Hayley Lawson-Smith, Author of The Julius Romeros Extravaganza, Part 1, The Bearded Girl

424005_116392965201730_2083669360_nWhat is your book about?

More than one answer to that question! Love, acceptance and individuality, are certainly some of the main themes, but at the heart of the story is adventure. Abigail is very young when she embarks on her adventure in Part 1 of this trilogy. As a baby born with a beard, she’s been shunned, pushed aside, even hidden from society by those too small-minded to understand true beauty, and eventually she’s sent away altogether to live with a circus. But it’s in this circus, The Julius Romeros Extravaganza, that Abigail finds acceptance and family.

Who is your most unusual/most likeable character?

I think it’s certainly a matter of opinion when it comes to deciding who is the most ‘unusual’ character. Since the majority of them are sideshow performers, in fact they happily call themselves ‘freaks’, they’re all fairly unusual. But I’d have to say the character who stands out most in the story, for me anyway, is Julius Romeros, who has been born with lobster claws for hands. Personally I think the most likeable character is Old Barty. He’s gruff and tough in a Popeye meets Captain Haddock kind of way, but at the same time he can be so gentle and caring; he’s concerned for Abigail in very much a grandfatherly fashion and I enjoyed writing his dialogue so much I think he became more of a central character than he was going to be.

Who designed your cover?

A brilliant artist by the name of Diogo Lando, who’s based in Portugal. I adore his work as it springs from the page, but at the same time is so subtle. An amazing mix of realism and fantasy which moulded so well with my writing.

Do you have a favourite snack food or favourite beverage that you enjoy while you write?

Chocolate! Chocolate and coffee and sometimes macaroni and cheese. But not all at once. If I’m feeling good I’ll chop up some fruit and munch on that, but it’s mostly junk food, I’m afraid. I describe a lot of food in my writing and I think that makes me hungry for all the wrong things.

Is there a message in your writing you want readers to grasp?

Inadvertently and absolutely. I think I was about halfway into Part 1 when I realised I was writing a story with a strong moral, which I hadn’t intended to do because I never like to shove things in people’s faces and say, ‘this is the way you should live your life!’ But it’s an honest message that society can never seem to grasp; acceptance. Not just tolerance, but taking the idea that someone can be completely different to you and respecting them for that.

Are you writing to reach a particular kind of reader?

Nope. I look at stories this way: so many people have said Harry Potter was a ‘kids book’, and yet millions of adults read and cherish the series. Similarly I’ve met little kids who will happily sit down with a big fat novel and read for hours. I guess time will tell who the biggest audience for such a tale is.

Have you ever had difficulty “killing off” a character in your story because she or he was so intriguing and full of possibility for you, his or her creator?

Agh, yes! Twice now, but in a twisted kind of way I’ve enjoyed the death scenes. There’s a lovely big build-up, the penultimate moment and then the final breath; I have to admit that they’re fun to write. Although afterwards that character is gone for good; I’ve loved writing them into life and making them real, and now there’s a big empty space and I might not get to hang out with them anymore. But with the magic of writing it doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t get to see them again. Depending on the age of the character, there might have been years’ worth of adventures they’ve had you could write about … just create a prequel!

Where do you get the names for your characters?

Sometimes I’ve heard a name in the past and thought it had a nice ring to it, or when I createa character I pick a good name which goes with their personality or character traits. For example, Abigail means ‘father rejoice’ or ‘father’s joy’, which I thought was gorgeous because, after all, my Abigail has whiskers just like her father’s. Baby books are an excellent resource, and sometimes just randomly flicking through the phone book can lead to happy accidents.

Do your characters ever take on a life of their own?

Often. So many of them like to rant and give little speeches, it can be a lot of fun. Mervin the clown, for example was one of those fantastic characters who pretty much wrote himself. Walking home from work can be entertaining because it’s quite easy to have long meaningful conversations with the different men and women in my story. Once you’ve created a meaty character, their words just flow naturally.

If your book was made into a TV series or Movie, what actors would you like to see playing your characters?

I would love to see Abigail, as a full-grown lady, played by Lily Allen; she has a beautiful, natural quirkiness all her own which would really bring life to the character. Minerva the Twisted Woman would be amazing played by Nicole Kidman; she can pull off icy and sexy at the same time. Bob Hoskins would be perfect for Julius Romeros, as he’s that perfect mix of ham and genuineness, plus I reckon he could really pull-off the lobster claws and top-hat.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself or your books?

This is only Part 1 of a particularly long story. In the setting of a circus and sideshow there is so much scope for characters and adventure. Part 1, while being a novel of many adventures, almost acts as an introduction to the characters and setting; Parts 2 and 3 tell a story of their own, almost the moment Abigail’s life has been building up to.

What inspired you to write this particular story?

The initial idea came from a weird dream I had while struggling through a fever! There was a woman in my dream with a beard, with a ribbon tied through it, and she was travelling across the countryside with identical septuplets. It was bizarre and stuck in my head, so I gave some life to it, bulked it out and created new people for the woman to have adventures with.

How much of yourself is hidden in the characters in the book?

Actually, I wish I was more like some of the characters. Reynalda, for example, is so tough and forthright and doesn’t suffer fools. I wish I had half her guts! If there was one character my friends and family would say I’m like it would be Bertha, the nanny. But that’s only because I’m a nanny myself. I don’t know if I have half her patience, though I’d hope I have the same capacity to love. Maybe I’m a bit like Julius Romeros, because I do like taking centre stage in the theatre …

Tell us a little about your main characters. Who was your favourite? Why?

My favourite, at least in Part 1, is Lolly, the albino elephant. She’s such a fun, mischievous character, who doesn’t say much, being a pachyderm, but is so loyal to Abigail. I loved watching both her and Abigail grow up together, Abigail from a little girl to a mature woman and Lolly from a naughty albino calf to a saucy adult elephant.

Where can people learn more about your books?

Amazon, Lulu, Smashwords and ASJ Publishing are the websites to go to if anyone’s thinking about purchasing the book. There is also a Facebook page, with character introductions and story-line titbits.