Wilde has been telling stories for as long as she can remember — working as a journalist, a terrible barista, and a high-school English teacher in Brisbane, Australia. Rhiannon’s particular interests are caffeine, characters both real and imaginary, and the power of well-strung words to challenge and change us. Her second-person short story inspired by urban Brisbane, “You Deserve Nothing,” was longlisted for the Queensland Young Writer’s Award in 2014. Henry Hamlet’s Heart is her first novel, and it won the Queensland Literary Awards Glendower Award for an Emerging Queensland Writer in 2019.
Taylor said of the book, “This is the friends-to-lovers romance that my cold, cynical heart really needed. Henry and his first love feelings are a cuteness overload. Full of humor, sincerity, and excellent musical references, this is one of my new favorite coming-of-age stories.”
King also shared, “Henry Hamlet wholly and truly has my heart. This book is an absolutely perfect laugh out loud, cry in bed, best-friends-to-lovers queer romance that you need to pick up. Rhiannon Wilde’s debut is stunning and I can’t wait to share it with everyone I know.”
Here, Wilde, Taylor, and King discuss Henry Hamlet's Heart.
Kassie King: Henry Hamlet’s Heart is a best-friends-to-lovers story where the characters have a ton of history. Is friends-to-lovers your favorite trope in romance and what's the secret to executing it in a way that feels so honest and exciting?
Rhiannon Wilde: It is my favourite trope! I find writing characters who have history together really rewarding, and it’s easier (for me) than building a relationship from scratch. I love deep diving into the dynamics between people; you can create a lot of realism there, whereas if two strangers meet and immediately fall in love you can risk it not ringing true.
I also think friends-to-lovers is one of my favourite things to read because the stakes are so high! Give me that “I love you, but I don’t want to lose you” angst any day. That’s the key to executing it well in my mind — the reader should be able to really feel the internal struggle of falling in love risking this friendship that is so important to the characters. That’s where the magic is.
Melissa Taylor: Your characters feel so real. How were you able to write such a varied cast of teenage boys so convincingly?
KK: And did you have a favorite one to write?
RW: Thank you! Realism is definitely something I strive for in my writing, especially in characterization and dialogue. As a teenager I always had friends who were boys, and once Henry became a character I wanted to explore I spent a lot of time honing his voice (said male friends got really sick of my texting them questions on that), as well as exploring the kind of friends he might have. For me, character writing is quite organic, and it’s about letting them step out of the void and onto the page with as little interference or calculation from me as possible, then honing things as I get to know them.
My favourite character to write was probably Len; I had to get to know him really well to be able to give Henry’s perspective of him and characterize him for the reader. It got to the point where I could hear him be like ‘No. I wouldn’t say that.’
MT: Which character is most like you?
RW: I think I’m a mix between Emilia, and Henry’s Gran! As a teenager I was definitely a lot like Emilia, and Gran was a little bit [of] me picturing what I’d be like in my sixties.
MT: I love how universal this story is, how Henry’s first love feelings remind me of my first love. Was that important to you?
KK: And as a follow-up — why is it important to you to have positive queer representation in the YA space right now?
RW: Thank you x2! I fell in love hard in high school, and it’s just such a heady time in terms of those feelings. I really wanted to evoke that because I think we often forget as adults what it was like to fall in love when you’re that young and kind of unthinkingly vulnerable. There’s a purity in it even if it doesn’t last or is unrequited because it’s this time in your life when you follow your heart and the things in it are so consuming.
On the same note, I wanted to explore a queer love story about best friends where it wasn’t unrequited, because friends falling in love was such a common feature of mine and my queer friends’ lives — but in the 2000s, when the book is set and when I was a teen, there really wasn’t any positive representation of it working out. I wanted to trace what happens after you fall in love and how you move from one kind of intimate relationship to another, and what could be gained from that rather than lost.
I think positive queer representation is important in YA always, because as a queer person who didn’t have it, reading stories about other people like me would have changed everything about my teen years. Everyone deserves to see their experiences validated and reflected and magnified and made beautiful inside a book, LGBTQIA+ and all other marginalized folk particularly.
KK: The book balances this incredibly poetic prose with the genuinely cringe moments of high school. How did you decide the voice for this book and how long did the writing process take?
RW: I think the voice for this book sprang from combining Henry’s voice as a character with mine as a writer. Henry had a really insistent and specific first-person tone from the second I met him, and then I’ve always been influenced by descriptive and lyrical writing like Sylvia Plath or Hannah Kent. I’m a very visual and sensory person so I like to make those aspects of the story as beautiful as they can be, and I also get pedantic about making character voice feel as true as possible. So, I think those two things meshed together in the book, and it helped that Henry wants to be a writer so I could get away with him seeing the world descriptively!
The process for the first draft was quite short, because once I had Henry and Len in my head, I just wanted to sit down at my laptop 24/7 and follow them. Start to finish it was about three and a half months; I took a term off from my full-time teacher career at the time at the urging of my partner, sat in cafes around Brisbane and worked every day on finishing the manuscript. Then it was two rounds of edits of around a month or two each (the original draft was 95,000 words, which for the Australian YA market is low-key a beast) to polish it up ready to publish.
Henry Hamlet’s Heart by Rhiannon Wilde (Charlesbridge Teen, 9781623543693, Hardcover Young Adult, $18.99) On Sale Date: 10/18/2022
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