The Inspiration for Hayden Paris

Nov 18

One of the most common questions I receive from readers in regards to the Aurora Skye series is: What was the inspiration for Hayden Paris?

Confession time: if I’m going to answer this question honestly, then the best question should be ‘WHO was the inspiration for Hayden Paris?’

I have spoken before (at writers festivals, or school presentations) about the long-time crush I had as a teenager, on a boy who was almost irritatingly perfect. But I’ve never gone too far into the details, probably because the shy, 15-year-old in me, who never DARED to tell said-crush about her feelings, still feels a little embarrassed about owning up to the whole thing.

There was a crush. The serious kind. The type that hangs around no matter what you try to do to move it along.

I blame the boy. He was too perfect.

My crush had a Clark-Gable-like smirk (I know, that’s an out-of-date reference – so for anyone wondering, Clark Gable was an old-school movie star, most famous for Gone with the Wind), amazing hair, dreamy eyes, and the most gorgeous voice. My crush was witty, and funny, and a little quirky. Amazing at drama, and history, and English, just like Hayden Paris is. And, also like Hayden Paris, he had an unforgettable name.

He was popular. I was not.

He used to tease me – not the mean type of teasing, that should be called ‘bullying’ – but the playful kind.  I was generally nervous and TERRIBLE at chatting to the opposite sex at that age, but whenever this boy used to come up to me, with that cheeky smile, and say something SO INCREDIBLY ANNOYING, I’d somehow find my voice, and would quip back at him.

And that was point where the small seeds of what eventually became the ‘battles of wit’ that you see Hayden and Aurora exchanging in How to Keep a Boy from Kissing You, were planted.

As many of you would know, I kept diaries from the age of 12-22, and if I flick through them, here and there amongst the years, are little mentions of THE CRUSH:

Excerpt from my diary, aged 14:

‘He’s the biggest pain in the WORLD. He’s always annoying me – whether it’s calling me Miss Elegant, and commenting on my shoes, to imitating me, or strolling up, like he did today, with a huge smile on his face, saying ‘I don’t like your attitude, Tara.’

Excerpt from my diary aged 15:

‘I don’t know what’s going on in my mind with -. One minute I hate him and want him to move to Antarctica, and the next I want him to hold my hand like he did at -. It’s this crazy hate/like thing, and it won’t go away, no matter how hard I try to pretend he doesn’t exist. I don’t know what to do. I pretend to all my friends that I hate him and make fun of the stupid things he does to annoy me. But I feel the opposite. I’ll probably regret ever writing this down. Every time I see him talk to another girl I force myself to get over it, but then a couple of weeks later it comes back…’

‘It’s killing me to watch her flirting with him. Like my heart actually aches seeing it. I don’t know what to do. I can’t tell him how I feel.’

Excerpt from my diary aged 16:

‘At intermission tonight, I was sitting in the auditorium, and I looked across the aisle and there was -. Immediately, my heart leapt up into my throat and started beating like a jack-hammer. My mind was in a daze and my cheeks went hot. I felt dizzy, ecstatic, ill and hopelessly lost in feelings for him. It took me 10 minutes to calm my heart down. I don’t want to love him. I can’t stand it. But I can’t stop this feeling. I don’t know why I keep falling for him, over and over, for years on end.’

Yup, just a little cringe-worthy.

I never told the boy how I felt about him. I was way too terrified of potential rejection, and humiliation. Time went on – I left my small hometown, and he did too, and the crush-that-wouldn’t-go-away finally faded out.

It’s a weird feeling to read back on some of the diary entries. Some snippets make me smile, or laugh, and others make me feel sad, and wonder what might have happened if I’d owned up to my feelings.

Maybe it was best I didn’t. Because the experience brought about two things:

  1. It made me vow (at a very early age) that if I ever had feelings for someone, I would tell them. The regret of always wondering ‘what if?‘ is the worst way to live. So what if they don’t like you back? At least you’ll finally know the truth, and you can move on, instead of living in crush-limbo for who knows how long.
  2. The experience was the genesis for a two-book series, that made readers in Australia and the US, laugh, cry and get the feels The manuscript changed my life – I became a published author, and began my journey of writing YA books.       

Although there is a ‘who’ when it comes to the inspiration for his character, Hayden Paris definitely isn’t my crush, printed on the page. After all, I wrote How to Keep a Boy from Kissing You long after the crush ended.

I took some of the fun from the real-life experience – the fiery banter, the boy who’s good at everything, the girl who can’t admit her feelings – but once I started writing the manuscript, a new story emerged. The characters took on a life of their own, driving the plot forward. Aurora isn’t High-School me and neither is Hayden a replica of the guy I once knew.

Sometimes it’s only later on, looking back at your first work with fresh eyes, that you recognise the influences hiding there amongst it:

Aurora and Hayden are also snippets of Gilbert Blythe and Anne Shirley, from Anne of Green Gables, my absolute favourite book.

They’re shades of Beatrice and Benedict (the characters Aurora and Hayden are cast as for their school production of Much Ado About Nothing).

And little pieces of matchmaker-want-to-be Emma Woodhouse and the oh-so-perfect Mr Knightly – I must have watched the Gwyneth Paltrow film of Emma a hundred times in high school.

I’ve always adored a great hate-to-love trope.

As I write this, I’m looking over at my copies of the first Aurora books – the Aussie version with its crumpled-paper cover, and illustrated Aurora Skye, and the US version with the cartoon pursed-lipped Hayden Paris, and I’m smiling – crazy to think an old, once-painful-crush could spark so many good things in my life.