Ep 146 How to do a structural edit. And meet Nicole Hayes, author of ‘A Shadow’s Breath’.

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podcast-artworkIn Episode 146 of So you want to be a writer: Discover how to become an insanely good writer, the life-changing magic of tidying up your writing, and learn the meaning of the word “paraph”. You’ll meet Nicole Hayes, author of A Shadow’s Breath, find out how to do a structural edit, and much more!

Click play to listen to the podcast or find it on iTunes here. If you don’t use iTunes you can get the feed here, or listen to us on Stitcher radio.

Review of the Week
From Blair:

Very inspiring and a tremendous help in keeping focused in writing my novel. Thank you. ~Blair

Thanks, Blair!

Show Notes

Build Your Book: Grow your business by showcasing your knowledge

How to Become an Insanely Good Writer, According to Stephen King

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up Your Writing

Writer in Residence

Nicole Hayes
Nicole Hayes is an award-winning author and a writing teacher based in Melbourne, Australia. Her books include Young Adult novels, The Whole of My World (Penguin Random House 2013), shortlisted for the YABBA and KOALA awards, and longlisted for the Inky Award; One True Thing (Penguin Random House, 2015), winner of the Children’s Peace Literature Award, 2016 CBCA Notable Book, and shortlisted for the 2016 WA Premier’s Literary Award; and her new novel, A Shadow’s Breath, (Penguin Random House, 2017).

You can follow Nicole on Twitter

Or visit Nicole’s website

 

Platform Building Tip

How do you do a structural edit?

Answered in the podcast!

How to edit your own writing: 5 top tips from an editor

How to edit your own writing: 5 top tips from a writer

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Your hosts

Allison Tait

Valerie Khoo / Australian Writers’ Centre

Connect with us on twitter

@altait

@valeriekhoo

Email us

podcast at writerscentre.com.au

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Interview Transcript

Valerie

Nicole, thank you so much for joining us today.

Nicole

Thanks for having me, Val.

Valerie

You know what? This book, you know how there are some stories, there are some books, they’re good books and that’s great, and there are some books that are great stories, but when I read them I feel that they’re great stories that have been written down. And there are some books that just unfold in front of your eyes, I don’t actually feel like I’m reading, because this world just… I’m just wandering through this world that just opens up before me. And this is one of those of books.

Nicole

Oh. Yay.

Valerie

I just think it’s wonderful. But for those readers who have not yet read the book yet, listeners as well, can you tell us in your words what this book is about? A Shadow’s Breath.

Nicole

I certainly can. A Shadow’s Breath is about Tessa whose life changes forever after a car accident in mountainous bushland. Injured, her survival in the bush with her injured boyfriend, both of them are struggling to find their way down the mountain, that’s their only way of survival. But along the way they’re fighting the elements and also the tension between them. And we also, in the process of this story, dip back into events leading up to the crash to uncover the reason that Tessa is afraid to go home.

Valerie

Now there are, as you just said, kind of two timelines in this book. And was that hard to, there is the timeline of the before the crash but also, as you said, what happens from the crash. How hard was that to balance or juggle? Or did you just think, you know, I’m just going to go from one to the other and see how that works?

Nicole

And I just magicked it. Yeah. It was a breeze. [laughter] No, actually, there were several points. So basically you’ve got the now and the then chapters, and they just alternate all the way until they converge near the end, at the climax. And so I actually started writing them consecutively, so I would have one now and one then chapter, and alternate. And there was a point where I couldn’t do that. So I actually separated the two strands. I used Scrivener to do this, by the way, which I hadn’t used before. It was all very new for me. And I just couldn’t keep track of the story when I kept switching between what had happened and what was happening. So the survival story is the one that takes place in the present tense in the now chapters. And the then chapters deal with Tessa’s life before and leading up to the day that she gets in the car with Nick, her boyfriend. And sort of uncovers the things that drove them out there in the first place. And that’s written in the past tense, as well. So just even the shifting in tenses, there was a point where I had to, I just wrote one strand and then another. And then, you know, I didn’t do it all the way through because I had to make sure each one led into, because they were alternating, they still had to make sense, and they had to cross over. So the transition between each of them crossed over from the now and then narratives – I don’t know if that makes sense, but it was really as complex as it sounds.

Valerie

Wow.

Nicole

It was quite… There was definitely one point where I was sitting with this novel literally in pieces around me thinking, oh my god, what have I done? Like, I am never going to pull this together. What was I thinking?

Valerie

So when you were thinking that, what did you do?

Nicole

Well, after I got out of the foetal position and had a very stiff coffee, I basically just thought – right, I’m just going to stick to the strands separately. I’m just going to tell that story, that part of the story in order, and then go to the, you know, and then switch to the other narrative. And in the process of editing at the end, that’s when I would make sure they transitioned. And I went back to – because I’m a pantser, not a plotter, I tend to write as I go – that was the point where I realised that I couldn’t get away with that anymore. So I just basically sketched out what each chapter was going to contain. That way I was aware that one narrative wouldn’t reveal too much in the other narrative until it was supposed to, basically. And really, it’s just persistence. That’s all it was. It’s time and persistence. That’s all that I changed, really.

Valerie

Right. Well, it’s paid off. Because it’s interesting you’ve just said that one timeline is written in present tense and one timeline is written in past tense. And, you know, I read books critically all the time. I can’t help but analyse them. And I was obviously so absorbed in this book that I did not even notice that. So well done on just making the whole thing so seamless. Now, how in the world did the idea for this book form? Did you think, oh, I’m going to write a two timeline story? Did you start off with the crash? Did you start off with the town? It’s kind of set in a small town. How did it start?

Nicole

Yeah, it definitely started with that crash. Basically, I just, I occasionally do these zen writing exercises where I just do a little bit of free writing. And this idea of the Australian bush, the first sentences which really were probably maybe the second or third chapter, they ended up becoming that, of this sense of the landscape, this description of landscape. And before I knew it, someone, this young woman was waking up and she had some sort of brain injury, or some kind of injury anyway. And she had been in a car accident. So it was literally just a bit of wild writing at the start. And that first chapter, it was probably the third or fourth paragraph I wrote, that ended up being the first chapter. Then once I had her waking up, it actually became quite clear. All that I had at that point was she lived in a small town, and she was afraid to go home. And was in this car. And even at the beginning, I didn’t even know that she was going to be in this car with anybody until actually Nick appeared a few chapters later. So it was really that organic in that sense at the beginning. However, having said that, I had stuff I wanted to talk about. I just didn’t know that this was the story that was going to do it, if that makes sense.

Valerie

What was the stuff that you wanted to talk about?

Nicole

Well, I was really interested in the idea, you know in my first two novels – maybe not as much in The Whole of My World, but certainly in One True Thing – home is a sanctuary, it was really a sanctuary for Frankie. And even for Shelley in The Whole of My World, there are these people that make her feel safe and at home. And in the course of writing these books and meeting a lot of young people, it became really clear to me that there are a whole lot of kids who aren’t safe going home. That actually they’re safer out of the home. And that places that we take for granted like school, or the footy, or whatever it is they go to, that’s actually their escape. Because for whatever reason, they’ve got neglectful parents, or no parents, or drug or alcohol or family violence happening in their homes, they are afraid to go home. And it was really important to me, I knew that I had to deal with this at some point, because it was happening, it was coming up too often. And I really wanted to make sure that kids who felt like that were hearing their stories being told as well.

Valerie

When I was reading this book, because I think I read your other book over a year ago now, yeah, definitely over a year, maybe 18 months ago or something. It sounds different to your other books, if that makes sense? Does that, I can’t find any other way to…

Nicole

Yeah.

Valerie

Did you do that consciously? Or did you decide I’m going to adapt my style a bit?

