Dubai: Former expat Hayley Doyle on second book 'Love, Almost'
She tells us how the city and its people inspired her in terms of her writing career.
There are many of us who feel we have a novel or a book in us, just waiting to be written. While that may be so, we often dismiss the idea saying we have no time or it isn’t “the right time” or we are waiting to be “inspired”.
Then there are those who take serious breaks from their jobs and daily routines to write, but end up with nothing concrete.
For all such people (myself included) former Dubai expat, theatre personality and author Hayley Doyle should be a shining example of why you should just get down to writing and not procrastinate, no matter what stage of life you are in or how ‘busy’ you are.
“It takes a long time to get into it but I promise when you get into the zone, it’s a wonderful place to be,” Hayley tells us over a Zoom call, adding, “It sounds silly but if you want to write your book you’ve got to write it, no one else is going to do it for you. A lot of us say we’ve got a novel in us. We talk about it and we think about it and we say, one day we’re going to write it.
“Well, you’re never going to have the time to write the book in the way that you want and I’ve got the proof, because I didn’t write my first novel Never Saw You Coming until I had a baby boy and I found the time to write even though I had a new baby. By the time I got my book deal, I had to write the second one. Then I had another baby (laughs). I know people who have taken sabbaticals to write a book and they don’t, because you procrastinate. I procrastinate! So push yourself and do it.”
We can’t help but feel inspired to take a leaf out of Hayley’s book as she opens up on her second novel, the newly published, Love, Almost — a heartwarming tale of love and loss. It’s a story that perhaps would resonate even more with readers today given the tough times that the world is facing due to the pandemic. Hayley admits that though Love, Almost deals with the sensitive topic of the death of a loved one, she hopes to send out a positive message through her story.
“I always want my writing to be hopeful and inspiring. I don’t want it to be depressing. But at the same time I want it to be real. And a lot of real life is depressing. But I’m definitely a ‘glass half full’ kind of person rather than a ‘glass half empty’ person. I like to see the funny side of life. I like to see the positive things. When I meet someone I want to believe that they’re a good person.
“So I think I channeled that into a very sad topic. As to the truth behind the book, thank goodness, what happened to the protagonist Chloe never happened to me. But it was very difficult to write it because I had to put myself in her shoes. I had to imagine what would happen if the love of my life was taken away from me.”
What’s in a picture?
She reveals that the seed of the story of Love, Almost was sown, quite interestingly, on a trip to Thailand many years ago.
“My partner and I were on our first holiday together in Bangkok and we took this really funny photo of a guy sitting in a shopping trolley outside a McDonalds outlet. He was just chilling, and loads of people were taking pictures of him; he was quite happy to pose. Our photograph was really crisp and sharp as it was taken on a camera (this was before we took pictures on our phones).
“We loved this amazing photo so we actually got it blown up into a canvas and had it up on our kitchen wall. And we always joked, I wonder what that guy is doing now, I wonder where he is in the world… and that is where the seed of Love, Almost came from. I was like, what if somebody went to find him? And I also wondered, how can I make this a dramatic story?
“I thought — imagine if there was a couple and one of them was grieving and she wanted to do this for her partner, sort of like a legacy kind of thing.”
“So that’s how Chloe tries to get through her grief, she does all the things that she and (her late partner) Jack said they would do. And if that means they were going to go to a certain restaurant, she goes to it alone. And if that means, joking, they used to say one day we are going to go to Thailand and find that guy in the shopping trolley, in her grief and in her craziness, she goes! I don’t want to give too much away but it’s kind of like a bucket list story and how she tries to live their relationship as if he is still alive… but he’s not.”
‘There is joy to be found in the next stage’
Nowadays there are millions of people trying to pick up the pieces of their lives in a world that’s been ravaged by the Covid pandemic. Does she hope that the message of Love, Almost resonates even more today?
“I really do and I think that’s a really good point. I do want to stress that this is a hopeful story. There’s a lot of reviews that can vouch for me here but the feeling that people got when they finished is of hope and happiness. There is joy to be found in the next stage of your life. I do hope that message resonates because I’ve got some friends who said, I’ve bought your book but I don’t know if I want to read it because it’s going to make me sad. And I am like, please trust me, get over the first bit and there are lots of hopeful characters, hopeful ideas…and it doesn’t end sadly, I’ll say that.”
