Lofty ambitions pay off
Astrid Scholte had always hoped to be published. In fact, she had the lofty goal of being published before she was 18. “I was a little ambitious! While it took me a lot longer I'm so happy to have achieved this dream of mine. I cannot wait to hold my book Four Dead Queens in my hands early next year, I'm sure there will be plenty of tears!” says Astrid.
Four Dead Queens has since won the Sisters in Crime’s Davitt Award for Best Young Adult Crime Novel and was shortlisted for the CBCA 2020 Book of the Year Awards. Astrid's second novel, The Vanishing Deep, is out now with Allen & Unwin.
“Without the AWC courses, I don't believe I would've ever finished writing a novel, let alone three! It gave me that spark of inspiration and determination to finish my first book and seek publication. While I didn't end up publishing that particular novel, it was an integral step towards being published.”
Graduate of Australian Writers' Centre, author of The Vanishing Deep and Four Dead Queens
Astrid had been overseas working in production at visual effects company, Weta Digital on James Cameron's Avatar and Steven Spielberg's The Adventures of Tintin and District 9. She had an idea for a YA novel but found it too hard to fit in any writing time as she was working an 80-hour week.
“I've always been a daydreamer and found a productive use for this vocation when I learned how to write stories as a child. Initially, I wanted to write and draw picture books. Later in life, I discovered my passion for young adult (YA) fiction. I love YA because of the story. That's what we're always told is important in writing fiction: story, story, story, and YA books are jam-packed full of story. They take risks, meld genres and push boundaries. Restrictions and rules are made to be broken in YA. They zip along at a breakneck speed, are thrilling and unputdownable. That's what I love to read, so I thought, why not try to write a YA novel?
“It turns out, it's harder than it looks. I could never get past the first 15K words, my ideas would peter out and my motivation would fade. I knew I needed help. But from where?”
The need for accountability, motivation and inspiration
“When I returned to Sydney I had a new job with more sane hours, which gave me more free time. I Googled writing courses one day and discovered the Australian Writers’ Centre. It was in a handy location and the hours were doable after work, so I signed up for Creative Writing Stage 1. It was the best decision I made for my writing career!” she says.
“I took the classes because I needed accountability, someone to check in on how my book was coming along. I hoped a course would give me the inspiration, and motivation, to push through that first 15-20K words and finish a manuscript.”
One of the most useful things Astrid found about the course was meeting like-minded people. “Writing is such a solitary pursuit and breaking into the industry is quite mysterious and overwhelming. It often feels like there's a secret handshake that no one told you about!” she says.
“While the course content is full of useful craft information, it was the amazing presenters that kept me coming back for more. In particular, the wonderful Pamela Freeman and Kate Forsyth. Their advice, wisdom and generosity never failed to astound me. Having access to such amazing published authors was like finding a rare gem. Tuesday nights quickly became my favourite day of the week! I couldn't wait to attend my classes, plus the gorgeous location of Lavender Bay isn't too shabby either,” she says.
“The feedback you receive is probably the most valuable part of the course. Aside from some short stories I'd written in year 12 English, I'd never shared my creative work with others. While it can be quite daunting in the beginning, it's so important to see your work through other people's eyes. If you want to be a published author, you need to think about your reader and how they receive your work, and the AWC courses are a fantastic training ground for this.”
After two unsuccessful attempts at getting an agent, with hundreds of rejection letters, Astrid decided to start on her third novel. In 2016 she had an idea to write a YA murder mystery set in a fantasy world as it was something new. “I'd gotten close to representation with the second novel I'd queried, but the feedback was always the same: the YA fantasy genre is oversaturated. I knew I needed something unique to stand out from the crowd.
“Then I heard about Pitch Wars, a competition where you ‘win’ a mentor (or two) to help you polish your work for agents to read and request the manuscript. I decided to enter, hoping to gain a mentorship, if nothing else. However, I was incredibly lucky and ‘won’ not only two wonderful mentors, but received an offer from an agent a week after the Pitch Wars competition ended. I couldn't believe it! Receiving recognition that your work is good and publishable feels incredible. I'll remember the first call I had with my agent who is based in New York, forever.”
From there, things continued to move quickly. “After signing with my agent, Hillary Jacobson at ICM Partners in November 2016, I completed a round of revisions in the two weeks before Christmas which went out on submission to American publishers in mid-January. Seven working days later I had an offer from Putnam – an imprint of Penguin Random House. I was shocked and beyond ecstatic. Penguin has been a favourite publisher of mine since I was a kid. I'd always hoped to be published but nothing could prepare me for the feeling when someone finally says Yes!” she says.
Astrid's book The Vanishing Deep is out now with Allen & Unwin, and the award-winning Four Dead Queens was published by Putnam/Penguin Random House.