Nicole

I can’t say it’s conscious. It’s not conscious at the start, but then it comes it once I realise that there’s this thing happening and there’s this style that I’m really enjoying writing. And really, I think it was the waking, what became the first chapter, that style of disconnected, this somewhat removed voice, because it’s told in third person which is also new for me. My first two books were told in first person. As soon as I did that, I knew that this was going to be different. And it was just whether I wanted to sustain that or not. Whether I felt like I could sustain it. Because it was such a leap from what I had done before. And then it just became about, I was just having so much fun writing in this voice, and I was having so much fun really exploring language and challenging myself in presenting things in this different style. Admittedly, about half way through I thought, oh my god, again, I’m in over my head, which I’m realising happens a bit for me. But that was probably the point where it became a little bit more conscious. But when I’m in those chapters, in particular I think the now chapters is where the style is so different to what I’d written in the past, it was, as a writer, one of the most joyful, challenging but joyful writing experiences I’ve had.

Valerie

Really?

Nicole

Yeah. Really just in sparse language, just kind of moving through ideas and images very quickly. And also being able to be brief like that. A lot of those chapters, they might be a paragraph or two long, some of them.

Valerie

Yep. We’ve said that it’s set in a small town, and it brings in various elements that are specific to small towns. Did you grow up in a small town?

Nicole

Not even a bit, no.

[laughter]

Nicole

I’m a Melbourne girl born and bred. You know, though, having said that, I did grow up in Glen Waverley. And now it’s a very popular, very densely populated suburb. But – I’m not going to say how many years ago, but there are decades involved, let’s say – when I was growing up it really was, my friends would joke, I had to travel quite a way to go to school and my friends would joke about me taking a picnic, a cut lunch, to make it out to my home, we were out in the sticks, and that kind of thing. And there was a sense that everybody knew everybody. And it did feel a little bit like a small town in that way. And I think perhaps I was drawing on that. But really it was simply because I thought I’ve had two very Melbourne stories and I just wanted to, I thought there’s more than this. If I’m going to represent Australia, there’s more than just one city, there’s more than just the city. And the landscape, you know, I felt like, if she had, for her to be truly isolated, she needed to be somewhere where there weren’t going to be a lot of options for her. And that’s where the small town seemed an obvious place to locate her. Everyone knows her, there’s no escaping. And there are perhaps not the services available that might be in a bigger city. So it sort of all gelled together. And I don’t know which happened first, but it made it, it created the right environment for Tessa to really feel on her own in the way she does.

Valerie

There’s little descriptions, the way you describe just the movement of someone’s hand even, or even some of the dialogue that’s in here, there’s so many subtle things that you include but they speak volumes. And I feel that that can only happen, or a writer can only do that if that writer spends a lot of time observing people. Do you do that?

Nicole

Yeah, I do.

Valerie

Like, consciously, and writing things down, like how they did move their hand and stuff?

Nicole

Look, I probably don’t do enough of that. I probably need to. Which is I think a challenge, one of the challenges that I have. And again, this is me pushing myself, was to more consciously note these sorts of things. Rather than just subconsciously have them happening in my mind and hoping that I can draw on them when the writing takes place, I actually made more of an effort to do that here and to even just from reading more and paying more attention as I was reading about different ways that we move, different ways that we look, different ways that people carry themselves, just because I do think, you know, we aren’t in each other’s heads. We rely entirely, a lot of our communication happens silently. It’s what we are doing and what people are doing or not doing when we’re in each other’s company. So it was really more initially because I was sick of saying the same things, and aware that I had these patterns in my writing that I needed to break. You know, we do. You know, I’ve got eyes and looking. I’ve got to stop that. I get really caught up in expressions. I really need to think about the physicality. And that’s what I wanted to do in this story, is really push myself in every way, including being a bit more creative in how Tessa would relate and understand what was happening around her, and how people were behaving around her.

Valerie

Can you tell us about some of the timeframes involved in the book? As in, I thought of the idea at this point, and then it took me X number of months before I wrote the first draft, and then it took me however long before I had it edited and stuff. Can you just give us some key milestones, so people can get an idea of the gestation period?

