By CJ Stone
I was sorry to hear of the death of Nick Hayes in April.
He wrote a couple of pieces for Whitstable Views and I was hoping to work more with him in the future.
I didn’t really know him. I met him once, at the gate of the house he was living in in Tankerton, when I was dropping off a book for him.
It was a synchronous moment. I’d just got off the bus and was on my way to my sister’s to walk her dog. I’d arranged to drop the book through his door on the way, as Nick had said he wasn’t going to be in.
And then, there he was! We reached the gate of his house at exactly the same time, coming from opposite directions. We both recognised each other immediately. There was a fierce light in his eyes.
The book was Radio Joan by Kevin Davey, which I wanted him to review.
He was incredibly efficient, reading the book and writing a review within 48 hours of me delivering it to him.
Nick was a brilliant writer, but he had not yet found his niche. I had plans for him and was hoping to nurture his talents, helping him out with tips and guidance on how to approach the writing trade, something I do with all writers I believe in.
I have a copy of his book, Locked Unlocked. He’d originally sent me a couple of stories from it for inclusion in Whitstable Views.
I didn’t think they were appropriate as they blurred the line between fact and fiction in a way that I thought could be misleading.
It is this conceit that lies at the heart of his book.
The stories are all first-person monologues, which you take to be Nick’s own voice: but then they veer off into fantasy, which can be disconcerting, not to say, shocking at times.
Nick had the ability as a writer to make his words come alive in your head, which makes some of the darker fantasies viscerally disturbing.
He had bipolar disorder and his illness is very much on display in his book. The first story is called Locked and it is about his incarceration in a Psychiatric hospital after being sectioned. It is the story of his betrayal of one of the residents of the hospital who he had befriended while inside. Another is called I Am Not, and is a powerful, prophetically-worded evocation of his state of mind when under the influence. Written in sharp, jabbing sentences, underwritten with stark emotion, it calls up his illness almost like a presence you can talk to. It is also very, very sad.
The most disturbing story is one called Tipping Point. It was at this point in the book that I had to put it down. I was unable to read any more for several days.
It is here that the blurring of the line between fact and fiction becomes most upsetting. If the earlier stories had been simply descriptions of his illness, then this story of heartache and loss, with its dramatic twist at the end, leaves you breathless with shock. You can feel the end coming on with a terrible inevitablity, as if Nick is in communication with Death; as if Death himself were narrating the story. Someone has to die, it seems to be saying. Someone has to make the sacrifice, or life will never have any meaning.
After a while I had to put the book away. Being immersed in these words was like being caught up in his illness, and I was unable to read past a certain point. The manic stories were as uncomfortable as the depressed ones, but in a more effusive way.
But that is precisely why they are so valuable. They are an insight into someone else’s mind in a way that only the best writing can achieve.
His last piece of writing was put up on the Whitstable Views’ Facebook page not long before his death.
It is called Eyes on the Horizon, and he signs it “The Mental Case”.
Here it is:
I could see the eyes on the horizon. They were looking at me – still and unturning, the wind turbines lined up like white sentries as the water met the sky. Their stillness made me feel calm. The air was calm, the sea was gently lapping, only the children moved noisily on the beach under a warming sun.
It was Easter but more importantly, it was the first day of spring. The weather had made that announcement not some nonsense day in the calendar as the temperature had risen for a few days and awoken the sleepy world. Where once the shingle was empty now there were couples and families and dogs and little ones. This was the world as it should have been not as it had been for so many months.
A couple sat down near to me with their daughter and dog. The ball was chucked repeatedly into the water and dutifully returned – even the pets were happy to be released from their bonds. I listened to the couple chat and their conversation carried with it a certain musicality and lightness. I realised they were not speaking in my language – the couple were outsiders from Eastern Europe probably. Yet as they spoke their words echoed within me – they were speaking my language after all. At the same time, I could hear music play behind me. I didn’t need to turn. I had no wish to learn if it played in my head or was in the hands of a promenader. For me, the sun had started to shine, the music had started to play and those around me had started to speak in my tongue.
I picked up the pebbles on the beach and tumbled them into a pile. These were my stones, their stones, our stones, everyone’s stones. Leaders nearby tried to own our lives, direct and drive us, lead by instruction and without integrity. Here on the beach and in the sun I was led by the poetry of nature and community. Smiles shared between me and the couple with dog and daughter then rippled down the beach through the youths, the fragile grandparents, the anxious readers of tabloid trash and the lonely souls. As irresistible as the tide and the wind upon my face.
Turning again to the eyes, I marvelled at them frozen in time. This was a day without a breath of breeze. Yet, this shingled gathering knew this was just momentary. The wind would come again and so too would change. Leaders nearby cannot navigate a vessel against this wind – listen to the sounds of those amongst us. We speak the same language. We love like we all love. We all long for this coming of the spring.
It is so tender, so beautiful, and yet, tucked away under the optimism of the words, there is such sadness there.
You wonder now what must have been going through his mind in those last few days before he took his own life, why he thought he didn’t deserve to live?
For there is also a manifesto there, a fierce condemnation of the state of the world we live in, of the leaders who “lead by instruction… without integrity,” and it ends on a hopeful note, with those same leaders unable to navigate their vessel against the wind of a rising humanity.
The world we live in is controlled by an illusion. Nick was able to see through that. Many of his stories have that sense: of a change about to happen, of an uprising against the forces of repression, of the stirring of the breath of a new world in an age of dead conformity.
No one’s life is in vain. All life is sacred. So I like to think that Nick knew what he was doing: that he gave up his life in order to help bring about this change, and that he is looking in on us now from the outside (a place he had always known) urging us to begin.
About Nick Hayes
The following text was written by Nick himself as his biography for Whitstable Views:
Brought up on the Isle of Sheppey, Nick lived in Chartham Hatch before enjoying the suburbs of Chestfield for ten years as his teaching career and family evolved. Where he was once destined for the position of a headteacher in an esteemed local grammar school, he has recently thought again and plans to develop his creative side. Embracing a life of frustration and poverty, he has chosen to attempt to work as a creative writer, publishing his first book and desperately seeking a readership. Locked Unlocked is his first and only work. He is hoping to follow in the footsteps of Harper Lee.
There is a crowdfunding site to fund a memorial bench for Nick. If you would like to make a donation, please follow this link: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/philip-hayes
Read Nick’s stories on Whitstable Views:
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