CJ Fentiman discovers her perfect career path writing about pets

A creative writing course was just the spark CJ needed to turn her life story into a travel memoir. Although she’d written feature articles and a non-fiction book, she knew she needed to hone her narrative techniques to make her writing shine. After taking several courses at the Australian Writers' Centre, CJ gained the confidence to write a book about her experiences of living in Japan and the cats she met along the way.

“These courses provided me with the skills I needed to develop my writing further and to meet like-minded people, so we could grow and nurture our creativity together,” CJ says.

CJ’s uplifting memoir The Cat with Three Passports is out now with Silver Vine Press, and it was an award-winning finalist in the Animals/Pets: Narrative Non-Fiction category of the 2021 International Book Awards.

Gaining the confidence to tell her own story
CJ admits that she’d often put other people’s ideas of happiness before her own passions. So when a teaching opportunity came up in Japan, complete with two cats in the apartment, she jumped at the chance. She found that she embraced Japanese culture, slowed down, rescued several more cats and began to pursue her writing dreams. She formed a close bond with one rescue cat named Gershwin – so much so, that he made the move with her to Australia.

It was these experiences that CJ wanted to share in her book, so she turned to the AWC.

“To begin with, I lacked confidence and wasn’t sure if what I was writing was actually good enough to become a travel memoir,” CJ says. “I really needed feedback in a supportive non-threatening environment, which is what I got at the Australian Writers’ Centre.”

She started by taking a Travel Writing course before moving on to the fiction courses.

“The Travel Writing course was very appealing to me since that was the same genre I wanted to be published in, and the course tutor had written a book that I had previously read and loved,” CJ says. “Creative Writing Stage 1 was especially good for me because I was more used to academic writing so being introduced to concepts like plot was new and exciting.”

As she worked through the courses, CJ developed the confidence and friendships she needed to complete her manuscript.

“A piece of writing I worked on in Creative Writing Stage 1 was selected by One Page Literary magazine and also the Australian Society of Authors for the International Market Place. This gave me the boost I needed so that I could move forward with my book,” CJ says. “For the face-to-face classes I attended in person, I was fortunate to meet two people who have become good friends and have also published since the course, so meeting them, following their literary journey, and supporting and giving each other feedback was one of the best takeaways for me.”

Passion, purpose and publication
Since finding her ikigai – the Japanese word for ‘life purpose’ or ‘direction’ – CJ has been committed to writing. Before publishing her memoir, she published a book about travelling with pets, now in its 5th edition. She also writes regularly for travel sites and magazines. 

“Even though I’ve been freelancing for a few years now, I still can’t wait to see my articles in print – I always get a buzz from it! So far, I have been published in The Japan Times, The Daily Telegraph, the Japanese National Tourist Organization, CaravanWorld, Australian Dogs and Pets, Pet Bar, Camper Trailer Australia, and featured on SBS radio, ABC radio, Courier-Mail, and Herald Sun to name a few.”

Gone are the days when CJ prioritised other people’s ideas of fulfilment over her own. Writing and animals are now firm fixtures in her life.

“The AWC courses have given me the confidence to pursue a life-long dream. I never really believed I’d write one book, let alone two,” CJ says. “In terms of what the AWC offers its students, I’d say that it’s not just what you’ll learn on the course but the connections you’ll make during your time studying there. Writing can be a lonely pursuit, so making new friends who share your dream and passion is really something special. 

“You never know you might all end up being published in the same year as we did!”

Courses completed at AWC:
Travel Writing
Creative Writing Stage 1
Advanced Fiction Writing Techniques (Novel Writing Essentials)


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