Nicole

Yeah. Well, I would have started this… Gee, a year and a half, almost two years ago. It was when One True Thing had come out or was in the process of coming out. And that was 2015. So yeah, eighteen months, probably. And really those first chapters came very quickly. Probably the first 20,000 words. I think it was about 30,000 words I hit at that point, and that’s a common point for me. Only a few months in, they come very, very quickly, and then suddenly I hit a bit of a wall. And that’s usually because I’ve run out of outline.

[laughter]

Nicole

Yeah. I’ve got my ending, often, or a sense of the ending. And I’ve got my big kind of moment, and I’m very comfortable and very smooth at getting that opening. That comes very naturally. But the big bulky part of the story, that second act, and I do tend to follow a rough three-act structure, that’s the one that bogs me down. And I invariably hit a bit of a wall there, and it’s a point where I have to force myself to start listing and outlining some key moments. Not too deep, not much detail at all, actually, but just to give myself some direction. And I did do that, but it wasn’t really helping. And then we got up to Nanowrimo that year. And I spent a day, P.D. Martin is a crime writer. I don’t know if you’re familiar with her work? Philippa is an old friend of mine. And she was running some Nanowrimo workshop days. And I spent one day, she let me sort of jump in for one day, one Sunday, at the convent actually where I teach classes for the Australian Writer’s Centre. And it was literally, I think it was from ten til five, and we wrote with breaks every two hours. And it was just a bunch of people just sitting there and writing, and I knocked out 13,000 words, 13,5000 words.

Valerie

In a day?

Nicole

In one day.

Valerie

Oh my god.

Nicole

Yes. It will never happen again.

[laughter]

Nicole

And I think I broke something inside of me in the process.

Valerie

That’s amazing!

Nicole

It was really, I just was quite possessed. And probably half of it, I threw out. But I absolutely broke the spine of the story in that time. And it was simply by pushing through and forcing myself to just keep writing, even if what I was writing was really bad. And in that process, it’s when I kind of knew this is the thing that has to happen and this is the – and I’m going to speak very vaguely – this is the big prop, this is the reveal, this is the thing that’s going to ultimately test her the most. And all of the, it all just fell, and after I knocked off those 13,500 words, I don’t think I went, like I said, I was a little shattered after that, really. It was amazing while it was going and then I stopped. It’s a little bit like when you exercise. You know, you do a marathon and you feel really good for about five minute afterwards and then you sort of fall on the ground and think, oh, I’m not doing that again for a while. It was a little like that.

Valerie

Or ever.

Nicole

Yeah, well, forever probably would have been smarter, I think. Maybe a month later, because I felt like I’d done the hard bit, I just went back into it. And so, probably I had to deliver a first draft, I think it was the end of January. So the rest of the book came together in those next three months, two and a half months.

Valerie

Wow. And so you mentioned that you teach for us at the Australian Writer’s Centre in Melbourne at the beautiful Abbotsford Convent. And I know you also sometimes work out of the Australian Writer’s Centre studio, at the Convent. How important is it to you to get away from writing at home? Like, why do you?

Nicole

Yeah. I really need to. I find, even before I was able to use, when I can’t always get to Abbotsford which is my preferred place, that’s for sure. Even just to walk to a local cafe, if I’ve only got an hour or a couple of hours. I struggle to work right at home. I mean, there are times when I have to, when I’m on deadline, and it’s just hours straight and I’ve got to work overnight or I work up very early in the morning. The only time I can really write at home very effectively anymore seems to be if I wake up at four or five and before everyone’s awake. You know, I have kids, I have a husband, I have a dog who plonks his head on my lap and makes me feel guilty that I’m not walking him. So all of these things are conspiring to give me an excuse not to write. It’s really just a discipline thing. It’s too easy to get caught up in the stuff at home. So I have to physically remove myself. I cannot be dragged into putting another load of washing on, or starting dinner, if I’m physically not in the house. So I have to remove myself at points.

Valerie

Fair enough.

Nicole

And it’s been a godsend having access to an office, too. It’s been massive. So thank you!

Valerie

Awesome. So, you also co-host your own podcast, and it’s not about writing. It’s got nothing to do with writing. “The Outer Sanctum”. Can you just tell us briefly what it’s about and why you’re involved in this podcast?

Nicole

“The Outer Sanctum” is a podcast, an AFL podcast, that is an all-female podcast. I believe it was the first of its kind. We only started last year, in 2016, right before the football season, the AFL football season started. And it’s a bunch of, there’s six of us, and we’re all mad Hawthorn fans actually, although we try not to talk about Hawthorn too much. And we got, I actually got to know almost all of them, it is kind of connected to books because my first novel, The Whole of My World, is about a teenage girl who is obsessed with footy. And it’s sort of loosely vaguely moderately based on my teen experiences as a Hawthorn fan. So Alicia Sometimes interviewed me on Triple R and we kind of became friends. And then I met Emma Race and her sisters Lucy and Felicity as a result of because they loved my book. Which was lovely. And they reached out to me online. And Kate Seear is the sixth member, and she is a really good friend of Emma’s. So we kind of all just had this little group of Hawthorn tragics. We’d direct message on Facebook when the footy was on. And I don’t know. We got involved, Alicia and I got involved, decided to collaborate on this collection of football stories, From The Outer. And through that, we curated some of these conversations that The Outer Sanctum – or, they weren’t called that then, but these women, our little direct messages became curated into poems almost. And we scattered them throughout From The Outer. And I don’t know, we had a few glasses of wine over dinner to celebrate and, you know, someone threw out the idea “We should start a podcast”. And I don’t know, I think three days later we did our first episode. It was quite crazy.

Valerie

Oh my goodness. Well, it gained quite a big profile over the course of last year. So you’ve done really well with it.

Nicole

Yes. It certainly did.

Valerie

So let’s just go back to the book, From The Outer. It’s From The Outer: Footy Like You’ve Never Heard It. That was released last year and you co-edited it with Alicia. How did this idea come about? And why did you think, oh, let’s do a collection of football stories?

Nicole

Well, as I’ve admitted, I’m already a footy tragic. But honestly again it came from The Whole of My World. Alicia and I kept being invited to do gigs together to talk about footy and the idea of women and inclusiveness or exclusiveness, and how a lot of people like us women, or people from different cultures and different backgrounds, people with disabilities – how there are still many of us still love the game, but the game hasn’t always loved us back. And so many people approached us with their stories. And we knew a whole bunch of writers who were kind of closet footy fans. You know, there’s this sort of sense that football is somehow anti-intellectual. And we were really determined to dispel that notion, that you can’t be a thinking person and also love sport. So we came up with the idea of giving voice to some of these stories. And so we had some awesome writers. We had Tony Birch, we had Ellen van Neerven, Maxine Beneba Clarke, Christos Tsolkias. Every writer we knew who had a complex relationship with the game for some reason or another, usually because of either their cultural background or their sexuality, or even just their gender, and got them to tell us their story about their relationship, and whether it’s about why they love the game or how it soured for them. But for the most part it’s this homage to footy, and a request for football to step up and deserve us, I think, is probably what we had in mind. You know, that there’s all these people here who don’t always feel included and need to.

Valerie

And so when you co-edit an anthology like that, how do you brief the people? Is it literally, here’s x number of words, and write about footy? Or do you coach them along to shape their story as well?

