Hazel Hayes with Aparna Nancherla at Zibby's Bookshop

Hazel Hayes with Aparna Nancherla at Zibby's Bookshop

In this special episode (a live event at Zibby’s Bookshop in Santa Monica!), Hazel Hayes (Irish-born, London-based author of OUT OF LOVE) and Aparna Nancherla (superstar, LA-based comedian and author of UNRELIABLE NARRATOR) chat about their books! The two delve into their experiences with imposter syndrome, the writing process, and the emotional journey of publishing a book. Aparna reflects on the challenges of balancing humor with serious topics like mental health and body images, and Hazel reads a passage from her upcoming book, which captures the weight of grief and breakups.


Hazel Hayes: Thank you again for coming. Genuinely appreciate it. My name is Hazel Hayes. This is Aparna Nancherla.

Aparna Nancherla: Hello.

Hazel: We’re just going to have a little chat, a little chat about our work, about writing, about feelings, maybe. I feel like feelings are going to come up, probably, because they do.

Aparna: Sure, as they’re relevant.

Hazel: Yeah, relevant feelings. Read a couple little excerpts and take some questions. I believe there’s people watching at home as well. Hello.

Aparna: Hello.

Hazel: We’ll just dive on in. We don’t know each other very well.

Aparna: We met one time.

Hazel: We met one time. This is actually our first actual conversation.

Aparna: Which feels very natural.

Hazel: It’s nice. Sometimes I’ve done these kinds of things with people I know very well already, and it’s almost harder because you’re asking questions you already know the answer to. In this case, I really don’t know.

Aparna: And we have not finished each other’s books.

Hazel: Not fully because we’re very busy women.

Aparna: I thought we should name it instead of letting people guess.

Hazel: For sure. We did speak briefly. I called you today to be like, “I have not finished your book.” She was like, “I have not finished your book.”

Aparna: I have not finished your book.

Hazel: That’s good, so we’re going in blind.

Aparna: I was listening to it on the ride over here.

Hazel: You were listening to me reading it?

Aparna: Yeah, because you read it.

Hazel: I do.

Aparna: It’s so good. It really puts you in it.

Hazel: Thank you. I feel like I’m way more Irish when I’m reading as well. It’s a different accent.

Aparna: I’m not going to lie, I love an accent.

Hazel: Who doesn’t? Who doesn’t love an accent? Your book, which — by the way, it’s one of those titles that I’m annoyed I didn’t come up with this by myself. Unreliable Narrator. It’s about imposter syndrome. I’m like, that’s so clever. I wish I had thought of this. Diving straight in, the way that you talk about imposter syndrome is so real. I found myself reading it being like, do I have this? I feel like if I did, I’d be like, oh, hard relate. Instead, I feel like someone slightly on the outside understanding it more from your perspective.

Aparna: Oh, do you feel like it’s something you don’t deal with?

Hazel: Not don’t at all, but definitely not to the levels that you are describing in the book. I think I’ve definitely had that feeling of — I’m having it right now, honestly. You’re sitting in a room full of people looking at you, and you’re like, why are you looking at me? What did I do? I’ve had that thing of getting the job or getting published or getting the thing and being worried it’s not good enough still. Maybe I do have it, now that I’m saying . I had a thing where my publisher said — Out of Love came out in the UK with a crowdfunding publisher called Unbound. No one would have me, so I crowdfunded it. Then it did well. Then Penguin Random House picked it up in the US. I remember when I got really good feedback from them, from my editor there especially, Cassidy Sachs. Great name. She was saying all these wonderful things. Then I convinced myself that they probably say really nice things about shit books too.

Aparna: Basically, anything they’re championing, they have to be positive about.

Hazel: What I did was tried to convince myself that my publisher is an idiot so that I could believe that I’m not good enough instead of just —

Aparna: — It’s very Groucho Marx. I would not want to be a member of any club that would have me as a member.

Hazel: That would have me as a member, absolutely.

Aparna: I feel that way too. I was lucky enough to sell the book just based off of a rough outline and the idea. It’s like, why not write a book about self-doubt? I’m so good at it. I’ve been experiencing it my whole life. Then it turns out self-doubt is not a very great collaborator. I was writing the book. I was like, oh, it seems like you really don’t want me to finish.

Hazel: It doesn’t.

Aparna: I think that’s kind of fair, though. I honestly feel like I would’ve had more integrity to write a book about imposter syndrome, and then half of it is blank.

Hazel: There’s so many jokes you could’ve made. It’s already a pretty funny book. I was laughing out loud reading it. I could kind of hear it in your voice too. Did you have to resist the urge to not go for the bit all the time with it?

Aparna: I think I address that right away. Then I was like, I can’t keep talking about that. If someone is actually taking the time to read this, I should offer something besides the joke about how I do not feel capable of writing it.

Hazel: How do you feel now that it’s done and published and it is a thing in the world? Do you feel any differently?

Aparna: I don’t know. It’s my first book. I’ve had other things come out in terms of, I do stand-up, and I’ve had TV sets come out or acting roles. Something about a book is so personal that it feels like once it’s out there, it does feel a little bit like you ripped your heart out of your body. You’re like, what do you guys think?

Hazel: I have no idea. I don’t know what you mean. It’s a completely foreign feeling. Any notes on my heart, on my soul?

Aparna: I think I’ve had to detach a little from the feedback. Your relationship to something you write is always going to be different than someone who reads it and takes it in.

Hazel: On the flip side of me thinking my editor was an idiot for liking the book, I will then do things like, when I get a shit review, I go and look at books that I know are objectively good and look at — I looked up Joan Didion on Goodreads and saw some people saying horrible things about her books. I was like, you’re just wrong, which means they might be wrong about me. The things we do.

