Saturday, December 21, 2013


Here's a lovely review of The Whole of My World...

YA WONDERS: THE WHOLE OF MY WORLD - NICOLE HAYES: Growing up in a footy-family myself, this book gripped me like a vice. The book follows the life of Shelley, one of very few footy loving ...

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Next Big Thing

Hello all,

Long time no write, hey?

Apologies for the delayed response, but I've been working very hard on copyedits and publicity materials for my new novel, THE WHOLE OF MY WORLD. It's been long and painstaking, but very rewarding, and now I have a brand spanking new cover to show for it.

Isn't she pretty?

Needless to say, I love the cover and the final manuscript, and can't wait to see what happens next. I was also fortunate enough to tag along to the Centre for Youth Literature's Publishers' Showcase in December, and was delighted to find that The Whole of My World was being featured as an up and coming novel in 2013. Very cool to have been chosen for this select category. Don't believe me? Here's proof...

Since then, I've been catching up with friends old and new, including one particularly funny and talented author by the name of Tony Wilson. You've probably seen him on TV or heard him on the radio. He's very kindly invited me to participate in this cool idea called the Next Big Thing Blog Meme. Basically, a bunch of writers answer a series of questions on their works in progress. Tony's books for adults include  Players, Making News and Australia United, and he's written seven picture books for kids. The most recent two are The Emperor’s New Clothes Horse (Scholastic 2012) and The Elephant in the Room (ebook only). Check him out and say hi for me.

So here's the meme thingy, and all the latest on what I've been up to. You can follow the meme on twitter too -- #thenextbigthing. Sometimes you can find me there too.

1)  What is the working title of your current/next book

My debut book is a Young Adult novel called The Whole of My World. It's the story of a troubled teen, Shelley Brown, who's unable to connect with her grieving dad following her mother's death. Alone and desperate to belong, she escapes into the blokey world of Australian football where she befriends the star full forward who has his own issues, not the least of which is a quickly fading career.

2)  Where did the idea come from?

I don't know... Testament to a misspent youth? Partly. But also because I have daughters, and it seems that, no matter how much things change, they still largely stay the same. I started this novel a long time ago, then set it aside, wrote some other stuff, and came back to it. And came back to it. And came back to it... I never quite managed to say what I wanted to say until last year, when I let myself start again. Freeing myself of what I'd written allowed me to find the real story I wanted to tell. And now I get to share it with you guys.

3)  What genre does your book fall under?

It's Young Adult, and it's aimed primarily at teenage girls, although there's enough footy in there to  attract boys too. (Fingers crossed.) Oh - and teachers, mums and dads should definitely read this, not just for the fun 1980s references - spot the mullet, people! - but also because the hero/fan dynamic is so prevalent in today's celebrity-obsessed society. And hopefully, The Whole of My World can provide, if not a window into what goes on in a teenager's mind when caught up in obsession, then at least a jumping off point for discussion.

Anyway, here's the opening... (The "Draft" I refer to here is the football draft. It's not the manuscript draft!)

The Whole of My World...

Prologue: The Draft

Dad always said we were lucky that there were two of us. Always someone to shepherd when you had the ball. Someone to pass to when the pressure was on. Someone to cheer when you kicked a goal.

But when it came down to it, when it really was just us two, that’s not how it turned out at all.  

Chapter 1: The Warm-Up

The mirror used to be my mum’s. Her mum’s before that. It’s oval-shaped with a gold frame and patches of tarnish around the edge, like smudges of dirt that won’t go away. Usually, I keep the mirror covered – I have a strip of black cloth just wide enough to tuck into the crooks of its gilded frame. I saved the remnant from Mum’s sewing cabinet exactly for this reason. But today is different. I need to see what everyone else will see.

I study my reflection in the glass: mousy brown hair, blotchy skin, hazel eyes probably more brown than green if I’m honest. I’m short with a medium build – years of playing every sport I could are still visible in parts, even though everything seems harder to do now. I feel betrayed by my body. The lean muscles are looser, weaker. My chest has rounded out, full and obvious, despite my efforts to hide it. Hide them. It feels as though all the things that made me strong have become unrecognisable and soft. Of no use to me anymore. And there’s nothing I can do to stop it. Dad says I’m a late bloomer. I should probably be grateful for that, except now I’m paying for it...

