Shannon Meyerkort has been riding high since the release of her first book Brilliant Minds: 30 Dyslexic Heroes Who Changed Our World. While the idea initially started as a personal research project, it turned into a hugely popular book when Affirm Press offered her a book deal.
“A few years ago, my youngest daughter was diagnosed with dyslexia, and so I went searching for a book that would show her the many successful and inspirational people with dyslexia and the achievements they’d made. When I couldn’t find one, I decided I would write it myself.”
A brilliant idea
The result is Brilliant Minds, which profiles 30 people from Ingvar Kamprad, the founder of IKEA, to Oscar-winning special effects creator Richard Taylor. “It has athletes and authors, princesses and prime ministers, scientists and doctors, dancers and palaeontologists. There is an inspiring story for every child with dyslexia – so no matter what interests them, they will see nothing is beyond them.”
Shannon says that when Affirm offered her a contract, “it was a pinch-me moment”. She adds: “Originally Brilliant Minds was just a personal project for my daughter. I would research and then write short stories for her about interesting and inspirational people with dyslexia. I had a database of over 200 names and I’d ask her ‘who do you want me to write about next?’ Eventually, she told me I should share the stories with other families. In late 2020 I submitted three stories along with the pitch to the Affirm Press Submissions Day which is the first Monday of each month. It was four or five months later when I received an email saying they wanted more information about the book (and me). I had a Zoom meeting with an editor from the Kids team at Affirm and then they went back and pitched it to the whole team.
“I received an email saying they wanted to offer me a contract in June 2021 and it happened that my daughter was home from school that day. We were sitting at the kitchen table doing homework and so she was the first person I told, which was precisely how it should have been. We took a happy crying selfie and it was honestly one of the best days ever.
“The official release date was October 25, 2022, almost two years exactly after I submitted my manuscript.”
The next chapter of her author career
Now that she is a fully fledged author, she has no plans to stop. “I’ve been working on a series of decodable chapter books for kids. I never thought I would be writing for kids, but I really loved the courses Laugh Out Loud and Writing Chapter Books for 6-9 Year Olds.There are five books in the series and I’ve fallen in love with the characters so much, I’m thinking of turning them into a novel for adults.
However, Shannon isn’t just interested in writing books for children. She’s also written four full-length novels for adults and been shortlisted for writing awards. And she has completed several courses at the Australian Writers' Centre. “The first course I did was Creative Writing Stage 1. Being an author was still a pie-in-the-sky idea at the time. I don’t think I had even articulated that dream to myself. I used the word writer to describe myself – I still do – and the Creative Writing program was a great place to start. It taught me skills that would be suitable no matter what type of writing I wanted to pursue – short stories or blogging or reviews.
“The fact that the course was online and there was a degree of flexibility when I could access the modules was probably even more important than the content, as at that stage I was a sponge and just wanted to learn. But I had a pre-schooler and a toddler and my time was not my own. After the five-week course was over, because you could save the audio and modules, it meant I could access the content and could dip in and out whenever I was able to find the time, which made it less stressful than knowing I had to log in at a certain time each week and be responsible for taking my own class notes.”
Reinvigoration of energy
However, it’s not just about the knowledge and skills she’s gained from the courses. “I think the thing that I have gotten from all of the courses, regardless of the subject matter, is that reinvigoration of energy for my writing. As you sit and listen (or read) your mind is naturally churning over your own stories and characters, your hand is jotting down books to read or ideas to develop. I love learning, which is why I’ve done so many of the courses over the years, even when the courses haven’t been immediately relevant to the books I am working on – such as Anatomy of a Crime with Candice Fox, which was just so compelling. I love going behind the scenes and learning how things work and how to structure different kinds of books.”
Shannon’s journey is a prime example of persistence and determination. “Neil Gaiman says ‘If you don’t write, nothing will happen.’ They say the difference between an amateur writer and a professional is that the professional didn’t quit. I have entered the Hungerford Award three times in the past six years. The first two books went nowhere. This year I was longlisted. I’ve gone back to that book and worked on it some more and will enter and submit it elsewhere. You don’t give up just because the first option doesn’t work out.
“Last year I wrote a 5,000 word short story and entered it in a competition. Nothing. I worked on it some more and entered it in another competition. Nothing. I worked on it again, reduced it to 2,500 words and it was longlisted for the Best Australian Yarn competition, making the Top 50 stories from over 4,700 entries Australia-wide.
“Don’t misunderstand, I spend a lot of time imagining and daydreaming about becoming a best-selling author. I mock up book covers for everything I am working on and have them stuck over my desk as inspiration when I write. I like to imagine the finished product while it’s still a mess of words in my head. But imagination will only get you to the desk – you then have to put in the hard work if you want to get any further.”
Courses taken at AWC:
- Presenting To Kids
- Anatomy of a Crime: How to Write About Murder
- Laugh Out Loud
- Writing Chapter Books for 6-9 year olds
- Short Story Essentials
- Cut Shape Polish
- Copywriting Essentials
- Creative Writing Stage 1
- Freelance Writing Stage 1