A Shadow's Breath Guest Post + Giveaway!

In some of my favourite Aussie YA, what really stands out to me is how authors depict the Australian landscape - whether it be physically in the city or the outback, or culturally through our resilience and ability to relate to others. A Shadow's Breath by Nicole Hayes is one of those books which does this exceptionally well, alongside providing a story which is compelling and full of suspense!

Guest Post by Nicole Hayes - Writing A Shadow's Breath

It makes sense that this competition is about capturing a visual depiction of A Shadow’s Breath since that’s how the first words of this novel came to me.

I generally start a story with a solid idea of what I want to say, a big picture concept or theme I want to explore, and, usually, the main character has already started to “speak” to me as part of this. Not in a woo-woo way. Ha! But because I’ve already played around with her voice, or thought about what sort of person she might be, by testing out her words in my head even before I write anything down. This is how Shelley in The Whole of My World and Frankie in One True Thing emerged when I sat down to write those books, seeming to leap off the page largely formed.

With A Shadow’s Breath, those early images in my head were more visual than anything else. I could see this girl waking up after an accident in the hot, dry Australian bush with that enormous, cerulean-blue sky above her. I’ve collected so many pictures of the Australian landscape and our incredible skies over the years, gathering them in my memories, feeding them with my imagination, that they essentially forced themselves out of me when I attempted to write Tessa’s story.

In this way, the natural world is as much a character in A Shadow’s Breath as Tessa Gilham is. The vastness of the bush, the history and timelessness of our amazing outback, the awesome shifts in weather, the creatures, and always, always the heat. How incredibly powerful the elements are when they work together to create a unique country that is beautiful, ravaging, but also terrifying. So many ways to die here! I had a million possibilities and challenges for Tessa and Nick to overcome – quite apart from the problems in their relationship – and all of them so visceral and alive that the words flew out of me.

But the thing that gripped me most, apart from all the fabulous (from a writer’s point of view!) dangers and perils that lurk in our landscape, was what it looked like. The colours and textures, the shapes and edges. Once I started exploring these possibilities, I quickly found that the language around our wilderness is rich and evocative, atmospheric and complex in style and substance. An unpredictable! I loved the idea of that vast, open blue of a dry summer’s day set against the purples and greys of sudden, terrifying summer storms. And I spent a lot of time trying to capture all this, relishing the process of finding the precise word, the ideal colour, the perfect slant of light to match what I could see in my head.

But I knew that this in itself isn’t a story.

Story is about characters, about people, relating – or often, not relating – and because Tessa’s story of abuse and neglect was one I’d heard too often and witnessed at different times, it became really clear how this almost alien, brutal landscape provided a metaphor for Tessa’s struggle to feel safe anywhere – at school, in her small, claustrophic town, in her own home. To Tessa, the perils of the outback were bearable compared to what she’d survived already. Which was why the story became two narratives running alongside each other: the Now story, of Tessa and Nick fighting to stay alive after a car accident in the middle of nowhere, struggling to make their way out of the bush, carrying injuries of all kinds, physical and psychological. Their relationship as tenuous at that moment as their grip on life. And the Then chapters, of the days leading up to the accident, the small-town gossip surrounding a girl like Tessa whose family history is as notorious and damaged as Tessa is. And her own struggle to believe anything good could happen to her, but also, incredibly, beginning those first steps toward moving on. Believing.

When I brought all these components together, I realised I was writing something I’d always wanted to write: a survival story set in the Australian bush, driven by a protagonist who is smart, capable, and fiercely independent in a survival sense – socially and physically – but also afraid to trust or believe in the simplest and most important things: love, family, forgiveness. If it wasn’t for her best friend, Yuki, she would have given up years ago.

But Tessa does believe in her art, in the freedom it gives her to safely explore her darkest fears, her deepest secrets, including the darkest of all. A secret she’s never told anyone, not even Yuki, and definitely not her mum. And the thing that drove her and Nick into the bush in the first place, the reason she’s afraid to go home.

Even more frightening than the harsh, perilous Australian bush.

Extract from A Shadow's Breath

Vast sky. Blue and wide and impossibly bright.Tessa blinks. Blinks again. A shadow falls, then passes. Heat like a wall presses against her. The rustle of wind in leaves. Or something moving outside? She listens, strains towards the sound. Now barely a whisper of noise that might not be real. And then it’s gone.She squeezes her eyes shut. Opens them. A rushing sound fills her head like a conch shell held to her ear. Her skin stretched taut against her cheekbones, her lips crusty and dry as a scab.

Still. That sky. She can’t look at it for long before the black dots appear. The feeling of life – hot and bright and wondrous.


She’ll be okay, it seems to tell her. She’ll be okay. And she fixes on that single thing – the notion that life still beats on inside her – before the weight of consciousness grows too heavy and she allows herself to fall into that blessed dark, the silence a welcome relief, knowing she’ll come out the other side.

Wherever that is. 

Novels by Nicole Hayes

You can follow Nicole Hayes on:

Check out the photo comp!

Nicole Hayes has been kind enough to offer two of her books up for grabs AND a $20 voucher for an Australian bookstore to the lucky winner. 

Simply post a photo of A Shadow's Breath with the hashtag #ashadowsbreathcontest on twitter or instagram to enter. If you don't own a copy of the book yourself, don't worry - your local library may have one or you may even create something on Photoshop which is inspired by the phrase 'a shadow's breath'.

Full details can be found on my instagram post here:
Giveaway alert! 'A Shadow's Breath' is an amazing #LoveOzYA novel by Nicole Hayes and now Aussie readers can have the opportunity to win more of her books *PLUS* a bookish gift voucher through our photo comp... . . 📒Main Rule: Include in your photo the cover of A Shadow's Breath - it can be through your own copy, one from the library or a digital image. Feel free to get creative with a theme that takes inspiration from the title - the most creative photo wins! . . 📒The Prize: Any 2 novels by Nicole Hayes (choose from A Shadow's Breath ● One True Thing ● The Whole of My World) AND: - A $20 voucher for an Australian bookstore . . 📒Open to entries here or on twitter, just make sure to use the #ashadowsbreathcontest hashtag in your posts so Nicole can see them! . . 📒Open to Australian residents only, competition closes on 10th July . . [ Stay tuned for some blog posts happening soon and more opportunities to win a copy of 'A Shadow's Breath' over at @divabooknerd @ausyabloggers and my blog! ]
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