Based on a true story: cocaine, cowboys and creating a her first book

robyn012bwRobyn Windshuttle is first-time author and graduate of our Life Writing course. She had quite the tale to tell when it came to writing her first book – all true and now all published!
With the release of her book, Dancing with a Cocaine Cowboy, we threw some questions in her general direction, and here’s what we got back:
So Robyn, it’s got quite an exquisite title – give us a quick overview.
Dancing with a Cocaine Cowboy is an exhilarating tale of love, passion and adventure. It recounts my experiences as a professional dancer; it transports the reader to breathtaking locations all over the world and it follows my ardent love affair with a handsome charismatic Colombian man I met on my first day in Paris. It is a true story. It is my first book.

True story huh? So at what point did you decide to tell the story of this part of your life — did you know you would write about it when it was happening?
I only began to toy with the idea of writing this story in my early 50s. I was in a tight spot in life, unemployed, kids all grown up and living independently. I was bored and at a loss of what to do with myself, so as mean of staving off the blues I decided to dig deep, to get resourceful and to find something productive I could immerse myself in.

Wow! So did you have any concerns about writing so openly about your experiences?
I wrote the book with an open and honest heart – to engage an audience I think you have to be sincere. I wasn’t deterred by fear of failure, I didn’t worry about the competition or how my audience would judge me but I did have to carefully measure my triumphs and missteps in equal measure.

It can be a fine line. So, let’s talk calendars. How long, from idea through research to finished product, did the book take?
It took several years to finally get published, a very long time, which everyone and anyone in the publishing world warned me about! I was a novice with no idea where my endeavour would lead me so negotiating my way around the publishing industry was very tricky at times. I held on though because I discovered I loved the writing process.

Well that always helps! So how did your book deal come about?
The first time I thought I had finished my manuscript, I pitched it to two agents. One graciously declined, the other called me very soon after to tell me they loved it. I was so excited about that but 18 months passed before I realised this particular agent did not have my best interests at heart. I let that agent go and decided to get my manuscript assessed. Patti Miller’s Life Writing workshops at Australian Writers’ Centre put me onto Sophia Barnes who gave me a very encouraging assessment and some very constructive criticism. I followed her advice and was ready to pitch it again when a close friend of mine piped up and explained he knew someone from the Allen & Unwin team. I was excited of course but I also knew if a prominent publisher like Allen & Unwin didn’t like my manuscript then I was done for.

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But clearly they did like it and away you went! So did anything surprise you about the whole book deal/rewriting and editing process?
I wasn’t surprised by anything really. I took Allen & Unwin’s lead and learned about the process of getting published, but I also knew I only had one shot at this so I followed every step with a meticulous eye and had no qualms about speaking up to them if I had any concerns. They were very gracious about that.

That in itself is great advice for all new writers! Now, you mentioned completing the Life Writing course with the Australian Writers' Centre. How did this help you?
I had enormous difficulty actually starting the book. Writing that first sentence can be very frustrating and time consuming…until I decided to do some workshops at your centre. Patti Miller’s Life Writing workshop gave me the strategies to get going and to keep going. They were hugely beneficial and inspiring. Patti also assisted me throughout the process wherever she could.

We love Patti. So tell us, what's your typical day like – do you have a day job, or is writing a full-time job for you?
I am a part-time carer for my elderly parents and since February 2014, when I was picked up, I have been busy with the publishing/editing process and more recently a hectic schedule of interviews.

That sounds like two full-time jobs! So, what’s next?
As such I haven’t had a lot of time to knuckle down into my second book. I have got a couple of hundred words down and a flimsy thread of a plot that I am eager to get back into. Ideally, apart from a second book, I would like to write professionally, feature/travel articles or a regular column in a popular magazine so I will have to start working on that immediately…strike while the iron’s hot.

Congrats on your book and all the best with your endeavours – we love it when graduates do well!

Want to see your own story in print? Check out our Life Writing course.

Dancing with a Cocaine Cowboy is available now from all good bookshops and online.

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