Aparna: I know. You’re like, if Margaret Atwood got a three, I’m not doing so bad.

Hazel: I got a one-star review from a lady who did not like my use of the C word.

Aparna: Okay, but that has nothing to do with skill level.

Hazel: Ironically, she is —

Aparna: — She is one.

Hazel: There we have it.

Aparna: I have a question, though. Do you read your bad reviews, or is it just if you happen to?

Hazel: Yeah, I love them.

Aparna: What?

Hazel: Yeah.

Aparna: Really?

Hazel: Yeah.

Aparna: Wow.

Hazel: I get great mileage out of my bad reviews.

Aparna: To use them to turn them into something or just —

Hazel: — No, to just laugh at them. I don’t know. I’ve posted them too because there’s a lot of, oh, five-star review, four-star review, aren’t I great? Then every once in a while, I want to throw in, here’s a one-star. This bitch was bored. One of them was just two stars. Bored. All caps. Exclamation mark. You take the good with the bad. I’m not for everyone. Like I always say, I don’t really like chocolate ice cream. Doesn’t mean it’s bad. Audible gasps. I would prefer strawberry, but that doesn’t it’s bad. That’s how I try and look at it.

Aparna: I think I’m fine with the theoretical idea that I’m not for anybody, but I do not need to see it in print.

Hazel: That’s fair. Also, my bad reviews haven’t been horrible. When we talk about, don’t read the comments — I know that you read your comments. . Why would you do that? Aparna. I called you . I’m so sorry.

Aparna: We know each other really well.

Hazel: We’re on second name terms. I don’t really read comments on videos and that kind of stuff that go up now. Here’s the thing. If someone has taken the time to read an entire book and they have thoughts on it, I’m like, that’s valid. I’m going to give that the time of day. I do feel like the anonymous internet troll is a different person who I’m not going to —

Aparna: — I’m also suspicious of anything that only has good reviews. That makes me question it. I’m like, really?

Hazel: Like Paddington 2. You’re like, really?

Aparna: I’m like, nobody saw the undercurrent of misogyny?

Hazel: No one hates this bear, this adorable bear? Something suspicious about it.

Aparna: Wait, I have a question, though. You’re talking about Out of Love, right, your first book, in terms of it being crowdfunded and then —

Hazel: — Yes.

Aparna: Did you have a different process with your next book that’s coming out?

Hazel: Very, actually. The second novel is called Better by Far. One hopes it is. Ha ha ha. How many times am I going to make that joke? Every goddamn time.

Aparna: Every event.

Hazel: Getting Out of Love off the ground felt so much more like a labor of love and kind of an uphill battle. I was going out to publishers. Every single one of them was like, but if it’s told in reverse and they know the end, why will they keep reading? No, thank you. Everyone said no to me. That’s when I went with Unbound, who, like I said, were crowdfunding. It felt really — not in a bad way. It felt like I really had a community on board. I went out with it. I was like, “Listen, guys. I have to crowdsource this. If you preorder, this is how I get to make the book.” The sales were really, really good. It just felt like there was this whole team behind me of thousands of people who gave a shit. This time around was probably easier in one sense because Penguin were like, here’s some money, go write a book, but more lonely, maybe, a little more isolated. I kind of felt like I was just squirreled away. No one even really knows I’m doing this. At the end of it, there’ll just be one.

Aparna: I wonder if doing it with the crowdfunding kind of made it more communal. It felt like people were invested.

Hazel: And waiting and wanted it. I think that was the big thing. With this one, I’m like, does anyone want this? Have they forgotten about me? Does anyone care? Am I going to be locked in a room for all these years and then come out with a book and everyone’s going to be like, oh, who are you? I don’t know you.

Aparna: I think that was the scary thing about writing a book for me instead of doing stand-up where the reaction is immediate.

Hazel: I was going to ask. You’re right there. You’re either getting the laughs or you’re not. You know if you’re bombing or you’re doing really well. How did that feel in a vacuum?

Aparna: It felt very scary. Like you were saying, it kind of feels like if I’m not out there, will people remember me? I think that’s a feeling all of us have with how online everyone is these days where it’s like, if you’re not posting, did you have that sandwich?

Hazel: Did you have the sandwich? If a sandwich gets eaten in the woods and no one’s around to Insta it…

Aparna: Did you eat it?

Hazel: Aparna, by the way, is a very, very funny comedian as well. I was also chuckling away at your stand-up doing my makeup listening to it in the bathroom just laughing away. That’s something I wanted to ask, actually. Bringing the comedy to the page, how did that translate for you? I went from scriptwriting into a book. That’s a more visual medium into this. You go from having your audience right there and being able to perform the text into trusting that someone’s going to understand it from a page or get the tone of it from a page.

Aparna: I knew ahead of time that the book wasn’t going to be strictly comedic. I knew it was going to be a combination of some stuff that’s more serious in my life with mental health and struggles with body image. I knew it wasn’t going to just be comedic, light, fluffy essays. I was a little worried of how to balance that seriousness with jokes because I also felt like I couldn’t write something without any jokes. I often had conversations with my editor that was like, does this feel funny enough? Is it making too light of this subject? It was kind of tricky finding that balance sometimes.

Hazel: It’s something I think about and talk about a lot, the Nora Ephron thing of owning your story. If I deliver it a certain way, now I’m not the victim. I didn’t get my heart broken. I’m actually telling this funny story about this thing that happened to me. I get to tell it my way with my own ending. Did you feel that? What you talk about on stage, it almost feels — how do I put it? There’s a flippancy to stand-up that you don’t have. There’s a vulnerability with a book, and especially the topics that you’re covering. You’re talking about mental illness and eating disorders and body and image and all that kind of stuff. Did you feel a catharsis in writing it your way?

