A.J. Betts and Rogue

Rogue (Pan Macmillan Australia) continues Hayley’s dystopian story – in a surprising, and very different setting – which began in Hive.

Thank you for speaking to PaperbarkWords, A.J.

Why have you written a duology? It is unusual to have two books rather than one stand-alone, a trilogy or a longer series.

There’s no real reason, except that ‘it felt right’. Initially I’d planned out the story as a trilogy – but then I worried the third book might be disappointing. Then I rewrote it as a standalone book, taking out of a lot of the worldbuilding – but it felt too quick. After this, the story kind of settled into two, and I’m really pleased with this.

Could you briefly re-introduce us to Hayley?

Hayley is a fifteen-year-old beekeeper who’s lived her life in an enclosed community along with three hundred other people. She’s mostly happy (except for her headaches and worry of getting the ‘madness’) and has a best friend called Celia. She’s smart and good at problem-solving, but most of all she’s curious. When she finds an unexplained drip at the start of Hive, she wonders where it came from…and her desire to find out leads to some awful and surprising consequences. 

How much time passes between the ending of Hive and beginning of Rogue?

Hardly any! I think it’s around twelve hours.

In Rogue I was fascinated that Hayley landed at Maria Island in Tasmania. I hiked there earlier this year and also climbed and squeezed myself to the top of Bishop and Clerk lookout. How have you represented Tasmania and why have you kept some existing place names, and not others, in this setting?

Well done! That’s a hard climb, and quite scary at the top!

Once I decided to use Tasmania as the main setting in Rogue, I spent a month cycling around the island to find the right locations. I instantly fell in love with Maria Island – it is my version of heaven.

As Rogue is set one hundred years from now, Tasmania isn’t as we know it, environmentally and politically. There are some decisions made in the third decade of the twenty-first century that lead to Tasmania being repurposed as a refugee resettlement island, and therefore the name is changed to Terrafirma. Some of the locations, such as Devonport and Triabunna, maintain their current names as they are mostly unaffected.

It is lovely to share Hayley’s introduction to things that we know in the natural world but are new to her on Maria Island. Which did you particularly enjoy writing about?

Thank you! I loved writing about Hayley’s discoveries through her innocent eyes. I especially loved writing about animals – birds, echidnas and wombats – and the natural world, including sky and rain.

How have you incorporated the refugee experience in your plot?

It’s forecast that refugee numbers will rise as the climate changes and areas become uninhabitable due to storms, droughts, rising seas, etc. As someone who washes in from the ocean, Hayley is suspected of being a refugee. I wanted to explore the notion of home throughout Rogue – where do we belong? Where is it safe? Where are we allowed to go? – and so I drew parallels with refugees. I also wanted readers to empathise with refugees and understand that each has their own story and motivation.

Hayley thinks, “We all needed something to believe in.” What is the role of religion in Rogue?

Questions around religion are woven through both books. At the start of Hive, God is omniscient and unwavering, but Hayley’s belief is shaken as she begins to uncover truths. In Rogue, Hayley wonders if there’s a god at all, and the idea of living in a world without any purpose or overseer unnerves her. I wanted to explore how spirituality is important, and personal, and how it can exist beyond traditional notions of religion. 

What is the significance of the title, Rogue?

The title relates to Hayley moving beyond her previous situation and expectations. She breaks the rules and  goes where she shouldn’t – just like some of her bees in Hive.

“Home” in an integral part of your story. What does “home” feel like for you?

I believe home is not where you grew up, but where your soul – and mind and body – feel peaceful and safe. It’s also a place where you can evolve. I spent a lot of time travelling in my twenties and thirties, and I think I was looking for such a place to belong.

How have you incorporated humorous elements into Rogue even though it’s a story with some weighty themes?

I’m not sure! I guess I can’t help myself 😉 It’s important to have a sense of perspective and humour, regardless of the situation. There are some funny lines in Rogue which come from the juxtaposition of Hayley’s knowledge/experience with the other characters’.

What have you been reading and enjoying recently?

Unfortunately I haven’t had been reading a whole lot recently as I’ve been on the road touring for a few months. I’m halfway through The Understory, which is wonderful.

Thank you for answering these questions, A.J., and all the very best with your thought-provoking, original duology.

Thank you Joy!

A.J. Betts’ website is  http://www.ajbetts.com/

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