“Everything is quiet in the forest. For the first time in years, I don’t dream of falling when I close my eyes. No, I dream of flying.” (Ruby Tuesday)
Ruby Tuesday is a thoughtfully composed tale about Ruby who lives in a forest near a small Australian town with her disabled mother. They are both musical and wary of men. Highlights include lovely interactions between friends and family, delicate motifs of flight and birds, and the power of music.
Ruby Tuesday is written by Hayley Lawrence and published by Penguin Books.
Thank you for speaking to PaperbarkWords, Hayley.
Thank you so much for the honour of the interview Joy!
Where are you based and how are you involved in the Australian literary community?
I’ve lived in Port Macquarie on the Mid-North Coast of NSW for almost fifteen years. Port is a thriving regional centre but also a coastal town of rugged beaches strewn with volcanic rock. It’s a gorgeous place to call home.
My literary involvement includes being a member and patron of the Mid-North Coast Writers’ Centre as well as various other memberships, including the beautiful Varuna the Writers’ House. Online, I engage regularly with the Loveozya community as well as my fellow Australian writers, attending book launches and occasionally being privileged enough to interview authors who pass through Port Macquarie like Christian White!
What is the significance of your title Ruby Tuesday and the importance of music in the lives of your characters?
The title Ruby Tuesday didn’t come to me until I was typing the final line of my manuscript. The novel had previously been called Corridor of the Wild Dogs, but as I was typing my last lines and feeling that shaky mix of joy and panging that comes with putting down those final words, I realised the novel was Ruby’s story. The story of a talented girl overcoming personal hurdles to find her voice and her place in the world. The title had to be about Ruby and her music. What better than the song she was named after? I wrote to my editor telling her ‘I’ve changed the title. You may not like it. But the novel is now called Ruby Tuesday.’ She responded straight away, having read the early draft of the manuscript. ‘I LOVE it.’
I was surprised and shocked by what happened to Ruby early in the book. Why did you decide to write such a confronting experience – and place it near the start of the story?
I actually didn’t decide to write that confronting scene at all. As Ruby took on a life of her own, she started directing the story down an entirely different path to the path I intended the novel to take. I never planned to write about sexual assault. But something deep inside me was pushing to the fore and I fought at the controls for months between the story I initially set out to write, and the story that was materialising. After getting some good advice, I decided to let the story go where it needed to. And that’s where Ruby took me. It’s a personal story and sadly not an uncommon experience for young girls. I have heard the same story from others countless times, so I let Ruby go and tell it. That part of the story became one of the big wounds Ruby carries throughout the novel, but placing it where I did allowed me to devote the rest of the novel to her healing process.
How important are gender roles in your novel?
I wanted to write a coming-of-age story of a girl whose female-driven narrative is suddenly rocked by her experiences with the men who come into her life. Ruby gets a dose of toxic masculinity throughout the novel, but I didn’t want the story to be an anti-male narrative, and I wanted to also explore what toxic femininity looks like. Above all though, I hoped to use these toxic examples as a contrast for what beautiful, respectful and equal relationships look like, no matter the gender or type of relationship.
Your protagonist Ruby could become a role model for readers. What does she fear and what does she embrace?
Ruby fears failure, much the same as me, or any other creative person. She fears rejection and not being good enough to be heard. Her awful experience at a party, and the reactions of the kids at school afterwards, sadly only exacerbate her feelings of worthlessness. However what she learns through the course of her struggle is to refuse to allow the opinions of others to define her. Ruby learns to believe in herself and stand up for herself. And a good part of that comes from embracing her strength, her talent for music, and allowing the joy of creativity to become an ally in her journey.
When can family and friends be of particular support to young people?
Besides always, can I say always? Friends and family that have your back fiercely, like Ruby’s Mum Celeste, are indispensable. It’s the truest test of love. Especially when life knocks you down. When you’re struggling to trust in yourself or others, or the process of life. When your courage is dim. This is when you need your champions around to remind you who you are.
For whom have you written this book?
While writing Ruby Tuesday, I was plagued with doubts about my own self-worth, trust and courage, so the story was almost a letter to myself. How to get back up. How to find the courage you know is inside of you because it always used to be there. How to be human and know that you’re enough. For any young or older women going through this, there is hopefully inspiration and courage to be found in Ruby’s pages.
