[Note from Frolic: We are so excited to welcome author Kate Hazel Hall to the site today. She’s gushing about how her latet novel came to be. Take it away, Kate!]
The desk drawer is a strange hiding place. Even if the drawer is locked, it’s not always secure. And this place of concealment is all too familiar to writers. A ‘drawer novel’ is one that has been put away, deferred, out of sight. Maybe this manuscript was rejected by a publisher or agent, or maybe it just wasn’t working. Whatever the reason, a drawer novel tends to nudge the edges of our consciousness, even when we are supposed to be writing other things. Sometimes there’s a strange energy emanating from that bottom desk drawer, as though the unfinished or unpublished manuscript is rattling the castors and trying to escape.
My forthcoming YA debut, From Darkness, was once my drawer novel. The early version of this manuscript was littered with fragments of the YA fantasy and romance novels I had read when I was a teenager. In those books there was always a sensitive, magically gifted or otherwise special boy, who was different from all the other boys. His primary function was to serve as a love interest for the female hero. These stories were both an escape from the realities of daily life, and little prison-houses designed to corral and constrain errant desires. But I didn’t know that, as a young adult. Much later, when I wrote my manuscript, I still hadn’t questioned any of these assumptions. I was, I reasoned, writing a novel. It didn’t need to reflect my daily reality, or my desires. So I wrote a straight romance in which Ari, my female protagonist, falls in love with Miles: a sensitive, magically gifted and special boy.
When I finished the first draft of my novel, I entered it in an international competition with a big five publisher. It didn’t make it into the exclusive club of the final six or so titles selected for publication, but it came pretty close. I was both encouraged by how close it came and bitterly disappointed that it was still a pile of pages and not a book. I stuffed the manuscript in my desk drawer and wrote some short stories instead. But that manuscript never quite slipped my mind. I was busy with my teaching job, two small children, and a painful, destructive and ultimately untenable relationship with their father. Those years were the hardest I’ve ever known, but we made it through. The drawer novel, meanwhile, was biding its time.
One morning, years later, I stood staring out of the window of the tiny rental I shared with my young daughters, a family of magpies and some hungry possums. I knew by then that I was a lesbian; that I would never, could never, go back to being in a relationship with a man. I finally felt authentic, corny as that sounds. And I thought about From Darkness (those drawer novels never quite leave us alone) and I had one of those rare moments of clarity. My novel had been about a girl who falls in love with a boy, but it should have been about two girls who fall in love with each other. When I dragged the manuscript out of the drawer and started reading, I knew it was meant to be a queer love story all along.
And so, I rewrote From Darkness. I started with re-naming Ari’s lover, then changed all the pronouns, and then I got stuck. It took a while before I realised that switching genders wasn’t enough. My new female character, Alex, was different from the boy she had been, and Ari was changing too, in ways I hadn’t expected. There’s a scene, about halfway through the novel, where Ari and Alex read a story they wrote together when they were children. Originally this embedded narrative was about a prince rescuing a princess. From Darkness weaves in various fairy-tale and mythic quest narratives, and these stories are weighed down by centuries of heteronormative and patriarchal conventions. This, I realised, needed to change. All I had to do was give myself permission to make those changes, to surrender to the seismic shift of things transforming from one state of being to another.
Now there are two princesses in that childhood story, and they work together to save the entire village. This mirror-tale evokes, I hope, the heroism of Ari and Alex themselves, who are not princesses, but are definitely engaged in a quest to save each other and their world from the powers of darkness. There was something both wonderful and uncanny about the relationship between my own real-life metamorphoses and what was happening to the characters in my drawer novel. As I changed and grew into my new identity, my characters transformed too. Love scenes had to be completely rewritten. Descriptions of kisses, of bodies touching, of ways of seeing and feeling and experiencing the world; all of these things were different. With each adjustment to dialogue or description I knew my manuscript was becoming stronger.
Writing short fiction and creative non-fiction has taught me that editors respond to work that rings true. Sometimes this is difficult and painful work. Writing truth, being open and honest, is frightening. I have often felt, trying to write this way, like a tiny sea anemone extending just a few tentative, fragile feelers and then retracting them, closing up and tucking myself away.
But rewriting From Darkness as a sapphic romance didn’t feel scary. It felt like freedom. Feeling reckless with this newfound freedom, I finished the new version and sent it to Duet Books – the YA imprint of Interlude Press. And now, in what still seems like the most astounding miracle yet, Ari and Alex are getting ready to meet the world. Some drawer novels are meant to stay tucked away. But if you have one that is whispering to you, if there are strange and muted mumblings from the bottom drawer, maybe it’s trying to tell you something. I’m glad I finally listened to mine.
About the Author:
Kate Hazel Hall has published short stories and creative non-fiction for adults, but YA fiction is where her heart is—especially fantasy, magical realism, and speculative YA with a healthy amount of Sapphic romance built in.
When she isn’t writing, Kate often sneaks off to the forest or the beach with a sketchbook and a surfboard. Despite wearing out several wetsuits, Kate has yet to gain her advanced surfer qualifications, but she does have a PhD in Literary Studies from Deakin University, where she teaches graduate research skills, genre studies, and ecological fiction. Kate lives with her daughters and the world’s naughtiest rescue cat in a small Australian coastal town, just across the Southern Ocean from Antarctica.
From Darkness (Duet Books, November 3rd) is her first novel.
From Darkness by Kate Hazel Hall, out Nov. 3rd!
Sixteen-year-old Ari Wyndham lost her best friend in the sea. Everybody told her it was an accident, but Ari can’t forgive herself. Her own life is cut short when a tiger-snake delivers a deathly bite, and a beautiful, ghostly and strangely familiar young woman appears, summoning Ari’s soul to the underworld. Ari, however, refuses to go. Though she knows there will be a terrible price to pay for her transgression, the mysterious guide chooses to save Ari. Their rebellion upsets the balance of life and death in Ari’s remote coastal village. A rift opens from the underworld, unleashing dark magic: savage dog packs emerge at night, fishermen catch ghostly bodies in their nets, and children go missing. Together, Ari and her guide battle the dark powers of the underworld and heal the rift. Though their bond seems unbreakable, it may not be enough. It is up to Ari to find the courage to do the one thing that will save the world from darkness.