Fiona Lloyd had assumed her creative writing aspirations were nothing but a childhood dream. But after deciding to reconnect to that former love, she threw herself into the writing community, attending writing events and completing the course Plotting and Planning at the Australian Writers' Centre. Fiona’s debut middle grade novel Being Jimmy Baxter has now been published by Puffin (Penguin Random House Australia).
“I was over the moon when I found out I was going to be published! It was exciting and terrifying,” Fiona told us. “What writer doesn't imagine that?! It's what spurs us on, the thought of seeing your book on a shelf.”
Learning about plotting and structure
Fiona was initially interested in writing picture books, but she soon realised that she preferred writing longer stories. She knew she was on the right track, but felt she needed some extra help with plot and structure.
“Plotting and Planning is the course that turned a corner for me, and Kate is a very generous and engaging presenter. I definitely had a lightbulb moment in the workshop which has enabled me to start stronger with each project. One of the first things I do when starting a new idea is to pull out Kate's structure diagram and let it soak in. I do know how it all works now, but it's a ritual I like!”
The start of Fiona’s dream
Fiona’s debut novel Being Jimmy Baxter is set in rural Australia in the early 90s and revolves around 12-year-old Jimmy and his mum, who arrive in a country town to begin a new life. But as his mum sinks into depression, Jimmy must do everything he can to keep the wheels turning. Thankfully he meets some special people along the way, and falls in love with the magical music of Elvis.
“There are plenty of heavy topics in this book, but plenty of light-hearted and humorous moments to balance them. I've drawn on my own mental health experience for this story, and hope that it will allow both children and adults to have more conversation around these topics,” Fiona says.
She found the experience of writing Jimmy unusually quick, as the story just seemed to flow.
“It took five days to write a 3500-word story, and at that stage that's all I thought it would be. I entered it in a competition but didn't get a placing. After putting it through my critique group, I was encouraged to think about adding more, and sure enough the ‘more' turned into a novel four months later.”
Fiona used Nanowrimo to edit the novel and booked in a few manuscript assessments.
“In the meantime, I was extremely fortunate through my connection with the Central Coast Words on the Waves Writers Festival that a colleague offered to share my work with Penguin. That was very surreal!” Fiona recalls. “Later, after both of my manuscript assessments with Scholastic and Allen & Unwin proved positive, I knew Jimmy had legs. I sent sample chapters to an agent, Brian Cook, and there was then four weeks of crossover activity between me communicating with all three houses, Brian following up, and the manuscript being passed to Heather (my editor at Penguin) who thankfully fell in love with it. That resulted in an offer to go to acquisitions and, after a flurry of prep for that, two weeks later I officially had a contract and an agent.”
Since deciding to take writing seriously, Fiona is committed to working on her craft every single day – “whether that's writing, thinking time, listening to a podcast etc. It might be whilst waiting at school pickup, on the train, or on weekends – whatever works.”
She has just finished writing a second novel, this time for a young teen audience, which also deals with topical issues such as self-esteem, belonging, friendship and family.
Fiona also completed the course Writing Chapter Books for 6-9 year olds and enjoyed the self-paced nature of the course, which she could fit in around her family and work life.
“Even though I haven't specifically concentrated on that younger audience, I'm sure I've brought knowledge from this course content across into other work,” Fiona says. “I think that knowing you're taking steps to improve yourself adds a layer of confidence, plus an excitement that there's always so much more to learn.”