Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Words Out - Nicole Hayes at Santucci's

Nicole Hayes is a writer, editor, tutor, talker, mother, wife and passionate Hawthorn supporter. I joined one of her creative writing workshop groups when I came back to Melbourne last year, and from the first session knew I was in the hands of a generous and talented guide. Like Shaun Levin (one of my tutors in London), she has that rare ability to listen, analyse and offer insightful critique to work after a quick first read.

Though a lot of her time is spent developing others, an important part of Nicole's routine is getting away from distractions to focus on her own writing, and she's been coming to Santucci's in Carnegie to do this a couple of times a week for about 6 years.

Unlike meeting Else Fitzgerald at Carolina, I didn't have any trouble finding Santucci's, but they certainly keep a low online profile. The family-owned cafe has been here for decades and has a homely quirk to it. The coffee machine is an important feature and there's bookshelf displays of old percolators and grinders, old lamps on the tables and pictures with a loose Italian theme hung in collaged groups - it all adds up to make a loungey, informal-dining vibe. And they make good coffee.

Nicole arrives with a load that would fail commercial airlines' weight limit for carry-on luggage, although she assures me she took this much when she flew to London last year for the inaugural Australia and New Zealand Festival of Literature & Arts. She carries a laptop for writing, piles of hardcopy for editing, and "just-in-case" files. Nicole's a busy person who values alone-time as a precious commodity that should be spent on her writing (guilt is a great motivator), so it's important that here there is no wifi and though the staff are friendly, they don't bother you when you're head down.

It's usually crowded so fortunately Nicole doesn't have a favourite table or chair, she just grabs a space and gets to work. When we're there the lunch crowd is as mixed up as the furniture, and it's loud. It's the sort of incoherent noise that cafe writers like Nicole love - she'd find it far more distracting to be in a quiet cafe where a private conversation would really carry. If she does get stuck, Nicole uses a freeform exercise to get her work moving, shared with Writers Victoria here.

And did I mention that the coffee's good?

There used to be couches and toy boxes at the front of Santucci's, and on Saturdays a woman sat at a window table and read tealeaves for free. One day the woman asked Nicole if she could do her reading. Maybe the scribbling in the notebook (pre-laptop days) gave it away, but she asked Nicole if she was 'the creative type? a writer?' and Nicole felt convinced this stranger could see a powerful creative spirit in her. After the ceremony, the woman told Nicole that she would definitely be published. That was some years ago and the woman has since moved away, but wouldn't it be lovely to tell her that she was right. Nicole's first novel, The Whole of My World, was published in 2013 and is the first book about AFL to feature a female fan (not groupie, football-loving-female). Since its publication she's been interviewed and joined panel discussions covering a broad range of topics - Dark issues in Young Adult fiction, role models for girls and young people, women writing (and loving) footy, and writing what you love.  Her second novel, One True Thing,  will be published in May and she's already set to take part in the Melbourne Writers Festival Schools' Program in August.

Nicole has said that she has to write about a subject or a theme that really matters to her. "And I have to be angry about it, too - an injustice or a crime - in order to maintain my focus." She's choosing important themes in her work and pushes her students to call on the same passion and purpose in their own writing.  Santucci's is one of her places for holding and harnessing that focus, and on the way out I realise that their quote of the day when we met is a fitting tribute - a message that could come from one of Nicole's students for how much she helps them - to a writer fast becoming the voice for "girls finding their way in traditionally masculine worlds."
I love you not only for what you are, but for what I am when I'm with you. I love you not for what you have made of yourself but for what you are making of me. George Eliot
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Nicole Hayes is an author and writing teacher based in Melbourne. Her debut novel, The Whole of My World (Random House 2013), about family, friendship and football, was longlisted for the 2014 Gold Inky Award, and shortlisted for the 2014 Young Australians’ Best Book Award (YABBA). Her second novel, One True Thing, will be published by Random House in May. She has a Master of Arts in Creative Writing, and is nearing completion of a PhD at the University of Melbourne where she taught fiction and screenwriting for more than five years. She runs writing workshops for Australian Writers Centre and is the Creative Writing Facilitator at Phoenix Park Neighbourhood House. Previously, Nicole has lived in England, France, Japan, and Hawaii during her extensive travels before finding her way home to Melbourne. To find out more, visit her website: www.nicolehayesauthor.com or follow her on Twitter: @nichmelbourne.

Words Out is a series of interviews with writers in the cafes they like to work in.  I'm making Melbourne's future literary map for tourists in the years to come.

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