Nicole

We probably didn’t have to do a lot of that. There are only a few writers there who were new, and didn’t already have a strong sense of what they wanted to say. We definitely had word limits, but they were pretty flexible. And I think we said between 3,000 to 5,000. Which is a pretty big space. Most of them hit in around the 3,000 word mark, and almost all of them knew what they wanted to write about. They were just really excited to have the opportunity to write about something people don’t normally ask them to talk about. And we found, if anything, there were all these people afterwards saying why didn’t you ask us? We would have loved… It was really eye-opening, actually, to see how many people have a story to tell. But there was still a lot of editing. And the challenge, I think, the biggest challenge in bringing all of this together is one, I am a writer, you are a writer, I love writers, but we’re not fantastic when it comes to being organised. So hitting deadlines, you know, some are better at it than others. And sending invoices. All of that sort of stuff. That was the really time consuming aspect initially that really dragged things down. The actual editing process of cleaning up the individual pieces and working with the author, that was actually very smooth. I did the first round, and then Jo Rosenberg was our editor at Black Inc, she did a final and worked more directly with each individual writer at that final stage. The next biggest challenge was the order of stories, and making sure… Because you want to hit the right tone, you want to change it up a little bit, you don’t want to have a really sad… There’s a lot of stories, football stories, that we ended up with had a lot to do with a father or a grandfather who had introduced them to the game, and how often it was an expression of their grief or their loss or something. So getting that tone right and making sure that they didn’t jar against each other. That was really challenging. That was probably the thing that took us the longest in the end.

Valerie

Yeah. Getting the right pacing and the right experience for the reader, I suppose.

Nicole

Absolutely, yes.

Valerie

So, being a footy tragic, I understand that you have another book coming out about football as well?

Nicole

Yeah. Alicia and I have collaborated again with Black Inc on a kid’s book, actually. This time. I don’t usually write for the young ones. This is a primary school, seven to twelve year old children. I’m going to say predominantly girls. And it’s called a Footy Girl’s Guide to the Stars of 2017. And it’s just a collection of the personal stories of eight players, from the women’s competition, the brand new AFL women’s competition that starts on February 3rd, is the first game. And the book comes out that day too. Or I think it comes out just before that. And basically we just interviewed one player from each club and asked them a little bit about their experiences of football while they were growing up, how they came to the game, what the competition means to them, what their routine is, that sort of thing. As well as some fun stuff, you know. What their favourite food is, what’s the worst thing about being a footballer. All sorts of questions that hopefully will appeal to kids. Just as a way of kind of, these women are amazing what they’ve had to accomplish, well beyond what’s on the field. They’ve got careers they’ve had to put on hold, they’ve got partners that they’ve left in another state, or family. It’s an enormous thing that’s being asked of them, and yet they feel it’s such a privilege. So we really wanted to give them an opportunity to just kind of celebrate them and the incredible achievement of finally, finally, having a women’s competition. Which is, you know, very belated.

Valerie

Wow, you’re really into AFL, aren’t you?

[laughter]

Valerie

Right. Enough AFL. We’re going to go back to A Shadow’s Breath. It’s interesting because I was just thinking, when we were talking about people having stories about the football, that first thing I thought of was I am so not a football tragic, not even close. Like, I am the opposite to you. But then I thought, oh my god, the last short story I wrote was set in the AFL.

Nicole

Ha.

Valerie

How weird is that?

Nicole

That is really weird.

Valerie

So weird.

Nicole

So funny.

Valerie

Very strange. But anyway, back to A Shadow’s Breath. What was the most challenging thing about this book, that was probably different to your other books? Your other novels?