Inspired by Dubai
During her time in Dubai Hayley taught theatre and also spent time tutoring aspiring writers to hone their craft. She admits meeting “the most amazing people” in Dubai and, finding the city’s atmosphere conducive to literary pursuits amidst a cosmopolitan crowd, loved how new ideas were lapped up and exchanged.
“I used to have a theatre school in Dubai called Hayley’s Comet. I did some writing workshops for kids — we used to do them on Saturday at the studio — very drama-based so they could express their stories and express themselves. The kids were amazing — I just loved working with the children in Dubai. Then I got asked to speak at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature where I did a children’s story writing workshop.
“Then as part of my company, I sort of set up a side company called Creative Writing Dubai and that was for adults. I ran courses for four weeks — we would meet on a Monday evening for two hours. And I would take them through things like how to get started — physically sit down and get started on writing a book, how to put your ideas through, how to create characters, how to write dialogue, how to dig deeper and push yourself harder. Creative Writing Dubai was one of the best parts of my job because I met the most amazing people.”
She admits to being nervous every time she started a course and wondering if anyone would turn up, and would be pleasantly surprised to see at least 11 out of 15 people turn up. “It’s quite an exposing thing saying that you want to write and I think a lot of people at the last minute thought, I’m not ready for this! But we would meet in a coffee shop or something and it was just so lovely. We’d have people from all over the world.”
Hayley felt that she had a lot to offer aspiring writers in Dubai, even before her first book was published. “I had self-published some work, I had written professionally — I was writing plays and things like that. And I did my Masters at Brunel University in London where I had won the annual award for writing given by Curtis Brown and that got me a literary agent.”
She says she loved how Dubai was just full of ‘yes’ people.
“It’s like, if you have an idea, I feel someone is always willing to listen to it. In a more ‘established’ place like London it’s harder to get heard — because Dubai is new and growing I just love that people are more open to ideas and willing to take risks. So it was just such a joy. I would leave those classes and feel inspired for myself as a writer as well. I learned just as much from everybody else as what they learned from me. It was a really lovely collaborative experience and I think Dubai is really unique for that.”
Hayley also credits her time in local radio (she worked with Dubai Eye) with broadening her perspectives. “I loved working with Dubai Eye. Again, it was meeting so many different people, finding out their stories and talking to them about their stories. You can find anything in Dubai. People think it’s just this two-dimensional place, but it’s not. You only have to scratch it from the surface a little bit. My first book Never Saw You Coming is full of inspiration from Dubai because it’s partly set in Dubai. The lead character has lived all over the world and keeps coming back to Dubai — I describe the creek, I describe the abras, I describe the mint lemonade! I wrote about real people who live in Dubai.”
Best places to write in
In parting we asked Hayley what her go-to haunts in Dubai were when she wanted to introspect, or even just have a quiet place to sit and write her stories.
“I used to actually write really late into the night because of the quiet. I would also go to coffee shops like Bert’s Cafe in The Greens, where I used to live. It was a really lovely place to chill out. Also, going down to Souq Al Bahar with my laptop, it’s so inspiring down there. But you know what my favourite part of Dubai is; the creek! With every visitor that I had, it was absolutely our number one destination. We’d take the abra for a dirham across the creek and eat amazing Lebanese food and go see the textile souqs. I always felt so fulfilled and so inspired and so full of ideas whenever I went down there because you are just witnessing such an organic way of life. I think about that place often. I always felt like I was in the right place.”
All about Love, Almost
“It’s a bit of a tearjerker actually. I really worked hard on making sure that all the characters in it were very colourful and fun and, you know, a bit whacky, just to make up for the fact that the story is quite sad. It’s about a woman who falls in love in her late thirties; sometimes it does take a long time to find ‘the one’ and there’s nothing wrong with that. And they’ve only been together for a couple of months when he is killed in a terrible accident. She’s left at the start of this life with him, that has been taken away from her. And (the book is about) how she navigates her life from this moment on… her friends don’t know him, they had never met him. She never met his family. He never met hers. So everyone’s kind of like, this is a real shame but you can get over this quite quickly, you didn’t know him very long, whereas to her, to Chloe, she’s like, guys, this is the love of my life. So Love, Almost is a different take on grief and how we can move on when the unexpected hits us. How do we make our life matter?”
Hayley’s latest book Love, Almost can be found on Audible, iTunes and Google Play. It’s also available in local bookstores like Kinokuniya, Magrudy’s or on Amazon.ae