 (If you want to read more, you'll have to buy the book when it comes out!)

4)  What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Oooh. That's a hard one. I love Ashleigh Cummings from Puberty Blues, but it's possible she'd be too old to play Shelley should this ever become a film. (Sorry Ashleigh!) Alternatively, I'd love to see a young unknown step into Shelley's shoes. Any volunteers? As for Josh, Xavier Samuel would be great, age permitting. I can totally see Callan Mulvey as Mick Edwards.

5)  What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? 

Unable to connect with her grieving dad following her mother's death, a troubled teen befriends a professional footballer dealing with the looming end of his career.

6)  Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

The Whole of My World is being published by the fabulous people at Random House in June this year. I'm represented by Elizabeth Troyeur, at Elizabeth Troyeur and Associates in Sydney. She's ace. :-)

7)  How long did it take you to write the first draft?

Which first draft? Let's just say three months. (Give or take twelve years.)

8)  What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

How do you answer that question without sounding presumptuous and wanky? Very well... Several of my early readers mentioned Craig Silvey's Jasper Jones when they finished my manuscript, which is just lovely thank you very much. I'm a big admirer of A.S. King, too, although it's hard to draw parallels between your own work and that of authors you love. Another reference point might be Paul D. Carter's Eleven Seasons, which I've literally just finished reading. Lots of parallels there, but drawn from the other side of the story.

I guess, ultimately, what I think doesn't matter. What do YOU think? I'd love to hear from you once you've read my book.

9)  Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My daughters and my dad. My daughters because I want them to grow up strong and smart and brave enough to say no sometimes, like Shelley realises she must do. And my dad because of his love for sport and language, and his ability to turn the rough and tumble of Australian football into something both poignant and poetic with his dry wit and a few quietly spoken words.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

It's set in the 1980s, which should be great fun for anyone who lived through them, and even those who wished they did but don't realise it. (I'm looking at you, puffy-shoulder-padded Gen Yers.) Shelley is funny and smart, and an all-round cool chick to hang with. Hunky full forward Mick Edwards, yummy boy-next-door, Josh McGuire, and tortured but loyal Tara Lester think so. I bet you do too.

Plus, all those cute boys.

                                                            *     *     *     *     *      

Phew. Now it's my turn to do some tagging. The following authors are friends whose writing I greatly admire -- authors whose books you should all hunt down immediately so you can see how smart I am.Or how smart my friends are anyway.

EleMental is Steven O'Connor's first Young Adult novel. Originally from Luton, England, he now lives in Melbourne with his wife, two teenage children and Sparks, his ever-attentive, ever-hungry Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. Quite apart from all that, he barracks for Hawthorn. 'Nuff said?

JP Smith is a screenwriter and novelist whose latest book,  Airtight, was published in November 2012. His other novels are Breathless (Viking Penguin); The Discovery of Light (Viking Penguin), The Blue Hour (British American Publishing); Body and Soul (Grove Press) and
The Man from Marseille (St Martin’s Press). A great guy and a versatile writer, get used to seeing his name a lot in the near future.

Historical fiction author Eliza Graham's books include Playing with the Moon, shortlisted for the 2008 World Book Day Book to Read, Restitution, and Jubilee. Her latest novel, The History Room, was published by Macmillan in 2012. I've known Eliza for some years now -- she's a beautiful writer and a good friend. She also very kindly helped me out with edits of The Whole of My World, for which I am eternally grateful.

I fell in love with Catherine Lea's amazing blog some time last year. You want to be inspired? Read Happiness: Optional. You want to be touched and have a tiny bit of your heart broken? Read Happiness: Optional. You want to feel humbled and amazed, and in awe of Cathy's endless grace? Read Happiness: Optional. You want... ? Look. Just read it, OK? 

That's my end of the deal, all sown up. Thanks for bearing with me, and see you all soon. Just make sure you follow the links, and if you like this post, feel free to share it via whatever social media you can lay your mobile device on.



