Russell Hayley, poet, short story writer and novelist, was born in Dewhurst, near Leeds in Yorkshire. He began writing while attending Teachers’ Training College in Buckinghamshire. He emigrated to Australia in 1961 and then to New Zealand in 1966, attending the University of Auckland (MA 1970). He was closely associated there with the student group which founded Freed (1969–72), editing the final issue, Freed at Last, himself.
Haley's first published works were radio plays with ABC Australia, broadcast in the late 1960s, and he continued to write plays for the stage in New Zealand. His works included The Running European, which was staged at the 'Young Aucklanders in the Arts Festival' in 1968 and published in the 1969 Arts Festival Literary Yearbook. In 1968, New Zealand composer Jack Body set Haley's poem Turtle Time to music. It was introduced by the NZBC at the International Rostrum of Composers at UNESCO, Paris, in 1969. A performance was held by the Karlheinz Company in Auckland in 2016 not long before Haley's death, which he himself attended.
Haley's first book of poetry, The Walled Garden, was published in 1972. His second, On The Fault Line and Other Poems (1977) explored his experience of returning to his birthplace in Yorkshire. In 1979, poet C. K. Stead jokingly referred to Haley in a sonnet as "probably / the best Yorkshire surrealist / writing in New Zealand".
In the 1970s and 1980s, Haley began writing short stories, publishing The Sauna Bath Mysteries and Other Stories in 1978, and Real Illusions in 1984. He also published two further novels, The Settlement (1986) and Beside Myself (1990), and a biographical study of the painter Pat Hanly called Hanly: A New Zealand Artist (1989). He was awarded second prize in the non-fiction category for Hanly at the Goodman Fielder Wattie Book Awards.
In 1987, Haley was the recipient the Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellowship. During this time he wrote The Transfer Station (1989), described by the Oxford Companion to New Zealand Literature as "a series of closely linked stories which fuse French and New Zealand elements in a futuristic scenario".
Haley's novels Tomorrow Tastes Better and The Spaces Between were published in 2001 and 2012 respectively. His last novel, Moonshine Eggs, was published in 2017 after his death.