However, the book isn’t just for girls, despite the hot pink cover! There is so much for young men and older men to take from this book. How it feels for a girl or a woman to be on the receiving end of their affection. What enthusiastic consent looks like and what equal relationships are about.
How does your setting shape and enhance the narrative?
The setting in Ruby Tuesday is near Comboyne in NSW. It’s as rugged as it is wild, which reflects some of the characters and their experiences. The dry forest overrun with wild dogs was a lot of fun to play with, as were the flying scenes and adventures.
How have you integrated disability into the story?
I didn’t want the disability element of the novel to be dominant, or be the defining characteristic of Celeste. Celeste is brilliant and dedicated to her music, she is exacting and precise and a true master of the piano. Her disability has frustrated her ambitions however, so I was able to transfer her frustrations and fear of failure onto Ruby, adding to Ruby’s own anxieties.
I found the discussion about the value of music versus song interesting. Could you outline the two arguments?
I was once told there are two types of music appreciation: appreciation for beat and lyric. When I first heard that, I found it fascinating, as I am definitely in the lyrics camp like Ruby. The storytelling in a song is the most powerful part of music for me.
However, music can tell its own story without the need for lyrics. Music is ancient and has existed independently long before lyrics were ever set to a piece. Some people like a song for the rhythm and beat and care naught for the lyrics!
What is the value of the visual arts as shown in your story?
Throughout the novel, I reference two artists in particular who found ways to express their inner world through the creative process. One is Artemisia Gentileschi who herself was the victim of sexual assault centuries earlier when cases going to court were an extreme rarity. Her paintings are bold works which in some ways reflect her personal trauma. And Frida Kahlo is an example of a woman who had life kick her for six, yet she gathered her strength to become one of the leading female artists of her time. Both women are powerful examples of strength and creative expression, so I wanted these artists of the past to become sources of inspiration for Ruby as she finds her voice.
Why have you alluded to wild dogs throughout the story?
The wild dogs make Ruby feel scared, insecure and threatened, much like the guys at school. They are an unpredictable pack and she doesn’t trust them with her personal safety. Nor should she.
How have you used motifs and symbols related to flight?
Flying is a symbol of freedom, lightness, joy, abandon. It’s the realm of clouds and birds and far away things. Ruby is so desperate to escape her life when the novel opens, that she is very much birdlike. Throughout, she references birds and cages. Let her out, Rube! Her mum would say to her when she was young. Free the bird from her cage! Lately, Ruby feels like the caged bird more and more. But there are forest birds referenced too, the kind Ruby and her friends used to save as kids when they were injured, nurse them back to health and set free. When Ruby becomes the injured bird, part of her journey of healing is flying in a light plane. The courage of it, the freedom, the letting go, the trust that it requires to get into a small plane with a boy and soar like a bird. Ultimately, the flying symbolism is about her emancipation.
Please tell us about your other published novel.
Inside the Tiger is the story of a teenage girl from an elite Sydney boarding school who writes to an Australian prisoner on death row in Thailand as an easy way out of a school assignment. Except that when he writes back, she is drawn into his world, and the two become inextricably linked, threatening every relationship she holds dearest, including their own.
I was honoured to have Inside the Tiger shortlisted for The Australian’s Vogel Literary Award in 2017, and to have it selected as one of the CBCA’s Notable Books of 2019, as well as longlisting for the Best Young Adult Crime Novel for the Sisters-in-Crime Davitt Award in 2019.
What are you writing now or next?
My next novel, Skin Deep, is about a once-pretty girl who is left permanently scarred and injured after a car fire. In a world obsessed with beauty, what happens when a girl dares to deviate from the task of being beautiful?
What have you read recently that you would like to recommend?
Beauty by Bri Lee. Incredible, intelligent, insightful. If you want a different take on the toxic beauty culture, and the striving for perfection, read this!
Also This is How We Change the Ending by Vikki Wakefield. Not only is Vikki’s prose breathtaking, but her voice is edgy and strong and the story absolutely gripping. Plus, it just went and scooped Book of the Year at the CBCA Awards!!
How would you prefer your readers contact you?
Although terrible things can happen in life, it is affirming to read in stories like Ruby Tuesday that trust can be rekindled when care, kindness and love are shown.
Thank you for your responses Hayley and best wishes for Ruby Tuesday and your future books.
Thank you so much!