Publishing house HarperCollins launched the Banjo Prize in 2018, as “a quest to find Australia’s next great storyteller” – inviting unpublished commercial fiction manuscripts and awarding each year’s winner with a publishing contract.
Now in its fourth year, the Banjo Prize recently announced its 2021 winner. And we were SO excited to see that it was one of our talented AWC alumni Veronica Lando, for her “astonishingly assured mystery” novel, The Whispering. We were also delighted that another AWC community member, Michelle Upton was shortlisted for her novel, The Terms of Inheritance. High fives all ‘round!
According to the HarperCollins press release: [Veronica Lando’s] The Whispering is a hauntingly atmospheric mystery set in the rainforests of Far North Queensland, as the search for a missing man creates a ripple effect that will unearth decades of secrets in one small town. It’s an utterly compelling crime novel in the vein of Kyle Perry, Matt Nable and Jane Harper, to be published in 2022.
Veronica Lando has completed a range of courses with the Australian Writers' Centre, which she says have all helped shape her writing. These include our core fiction courses Creative Writing Stage 1 and Novel Writing Essentials, as well as speciality courses such as Anatomy of a Crime: How to Write About Murder, Cut, Shape, Polish and Pitch Your Novel: How to Attract Agents and Publishers.
“The AWC has provided me with the opportunity to get my book published with a major publishing house, something that only a few years ago I'd have thought would never have been possible,” says Veronica. “They definitely kickstarted my writing, pushed it forwards and got me over the finish line.”
“I lap up the weekly tips from Val and Al on your addictive podcast, as well as the inspiration from the countless authors they've interviewed. I find the online community wonderfully supportive and love having a safe and friendly environment to ask my questions to like-minded people.”
Exploring the world of writing
Veronica at first didn’t believe that she could become an author one day. It wasn’t until she took the first step with the courses at AWC, that she realised it wasn’t such an unrealistic concept.
“Becoming a published author always felt like some far-fetched dream that only happened to other people. It was only when I got stuck into some of my AWC courses and learned to develop (and stick to) a writing routine, that I started to take myself more seriously. Once I began getting feedback on courses and could see my writing improve, I finally felt that I might be onto something.”
In particular, she found the support of the 8-week workshopping Novel Writing Essentials course an enlightening experience.
“The feedback given from my tutor (Bernadette Foley) during the Novel Writing Essentials course really helped to shape my writing and identify areas that I needed to work on, as well as things I was already doing well,” Veronica says, “Surprisingly, I found critiquing others’ writing during the course equally as beneficial. By looking critically at others’ writing, I began to identify what I thought worked, and likewise, what didn't.”
The power of productivity
The inspiration for her now prize-winning novel first struck Veronica while she was in a deeply relaxed state. She then committed to bringing it to life on the page.
“I got the kernel of an idea for my debut novel while getting a massage! I let the idea sit for a few months, while I worked on some short stories, before actually touching it.
“I'm a cohesive planner, and so started off by spending a month plotting the entire story. I ended up with a chapter-by-chapter breakdown before I even started the first draft. By that stage, I was so excited to get stuck into it that the first draft only took me 11 weeks. I set a daily word count and a deadline, and I stuck to them.”
The path to publication
Veronica’s admirable writing routine certainly paid off. She then entered a manuscript prize that would change her life.
“After a few months of editing, I sent the manuscript off to HarperCollins not expecting anything to come of it. I will never forget the moment I found out that I'd won The Banjo Prize. I was positively shocked, and of course, absolutely thrilled. At that moment, I remember feeling as if a new door had opened and I got a peek at an exciting new future.”
The Whispering will be released in 2022 and we can’t wait to get our hands on it. After experiencing this whirlwind adventure, Veronica encourages all aspiring writers to pursue their writing interests – as you’ll never know where it might lead.
“The array of courses on offer at AWC is vast and so are likely to fit with anyone's goals and lifestyle. The courses are a great way to get motivated, develop a writing routine and really find your voice as a writer,” Veronica says.
“If you're looking for a supportive environment to unleash your creativity and get expert advice along the way, then an AWC course is the way to go.”