Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

On Writing, with Derek Hayes

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Derek Hayes

Derek Hayes is the author of The Maladjusted and Other Stories (Thistledown Press), a collection which explores the loneliness, anxiety and vulnerability of young Torontonians.

Martin Amis commented on Derek's writing, calling him "a talented new writer from Canada who is worth keeping an eye on."

Derek talks with Open Book about The Maladjusted, how the collection came together and his future projects.

Open Book:

Tell us about your book, The Maladjusted and Other Stories.

Derek Hayes:

The Maladjusted is a collection of stories that I wrote over about eight years. I finished the first drafts when I was in my mid to late twenties and then a year or so later I revisited them and found that they were rough, so I worked on them for a few more years. Each story is about a character (or characters) who suffers from anxiety or whose thinking is a bit distorted. The goal was to write sympathetic stories about normal people that readers will perhaps recognize. I hope that readers will find some of the stories funny, but I also realize that some people are a little uncomfortable reading about anxious people.

OB:

Was there one character amongst the stories in your collection to whom you particularly related?

DH:

No, not really any one in particular. Some of the characters are teachers who have worked overseas, so I have that in common. And I play basketball as do some of the characters. I can be a bit neurotic at times (my friends would agree), but when I was writing the stories I think I was a bit detached, and maybe a little clinical about the whole process. But I obviously borrowed from some of my own experiences.

OB:

How did the collection come together, thematically? Did you have one particular story from which you started?

DH:

That is an interesting question. The obvious themes are neuroses, and anxiety, and I remember that above all else I wanted to stay true to these themes. I started writing the stories so long ago that I can’t remember which was the first. It may have been "In the Low Post" or the title story, but these early versions didn’t resemble what eventually made it into the collection. I also have a few early sketches of characters (still saved on my laptop) which I haven’t pursued.

OB:

What were some of the sources of inspiration for these stories? Where do you most frequently find inspiration for your writing?

DH:

I think that with most of these stories the initial nugget of an idea was about a person who was stuck, but not in any way out of the ordinary, not, for example, life or death stuck. Next, I found a way out for them, and then filled the middle with struggle. Early in my life I read a book, Writing for Story, which helped me outline and sort out stylistic issues like conflict/ resolution.

OB:

You've received praise from acclaimed author Martin Amis. How did you feel when you read his comments on your writing?

DH:

Martin came to Toronto to teach at Humber College a few summers back. I was surprised that he was making the trip. I signed up for his class. There were only about eight or so students with him, and it was a fun week. He’s a very nice man. At the end of the week I was nervous, but I summoned the courage to ask him to endorse my book. Needless to say I felt great about his feedback.

OB:

Were there any books you read prior to or during the writing of The Maladjusted that you found inspiring?

DH:

I was always a David Foster Wallace geek.

OB:

What are you working on now?

DH:

Since finishing The Maladjusted I’ve written a couple of novels, The Streets and Kadikoy, and I’m working on another novel now.


Derek Hayes received his BA in history at Queen’s University and has worked as a high school teacher in Toronto, Taipei and Istanbul. He was born in London, Ontario and lives in Toronto.
His stories have appeared in literary journals such as The Fiddlehead and The Dalhousie Review.

For more information about The Maladjusted please visit the Thistledown website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

Check out all the On Writing interviews in our archives.

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