Aparna: I thought I would. That was the hope. I think sometimes I just got more in my own head. You can sometimes go in circles with anxiety or depression where you’re like, but then why do I do this? Then you just end up like a snake eating its own tail. I do think I want to write a book versus put some of this stuff in my stand-up because like you were saying, stand-up does have the removal of — it’s setup, punchlines, this neat package. There’s closure at the end. I knew with a lot of these topics in my life, there isn’t any ending. I feel like with a book, you can kind of sit in that ambiguousness more. I was worried about how that would be received.

Hazel: How has it been received?

Aparna: I don’t know because I don’t read any reviews.

Hazel: By peers? By friends?

Aparna: Friends have been nice. I think it is even scarier to imagine your friend reading it and being like —

Hazel: — That’s more. That’s awful.

Aparna: They were like, I thought I knew this woman.

Hazel: It’s the thing of, I would rather sing to three thousand than three. It’s that intimacy of having a friend or family reading your book and then asking you questions. In the new one, the protagonist’s mother died when she was young. I’m home recently desperately trying to finish the thing. My mother keeps talking to me. Bless her. She’s wonderful. I love her. She walks into the room one day and just announces that I’ve killed her off. “Well, I don’t know, Hazel. You killed me off in this one.” Okay, one, they’re all fictional characters. There’s no two. That’s it. They’re fictional characters.

Aparna: You know if an author’s mom reads their book, they’re going to be like, I’m the mom.

Hazel: She, in many ways, very much is the mother in Out of Love. I’m hearing laughs over here. She is, and she isn’t in other ways. She saw so much of herself there. That was lovely because it actually opened up conversations between us that I don’t think we would’ve otherwise had. I think the second one is, weirdly, at once more personal and also way more fictional. It’s more removed from my life, and yet the feelings in it feel almost more personal to me. She just can’t quite get that they’re not real people, like I’ve killed her off. I’m like, you’re not her.

Aparna: I’m always doing that when I read authors’ fiction books. I’m just like, oh, that’s them.

Hazel: That’s that thing. That’s that guy.

Aparna: I was going to ask, with your first book where you decided to write it in reverse, did you know that from the beginning, or was that a decision you made later?

Hazel: I had learned to write — . You’re adorable. She’s trying to get the content, guys, because if we don’t get the content, we weren’t even here.

Aparna: Exactly, as we said.

Hazel: How would we know? No one saw because you were one foot lower. I love it. What was the question again?

Aparna: For Out of the Love, the structure of it.

Hazel: The structure, yes. Sorry. I had learned to write with short stories. Then I got into scriptwriting for a very, very long time. I was much more used to that. Then I wrote this short story about a breakup. It was just supposed to be a short story. I never knew what it was going to be. It was one of those times when it just has to come out. It wasn’t a script. It just came out in prose. Showed the story to various people, friends and my agent and stuff. They were like, okay, yeah, bitch can write. Maybe, could you do more? He was particularly interested. He was like, money, obviously. Book deal? He didn’t love them when I wanted it in reverse and no one wanted to publish it, but he’s happy now. Anyway, I wrote this story. Then it was that question of, can you make that a book? Could you go away and maybe make that a book? I, sitting down thinking about it, was like, I can, but it felt so contained and wrapped up.

By the end of that first chapter, they’ve gone through the breakup. She’s done so much of her healing work. You feel, by the end of that chapter, like she’s made that one cup of tea, and she’s ready. That didn’t feel like the ending of the book, but it also didn’t quite feel like a beginning. I didn’t want to move forward from there. It just didn’t really interest me. One of the big questions — I always say that when you go through a big breakup or anything, you leave a job or an ending of a chapter, you reflect on it and you wonder, was that good for me? Was that all right? Particularly if it doesn’t end well, was I happy there? Were we ever happy together? There was all these questions swimming around. I decided to answer them instead and then took the book backwards to do a sort of postmortem on the relationship and look at two people who had fallen out of love in a slow-puncture way. You often see in stories, it’s this one big inciting incident. Someone cheats. Someone shouts. Someone runs someone over with their car. That actually happened to a friend of mine. He’s fine.

Aparna: By accident or on purpose?

Hazel: Probably shouldn’t have said . Anyway, the next thing I did was write the second chapter to see what it would be like to jump backwards, that little step. Then I wrote the very last chapter, which is the beginning of their relationship. Now I have A and B. I dotted about all over the place to get from there to there.

Aparna: I found it refreshing. In my book, I talk about how I feel like as a society we love an arc that starts with someone struggling and then ends with triumph.

Hazel: We love it.

Aparna: That’s so often how life does not work. I just am so much more interested in stories of failure, like the in-between of figuring things out, than the resolution. I found that really refreshing.

Hazel: Thank you. Same. I liked that bit when you were like, I’m interested in the failure. We see so much success. I’m interested in the person who came second or third, I think is what you said. I’m like, yeah, that’s a more tasty story to me. You can really sink your teeth into it a little bit more.

Aparna: I also think with success, sometimes you think you want it — obviously, I’m not saying nobody should get it or it’s not desirable, but you do get there, and then you’re kind of like, now what? It can be scarier in that way.