Sunday, October 7, 2012

Announcing my new baby... the literary kind.

Apologies to my friends and followers for the inordinate lapse in updates. The last months have been crazy and wonderful all at once. (Though with lots of tedious bits in between, despite my misguided belief that all that would stop when the best happened.)

Anyway. The big news is that my first novel is being published by Random House in June 2013. For obvious reasons, this has brought about much leaping and cheering in my household. (Most of it by me, a bit by my bemused kids, and a slightly bigger bit by my Cute American Husband who's been listening to me bang on about this novel for the wrong side of a decade.) Finally, you see, it looks like I might have achieved the one thing writers long for... No. Not millions of dollars, or a line of rubbery dolls made in the form of my main character. Though that sounds kind of cool. What we really crave, dream and long for is, well, readers. We say we love writing for the sake of it - and on one level we do of course; God knows we're not in it for the money - but writing and writing (and writing) with no or limited chance of a readership is less than satisfying. Actually, it can be soul destroying.

But now I've had my Young Adult novel picked up by Random House which means that the first part of this dream looks like it might come true. It means I'll be able to hold in my hands a book with my name on the cover and even - deep breath - see it on a shelf in a bookshop somewhere without my having to break any laws or codes of decency to get it there. The backing of a publisher with the reputation and prestige of Random House means that the chances of finding readers - real readers who actually pay to read my story - have now significantly improved. However, that's not the end of it.

Which is where you lovely people come in. (insert obsequious smiley face here)

Over the coming months, right up to and following the launch of my novel, I will, on occasion, draw on your lovely brains, mouths and keyboards to help me get word out about this novel and, eventually, perhaps even buy it. This is the way of publishing now - word of mouth and online support will make or break this book, and without the support of those who love - or even vaguely like - my writing will hopefully be prepared to back it when asked.

But more on that later. If you'll indulge me.

Right now, I'm nearing the end of revisions and am hoping to have a near-to-final draft of said novel in the hands of my brilliant editor within a fortnight, so I will have to disappear again to hold up my end of the deal and deliver a manuscript that is good enough to soon become a book.

Bear with me while I sort out my end of the arrangement and, in the meantime, prepare yourselves for updates and requests in the coming months aimed entirely at helping publicise and advocate for my new and first baby, currently known as Full Forward. (Yes, I mean my novel. Sheesh.)

I hope you will indulge (understand/tolerate) these occasional requests, and that you will do what you can to help the process along.

I will tell you more about the novel in posts to come, but in the meantime, keep reading and stay in touch.

Nic xxx

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Update to Googling old friends...

It's been great seeing my article about googling old friends published on the very cool Mamamia site. If you haven't seen it yet, here's the link. If you have, you'll know that many comments have suggested that I contact my friend's family, despite my misgivings. Many readers felt that having lost their daughter, my friend's parents most likely would want to hear about how she is loved and missed even now, three years later. And I guess I see that now. I have attempted a couple of times to write the letter I'd like to send but have decided to let it sit a while first because, frankly, I want to get it right. There's so much to think about, and still some measure of shock at play. I have lots of questions and very few answers, many of them simply about what to say. And what not to say. Should I mention the article and blog, or shouldn't I? Should I reference the years apart or simply remind them of our time together? How much or how little should I say? These are the questions that hold me back from sending my letter right away, but won't, I assure you, stop me from sending it at all.

(The questions are rhetorical, btw. I'll find my own answers soon enough. :-) )

In the meantime, I just want to say how thoroughly overwhelmed I've been by the generous and candid responses provided here and at Mamamia - I had no idea this piece would generate such a warm reception, so I'm taking the moment to thank you all for your thoughtful consideration and your moving responses.

I'm working on a new novel as I await word on the current one, but will try to blog more often than I have recently, as much because it's been such a lovely experience getting to know all of you readers as because, frankly, I need the exercise.

Look forward to seeing you around here and will be sure to update you when there's something new to read.


Friday, April 13, 2012

He's just so cute...

