It’s not just new writers who find worth in an Australian Writers’ Centre course. Elizabeth Farrelly is one of Australia’s most respected journalists and columnists, but when she stepped outside her usual writing realm, she sought specific industry advice from the Australian Writers' Centre to help her write and publish her first novel, Caro Was Here.
And that’s where the power of 21st century learning took centre stage. Elizabeth enrolled in the five-week online course Writing Books for Children and Young Adults. “I chose to do the course online – it suited my unpredictable days,” she says.
Not only did it allow her to choose the place and pace with which she learnt (each module taking just a few hours per week), but it was also a welcome break from the adult crime novel she’d been stuck on at the time.
“I thought writing for children would be easy and quick – a couple of months and I’d have it done,” she admits. And with that, she was off and writing.
Each online course at Australian Writers’ Centre has its own tutor, to present the course and give important feedback on practical writing assignments. Elizabeth's tutor was Judith Ridge – an internationally recognised expert on the genre, having worked as an editor, teacher, writer and critic of young fiction for more than 20 years.
“Judith Ridge was a splendid tutor – at once critical and encouraging,” enthuses Elizabeth. “I enjoyed the clarity and simplicity of her approach: choose a character, construct a three-part schema, go for it.”
The process appealed, as if writing a kind of fairy tale. In fact, it was perfect growing conditions for the first beginnings of her future book Caro Was Here to emerge. As Elizabeth puts it, “the germ of the story” came from that short online course.
“I write best in the morning. So I’d write Caro from 6.30am to 7.10am, before getting the children up and off to school. It was hard, but it meant that I could then move into my day job [as a columnist] with a clean heart and soul.”
While Elizabeth first thought that writing for children would be easy and quick, it took around five months to draft, more time to edit and two more years before the world would see it.
Actually, the manuscript was rejected at first. (Nothing unusual there – so many good ones are!) And it was only after her friend – who just happened to be a former children’s book agent – encouraged her to pursue Walker Books with her story. That's where it found a home.
But even then it still took time.
“I followed her advice but heard nothing, apart from an acknowledgement. For so long I’d forgotten Caro even existed,” she remembers. “One sunny morning I was in a Monaro shearing shed, watching crutching, when I had a text saying that Walker liked the story and wanted to publish! I was beside myself with joy.”
Write what you love
Now that she has planted her ‘flag’ in this new genre with Caro Was Here – the tale of a 12-year-old’s truant adventures around Sydney – things are a little bit clearer for Elizabeth. She is hoping to complete a second book in the Caro series, and has another adult fiction book to finish writing too. She often “tortures herself” (as she puts it) with dreams of writing fiction full time (as opposed to merely ‘writing’ full time!), because it really is her passion.
“In the end, you should write what you love to read. My first reading love, as a child, was adventure. Then mythology. Then (as a teen) I loved poetry and drama. Now I read crime. For me ‘real’ writing – non-fiction – is work. Fiction is a pleasure.”
And her advice for others hoping to be published someday?
“Write! Every day. Never give up… Or maybe just do Judith Ridge’s course!”