Hazel: Absolutely. Goals are awful. They’re the worst. I always think, you set these goals, the big, ambitious ones, the big, big ones, and I think you either don’t reach the goal and then you feel crap that you didn’t reach the goal, or you do reach goal and you realize all your problems haven’t gone away as a result of reaching the goals. They’re very tricky things. It’s taken me a whole lifetime of setting a new relationship with goals and knowing that I’m going to put that there, but when I get there, let’s set expectations around what that actually is. Even with this, my first book’s going to come out, and then they’ll know. Then they’ll see. Then the movie deal will come in. Then they’ll want the second book or the third book. My life will change. I’ll have so much money. No. None of that happened. It’s great. I’m not complaining. I loved that I got to write a second one. I think that was the level I need to be at. Life will stay pretty much the same. Then you’ll get to write a second one, and that will be nice. That’s it.

Aparna: I remember before my book came out someone was giving me advice who had had a book come out. They were like, it’s not going to be as good or as bad as you think it is. It’s going to be fine. Sometimes that’s the worst thing to hear. You’re like, fine? There’s my blood in it. My blood is fine?

Hazel: My blood’s on the page. Speaking of your blood on the page, would you like to read some?

Aparna: Speaking to what we were talking about, I can read from the end sort of as an homage to your book.

Hazel: Lovely.

Aparna: This is from the epilogue. The epilogue is called I Tried. I’ll just read a little section. “I wanted to write this book to fix my imposter syndrome. I assumed I could write my way out of it, but that’s like saying I’m going to sleep my way through this plate of food. When you try to write about your core insecurities, it turns out that sometimes they get louder. It’s like all those horror movies where you’re not supposed to touch the old relics. You touch the old relics, the spirits get pissed. You try to fix the mental demons, the demons create a mosh pit on your sense of self. But there is something I learned in this whole process, an epiphany about epiphanies, if you will, and please don’t, I implore you. They don’t arrive on a schedule, and sometimes you’re the last to know you’re having one because epiphanies can take years to sink in. Yes, of course, there are those moments that strike like a bolt of lightning with accompanying thunderclap, but more often, there is no fanfare. And usually, you still end up needing to relearn the lesson again. But, hey, at least you remember it better the next time, what with everything looking so familiar, like a dream you’ve had many times before. That’s what I’ve learned about my own imposter syndrome. It’s probably never going to really go away, but I can remember I’ve been here before. I’m late to most things in life, my own self-discovery had to be one of them, if we’re being on brand. This entire book has been an exercise in hesitation. I frequently felt as though the more of it that came together, the more of me that came apart. Yet here we are at the end somehow. Only there are no tidy conclusions, are there? Most everything I’ve written about remains open-ended in my own life, ongoing battles that must be faced and negotiated without fanfare. I wish I knew another way to do it, but this looks like it’s it.”

Hazel: Beautiful. It’s so funny sometimes when you realize we could’ve been sitting here chatting about that for so long, and you said it better already. Sometimes someone just puts something into words, and you’re like, that was the feeling. That was it. I just hadn’t quite hit on that yet. That’s beautiful. Have you made peace with that?

Aparna: Yeah. I think at first, I didn’t. I did with myself, but in putting it out in the world, I sort of had that same feeling as you of, now people will really get me. They’ll read what I said, and they’ll finally get it. Part of the book is about how I’ve always kind of felt like an outsider. It made me realize that even writing about it isn’t necessarily going to take that feeling away, but it is going to, hopefully, connect with people when they read it.

Hazel: There’s the ups and downs. It’s interesting that you said you didn’t feel like you’d got the catharsis from it, necessarily.

Aparna: I think I also romanticized what catharsis should look like.

Hazel: Back to the goals again.

Aparna: Yes. I want it to be grand and sweeping and cinematic.

Hazel: And fixed. You wanted to be fixed by it. You hear people talk about writing it down, and then they’re fixed. You’re like, but where’s mine?

Aparna: Sometimes it’s feeling like personal growth will be like you’re at lunch, and you look at an Instagram thing and you’re like, I didn’t feel bad. I’m better today.

Hazel: That’s huge.

Aparna: It’s two o’clock on a Tuesday.

Hazel: Those are the things. “I didn’t feel bad” is such a huge — I hadn’t quite put it that way before. With writing this, that was a similar thing with looking back at past relationships and the regret and the resentment that you still harbor, and the anger and all of that. Having to get inside the mind of a character who sort of represented relationships I had been in, men I had been with, having to get inside his skin and sympathize — you can’t write anyone, villain or not — not that I think he’s a villain in this book, but you can’t without really sympathizing and really getting inside the decisions that they make and why they make them. I felt, by the end of it, I was looking back more fondly at people, not just relationships, but people who’d come and go from my life and friendships that had ended or whatever, things that had ended on bad terms, and felt a little softer about it so that when their name did pop up, I just didn’t feel quite as bad.

Aparna: Right, as charged.

Hazel: It wasn’t as raw. There was more of an understanding there for them, which I didn’t expect. I think I expected a lot of my own healing and a lot more understanding about myself and my feelings. Even writing the mother character has changed my relationship with my mother a little bit and even my sister and everyone in it, except for one person who’s still not very nice, who shall remain unnamed.

Aparna: Do you want to read from your upcoming book?

Hazel: I would love to, yes. I have a copy of this one, but I don’t have a copy of the new book because it doesn’t exist. Two people in the world have a copy. It’s Matt Haig and David Nicholls. I made one of them send me a picture of it last night. I said, “Could I see her? Is she safe? Is she well? Have you made her tea?” He was like, “I have not made tea yet. I will.” I’m going to read from the new book, but it will be from a screen, which is the only way I’ve seen it so far. I can’t wait to have it in my hands. I’m also not sure how much to read. I’m just going to start reading, and I will stop at a time when it feels like it’s appropriate to stop. This is the very beginning of the book. This chapter is called Until February. I’m about to get way more Irish. Expect it. By the end, I’ll be back in full Dublin.

