How Emma Pignatiello went from teacher to romance author

The Australian Writers' Centre’s Romance Writing course came at just the right time for school teacher Emma Pignatiello. She had written three YA manuscripts and was working on a crime novel, but she realised that what she really loved was romance.

“I just wanted to write something I wanted to read. I wanted to stop trying to write what I thought I should be writing,” Emma told us. “I realised that the common thread in all the genres I loved to write and read in was that there was always a strong romance subplot. Around this time AWC came out with the new Romance Writing self-paced course so I signed up for that and as I worked through the modules, the characters and plot of Last Shot started to form. It was the easiest manuscript I'd ever written.”

That manuscript is now being published by Penguin Random House Australia, along with its standalone companion Last Breath.

“I couldn't believe it was my dream publisher – Penguin had always been a sort of pie-in-the-sky dream. Everyone, even my non-reader friends know who they are! All I wanted was one book on the shelves in bookstores and now knowing it's going to be two books, with my dream publisher – it all still feels like it's happening to someone else.”

Emma’s dream has become reality

Emma has been writing stories since she could hold a pencil, and although she dreamed of being a published author one day, she didn’t think it would actually happen.

“I always thought authors were just gifted with this ability and words just poured out from their magical fingers and there was no such thing as editing or redrafting so if the words didn't sound perfect when you first wrote them, then you didn't have what it takes!” Emma says. “It wasn't until I started learning more about the industry that I realised that wasn't the case.”

She decided to enrol in her first class, Creative Writing Stage 1, after returning to teaching from maternity leave.

“My son was a year old and I was the busiest and most stressed I'd ever been but I think there's something to be said about being busy and having kids that makes you take stock of your life and think about what you really want to do in the minuscule amount of free time you have.”

Emma had already been binge listening to the So You Want to be a Writer podcast and the advice from writers to start taking yourself seriously and treat writing like a part of your routine really resonated with her, so she took the plunge.

After completing the Stage 1 course, Emma went on to do Novel Writing Essentials, and the novel she wrote during that time, The Bone Painter, was a recipient of the Varuna/ Affirm Press Mentorship Award.

“I felt like I'd found myself again – not just the person I'd been before I had a baby but the person I was always meant to be! I knew I was on to something and if I just kept going, even if it wasn't with this manuscript, I would get there eventually. The AWC courses and the So You Want to Be a Writer podcast helped me believe that,” Emma says.

Persistence pays off

Emma kept plugging away at her writing, entering competitions and earning a place at the 4 Centres Emerging Writers program run through Fremantle Press in Western Australia. She had written three YA manuscripts and a crime novel when she had the realisation that what she really wanted to write was romance. She used the AWC’s Romance Writing course to launch into her first romance manuscript for Last Shot.

Last Shot is an enemies-to-lovers romance murder mystery set in the Wadandi Boodja (Margaret River region) in Western Australia. Someone is going to murder millionaire winemaker Giovanni Barbarani and only ex-con Maxella Conrad and the uptight Barbarani ‘Fixer’ Greyson Hawke can solve the murder before it happens. That is, if they don't kill each other first.”

On a whim, Emma pitched the novel to Danielle Binks from Jacinta di Mase Management.

“I had zero expectations about this assessment because even though Danielle said she was looking for a romance novel I doubted it was in the romantic suspense genre. The day of the assessment, Danielle had a lot of wonderful things to say about the sample I'd sent and asked to see the full manuscript. A month later, I received what is still one of the best emails I've ever got where she said she loved Last Shot and wanted to represent me. Once I'd got the offer from Danielle and we discussed plans for the Barbarani Estate series, I started writing Last Breath.”

Danielle pitched the two books to Australian publishers and secured a contract with Christine Ebbs at Penguin Random House Australia.

“Christine was so enthusiastic about the books and it was such a strange and wonderful experience to hear someone talk about the characters I'd created as if they were real!”

Emma has finally found the person she was meant to be, and it all started by taking herself and her writing seriously.

“If there's anyone who is thinking about taking the first step towards getting a book published, my one piece of advice would be to do a course with the Australian Writers’ Centre. If not for the content, which will improve your writing and your understanding of storytelling exponentially, but for the mindset it puts you in. It's you saying to yourself: I am serious about this. When you make that first step – everything will feel different to you and it signals to others around you and the universe that this is something you're serious about making happen.”

Courses completed at AWC:

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