At the end of last year, in a fit of guilty parenting brought on by a heartbroken 11 year old, we caved in and brought home a little bundle of joy. Not the two-legged kind — God forbid. We've already done that twice, and we're still paying dearly. No. It’s more a case of breeders dropping by. Dog breeders.

Yes, we have a puppy. A round, troublesome lump of fur who can simultaneously melt your heart while ripping your finger off. Not a small feat. But to see him you’d think he’d been doing it all his life. And after he does it, I hear myself, and the rest of my clan, say, He’s just so cute.

We’re into our fourth month of “parenthood” -- I know, I know; bear with me -- and already I’ve learnt a lot about animals, veterinarians, and myself. Not to mention a whole lot of local strangers with whom I have bonded over steaming piles of dog poo in the handful of off-lead areas near our house. (But I digress.) I’ve learned that animals give signals and communicate just as definitively as we do (in the case of many men I know, a lot more) and, correspondingly, to ignore them is, well, pretty stupid.

For example, in those first weeks, Brody (alleged to be half golden retriever, but is inexplicably terrified of water) would suddenly run about the room in mad circles, begin sniffing the floor, look at me helplessly, then pee a gallon (like only a puppy can). My mistake so often was that I didn't attend to the signs. The fact that they changed almost daily is my lookout. Sometimes he just sniffed and peed. Other days he would run in circles after the business rather than before. And still other times, it might seem as if he did nothing to warn us at all, unless you can count those microseconds before the release, when he looked up at us piteously, almost shamefacedly, while squatting on the the only unstained section of our family room carpet.

Then of course, there’s that biting thing. Considering that Brody still has his “milk teeth” it’s amazing that they can be so sharp. My heart goes out to his poor mother if she had to suffer his needle-like teeth on her tired and worn teat every time he was hungry (about every twenty minutes at the time of writing). And he was one of seven in his litter. I have pin holes and welts all over my hands, arms, and feet — even one across my right cheek — where our precious little darling has left his mark, and there’s only one of him.

The books say that he’s teething and so it’s inevitable that he will chew and nip. But if he’s teething, then how come he already has teeth? Really, he doesn’t need anymore. The ones he’s got are more than effective.

The second thing I’ve learned is that veterinarians are UNBELIEVABLY expensive. I mean, forget private school fees for the kids, renovating the house, or even a new car some day. Our money is paying off our local vet’s kids' private school tuition, three times over. And despite the fact that we are paying, she hardly ever talks to us. She just talks to the patient, which I’m sure is very considerate, but it is not especially practical. “So, Brody, how are you feeling today? Got rid of those worms yet?” I feel a bit like an intruder when they have these conversations which, I think she’s gradually realising, tend to be a little one-sided.

And then there’s the training aspect. We patiently repeat these inane, simple commands, hoping to get any response, let alone the right one, while he sniffs and looks distractedly away. When he does finally sit, the fact that you told him to “come” is forgotten as you lavish praise on the adorable tike, only to have him grab your hand in his razor-sharp teeth and chomp down really hard. And as you yelp painfully, he looks up at you innocently and you have this wild, insane desire to pet him again, just because he’s so cute.

And this is the bit I’m learning about myself. Apart from the fact that I seem to have developed a certain masochism where bodily pain is concerned, I have also discovered in me an almost endless pool of tolerance and patience. And that even though there are brief, delicious moments when I dream of a time before Brody, I am so permanently tied to him, that I cannot really imagine a future without him. He’s just so cute.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Googling old friends

A strange thing happened to me last night and I'm not sure what to do about it. I googled an old friend's name. Googling a face from the past isn't the strange thing - I've done this more times than I'd like to admit. (Almost as many times as I've googled my own name to see if some sneaky publisher has released my novel without telling me... Wait. Did I just say that out loud?) The strange thing is that I hadn't googled this particular friend before. I don't know why. She was my absolutely best of best friends in primary school. We even managed to maintain that friendship throughout Year 7 where philosophical differences and geography intervened, sending us to different schools in different suburbs across the city. Even then, for a while, we stuck it out.