“I’m supposed to be writing a book, but instead, I find myself writing to you. I prepare the blank page, ready to pour myself onto it, but all that comes out is your absence, which feels so much more like a presence. How odd that the language of grief is one of loss. People describe feeling empty, hollow, carved out, when for me, grief is heavy. There’s a weight to it, a density. In Irish, we don’t say, ‘I am sad.’ We say, ‘Tá brón orm.’ There is sadness on me. We don’t say someone is grieving. We say they are , under grief. The phrase ‘going into mourning’ literally translates as putting on a robe of sorrow. We wear our feelings, wrapping them around ourselves like cloaks that separate us from the world, and grief is the heaviest one of all. Today, unsatisfied with simply weighing me down, grief finds a way to slip inside me, filling me up like some tar-like creature that clogs my throat and lungs and crams itself into the cavities between my organs. You’ve only been gone a few hours, and already, I am turgid with the lack of you.

I say you’re gone, but you’re not really. Not yet. Your clothes are still hanging in the wardrobe. Your CDs are stacked alphabetically on the shelf above the stereo. Your squash racquet is over there by the door. You said you wouldn’t need it this week. You even left your passport here in the top drawer of your bedside table. It occurred to me just moments ago to check if it was there, and I must admit my relief at finding it. Not that it matters where you are, I suppose, if we won’t be seeing each other anyway. It’s just easier knowing you’re stuck here too in drizzly, dark Dublin where places carry with them reminders of me and not sitting at a table by some quaint town square, in Paris perhaps, or maybe Croatia. Yeah, that feels right. Croatia, with its mild evenings, cobbled streets, and local beer on tap, local women too, all of them perfect in your eyes because you don’t know them yet, haven’t fought with them yet, haven’t seen them sick or sad or suicidal. Perched on the edge of our bed with your passport in my hands, I picture one of these women approaching you with an easy smile all over town and oodles of sympathy for the broken-hearted boy reading a book outside her favorite café. I let myself linger on the scene for far too long, right up to the point where you wake up face down, ass out, legs tangled in her ridiculously white sheets. The whole scene is, in fact, impossibly white, bright to the point of overexposure. She opens her eyes, stretches her long limbs. One corner of her mouth curls up. ‘Good morning,’ she purrs.

Stop it, I tell myself, flinging your passport back in the drawer. He isn’t in Croatia. He’s in his brother’s filthy flat in Lucan. Unfortunately, knowing a story isn’t real doesn’t make the feelings it evokes any less real, and so I’m left with all the jealousy and rage churned up by my own pathetic work of fiction. Why can’t I write an actual work of fiction? A real writer would spin this breakup into gold. A real writer would chew it up and spit out a novel so magnificent it would make all the heartbreak worthwhile, cure it, even. A real writer would sell a million copies and buy herself a mansion paid for with pain. My shoulders slump forward like my skeleton has suddenly vanished leaving the vague shape of a human behind. I slide slug-like onto your side of the bed and instantly begin to cry. It’s not a particularly loud or deliberate cry. My face doesn’t contort or change. I just stare at the wall as tears flow involuntarily down my face like blood pouring from a wound. I hate these walls, these bare, eggshell walls. I hate the potential I saw in them.” She’s so sad.

Aparna: No, no, no. I just feel like I was so in the scene. Your writing is just so evocative.

Hazel: Thank you so much. It’s so strange as well to know that people are listening to an audiobook and hearing my voice in their ears. I don’t know why I can’t get my head around this particular thing. It’s probably the nature of the first book being so personal as well. It’s so hard to put my finger on it. The idea that someone’s lying in bed in the dark snuggled up and I’m there in their head saying kind of intense shit, it’s just —

Aparna: — What would your fifteen-year-old self think? She’d be like, yes!

Hazel: She’d probably be delighted. I have to do that regularly. Do you ever do the, what would baby Aparna think of me now?

Aparna: I do. I have such a weird relationship with baby Aparna because I think she’d be like, who are you? If I visited her from the future, she’d be like, no, not you. Not in a mean way. She was just on a different path.

Hazel: Do you think you guys would get along?

Aparna: Yeah. I think we’d just have to warm up to each other.

Hazel: Weirdly, I sometimes think about that interaction. I’m like, I feel like I’d get more out of it than she would.

Aparna: Me too.

Hazel: She was probably fun. She was probably kind of cool. I see it when I’m hanging with my nieces or whatever. I’m like, I wonder, was I like this? They’re kind of cool. I look at my younger self a little negatively some of the time. I’m like, she probably was chill. She was probably absolutely fine. It’s randomly popped into my head because we’re talking about our younger selves. The thing that really got me when you were talking about your imposter syndrome was how — so you had developed an eating disorder. I’m laughing. That sounds so mean. You had developed an eating disorder.

Aparna: Classic.

Hazel: Classic comedy. You went to a facility of some sort to get better. You felt like an imposter in the place.

Aparna: I did because my case was not severe enough for me to be an overnight patient.

Hazel: That really tickled me.

Aparna: They’re like, you can be a day patient. Because I didn’t live in that area, they were like, okay, we guess you can be residential because you can’t commute so far.

Hazel: I just love that you were like, I don’t meet the criteria. It’s not bad enough. If only it was a more severe case, it might be taken seriously. It was just so funny. I hadn’t really thought about imposter syndrome in the flip way. We’ve all had that thing of, well, I’m not that depressed. I don’t currently want to die, so I guess I’m okay.

Aparna: I’ve definitely had that thought with anxiety and depression where I’m like, she wears hers so much better. Such a better depressed .

Hazel: She’s a better anxious than I am.

Aparna: Then I’m like, what a screwed-up thought.

Hazel: She’s monetizing it better. Her joke about it was funny.

