Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve always LOVED reading. There’s something magical about books, their worlds, characters and front covers. Library lessons were my favourite part of the school week and as a kid I remember thinking how much fun it would be to work in a book store when I grew up. I had my head in a book any chance I could, including car trips, before and after school, late into the night and even on top of my pony while he ate his hay. Strangely, despite being an avid reader, I had never considered writing as a career—probably because I had always been encouraged to go to university and get a ‘proper job’. It wasn’t until 2013 that I developed a strong interest in writing picture books. I was in my early 30’s and had a five-year old daughter. I was taking a break from primary school teaching as my husband had recently passed away. To help myself and my daughter grieve I wrote Charlotte’s Angel. While my daughter loved it, I knew it wasn’t at a publishable standard. I so desperately wanted the story to be published that I began researching online picture book courses.
In 2016, I completed Writing Picture Books through The Australian Writers' Centre. It was a great foundation course and I can highly recommend it if you are new to writing picture books and want a solid understanding of the genre. I also joined a number of Kid Lit Facebook groups and signed up for the Julie Hedlund 12 x 12 Picture Book Challenge. This year long challenge encourages participants to write a new story each month. The other benefits included giving and receiving critiques, monthly webinars and access to a 24/7 writing coming community.
By this stage, I had become involved in a number of online critique groups. This was a very helpful way to learn more about the craft of writing for children. I believe it was through participating in critique groups that my debut picture book, Go Away, Worry Monster! became polished and ready to submit.
In 2017 I entered my first writing competition and Go Away, Worry Monster! came 15th out of 206. I was over the moon and it gave me the confidence to believe I might be a good enough writer to seriously pursue becoming a published author. I even bravely began to tell my family and close friends the new career I was working towards. I also decided it was time to become involved in the writing community so I joined SCBWI and Write Links, a Brisbane based writers’ group. Eventually, I began attending meetings, which was a great way to feel involved in the industry, meet other authors and illustrators and learn more about the craft.
In July 2018 I attended my first writers' conference, the CYA, which is held annually in Brisbane. I had booked two editor assessments at the conference. The first editor didn’t have anything nice to say about my stories or my writing style and I walked out of that assessment feeling completely gutted. Luckily, my second assessment, only ten minutes later, was much more positive. Anouska Jones of EK Books absolutely loved Go Away, Worry Monster! She asked me to make a minor change and to formally submit it to EK Books. I made the suggested change and submitted the story. Anouska promptly replied to let me know she would be taking it to acquisitions (the meeting dedicated to accepting new stories for the publishers list). Two slow months crept by, and then I received the most wonderful news—the whole EK team loved Go Away, Worry Monster! and it would be on their 2020 list. I was absolutely thrilled and couldn’t believe my good luck.
While I know luck certainly had a huge part to play in becoming published (i.e. meeting the right publisher at the right time) I also believe my approach to learning to write for children was a factor in getting published. When I decided I wanted to become a published author I thought about how long it takes to complete a degree, apprenticeship or traineeship (usually about four years) and I treated my writing journey the same way. I invested time and money into completing writing courses. I think I have done just every online picture book course available—and all of them have helped me develop a better understanding of different aspects of this genre.
My advice to aspiring authors is to enrol in a course or two, read the genre you want to write, join SCBWI and other local writing groups and most importantly, find a critique group. Not only will a critique group help you improve your writing but you’ll also feel more connected to other writers. And during unprecedented times, such as living through COVID, it’s more important than ever to maintain connections.
Dreams can and do come true. Keep focussed on your goals but most importantly, enjoy the journey—it’s a long road to publication and while the bumps and wrong turns seem frustrating at the time they do add to the experience and help you become a better writer.