And then time and age and adolescent uncertainty kicked in and suddenly the slow responses when I called, or the less frequent visits on weekends seemed to mean something had changed, or shifted anyway. Things we took for granted had to be felt out, considered, measured with care. The conversations a little forced, or stiff anyway. We saw each other more sporadically, less freely, and then that dropped off too. I don't know if it petered out or simply ceased overnight, but one day I just didn't see her anymore. For a while after that I thought about her a lot. And then I didn't. Life moved on. New friends came and went. We grew up, separately. Irreversibly.

The thing is, I adored her like only a young girl can. I think she felt the same about me, too. No one has ever made me laugh like she did. Nor loved the same things with the same passion and intensity. At the time it was KISS. We had every record, knew all the lyrics. We could draw each of the members' make-up in perfect imitation of the real thing, colours and all, and their outfits were imprinted on our memory way better than the 12 times' tables ever would be. We knew their wives' names, their dogs' names... We could sing the words backwards, literally, like some dwarf-loving David Lynch movie. We studied the lyrics for hidden meanings, transcribed them onto the page, moving them around, putting them back where they belonged. We belted out their songs at the top of our lungs, making up dances that would make Seinfeld's Elaine clap out loud. She called me "Nickski". I called her "Jubski". We made up our own language, quoting chunks from it in the schoolground with the arrogant fluency of Kevin Rudd addressing the Chinese parliament.

We rode our bikes down the newly developing Glen Waverley streets, scouting out hiding places amongst the scaffolding and house frames, wrote our names on the bitumen with chunks of chalky clay. We stalked the gorgeous curly-haired Year 8 boy we were crushing on with frightening intensity. She'd report the next day on new sightings after I'd gone home. While I'd wish we could live in the same house so I didn't have to miss out on these moments which I was certain were meant to be ours to share. Her dog came when I called him, her little brother hassled me like an annoying little brother should. Her mother baked my favourite dessert when she knew I was coming, and her dad would test his advertising pitches on us both. They included me in their lives as though I had as much right to be there as anyone with the same last name. Day after day. Week after week. Year after year.

And then it stopped. I can't say when exactly, and I don't know why. But it did. And I missed her. I like to hope she missed me too. Somewhere though I always thought we'd run into each other again. We still lived in the same suburb, despite the school change, and by rights, we should have seen each other all the time. We could have if we wanted to. Found a way to catch up, maintaining this friendship somehow, by correspondence, or on big occasions. We could have done that. Except we didn't. And then it ended, and suddenly my everything became my history, and no longer the centre of my life. Not part of my life at all.

So it's a strange thing that last night was the first time I ever tried to Google her. Her name is unique and unforgettable. There are not two of them, of that I'm sure. So to finally see her name online, all three bits, hyphenated like always - distinguishing her from the bland cream brick veneer of our childhood Glen Waverley - was something amazing.

And something shocking, too.

It didn't take long - a quick search and suddenly I was seeing her name in bold font. Large lettering, as clear as the words I write now. Front and centre, featured on a beautifully designed website that reminded me of a scrapbook, or a wedding album. It wasn't either of those things. It was a remembrance page.

It was the only mention I could find, the only reference with all three of her names. The only online evidence she ever lived was scrawled on a website dedicated to the dead. Slowly, as I scanned the pages, the tributes, the farewell messages, I began to accept that she had passed away. My best friend in the whole wide world that was my childhood died three years ago, and I didn't even know it. At the time, my heart did not skip a beat. I didn't feel the loss, or sense her absence. Nothing moved or ended. No moment of realisation or awareness. I didn't know, or notice, or see. I still wouldn't know if I hadn't been trying so hard not to write.

How is it possible that someone who is so intrinsic to your life, to how you breathe, think and feel, can pass through so easily into her own life, and then the afterlife, without even the tiniest of ripples in your own?

How is it possible my one-time best friend died and I didn't even realise?

I've spent much of today in a daze, not sure what to do with this information. Whether I have a right to do anything at all. I forget about it every now and then - just like I'd forgotten about her in those busy periods of my life when there was too much else for my mind to hold on to - and then it hits me like a wall. Hard and impenetrable. Impossible and unforgiving.