Aparna: She has merch.

Hazel: She’s got anxiety and merch. I’m looking at now. You monetized your way better than . my goals. I have no idea what time it is. I have just been yapping. Oh, I have a phone.

Aparna: It’s 6:40. Should we do questions?

Hazel: Yeah. Should we throw it out to you lovely lot?

Female Voice: I have a question. What was the most surprising insight for you both while writing?

Aparna: That is a good question.

Hazel: I’m going to let you go first so I can think.

Aparna: Surprising insight. I guess process-wise, if I have to answer, I think I really thought I would be one of those people who’s like, I’m going to go to the writing center or the coffee shop. I’m going to write for four hours. I’m going to do it every day. I never ever did that. I would write in little fifteen-minute chunks. I would have two really good days where I got a couple hours in. I think I just have to make peace with the fact that I’m not a writer who can be really disciplined in the way that I think I want to be.

Hazel: That’s a good one. Probably more so with the second book, I’m realizing sometimes how — I don’t even know how to say this — how little control I have over it, how much sometimes I really do just feel like a vessel that things are flowing through. That makes it sound like I’m kind of sitting there not doing anything. It’s this weird thing where it’s at once exhausting and taxing and requires so much sculpting and molding and thought, but also, I don’t really have a choice where it’s going sometimes. I start books, I start chapters, I start paragraphs, and I end up in completely different places to where I thought I would be. Maybe it’s because it’s a fiction thing as well. Sometimes a story was just taking me with it. It was like I was just there for the ride.

Aparna: Do you feel like that was hard ever? Are you someone who likes the control? I feel like that would maybe be hard for me sometimes.

Hazel: It was hard to kill my darlings a little bit. I had a chat with Kaylee the other day about what the book originally was. There was this anecdote of this thing that had happened. I was like, that was going to be in the book. Then I was like, how was that ever going to be — it’s so far from that now. I was talking about how it began and what it was going to be. The new book, it’s based on a couple who have broken up, but they have three months left on the lease on the apartment that they’re renting. We’ve all been there. I hope I’m not the only one. They’ve decided to stay in this place for the twelve weeks but alternate week on, week off so that they’re not in the same space at the same time. It’s just to figure it out, some breathing space. It was going to be, chapter, on and off, her and then him and then her and then him every week going back to the flat.

The more I was writing notes — I had reams and reams and reams of notes. The more I was writing, it was all her. That makes sense because it’s me. I was finding it so much harder to see it from his perspective. Also, I kind of wanted her to come back to this empty place where we don’t know, I don’t know what he’s been doing there all week. There are gaps. We talk a lot as writers about, do you know your whole character’s backstory? Could you answer questions about their personality that don’t make it to the page? This one really feels like there’s gaps for me. I’m with her in this. I’m coming back to this apartment with her. I’m finding the whiskey glasses he used or whatever. I’m like, what the fuck was he up to? I really don’t know. It changed dramatically. The her mother being dead, that wasn’t going to be a part of it. I don’t know. I started writing, I’m like, of course, she’s lost her mother. That’s who she is. That removed her further from me as well. Good question. I feel like I’ve just gone off on a mad tangent there. Any more questions?

Ellie: What is your advice for aspiring writers on getting published?

Hazel: What’s your name?

Ellie: Ellie.

Hazel: Hi, Ellie. Sorry, I should’ve asked up top. Advice for aspiring writers on getting published, oh, god, that’s such a hard .

Aparna: I feel like you’ve done it both ways.

Hazel: I also have to check my privilege. I was in the very fortunate position of having spent ten years building up an audience online. I did that with this in mind. I know a lot of people who wanted to make online content for so many different reasons, to get better at it or to do that forever or to be famous or whatever. It was always, always, for me, I am building a community of people who like what I do and will be there whenever I make the thing I eventually make. In my head, that was always going to be a film. Then it was a book. That’s great. I was in that position, so it’s really hard. When people ask, I’m like, I don’t know. I hate when celebrities — we were talking about a thing before, but I won’t name names. A celebrity who basically looks utterly amazing because she’s had a lot of work done — there’s no problem with having work done, but she has attributed it to sweet potatoes.

Aparna: You mean the changes?

Hazel: Yeah. It’s like, no. People who are like, just work hard, just get out there and do it, it’s like, sometimes that doesn’t cut it. That’s really shitty. I know so many writers who haven’t been published, and they’re amazingly good at what they do. Yet truly, the only advice I can give is to just do it. Go out with the manuscript. That’s the biggest. I think I’m going to do this with the next book. I’ve been fortunate that I was able to crowdfund Out of Love with only three or four chapters written. People just trusted that I would do it. Then with the second one, I had three chapters when I went back to Penguin with it. This time around, I’m actually going to write the entire thing before I go out with it for various reasons. That would be my advice. If you have a story in you, just write it. You talk about getting published, but what is it you want —

Female Voice: — What’s the goal, right?

Hazel: Yeah, that’s the goal, but it’s actually not. The goal is to write the thing. I know so many people with book deals who can’t write the book for various reasons. They’re struggling. Just write the thing. Learn along the way. You might find it takes four or five years to write the thing, at which point circumstances may have changed. You might be better positioned to get that deal or to go to them and say, this is my whole manuscript. It’s just a much better position to be in.

Aparna: Do you have a writing group or anything? I’m not as much in the writing world. I do know a lot of writers I know who have workshop groups where they’re constantly working with writers they know and trust to know their voice who they can run stuff by. I think it just helps to get help and collaborate when you can, even with things that are more solitary activities.

Hazel: That’s good advice. I don’t personally have that.

Aparna: I don’t either.

