Carolyn Swindell’s brilliant novel ‘We Only Want What’s Best’

Carolyn Swindell was working in a “high heels and business suit job” in corporate responsibility when she decided to enrol in her first AWC course.

“The biggest thing about the courses is the permission you give yourself to be a writer by investing in yourself,” Carolyn told us. “I had been shy about admitting this ambition, but going along and sitting with other aspiring writers and learning the craft and the business was such a boost to my motivation and my skill level.”

Carolyn put that motivation and skill to good use, with her debut novel, We Only Want What’s Best, out now with Affirm Press.

A love of writing

While she can now call herself a published author, this is not the first genre of writing Carolyn has mastered. In fact, when she first decided to try out writing, she initially went in for freelance writing. Soon after completing Freelance Writing Stage 1 and Travel Writing at the Australian Writers' Centre, she had her first article published. That was the kickstart she needed to take her writing seriously.

“I thought travel writing might be a good way to combine a passion with an income but really had no idea how to write for newspapers. Enter AWC,” Carolyn recalls. Receiving feedback on her submissions from an industry professional gave her more confidence in her ability to do the writing part of writing. “And, of course, I learnt how to write a feature article and what to do with it.”

Carolyn successfully pitched and published her first freelance article shortly afterwards.

“The article was published the same month I got married, settled on a house and got promoted at work and it was hard to know which I was most excited about,” Carolyn says.

She has now had dozens of articles published in publications around Australia and the world.

From freelance writing to fiction

Then, while working on her novel, Carolyn took courses on the business side of fiction writing, including courses at Australian Writers' Centre about how to get published.

“I think that doing a writing course – and I think it matters less which one you actually choose – is incredibly helpful for aspiring writers,” Carolyn says. “Each AWC course I’ve done has given me skills that I am still drawing upon – really practical advice and instruction that allows you to walk away from the course with greater clarity of how to get to where you want to go.”

That clarity has led to the publication of Carolyn’s debut novel, We Only Want What’s Best, with Affirm Press.

“It’s very bizarre, that day you finally get the news you’ve been hoping to hear for so long. It took me a while to really process it,” Carolyn told us.

We Only Want What’s Best is set on a plane between Sydney and LA and follows a group of young dancers and their mothers. One of the mothers discovers images of the dancers that shock her. Are they exploitative or art? The novel is a fierce examination of the world of art and the hyper-sexualisation of children in dance, as well as class and money and parents judging other parents.

The novel took Carolyn more than five years to write, and during that time she also got into stand-up comedy.

“Comedy gave me an additional creative outlet, so I wasn’t so completely and exclusively invested in one single outcome – THE NOVEL THAT MUST BE FINISHED AND PUBLISHED,” Carolyn says. “I’ve always got a lot of creative projects on the go now and while rejections are still common (fortunately with more successes thrown in), having more than one thing on the go softens the blow of any single rejection. I’m playing more broadly across the creative field now and it’s making me better in everything I’m doing and allowing me to enjoy it more.”

Carolyn now divides her time between writing fiction, doing comedy and her professional work as a PR consultant, aiming to spend 70% of her work week on her creative projects. It’s a balance that she’s achieved through doing a range of courses and pursuing her passions.

“Each course I’ve done has made me a better writer, and not just in the area of the course. By developing my feature writing skills, it’s helped me in my fiction writing. By writing better pitches, I write better stand-up comedy. The skills work across so many parts of my life – my creative life and my more-boring-but-better-paying professional life. It’s kind of a complex web of skills, confidence, motivation and resilience and it all builds upon itself.

“You still have to do the writing, there’s no substitute for bum in chair, but an AWC course is like turning on a light – helpful, practical and inspirational. Do it!”

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