Carla Fitzgerald had three kids under five when she decided to start writing short stories. They helped to keep her entertained while she was caught in a whirlwind of nappies and breastfeeding. After entering an Australian Writers' Centre short story competition and making the longlist, Carla was hooked and immediately enrolled in Short Story Essentials.
“I wanted to know more and write every spare second I could. I entered some short story competitions and had some success,” she says.
Carla continued to hone her craft with Creative Writing Stage 1, How to Write for Children and Young Adults and Writing Chapter Books for 6-9 year olds. And she can now proudly say that she is a published author with not one but TWO books released in 2022.
Her debut picture book is Keeping Up with the Dachshunds, published by Larrikin House in April 2022 and her middle grade book How to be Prime Minister and Survive Grade Five will be released by UQP on 2 August.
“The courses changed the direction of my life entirely. I found something that I love and am passionate about and now have the privilege of calling it my work,” Carla says.
Finding her passion
Carla had studied English literature and law at university, but decided to follow a traditional career path into law. It was while on leave after the birth of her third child that she started writing stories.
“Who knows why I chose the busiest time in my life to start a writing career?” Carla says. “But I snatched moments of time to write, even if it was just a sentence or two in my head. And it sustained me and made me a better mother and person.”
After finishing Short Story Essentials, Carla enrolled in Creative Writing Stage 1 with Pamela Freeman.
“Pamela was an amazing teacher. She talked to us as if we were writers and would eventually write books. Books!” Carla says. “It was so useful to get an understanding of the basics. Good writers make it look easy but there is a whole lot of technical stuff going on there. And you need to know the rules.”
Carla soon realised that she loved writing for children, particularly as she was reading so many kids books with her own children. Once she had decided that that was her focus, Carla jumped at the chance to enrol in How to Write for Children and Young Adults.
“One of the reasons I love writing for children is the varied nature of it. You can write anything from picture books to YA,” Carla says. “There’s also a freedom to it. While I mostly write contemporary fiction, I’m aware that kids have incredible imaginations so the sky is the limit in terms of what you can do in your stories. Plus, I believe that reading is invaluable for all humans and I wanted to put something good into the world.”
The courses at the Australian Writers' Centre allowed Carla to give herself permission to write and to be a writer.
“I also enjoyed connecting with others who shared the passion for writing. I met a good friend in the course from another state and we still read each other’s manuscripts and give each other feedback.”
Finding publication success
Carla’s first book was inspired by two moments.
“My eldest son had just started school and was determined to bring the right ‘thing’ to play with each day (e.g. Fidget Spinners, Beyblades, Ooshies). But the right toy changed very frequently,” she says. “The second moment was standing in a pet supplies store with my Mum and realising just how many toys and accessories there are for dogs. They even sold rubber chickens. So these two moments led to the idea of a story about a dog that can’t keep up with the latest trends.”
Carla sent the manuscript to publisher Larrikin House for an assessment. Over the next few weeks, they worked together to workshop it into publishable shape and then Larrikin offered her a contract. Next up came the gorgeous illustrations from Rebel Challenger.
“I won’t ever forget the moment of seeing something that previously existed only in my head as drawings on the page,” Carla says.
Keeping up with the Dachshunds tells the story of a dog named Jet, who has trouble keeping up with the latest trends at the dog park, as modelled by the always stylish dachshunds. Then she meets Buster, who dances to the beat of his own drum. It’s a story about friendship, consumerism and the joy of being yourself.
“When I held it in my hands it was magical. It was such a surreal feeling reading it to my kids. My youngest has been asking me to read it every night and consequently he is now my favourite child. :)”
A second offer
Carla’s second book is How to be Prime Minister and Survive Grade Five about eleven-year old Harper who decides to take over from her dad, the Prime Minister, when he goes missing.
“I pitched this novel to Clair Hume at UQP at an ASA Speed Literary Event and she asked to read the first few chapters. Then the whole novel,” Carla says. “Clair called and we chatted about it and I tried to play it cool but all I was thinking was that I would love to work with Clair and really wanted UQP to publish my novel. She said she would get back to me after acquisitions.
“I still remember getting the email with the offer of publication. I was cooking sausages or something else suitably greasy for the kids. I remember there was grease on my hand when I picked up my phone and saw that I had an email with an offer of publication. I gasped and started dancing around the living room with my kids who didn’t really understand what was happening but are always up for a spontaneous dance session.”
As a working parent, Carla continues to fit her writing in around her life and family – and dancing sessions. And there is one thing she is absolute sure of.
“I consider myself a writer now,” Carla says. “Taking a course at the Australian Writers' Centre is an amazing thing to do, regardless of what you’re hoping to get out of it. And it could even change your life – like it did for me.”