Hazel: I’m a very weird, insular — don’t look at it. It’s not ready.

Aparna: I feel like I need to challenge myself to get out of that sometimes.

Hazel: I have a few trusted friends who are either creators or other writers who I feel like when I’m ready with something, I can go with bits and pieces. I tend not to work with a group, but I do find it helpful to do those coworking sessions. I know that when I did my writing retreat, of which there are four people here tonight, which is so sweet — they were all at the writing retreat in Spain this summer. Then we’ve stayed on a WhatsApp group. There’s twenty-eight people on this group. We all send each other little snippets from stuff we’re working on. I sent my book, the new one, the other day. I trust these people. I trust their opinion. I trust their work. It’s good to have people you can —

Aparna: — Having those kinds of space is important.

Male Voice: Hazel, I have a question. I totally see —

Hazel: — Oh, hi! We spoke on Instagram. Hello. Sorry.

Male Voice: I can totally see Out of Love as a potential movie. I wouldn’t rule that out indefinity.

Hazel: There’s a whole thing there.

Male Voice: I wanted to know — you mentioned postmortem. That’s exactly the natural feeling that at least I experienced in a situation like that. Then having the book go through that sequence that you are experiencing as well, it makes you tethered to the book more addictively, I would say.

Hazel: Thank you.

Male Voice: The other thing I was going to mention was, the beginning of this next book, I just found it really ironic that you started it intervention write a book about this situation. I was just going to follow up with the question of what the next book is going to dive more into, which you mentioned briefly. I wanted to know more, like the timeline, perhaps, and if it’s related to the first book.

Hazel: For sure, the timeline. Thank you. Good question. A few people have asked if it’s a sequel. It’s definitely not a sequel, but it is — how do I put it? It’s emotionally, to take your word, tethered to the first book in that it is about an author who has written a book about a breakup who now needs to write another book while going through a breakup because that is something that I was doing with both, actually. Must stop having . Although, they’re getting me books, so it’s fine. It’s tied to that in that there’s almost — in my head, Kate could’ve almost written Out of Love. It’s some other version of Out of Love in this universe. For me, she kind of is the writer — at least, in my head she always was — that wrote that book. I couldn’t quite separate it. That doesn’t show up anywhere. It isn’t part of the world at all, except one tiny little reference to Angel somewhere in there. The timeline is really that space between — the whole thing came about because I was really interested in liminal spaces and liminality and those thresholds, those limbos, especially with healing.

A liminal space can be anything. It could be a waiting room at a doctor’s office. It could be adolescence or an engagement. It’s just this period of time where you’re sort of finished being that thing, but you’re not quite this thing yet. You’re a little unsure. You’re reaching for the next rung, and you’ve let go of the last one. I have found that a lot with healing that when one thing ends and you now need to go through your healing journey, you’re like, I was this role to this person. I was this thing. I’m not that anymore, but I don’t know what I’m going to be yet. This strange period of time where I think we look at it so negatively a lot of times, so I wanted to look at the positive aspects and the healing to be found in those and how necessary those spaces are, as shit as they feel, how necessary they are. It takes place over the period of time, that twelve weeks, which also coincides — this happened as I was writing, which is crazy. They break up on Halloween, which is nuts because then I broke up on Halloween. Things kept happening.

Aparna: After you wrote —

Hazel: — We’re going to talk. Things kept happening. It was so strange. They break up on Halloween. I could go on about this for ages. I’ll keep it short. It’s based on Samhain, which is an Irish pagan festival, which is where Halloween came from. It’s also the Celtic New Year. The beginning of our year is actually going into the darkness of the winter. It ends in February. I didn’t realize this, but that happens to be another festival called Imbolc based on embolic, which means “in my stomach,” which is a growth, a spring, a seedling bursting through the earth. It’s that kind of time of the year. The book takes us through the time of the Celtic New Year to the spring and new beginnings and seeds and winter. I had no idea of any of this when I started writing it. That’s the timeline, is that going into the dark. It’s the literal dark night of the soul where she’s in the darkness for the winter and then emerges in the spring. Or doesn’t.

Aparna: You got to read.

Hazel: Maybe they all die. They’re all robots.

Female Voice: I’m very curious, when you guys look back on your projects, what do you think is the question that you’re trying to ask yourself when you write these? I feel like Hazel’s may be, how do I heal from a breakup? What’s that central question, that subconscious question that you think your work is trying to answer?

Hazel: That’s such a good question.

Aparna: I think for me with my self-doubt, it is a little bit like, what are you so afraid of? There’s just that constant feeling of, you’re not enough, or letting people down or not deserving things. It is, what is that fear based in? What do I think is going to happen by embracing capability or accepting what I have?

Hazel: Have you answered it?

Aparna: No.

Hazel: That’s okay.

Aparna: That’s private, Hazel. No. I think it’s one of those open-ended questions. You learn some stuff in therapy, and then you’re kind of like, okay, I think I’m a little closer.

Hazel: It’s that thing of the onion digging. I remember a therapist saying that to me before. Therapy is more like peeling back the layers of an onion. It just gets more and worse. You think you’re going to pull back the veil, and it’s going to be better. She’s like, no, you’re going to go much further down. Then I guess that will drive you through — there’s even a joke at the beginning of Better by Far where she’s on the phone to her agent and she’s talking about writing another book about a breakup. She’s like, I can’t do it. I already wrote a book about a breakup. She’s like, yeah, because no writer in history has ever done the same theme over and — Chris Nolan just keeps writing the same movie.

Aparna: Or every pop song.

