Anika Molesworth shares her powerful story with debut book, ‘Our Sunburnt Country’

Like a lot of people, Anika Molesworth had talked about writing a book ‘one day’. As a climate and food security advocate, Anika had a busy schedule and there was always a reason why she never quite started on her book. When she finally decided to put pen to paper, she did it literally.

“I spread sheets of paper all over my bedroom floor, lay down on my belly and sketched out all the ideas I had for a book. I wrote out themes, drew mind-maps, scribbled questions I had and questions I wanted to ask others,” Anika says. “The sheets of paper spread on the floor became more numerous and more detailed as I learnt and as I formed the book’s outline and content.”

With this outline, Anika secured a contract with Pan MacMillan to write about her experiences of climate change as a scientist and farmer. But after months of writing, she knew she needed some expert advice to shape her thoughts into a coherent book. She enrolled in the Australian Writers' Centre’s Creative Non-fiction course.

“From the very first lesson I felt like I was being welcomed into a place of learning for writers – it felt supportive and encouraging,” Anika says. “As I worked my way through the course, I began to feel more confident as a writer. And once I completed the course, I was so eager to dive back into my manuscript and apply all my new learnings.”

Anika’s debut book Our Sunburnt Country is out now with Pan Macmillan.

Reigniting her creative spark
As an agriculture and environmental scientist and communicator, Anika is comfortable with words. She has written articles and spoken at many events, including TEDxSydney. Most of her writing, however, tended to be scientific or academic. But she wanted to tap into a more creative style for her full-length book.

“I love seeing text on a page: letters arranged in a certain order to create a word; words lined up in a certain sequence that form meaning; sentences strung together to build story; paragraphs that tumble over pages that create feeling and wonder, and that capture minds and motivate action,” Anika says.

Through the Creative Non-fiction course, she was able to reignite that creative spark.

“It encouraged me to question my story narrative, its structure and tone, as well as my characters,” Anika says. “I learnt really useful tips like ‘show don’t tell’ and it made me contemplate fundamental questions, like ‘why would someone want to read this story?’ I filled pages in my notebook with questions and answers, and this helped me to elucidate my intention with the book and see a clearer pathway to move forward.”

Most crucially, the course gave her a welcome confidence boost.

“I felt I was treading-water in a sea of self-doubt for a while, knowing that I didn’t have the training to write a narrative non-fiction or a memoir,” Anika says. “But this course gave me that instruction. It made me realise I already had a lot of the skills, I just needed to know how to apply them.”

Facing up to the challenges
Anika’s book Our Sunburnt Country explores the climate change challenges that farmers are facing today and what solutions are needed to fix the food system. She spoke with dozens of people to share the stories and ideas of farmers, nutritionists, climate scientists, chefs, and social entrepreneurs.

“Conducting interviews for my book was by far my most favourite part of writing, but it was also the most intimidating. I was so overwhelmed by people’s generosity to share their stories with me,” Anika says. “The people I interviewed told me their fears, challenges, hopes and dreams. They handed me their lives in words with great intimacy and vulnerability, and I felt every ounce of that responsibility. It was then up to me to share their ideas and ideals with the authenticity and respect they deserved, and to weave their personal insights into the larger narrative being told.”

To assist with the writing process, she turned to some of her favourite authors. 

“I looked at my bookshelf not just as a place that held interesting stories, but as an offering of guidance and advice,” Anika says. “To put one’s thoughts on paper, in full view for others to see, is incredibly daunting. But I wanted to do that. And I knew to tell the story I wanted to share, I had to do that.”

To tell the best story possible, Anika also became a ruthless editor.

“I didn’t let sentimentality hold me back from using ‘delete’ on the keyboard. I cut out, chopped down and beat into shape my sentences until they were good, better and the best they could be. Hours of writing disappeared in a blink of the eye with a highlight from the cursor and a hit of the key. And despite the lump in my throat making those decisions, I knew it was for the best,” Anika says. But the pain was worth it. 

“When my manuscript was finally considered complete and it went off to the printers, it all felt a little surreal. Had I really just written a book? I still have to pinch myself now – to have a real life book to hold is an incredible experience.”

A better future
Anika is hopeful that her powerful and inspirational message will change readers as much as she has been changed during the journey.

“I am proud of my book. It shares some very important messages and practical tips that I hope will inspire and help my readers,” Anika says. “When I look at my book, I don’t see only the written narrative, but I see all the hard work, self-doubt, fear, excitement and pride that comes with writing one’s very own book.

“I recommend AWC to everyone who asks me about learning to write. I gained so much from enrolling and completing the Creative Non-fiction course, and I want other people to feel that excitement and pride as one’s writing skills develop. I couldn’t have written and published my book without AWC. I learnt so much from the Creative Non-fiction course and I am a better writer for it.”

Courses completed at AWC:
Creative Non-fiction

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