Nicole Hayes and I first met in 2001 at Varuna, ‘The National Writers’ House’, in Katoomba NSW. We were both recipients of a fellowship for ‘emerging writers’ and I recall a glorious week of uninterrupted writing time, one-on-one professional editing and elaborate evening meals cooked by somebody else. Sarah says that whenever she tried to call, a gate-keeping receptionist would answer saying: ‘Oh no, I’m sorry. You can’t speak to Jacqui, she’s writing!’
I left Varuna with two important things: a well-worked manuscript that would eventually become my first book, A Girl’s Own Adventure, and a new friend. Fifteen years on, I think it’s safe to say Nic and I have ‘emerged’ and, while our work is very different, neither of us is shy about ensuring our writing comes with a healthy dose of our own personal politics.
Nic is my out and proud, capital ‘F’ Feminist friend whose Facebook posts ensure I am up-to-date with all things girls and women. Her first book, the young adult novel The Whole of my World, took on Aussie Rules and put a young female protagonist at the centre of the story. One True Thing that followed featured a talented and feisty teenager whose mother was running for State Premier. And – have I thanked you for this, Nic? – an awesome lesbian sub-plot with a happy ending.
What Nic and I don’t share is a love of footy. I’ve lived in Australia for over twenty years now and the word football still makes me think of Spurs, the North London soccer team my older brothers supported when we were growing up in the UK.* Nic, on the other hand is footy obsessed.
After the success of The Whole of my World, Nic and fellow writer, Alicia Sometimes, came up with the idea of producing an anthology about footy that explored the experience of people from the outer: women, Indigenous Australians, the LGBTIQ community, immigrants, and people with a disability.
I want you to write something for this anthology, Nic declared over lunch one day.
Flattered, Nic. I’m sure. But as you may recall, I know didley squat about football.
Undeterred, she continued. I need something gay.
Well I certainly know more about that, but still…
Have a think. Let me know.
And then it occurred to me that I did know a great story about footy and gay, it just wasn’t my story. My arguably-even-more-footy-obsessed-than-Nic friend, Jason, had struggled to reconcile his sexuality with his passion for the game all his life.
So I sat down with Jason and got him to tell me the whole story from beginning to now and then I wrote it – in the first person. Sarah said it sounded exactly like Jason. Jason said it sounded exactly like him only better.
This Wednesday 6th April, Hares and Hyenas is hosting a discussion about homophobia and footy. I’ll be the one sitting between Jason and Nic, smiling a lot and nodding in agreement. It’s a free event. It’ll be fun. Details are here.
The official launch of From the Outer: Footy Like You’ve never Heard it – with all the slightly-more-famous-than-me writers – is on Wednesday April 20th, 6.30 pm @ Phoenix Park, Malvern East.
I’ve just finished reading From the Outer. The very first story, by Chelsea Roffey, the first woman to officiate in an AFL grand final, is the funniest thing I’ve read in a long time. Truly. And there are some sensational stories that follow. And I don’t even like footy. Nice job, Nic.
You can order the book on line here.
* Though the next generation might offer more hope.