Hazel: We keep gobbling it up. I think he likes time. It’s difficult to tell. Grief is the thing for me that just keeps coming back. What is it? It’s such an analogous, strange thing to me. I want to understand grief, is probably the biggest thing I notice when I’m going through any body of work. It’s the horror. How do you take the horror, the nightmares, the darkest possible shit and go into all the recesses — sorry, I keep cursing. This is terrible, terrible. What do you find in there? Not to force good onto something bad or say that there has to be some good from it. You went through that pain to be better. It’s not that. It’s just really going in and really looking at it, taking a good, long look and seeing what happens. Have we got time for another question? Are we good? Are you all good? Okay, great. Hi.

Female Voice: Hi. I’m a big fan. My main question was — first of all, the book to me was that our heroine was unnamed. She was named Angel. Funny thing, his nickname for me is Angel. There’s all these similarities.

Hazel: Guys, it’s not a big deal. It’s not a big deal.

Female Voice: There’s a lot of unnamed characters in history. They always say there’s no meaning or a strategy behind that. Was there a symbolic meaning or a reason why she’s unnamed and we’re only given the nickname by her ex?

Hazel: God, the deep cuts.

Aparna: I know. Got some good readers in here.

Hazel: Such good questions like this. Sorry, what was your name?

Female Voice: .

Hazel: Nice to meet you. Again, I feel like the reason she’s unnamed is she just was. It’s another one of those things where I sort of felt like I didn’t really make a choice. I was writing and writing and writing. It’s all told in the first person. I think I was a few chapters in before I realized she doesn’t have a name. I toyed with giving her one. There’s even a scene where she has to write down her name and number for someone. She’s like, oh, pretty name. I’m like, do I address it? Do I say what it is here? When it started to come to the point when I realized there were moments I could or should name her and then I was trying to not, I was like, are you forcing this, or is it something that’s naturally happening? It did just kind of naturally happen. She doesn’t really have a name in my head. She became Angel through him calling her that. Then there’s that scene in the beginning/end when you realize why, which I didn’t know about. I didn’t realize until I got to that. I rewrote that chapter. Then we had her dressed as an angel. It was like, oh! I wish I had a better answer for you. It’s just that she’s sort of anyone. A lot of people have said that to me as well, that they’ve related to the book because she could be them. She could be anyone. Giving her a name almost detached her slightly from them, from the everyday, average person or whoever it is reading the book. I kind of wanted to leave her a little anonymous and let people have her, let people be her or have her in whatever way felt right to them.

Female Voice: Thank you.

Hazel: Thanks for asking. Last one. Hi.

Female Voice: My question is, when you’re writing about something that’s so personal and so challenging and deep, how do you or do you try to protect your mental health?

Hazel: I should just get my friends up here to speak about this one. Hey guys, how have I protected my mental health? She has not. Why don’t you take this one?

Aparna: It’s tricky. For me, when I was formulating some of the chapters around depression and anxiety, it was, just write it all out. Then if you need to take some of it out or make sense of it later, do that. I never censored myself in the first stages of just getting it all on the page. In the editing phase, then I was like, is this harmful to put out there? What is the usefulness of keeping this in versus taking this out? Does this make sense to readers? Is it too internal? I definitely wrote essays that were just my depression. My editor would be like, “This is not about anything. This is just your shit over and over again.” You have to sometimes find those limits for yourself. As someone who has never written a book before, for me, it was sometimes doing something and then being like, okay, that actually made me feel worse for a while. Maybe I don’t need to go so much in that direction.

Hazel: I was doing a lot of therapy.

Aparna: Therapy’s great.

Hazel: Therapy’s wonderful. Pro-therapy. The first one was way harder. I did feel the second book did not destroy me in the same way. With the first one, I was doing some really deep work with my therapist at the time that coincided. It actually ended up informing the book in some ways to the point that the protagonist’s attitude towards her mother changed significantly from one chapter to the next because I had written it so out of order. I had an editor’s note that was like, “This doesn’t feel like the same character.” That was really interesting for me because I was like, oh, I’ve done this work in therapy, and I think I’m viewing my mother a little differently now. She’s come up this way in this chapter and this way in this chapter. There was things leaking in. A lot of therapy and having someone to speak to. On the second one, I think it was just accepting that that was part of the process a little bit and letting myself feel the feels and knowing that there would be days — protecting my time and space around writing. Knowing on the days when I’m going to go in or go deep or go under, I’ll be like, I’m going under. I’ll see you in six hours. When I surface, having nothing, no pressures on me, knowing that I’m in a safe space with friends and I can just do basic needs, just eat and sleep and really care for my body because it’s hard for my brain to come back out.

A weird little trick that I learned on this one was — I was putting Kate through a lot. You’ll see. I felt really bad for Kate. There was one day where I was just sobbing uncontrollably because she was having such a bad time. I was doing this to her. I just felt so bad that I wrote this whole thing about this nice day that she’d had. I was like, what does she need? What do you need? She was like, I just want to go to the beach. I was like, okay. I wrote this whole thing that’s completely not in the book and has nothing to do with it where she just has a nice little day out. She feels really good. I just couldn’t bear it. I just couldn’t spend another day in there with her. We took ourselves off to the beach. We had a nice little day. Then I go back into the — which sounds probably mental, but these are the things you have to do to protect yourself. You do strange things. You find yourself doing strange things.

Aparna: I love that.

Hazel: I feel like we’re probably going to need to wrap up because people are — it’s just gone seven.

Aparna: Seven? Perfect.

Hazel: Thank you so much for all the questions and for coming along.


Hazel Hayes, OUT OF LOVE

OUT OF LOVE by Hazel Hayes

Purchase your copy on Bookshop!


Purchase your copy on Bookshop!

Share, rate, & review the podcast, and follow Zibby on Instagram @zibbyowens