Q&A with Nicole Hayes | Clunes Booktown Festival

We’re so excited to be heading off to Clunes Booktown Festival next weekend! We had an absolutely spectacular time last year, and we can’t wait to see more brilliant panels, grab some books, and soak up the lovely literary atmosphere.

Today we have a very exciting interview with Nicole Hayes to share with you! Nicole will be appearing at the Clunes Booktown Festival on the Reading to Escape, or Face, Reality panel and the Play Like a Girl panel. We’re so looking forward to both of them!

We can’t wait to see you this year at the Clunes Booktown Festival! Which other authors are you most looking forward to seeing?

Thank you! I’m chuffed to be invited.

Re who I’d like to see, there are so many! I’m on panels with some of my favourites including Alicia Sometimes, Danielle Binks, Kate O’Halloran, and Gabrielle Wang but I’m determined to catch the panel with Alice Pung and Tony Birch, plus Tony and Paddy O-Reilly are talking about short story writing. I need all the help I can get there! Sarah Epstein will be presenting, too, which I don’t want to miss. I’m also really excited about seeing some writers and storytellers whose work I’m not as familiar with. I’m basically going to wander from event to event the whole weekend, and try not to make a nuisance of myself.

One of our most anticipated panels of the weekend is ‘Reading to Escape, or Face, Reality’! What’s the most involved kind of researching you’ve had to do for a writing project, and is there anything in your writing search history that would make people worried?

Research is both a delight and a challenge, because 1) it’s easy to get lost in subjects you’re interested in, and spend months delaying any actual writing. And 2) it’s so tempting to include every cool tidbit or random fact you’ve learnt along the way. Even if it’s not actually relevant to the story. So I let myself write them in the first draft, preparing to cut them in the second. (It’s a little game I play with myself, thats ’s far mostly worked.)

For my own books, the first two focused on subjects I loved, albeit with a complicated kind of love — AFL football, for The Whole of My World, and politics in One True Thing. Luckily, my obsessions provided me with countless obscure details and unknown facts, making the research more about fact checking, and ensuring my memory was as reliable as I hoped it was. (Spoiler alert: It wasn’t.) So more verifying than fundamental research, which saved a LOT of time. Having said that, in One True Thing, I also had to become confident speaking about playing music, the guitar specifically, familiarise myself with the language around learning the guitar, the composition of particular songs, and I had to create a believably talented but emerging guitarist in Frankie Mulvaney-Webb. This was hard, given my complete lack of musical ability. Thank you, YouTube! I also have a teen daughter who plays guitar, so I stole mercilessly from her repertoire, checking specifics with her as I went.

With A Shadows Breath, similarly I had to learn the language of painting, which involved more YouTube and reading, but also testing how a paintbrush felt in my hand, the smell of paint, studying the incredible palette of colours and names for variations and hues. I also spent a lot of time hiking through the Grampians which was my imagined location for where Tessa and Nick end up fighting for their lives.

But the hardest, most challenging research I’ve done was also for A Shadow’s Breath — and that was studying family violence. Australia has many things we can be proud of, for sure, and the recent shift in conversation around family violence is definitely a positive thing. But. And it’s a big but. We’re dragging our feet, and shamefully slow in acting to redress this gaping wound in our community. The language around how men who kill their families is deeply problematic — so often they’re described as “a great bloke” or “a good man”, when clearly their actions demonstrate otherwise. There continues to be an entrenched need by the media and bystanders to look for a reason, even an excuse, for these acts of violence, before considering the victims, remembering their names, or honouring their memory. Understanding why it happens is important, if the focus is on ensuring it doesn’t happen again. But it feels like this is more about excusing and explaining behaviour that we as a community can then continue to ignore. It’s heartbreaking.

Add in the complications around marginalised women and children as victims of what feels like a tsunami of violence, and it is — in my humble opinion — our greatest shame.

My hope, in writing A Shadow’s Breath, was first, to offer young people who are living in the shadow of family violence, a sense that they’ve being seen, they’re being heard, and, to offer some hope that there is a way through. I also wanted it to add to the conversation around this family violence, to put it front and centre where it belongs. That still hasn’t happened.

In terms of my search history… It’s not for the faint-hearted. The sheer number of resources and stories and anecdotes around this terrible wave of violence is humbling and scary, and probably not ideal bed-time reading. I still receive updates on the latest statistics — which continue to grow, not abate — and petitions and movements trying to force the subject into our national conversation. We’re several days into an official federal election campaign, about a year into an unofficial one, and the silence is deafening.

If you could collaborate on a writing project with any author, dead or alive, who would you like to write with?

I’ve been lucky enough to collaborate with another author in Alicia Sometimes, and she’s been a dream to work with. I’m also about to work on a collaboration with another much loved children’s book author and we’re already having a ball. You’ll have to stay tuned to find out who that is…

But if we’re playing the “any writer on Earth game” — possibly my favourite one, next to, “if you won ten million dollars”, then the list is too long for this space. And I can’t name any friends because, way too many, and because it would embarrass us both. (Did I mention there are so many?) But in the dream world of people I don’t know, I wouldn’t be able to choose between Toni Morrison, Nora Ephron, Aaron Sorkin, or Angie Thomas. With Tony Gilroy coming in right behind them.

Does that get me off the hook? 🙂

Thank you so much, Nicole!

Check out the Clunes Booktown Festival program here!

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