Living on a farm and juggling her responsibilities as a busy mother, Fleur Ferris always wanted to write books. And since completing the five-week online course in Writing Children's Novels at the Australian Writers' Centre, Fleur has landed a book deal, scored an agent and become an award-winning published author, with her novel Seven Days winning the Best Young Adult Novel prize at the Sisters in Crime’s 23rd Davitt Awards.
Fleur has also published four other young adult thriller novels – Risk (2015), Black (2016), Found (2018) and Wreck (2017) – and a novel for middle-grade readers, Bunnaloo Hullabaloo: the magical discovery.
It's been an amazing ride for Fleur. Her stellar career as a novelist is a far cry from when she used to sit writing in isolation on her farm.
She had already written five unpublished novels when she decided to enrol in one of the courses at the Australian Writers' Centre. Above all, she wanted to hone her skills, improve her craft and get feedback from industry professionals.
“I chose to do a course specifically aimed at writing for children, as this was the field I wanted my writing career to go,” says Fleur.
The benefits of feedback
One of the things that Fleur found most useful about completing the online course was doing the weekly assignments and getting immediate feedback on them.
“The assignments were challenging and interesting and our instructor was honest, professional and direct – her feedback was invaluable.”
During the course, Fleur submitted assignments into an online forum, with the unique benefit of being able to read the work of the other students and see the tutor’s feedback on their assignments too – a real bonus for the online format. “This was just as valuable as reading the feedback on my own work,” says Fleur.
Risk pays off
At the same time, Fleur scored herself an agent and her debut young adult thriller novel, Risk, was published by Random House in 2015.
“It was a huge learning curve, but my agent and the team at Random House Australia were so supportive throughout the whole process that my worries were quickly squashed and everything ran smoothly.”
Fleur recalls how nervous she was as the release date approached – particularly about how her book would be received and reviewed. “But when I actually saw it displayed in a bookstore, I was so proud and happy I almost cried. I had worked so hard on improving my work and focused on getting published for so long it was almost unbelievable when it finally happened.” And now, even with several more books and a prestigious award under her belt, the excitement is still there. “Writing full time was my dream job and now I'm doing it!”
“My writing day often begins at about 9am after my children leave for school. On the days I am uninterrupted by farm duties, I will work until my kids arrive home, around 4pm. I am also on social media during this time, during breaks. After 4pm it’s all go-go-go with the family, helping with homework, preparing dinner, and bedtime routines. I am then free from about 8pm.”
She admits that she’s often simply too tired at night to do quality work so, unless a deadline is pushing her, she doesn’t work a lot in the evening. But when she is in the writing phase of a book, her mind is so active that she doesn’t seem to need more than six hours' sleep, so may start writing at 4am. “I can get a lot of work done between 4am and 7am!”
Invaluable advice and feedback
With Fleur's career as a novelist up and running, she often recommends courses at the Australian Writers' Centre.
“A few people have asked me what courses they should do if they want to be a writer. AWC has a great range of courses to choose from. They are reasonably priced, can be done online, around your schedule. Doing a course with AWC will improve your craft, provide opportunities to meet and make friends with other writers and you will receive invaluable advice and feedback from experienced industry professionals.”