Apsara Baldovino has always loved to be creative, and she became enamoured of picture books when she started reading them with her children. So Apsara thought she’d like to try writing her own, and a friend recommended she get in touch with Australian Writers' Centre tutor Cathie Tasker.
“I sent one of my stories to Cathie and she told me that she felt that I should consider starting with the foundations first and recommended the Australian Writers' Centre Writing Picture Books course before taking on a mentor,” Apsara told us. “It was the best advice I could have ever received. Cathie had designed the course so, in a way, I was able to learn from the best in a structured way with a group online.”
Apsara put that advice to good use and has now published her first picture, The Lucky Shack, with HarperCollins.
“For any aspiring author, this is a moment in time that is filled with a lot of emotion – from both disbelief and pure joy. I feel as lucky as the lucky shack!” Apsara says.
Rediscovering the joy of picture books
Apsara had rediscovered her love of picture books during her nightly ritual with her first child.
“I read classics for the first time with a new perspective, and then together we discovered modern picture books which we loved reading over and over again. Philip Bunting, Davina Bell, Jon Klassen, Oliver Jeffers, Matt Cosgrove, and Jane Godwin to name a few. I instantly fell in love with picture books as a medium – and thought perhaps I could give it a go. Although it was only a dream.”
It wasn’t until she was on maternity leave with her second child that she seriously considered pursuing her dream and enrolled in Writing Picture Books.
“Maternity leave for me was this wonderfully open, creative space in time where I could care for my little one and nurture my new ideas – what a gift! I was so excited to learn something new while I had the luxury of time (in between feeds and no sleep) to do it.
“I loved the structure of the Writing Picture Books course – the course content, the module handouts, and the fact that the course was online, allowed me to complete the modules at my own pace. This was super helpful considering I had a baby who was very unpredictable and only had mini naps during the day. I would squeeze the modules and homework between Valentino’s day naps. I found the assignments each week useful as this allowed for me to start to put the course into practice. I especially loved that we had a dedicated tutor.
“This course hands down has been the reason for my success. I realised that all the stories I had written before had no structure, or sense of tension or clear resolution. Once I learned about picture book pagination, everything started to click. It was also great to learn what publishers are looking for in manuscripts and recommendations on what to do after the course had finished. I started to apply the lessons I learned to previous stories and this changed everything for me.”
Finding a publisher
Apsara wrote the manuscript for The Lucky Shack quite quickly and then booked in for a few manuscript assessments through SCBWI (the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators). She was over the moon to meet up with publishers from Allen & Unwin and HarperCollins.
“I was so excited, yet terrified, to meet two women from esteemed publishing houses. They both offered a couple of suggestions which I took on and incorporated into the story – and it turns out both of these ideas were pivotal in creating an even better story so I am forever grateful.”
Both Davina Hall from Allen & Unwin and Eve Tonelli from HarperCollins requested to see Apsara’s manuscript.
“HarperCollins was first to come back and let me know that they wanted to publish The Lucky Shack. This all happened just before Christmas so it was the best gift I could ever receive,” Apsara recalls. “My husband and I literally celebrated every single step of the process – from the positive assessment session, to the acquisition email, to the contract to all the various stages of the book launching. Every moment has been a treasure and gift.”
The Lucky Shack tells the story of a seaside shack that is lovingly cared for by a fisherman until one day everything changes. It is a heartfelt and uplifting journey through the seasons and the cycle of life showing that, if you are brave enough to let the light in, love and gratitude will triumph.
Apsara continues to work as a brand partnerships manager so is mostly focused on editing her earlier pieces, but still manages to find time to let her creativity shine through.
“This happened recently, as soon as I left for our trip for Spain, an idea came to me on the plane. I find this is when I am most productive – when I can get these juicy moments of time where nothing else can distract me. I felt the same when I was in New York recently too – I was able to dedicate time to coming up with ideas and editing – I loved it. It’s almost as if the universe knows this is your time, so here are some gifts for you.”
She has submitted another story to HarperCollins and, while she waits to hear about its progress, she is focusing on promoting The Lucky Shack and has enrolled in the course Presenting to Kids.
“As my book has now launched and I am beginning the fabulous journey into book readings and school visits, I also have enrolled myself into the Presenting to Kids course with Nat Amoore and Cathie Tasker. I love learning so I love doing a new course each year – I have many A-Ha moments with every course I take. Nat has so much energy – so I love feeling that when I dip in and out of the course.
“I have recommended the AWC courses to many aspiring writers and creatives as I truly believe the AWC courses are the foundation and first step for any writer who wants to pursue a career or even a hobby in writing.”
Course taken at AWC: