CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Sussex Life today CLICK HERE

Laline Paull on her first novel becoming a musical

PUBLISHED: 15:33 27 January 2016


Laline Paull from St Leonards published her first novel, The Bees, in 2014. It was shortlisted for the Bailey’s Prize for Women’s Fiction and is now being adapted as a musical. Andrea Hargreaves found out what all the buzz is about

When I got reacquainted with Laline Paull at Shop in St Leonards we arrived on the threshold at the same time, ten minutes early. Immediately she was into efficient nurturing mode: let’s get tea, are you recording this? Is it going to be too noisy? She had replied immediately to my request for a meeting, suggesting this ultra hip venue, and the afternoon because she devotes her mornings to writing. The pictures, taken by her professional photographer husband Adrian Peacock, were in my inbox already. This level of organisation should have come as no surprise from the acclaimed author of Bailey’s Prize for Women’s Fiction-shortlisted The Bees, a best-selling thriller – now set to be a musical – about a worker bee, detailing the complex life of the hive and a totalitarian society requiring absolute loyalty and adherence to order.

I first met Laline at The Beacon arts hub in Hastings when she spoke about her book, the result of three months of research talking to top biologists at the University of Sussex, among others. Though prepared to sacrifice everything for the Queen, the protagonist Flora 717 manages to escape internal massacres, religious purges and a huge marauding wasp, but when her devotion to a life of service is overwhelmed by forbidden maternal love, she must break the most sacred law and embark on a collision course with everything she holds most dear.

It’s often said that a first novel is autobiographical, but Laline soon put me straight on that one: “That’s in my bottom drawer. Unpublished.” She theorises that a successful novelist needs to be able to draw on life experience and reflection – so that first novel will not be wasted as its characterisations can be drawn on and developed for other more fictional stories – and so it was that a career spent in the film and TV industry did not see her first book published until middle age. “I was published at 50 and it was great.” She explained: “I’ve worked in the film business in many capacities: receptionist, gofer, trainee film-financier, sales agent, development and acquisition, reader, then finally screenwriter. I’ve lived and worked in Los Angeles, New York and London. When I had my daughter I stopped writing for television and started writing for the theatre, because time had become more precious, and story-telling by committee didn’t suit me. Working with actors is so rewarding.”

But now she has swapped theatres for her writing shed in the garden of her home just outside St Leonards, a place that also serves as a hide. “I spend a lot of time watching the local wildlife. I procrastinate with binoculars – following bees, amused by squirrel battles, and I’m struck by the power of paying attention: how readily the world reveals itself – I saw a dove arch its wings back and hiss at a rat, to drive it away.”

The Bees came about following a visit to the Winchelsea home of a friend with whom she shared the same sensibilities. “Angie Biltcliffe was dying of breast cancer. On her wedding day we walked around her hives; that was so poignant and beautiful. She put the theme of bees into her funeral service with quotes from books. I was feeling so emotional that I was able to jump the gap.” The result was a heroine who was one of the one in 10,000 workers who can spontaneously give birth. Flora doesn’t have much regard for the drones: “They are like layabout courtiers to the queen. If you have a hierarchy you have a story and great people to write about,” said Laline.

So was her own upbringing relevant to the story? “As a child, books and animals were my best friends. My parents were first-generation Indian immigrants. I went to a comprehensive school, then a grammar school for sixth form, where I won a scholarship to Oxford to read English. Because I’ve been immersed in the full spectrum of the British class system, I firmly believe in the power of nurture, at least as much as nature.” Her own daughter, India, is 16 and she also has stepsons Jackson, 13 and Rider, nine. “They are all wonderful,” she said, going on to say how much she respects mothers who choose to devote themselves to the care of their children. She herself, she added, owes her own cultural education to her self-taught mother. Before moving to St Leonards she lived in Hampstead, London –so what brought her to East Sussex? “Love and family.”

Laline is now spending each morning in her shed working on her next book, this time set in the human world – with some animals of course – but first this organised and home-loving woman had cakes to bake: three to be precise.

The Bees is published by HarperCollins at £14.99 


Visiting John Napier in his Polegate studio - John Napier’s set and costume designs have won him multiple awards, but as Alice Cooke found out when she went to meet him at his Polegate studio, he also has some fascinating stories to tell

Some of the best places for meditation in Sussex - Science proves that meditation can dramatically improve our wellbeing. Hazel Sillver suggests some of the best places to practise it around Sussex.


Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Sussex Life visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Sussex Life staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Sussex Life account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

More from People

Tue, 10:31

Some of Sussex’s best known personalities have revealed in the magazine what they most love about the county. Here, we compile their stories, favourite restaurants, pubs, shops, views and places to visit

Read more
Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Academy Award nominee, beloved comedienne, and organic cattle herder: Dame Julie Walters is certainly a woman of many talents both on and off the screen

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Subscribe or buy a mag today

subscription ad

Local Business Directory

Property Search