Debut Author Snapshot: Laline Paull

May, 2014
Laline Paull The strict caste system that separates queen from drone from lowly worker bee, their sanguine approach to killing their own, and their rigid coexistence in the hive all make the honeybee lifestyle something straight out of a dystopian nightmare. Writer Laline Paull became entranced by the unusual lives of honeybees, thanks to a beekeeper friend. Her debut novel, The Bees, goes inside the hive mind with its tale of a bee society that lives by the credo "Accept, Obey, and Serve." Her characters are the bees themselves, including Flora, a deformed worker bee who is saved from certain death by one of the ruling priestesses. Flora is different—so different that she will soon upset the hive's delicate balance by challenging the queen. English writer Paull, who is also a screenwriter and playwright, shares some of the inspiration for her insect adventure.

"One of my friend Angie's beehives." (Credit: Claire Richardson)
Goodreads: What came first: the idea to write a dystopian story or the idea to write about life in a beehive?

Laline Paull: The idea to write a story set in a beehive came to me as a gift from a beekeeper friend, Angie, who finally lost her battle with cancer. In some attempt to console myself [after losing her], I started reading about the honeybees she loved so much—and soon became completely fascinated. Each new and amazing fact I learned drew me on to another, so that I felt like Alice in Wonderland falling down the rabbit hole. Only in my case it was into the beehive, a place teeming with everyday miracles, drama, and danger. My imagination fired up like never before, and I knew I had to write a novel set in this simultaneously real and fantastical world.

GR: What are some of the weird and wonderful facts you've learned about bees during your research? Any favorite bits of trivia?

LP: So many! Let's start with the most basic rule of the colony, which is that only the queen may breed. Imagine being the only person in your entire world with the power of giving birth. You live for years, giving birth to thousands every day, though all around you thousands also die. You fly out to mate when you're young, with whoever you choose—but once you return home, that's it. Unless you lead a swarm, you will never see the sky again.

"The mug I took to my shed every day when I'm writing, made by British potter Judith Rowe."
And then there are the drones, the minority of male bees, who never do a stroke of work but whose sole purpose is to fly out and mate with a queen from another hive. Success means certain death at the culmination of the act—and failure delays it, for if they return to the hive to try another day, at the end of the summer their sisters will kill or kick them out to save on winter food. But the spark that really set me off was learning about the one in 10,000 sterile female workers, who for no known reason will spontaneously form an egg in her body and begin to lay. And then finding out there are squads of sister bees who search the hive to destroy these eggs and kill her when they find her. Those two pieces of biological fact lit the blue touch paper for fiction.

GR: Tell us about the central character of Flora. How did you strike a balance between making her relatable to your human readers and honoring her bee nature?

LP: I took a huge leap of faith. Becoming a mother changed me and made me stronger—but evolution is never easy. I didn't write Flora from an intellectual perspective but in a very visceral way: Motherhood made me a more passionate person—or allowed me to express that innate side of myself much more. So perhaps that's why Flora works as a character: There's primal truth in her motivation. She accepts her life one way, but then a forbidden force takes possession of her. Called love.

GR: What's next for you as a writer?

LP: I'm very excited about my next book, and it's going to take everything I've got— and more—to write it. It's set in the natural world, which is this time also an arena for a far-reaching and dramatic human story. Where The Bees was intensely focused on one small location and small creature, this will be quite different—and hopefully be a gripping, accessible, and surprising read that will transport the reader in many ways.


Comments Showing 1-13 of 13 (13 new)

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message 1: by Colleen (new)

Colleen Lahey An incredible tale! I could not put the book down. I fell in love with Flora and cried at the end for her. You did a magnificent job with this novel. I am so looking forward to your next book.


message 2: by Niki (new)

Niki I need to read this book!


message 3: by John (new)

John Sounds very interesting. I enjoyed reading the dystopian books such as The Hunger Game and Divergent trilogies but I believe this book is different from them. I will definitely read this book one day.


message 4: by Dianne (new)

Dianne I just started reading this as part of the Afterword Book Club. I'm only a few chapters in but am hooked!


message 5: by Molly (last edited May 15, 2014 08:04AM) (new)

Molly Taylor henderson I cannot wait to read this book!


message 6: by mahima (new)

mahima I've just started reading the book today, and even from page one I know this won't disappoint...I'm so glad to know about these interesting bee facts!


message 7: by Carolyn (new)

Carolyn Allaire I'm curious and will place this on my books to read.


message 8: by Nora (new)

Nora Can't wait to read it!


message 9: by Victor (new)

Victor Nganguem j'aime ça


message 10: by Desiree (new)

Desiree Elliott Can't wait to read this book.


message 11: by Ella (new)

Ella Humphrey i love the story from the little i read i know that the book is treasure,i can't wait to finish


message 12: by Rose (new)

Rose I read this book in 3 days. I couldn't stop! I have not devoured a book in a long time and found it so satisfying. Thank you for a delightful story.


message 13: by Daryl (new)

Daryl I'm really stoked in reading this book and wish I could be more closer to September when I will buy it. So interesting.


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