Interview with Sebastian Hales

How did you start writing I Play the Mermaid Song?
It was a strange time for me. I was teaching, and used to walk to and from school through a lovely hillside park. And my brain would invent scenes and characters as I walked. Then each evening I would just sit down and write – about 700-800 words. These bits would not be connected up – some would be about my life, some would be pure fantasy. In the end I had about 30,000 words written, with no plot or theme to tie them together.
The synopsis of your book stated that it was a novel and an autobiography. Is it really the story of your life?
It is a novel, written as though it were an autobiography. Some of the scenes and events are taken from my life, while others are completely made up. It is hard to tell which is which. For instance all the restaurant scenes are fantasy, while Richard's school was pretty similar to the one I went to. Many are a mixture between memory and story. My sister got cross when she read some of it – she told me I had got it wrong, and it was not really like I described it. Of course it wasn't the same. She just picked up on some familiar elements
Are you a crossdresser?
Like Richard, I have been torn between my male and female sides. I am contented with life as a male. I am sometimes a female who is happy most of the time to present to others as a male. As you can see from my picture I have a beard, and I don't want to be seen as a bearded woman. However I am quite open about my dual life. I live in a small beach community where most people are stranger than I am – I am regarded as a fairly average nutcase.
Did you write I Play the Mermaid Song to appeal just to cross-dressers or to a wider audience?
Although it is written from the point of view of a part-time transvestite, the book is not really about crossdressing but about conforming to social rules and how those rules restrict people being truly themselves. Its themes are universal – everyone is through their lives constrained by social norms that prevent them from behaving as they might like. The novel is about learning to sing our own song. It's sometimes a sad book, though written in a slightly comic style.
How long did it take you to write the book?
That's a hard one! I could say 'a lifetime'. It was hard to write, as I wanted to keep most of the little pieces I had written, but it was inconsistent and a bit of a rave, actually. In the end I rejected much of the early draft, then put the book away for three or four years.

So altogether it would have taken around 15 years, on and off. I rewrote it all in the present tense, then changed it back again. I wrote it the third person, then changed it back to the first person.

The worst was that I could not create a plot – a real plot with crisis and turning points. One of the last bits of the book was the trip to England, which resolved many of the plot complications, and changed Richard's direction in life. From then on he starts searching for his own music.

Some readers wanted more action, but autobiographic styles are not good for action.
Are you a full-time writer?
Hell, no! Though I do spend more time on it now I have no other paid work. I am currently looking after two or three gardens and am involved in programmes to prevent family violence, and campaigns to build resilient, self-sustaining communities. Up until last year I was also working for the Council for Civil Liberties.

Most of my writing is actually done in long walks on the beach – I live at a long and lovely beach where I can walk for miles without seeing a soul. It's got magnificent surf and is a breeding ground for many species of birds. I try to walk six kilometres a day, which is not too bad for a (wo)man of 68 years old. I can wear what I like and play the mermaid song. I come back from the walks with all my plots and dialogues sorted out.
Are you writing any other books?
My current novel is called The Adventures of Henry Farthingale. It's very different – as different as a book can be. It's about a man who goes as far away from civilisation as he can, to live a simple life. That's all I can tell you, partly because I don't want to give the game away, partly because the novel is writing itself, so I can't predict the way it is going to go, and partly because it is simply too hard to describe in one word, or a hundred, or a hundred thousand words. My monthly writers' group is entertained with a new chapter every month in our Sunday get-togethers. I would invite you to join if you were passing by.
Published 2015-06-07.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

I Play the Mermaid Song
Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 92,360. Language: English (New Zealand dialect). Published: July 4, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Literature » Literary, Fiction » Gay & lesbian fiction » General
Compulsive cross-dresser Richard has grown alienated from the conventional society of New Zealand. He has lived between two worlds – his public face of Richard the violinist, and his inner heart of Nora. He must peel off his past and his disguises, the patchwork of deceits and shadows that he has built up. But when he unpicks the threads of convention, music, and fantasy, what will be left?