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Wednesday 15 April 2015

Interview: Author Nicole Hayes

Nicole Hayes' debut YA novel The Whole of My World (Random House, 2013) was long listed for the 2014 Gold Inky Award and shortlisted for the 2104 YABBA Award. Her second YA novel, One True Thing (Random House, May 2015) is a tale of music, politics and secrets. It has already received some rave previews. Nicole kindly agreed to talk about her fraught early journey to publication.

How long did it take from first writing to having your first novel published?
My debut novel The Whole of My World started life more than 14 years before it was finally published. It was originally a somewhat different story, but with the same protagonist and setting – a footy-obsessed teenage girl. I’d already written a novel manuscript before that, landed an agent and interest from publishers and a mentorship at Varuna on the back of both these manuscripts, but neither one sold. I put them down for years, wrote several other novel manuscripts that didn’t sell, then some film scripts that attracted funding, before finally coming back to the football story. I embarked on a page-one rewrite. Random House made an offer a little under a year later.

What percentage of your time and effort went into actual writing before finding a publisher?

At a guess, I’d say seventy percent. There was a lot of writing and rewriting early on, not to mention proofreading, printing and posting query letters and pitches. I spent a lot of time trawling websites and scouring bookshops for similar titles, entering competitions and applying for mentorships. I did everything the wrong way multiple times before I got where I needed to get. In the end, the manuscript wasn’t good enough in that first incarnation. Which is why I spent so long reworking it before, finally, effectively starting again.

I suspect my experience was a little different though, because I’d had many near misses and shortlistings without finding a publisher, so it took longer to realise it wasn’t going to happen for this novel. It took a lot of short listings, near misses and rejections – encouraging and detailed as they so often were — to realise that the story itself, wasn’t strong enough to sell as it was, despite all the enthusiasm the idea had been met with.

You have The Whole of My World out on bookshelves and One True Thing to be released very soon. I heard a whisper about a third fabulous tale well and truly in the making. Do you feel differently about each creation? Not while I’m writing them, I don’t think. The excitement and delight in the story and words are as potent now as fifteen years ago, though I suppose this time around I have the added pressure – or is it a privilege? – of having a publisher wanting to read it. There’s still no guarantee they’ll publish, but it’s nice to know that when I finish, someone already wants to read it. Someone who can – hopefully, will – publish it.

Of course, I wrote all the previous stories convinced someone would want to read them too, so maybe it’s not so different after all? I am aware, too, of my publisher’s particular tastes now, and preferences, though I’m not sure that I actually take them into account until later drafts.

Does publication of a second book feel different to that of the first? How?
Good question. Yes, because I understand the process more fully this time around than I did before. I understand that a lot of the publicity and marketing will be up to me, and that I have to drive the strategy rather than wait for someone else to. So that’s been quite different for One True Thing. It’s also different now because media, bookshops, and/or other venues know who I am. In fact, some of the media outlets have actually approached me first, which is really helpful and quite flattering. I also know not to say no – these opportunities last for a very short time, and you have to make the most of every single one.

But in other ways, it’s no different at all. The uncertainty of whether it will be a success is equally as terrifying and mystifying as it was the first time around. I know how much is riding on it, which perhaps makes it tougher but the unknowing, the desire to shut your eyes and hope for the best, is just as strong for One True Thing as it was for The Whole of My World – which, both times around, is the worst thing I could possibly do!

Nicole Hayes is an author and writing teacher based in Melbourne. She has an MA in Creative Writing, and taught fiction and screenwriting for more than five years at University of Melbourne. She runs writing workshops for Australian Writers Centre, among other organisations, and is the Creative Writing Facilitator at Phoenix Park Neighbourhood House. Her new novel, One True Thing, comes out May 1. To find out more, visit her website or follow her on Twitter (@nichmelbourne).