I'd like to tell her family I still miss her. I'd like to tell them she was amazing and special and unforgettable. I'd like to say all of this and more. Somehow though I know this won't happen. Shouldn't happen. It's not my place. Not my right. She isn't mine to grieve - I gave that privilege up a long time ago.

So now I have to find a place to keep her, a place of respect and love, alongside the other things I've lost that perhaps were never really mine to have anyway. Alongside my promise to sometimes, every now and then, just remember her. And to hope that my daughters find a friend like I had, even if just for a little while.

JWM - Rest in Peace.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Michael Sala's The Last Thread

The Last Thread
By Michael Sala
(Affirm Press)

Broken into two parts, Michael Sala’s The Last Thread tells the story of Michaelis (later, in an effort to fit in with his Australian home, Michael) and his family’s migration from The Netherlands to Australia, from Australia to The Netherlands, and back to Australia again. Largely autobiographical, it depicts his early years as the younger and, in his mind, less favoured of two brothers and their complicated relationship with their frustratingly inept mother. Detailing the years with a cruel and bullying stepfather, through the difficult terrain of family scandal surrounding their separation from an enigmatic father, and their mother’s frequently terrible choices in love and life, The Last Thread is at times both beautiful and poignant, if a little uneven.

The first section largely follows the chronology of events and is, I believe, the more successful part. Told in the subjective third person from the young Michaelis’s point-of-view, it weaves in and out of the lives of his family, which, much like the narrative, is in perpetual motion, staying still only long enough for Michaelis — and the reader — to begin to feel like he might have found a home. Each of these upheavals is driven by his complex and difficult mother’s search for happiness. Of course, this sort of search for happiness is futile and painful. The answers his mother seeks don’t exist outside herself and have nothing — or little — to do with geography, although the rendering of the Australian landscape in the 1970s through the eyes of a foreigner certainly paints a bleak and confronting picture of just how hostile and unforgiving it could be. (And perhaps - given the Cronulla riots, our treatment of asylum seekers and Indigenous Australia - still is.) While the family’s fate is driven by the mother’s pursuit of the impossible, the story is focussed on how Michaelis adjusts to these sudden and often shocking upheavals, without ever satisfactorily exploring the emotional toll these decisions have on the young and lonely boy, except in the pervasive sense of disconnection - from everything. The disconnect between the characters and their emotions echoes the disconnect this reader felt with Michaelis himself. Whether by accident or design, like Michaelis, the reader must also keep up with these jarring shifts, forced to reconnect the emotional fractures that characterise all of Michaelis’ relationships. To fill in the gaps. The effect is both compelling and frustrating.

The second part of the novel is told in first person, in the voice of Michael as the man he is today: a father and partner struggling to relinquish the tentacles of his torrid and fraught history. This section moves back and forth through Michael’s memories and his present day to varying success, with the added effect of bringing another dimension to the character, while still rendering him largely unknowable. It is as though by luring the reader to a point where we feel we’re just getting to know and understand this man/boy, we are abruptly delivered somewhere else, restricting us from the access we desire. Much as Michael/Michaelis is by his mother’s restless search for a place that feels like a home.

The backcover blurb tells us that “Michael — now a father — must decide if he can free himself from the dark pull of the past”, however, this is not where we find ourselves in the end. Rather, Michael — and the reader — are left grappling with the man he’s become, a man still bound by the suffocating fears and injustices that plagued his childhood years.

Overall, The Last Thread is rich and beautifully drawn but also, ultimately, vaguely unsatisfying. I suspect that the “truth” of this roman a clef is perhaps the very thing that limits its possibilities. I wonder why Sala chose to fictionalise at all when he seemed attached to a “true” or real ending that leaves us with more questions than answers. Just as Michaelis/Michael is a work in progress, The Last Thread felt a bit like an unfinished manuscript too. Having said that, there is much to enjoy in this novel, and I’m keen to read more of Sala’s fiction. My hope is that, next time, this talented and exciting new writer frees himself to move further from the autobiographical into the fictional where, I’m certain, breathtaking fiction awaits.