Nicole

I think, unlike every other book that I’ve written, or story – I mean, even in From the Outer I wrote a story of my childhood. And I’ve written manuscripts that haven’t been published as well. This was the first one where I really wasn’t drawing much at all on my own story. Or drawing on something that has always been a lifelong interest for me. So, for example, in The Whole of My World, it’s footy and she’s obsessed with football. And it’s in first person, so I was able to inhabit Shelley in that way and really much of her experience was just conjuring or remembering what I experienced, or other people around me. And I was able to filter that through within the construction, the story construction, but also draw on very authentic experiences that I could relate to. In One True Thing, my two other loves apart from footy and books and writing are politics and music. And I have no musical talent whatsoever but I am a huge fan of Pearl Jam in particular. And you know I got to really, even though Frankie is a very different personality to me, I was able to express my love for these two things in the context of this story. So I really didn’t have to do a lot of research, for example. I was able to draw on stuff I already know. I majored in politics as an undergraduate. It’s been a, even as a teenager I was quite political, and it’s always mattered to me. So I didn’t have to do too much in the way of research or really have to familiarise myself too much with something I wasn’t familiar with. Except that Frankie played guitar, was learning guitar, and even then a lot of my research was the fact that my daughter was studying guitar and was around the same age. And I could, you know, it was all right there around me. I could just draw on what was happening around me. In A Shadow’s Breath, it’s a really foreign experience to me. I did not have, I had a very safe, a very loving family life. Yes, I lived in Glen Waverley, and yes I felt a bit cut off sometimes, and perhaps that’s the thing that I related to most when I was painting, drawing a picture of Tessa. But everything else I really had to… And probably the grief and there’s aspects of mental health that I was able to also draw on from my own experiences of people around me. But the landscape, this home life that she had, all of that was something I had to be very careful to get right, and to make sure that it felt authentic, because I was reaching well out my experience and my comfort zone. So I would say, I mean and Tessa paints. Her main sort of expression, her way out, I suppose, emotionally, was always her creativity, and it was visual arts. It was painting and drawing. And I am truly lacking any skill whatsoever in the visual arts. I am not a visual person. I actually have, I remember reading, I love beautifully put together children’s books, I really do. But I also realised that when I used to read them to my kids, I would not look at the pictures. Like, I just didn’t even notice them.

Valerie

Oh.

Nicole

Not as part of the story. I would look at them as a visual thing separately. But when I was reading the story, I looked at the words. And I often would get to the end of a book and think, that doesn’t make any sense! It doesn’t end. And my kids would point out to me, because the answer or the reveal or whatever, the information was in the picture that I had completely missed. So it really, having to create, to put myself in the space of this, of Tessa who loves painting and drawing, that is her, the thing that she escapes to, having to also be able to technically describe it was really challenging. It was really challenging for me.

Valerie

Yeah. I bet.

Nicole

It was.

Valerie

You teach creative writing at the Australian Writer’s Centre. What do you enjoy about teaching creative writing?

Nicole

Oh, there’s a couple of things that stand out for me. One is I really love the people. I don’t know if you screen or what. But we just always have great people. I don’t know how it works. But we’ve always had fabulous people. Like, really engaged, they really want to be there, they bounce off each other, they feed off each other. The energy is always really great. So, it just, as a human who likes other humans, it’s a lovely space to be in. So that’s separate from the content itself. But I think probably the other thing I really love is that it actually reminds me, it forces me to think about my own writing practice more consciously. It reminds me of tricks and devices, strategies, things that I might have forgotten. It forces me to remind myself of, this is a way that you can write through a problem. Or this is a great way of building a character when you’re not sure that you know them. And here’s a really good plot device you can try when you feel like you’ve run out of choices. That kind of a thing. It’s like when you’re teaching somebody to drive, and you remember all these bad habits that you’ve developed. I really find it’s very useful in making me a better writer. And that was really unexpected. I don’t know that I realised that would happen in the process.

Valerie

And finally what’s your advice to aspiring writers who want to have their book, their third novel out one day? Or even their first?

Nicole

Yeah, right. Well, it’s a tough gig, that’s for sure. Don’t get in it for the money, that would be my first advice. But honestly, I think the most important things you can do are to read widely and to try to write even a little bit as often as you can. I’d say every day, but I certainly am not able to do that all of the time. But even if you can put down 15 – 20 minutes to set aside to just have a bit of a scribble, it can actually just get you in the habit of just thinking on the page, rather than keeping it all in your head. But the one piece of advice that I always give students at the beginning of every class is not so much to write what you know because, well, often what we know is our day job and probably the thing we don’t love most in the world. But write something that you love or that matters deeply, and matters deeply to you. Because it’s a long process, if you’re going to try and write a book. And so you need to have something you connect with in a really powerful way to push through those tough lonely days. But also because at the end of it that’s where your authenticity comes through. I think that’s where the best writing comes through.

Valerie

On that note, thank you so much for your time today, Nicole.

Nicole

Thanks for having me, Val.

 

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