

Laline Paull talks about her first novel, The Bees

How did you become inspired to write about bees?

My beekeeper friend Angie Biltcliffe opened the magic door to the hive for me. She was dying of cancer, and she said she hoped there would be a flowering of creativity when she had gone. I took that very much to heart. Immediately after her funeral I started reading about the honeybees she loved so much and called "her girls." That was it for me; intrigue became fascination became obsession with the incredible ancient social order that is the hive, and the extraordinary process of making the unique substance that is honey. Bees are quite miraculous creatures.

One of the most remarkable aspects of The Bees is the complex gender politics. How close is this to the reality of the hive?

I'm neither beekeeper nor biologist, but I have tried to do my research as well as I can and I believe that I've got it more or less accurate: the Queen is the only fertile female in her society, the huge majority of the workforce are sterile females, and the small minority of drones exist solely to fly out to inseminate a queen or princess (unmated queen) from another hive. And, yes, when their summer of love has passed, the remaining drones are driven out of their home hive, to certain death. And imagine being the queen--the only one of your kind. The power, and the loneliness.

An even more charged issue in the novel is fertility--only the queen may breed, a law enforced with violence. The effect is of a dystopian society--but it's complicated because the hive is a very fragile ecosystem.

You're right; by human standards it's dystopian--but this is a social order that's existed almost unchanged for about 40,000 years, so in the evolutionary world of the honeybee, it works. A kind geneticist did explain this reproductive altruism to me in detail during my research--but I would have to delve through 20 files to find the precise definition. The reproductive set-up of the order of hymenopterae (bees, wasps, ants) deeply perturbed Charles Darwin, too.

Speaking of which, there's a lot of violence in this book. Has anyone described it yet as Game of Thrones with bees?

Game of Drones--I love it. I suppose there is a lot of violence, though I imagined that as truthful to honeybee life. They face predators, poison and all the dangers of their distant sorties. Everyone has seen a spider's web--fear is a matter of scale. And the "fertility police" are a real biological fact of hive life, though of course I've anthropomorphized them.

There are echoes of fable and mythology throughout the book. What are some of your literary influences?

There are so many: my mother told me bedtime stories from Greek myths, then my favourite book for ages was Thorne Smith'sNightlife of the Gods--a comic treat for anyone who can find a surviving copy--reprint time surely? Books are like food for me, and I'm a greedy omnivore, so it's hard to say what my predominant influences are. Oh, and in my late teens I really enjoyed Jacobean revenge tragedies. Perhaps that shows.

Is your extensive background in theater manifest in your work as a novelist?

Amongst many other dramatic lessons, theater teaches you the power of compression in dialogue, and the power of what is not said. And in rehearsal or work-shopping a play, interaction with a cast and director encourages, if not forces you, to hone your language to a fine edge.

That bees are dying worldwide is an important touchstone in the discourse on climate change. Throughout the book there is an ominous tone, portending the destruction of the hive. Were you thinking about the possibility of bees' extinction when you were writing?

Absolutely. It was impossible to go forward in my research without becoming much more environmentally aware. Learning about honeybees and their plight made me look around and realize how much the natural world is exploited. I always thought "I care," but now I have become more active in my attempt to make a difference and protect our environment. Having said that, I still sometimes get caught out without one of those now-ubiquitous linen bags, and use a plastic one. Then feel so guilty. And the more campaigns and petitions you sign on to, the more you get sent, until it becomes as demoralizing as watching the news 24-7. So I have become pro-active, but selective.

On your website you mention that having a shed changed your career--that's so interesting. Can you elaborate on that?

Ah, my wonderful shed. 8'x10', though I wanted bigger. But my husband worried if it were long enough to have the day-bed I wanted, I might love it so much I'd go and live in it. Some days towards the end of writing The Bees, I was working such long hours that I probably would have slept there if I could have done. Having a shed changed my career because I left the domestic arena of the house to go to work. The location of the shed, right down out of sight at the end of the garden, in a plot that is still intentionally unkempt, meant it was completely my space. The other reason my shed changed my career is because I don't take my phone there and there's no internet. No connection to the outer world = easier access to the inner one.

What's next for you?

My next novel draws very strongly on the natural world again, but it also tells a human story. I can't say any more at this time.

- Ilana Teitelbaum for Shelf Awareness, reproduced at BookBrowse with permission of the publisher.

Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

One-Month Free Membership

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Here I Am
    Here I Am
    by Jonathan Safran Foer
    With almost all the accoutrements of upper middle-class suburban life, Julia and Jacob Bloch fit the...
  • Book Jacket: Harmony
    by Carolyn Parkhurst
    In previous novels such as The Dogs of Babel and Lost and Found, Carolyn Parkhurst has shown herself...
  • Book Jacket: Commonwealth
    by Ann Patchett
    Opening Ann Patchett's novel Commonwealth about two semi-functional mid-late 20th Century ...

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Darling Days
    by iO Tillett Wright

    A devastatingly powerful memoir of one young woman's extraordinary coming of age.

    Read Member Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    The Tea Planter's Wife
    by Dinah Jefferies

    An utterly engrossing, compulsive page-turner set in 1920s Ceylon.

    Read Member Reviews

Book Discussions
Book Jacket
This Must Be the Place
by Maggie O'Farrell

An irresistible love story for fans of Beautiful Ruins and Where'd You Go, Bernadette?

About the book
Join the discussion!
Win this book!
Win Blood at the Root

Blood at the Root

"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review


Word Play

Solve this clue:

D C Y C Before T A H

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.


Free Weekly Newsletter

Keep up with what's happening in the world of books:
Reviews, previews, interviews and more!

Spam Free: Your email is never shared with anyone; opt out any time.