#LoveOzYA Q&A with Nicole Hayes
Nicole Hayes is the award-winning author of five books, including three #LoveOzYA novels. Her latest book, A Shadow's Breath, is longlisted for the 2018 Gold Inky Awards.
Let’s go back to the beginning...have you been telling stories since you were a kid or was writing something you fell in love with as an adult?
I used to write stories for my own entertainment when I was seven or eight – mostly Roald Dahl rip-offs or thinly disguised story lines from TV cartoons but with names of people and places from my own life replacing the fictional ones. Basically, unattributed fan fiction, but written in thick purple texta on recycled butcher paper. My dad took one of them to work one day. It was called “Newman the Mouse”, named after the man who lived across the road. I remember this because my dad had never taken anything I’d made or written to work before. He kept it there too, on his office wall. It was the first time it occurred to me that maybe other people might like my stories too.
Tell us about your new book.
A Shadow’s Breath is about 17 year old Tessa whose life changes forever after a car accident in mountainous bushland forces her to confront her past, and decide whether she can ever go home. Told in alternating past and present, the injured Tessa’s survival in the brutal Australian bush relies on her will to live and her determination to keep her boyfriend, Nick, alive, despite terrible injuries sustained in the accident. As Tessa and Nick embark on their treacherous journey down the mountain, fighting off the brutal sun, dehydration, and the tension between them, we dip back into the events leading up to the crash, and uncover the reason Tessa doesn’t want to go home.
Did you have a favourite OzYA book when you were growing up?
The first awareness I had of Australian YA – it was still a newish category when I was growing up, and mostly international – was Ruth Park’s Playing Beattie Bow. I was in Year 8 when I read it. Until then, I didn’t really understand that writers were living humans who might actually even be Australian. I’d never seen or met an author before – of any kind – and certainly not one with an Australian accent. This discovery was both shocking and exciting to me.
Did you have anyone that encouraged your love of books, reading and writing when you were younger?
My dad was very interested in language and vocabulary, and used to teach me new words and their meanings when I’d encounter them. Sometimes he’d say something (he often used words and expressions no one else used) and I’d ask him about it. Then I’d try to memorise it and use it in a sentence, dropping it casually into everyday speech. Invariably in a completely inappropriate context and pronounced so badly that it was incomprehensible. But I’d keep trying and remembered many of them (albeit incorrectly!) for years afterwards. I inherited his love of language.
My mum loved – still loves! – movies, and was always talking about films she loved, telling us the synopsis, the plot points, the themes, basically breaking down the fundamentals of the story for me without either of us realising it. Basically, fostering a love for story telling in all its forms.
So I blame both my parents for making me want to be a writer!
What do you think sets Australian YA stories apart from those set internationally?
Well, the obvious issue of setting distinguishes it – being Australian, feeling Australian, sounding Australian. But what really sets us apart, I think, is subtlety. Which is not to say that there is no subtlety in other kinds of YA, but I think we’re particularly good at navigating complex and fraught issues with the sort of nuance and the “quietness” of voice that encourages the reader to meet us partway. Perhaps that limits the readership somehow? I’m not sure. But it makes for a very sophisticated and thoughtful body of work for this generation of readers, and I hope, means it will still be read by future generations, too.
Do you have a favourite bookshop or library?
Any bookshop or library that features #LoveOzYA! I love bookshops, all shapes and sizes. I love how differently they’re all trying to do the same thing – to sell books, to encourage reading, to welcome us in and keep us there… This is what makes bookshops irresistible to me, but also impossible to pick a favourite.
The State Library of Victoria is such an extraordinary space that it makes me feel more thoughtful, more creative, simply by walking through the doors. I haven’t been there lately, which is something I should redress as soon as I can!
What was the last book you read and enjoyed?
I read Tim Winton’s The Shepherd’s Hut in a single afternoon and although it isn’t YA, it features a teenage narrator whose voice leaps off the page and completely stole my heart. I’m still thinking about it today, and will do for some time, I imagine.
Aside from writing, what else do you like to do to explore your creativity?
I love making radio and podcasting – speaking in public or into a microphone with people I know or admire, telling different stories to a different audience, hearing other people’s stories… Maybe it’s not so different to writing, except I have to do it on my feet, and without the safety of an editor, or a backspacer. I’d also like to return to filmmaking, and have begun playing around with ideas for this purpose.
What are the best and worst pieces of writing advice you’ve received?
The worst piece of writing advice I received was that I should give up if I’m not published within ten years. Someone literally said that to me. I’m glad I didn’t listen, because it took me more than 15 years – longer, if I count the many false starts I had – to finally secure my first publishing deal. I literally wouldn’t be where I am today if I’d listened to him – and five whole books that would not exist.
The best piece of advice I ever received was, when choosing which idea to pursue, pick the one with the best ending. Readers will forgive almost anything if the story is strong – except a bad ending. Plus the ending stays with the reader longer than anything else. (Which is why endings are so hard!)
What do you love about OzYA?
The increasing diversity of stories, writers, and readers. There hasn’t been enough diversity in the recent past, but that seems to be shifting, and it’s become such an exciting and challenging space to tell stories. We’ve all had to lift our games, I think, to write something distinctive, inclusive, and representative, which is intimidating and inspiring, and never EVER boring.
I love the whole #LoveOzYA community – the other authors, the teachers, librarians, publishers and booksellers who are all dedicated to the same end, and also, frankly, doing it hard at the moment, in the current economic and political climate, and yet continue to fight the good fight every single day.
But mostly I love the readers – the teens -- who are among the most astute and engaged readers out there. They keep me honest, and they make this whole gig such excellent fun.
A Shadow's Breath by Nicole Hayes is published by Random House. It is longlisted for the 2018 Gold Inky Award and was a 2018 CBCA Notable Book. Find out more here.