The “loneliness of the solitary pursuit of fiction writing” led Frances Chapman to AWC’s Novel Writing Essentials course and her subsequently winning the Hardie Grant Egmont 2018 Ampersand Prize for her ‘vibrant’ debut YA novel, Stars Like Us, published by Hardie Grant Egmont.
“I was halfway through the first draft of my first novel when I enrolled in Novel Writing Essentials course with Pamela Freeman. I was about to go on maternity leave and I naively thought that maybe I could spend that year ’off’ from work writing my novel! Clearly, I had never met a baby before.
“A lot of the time it just felt like I was alone in my room, typing away. I wanted to meet other writers, people who would understand what it was like to craft characters in your head and try to bring them to life on the page.
“After that, I did the Write Your Novel 6-month program course which was my only time away from my kid for the first few months of her life. It was such a treat to sit in a room with other writers without being trapped beneath an infant.”
The impact the AWC courses had on Frances' life
It was through these escapes to AWC courses away from motherhood that Frances met her writing tribe.
“I love my writer's group of five brilliant women whom I met at the Write Your Novel course. We've been meeting regularly ever since and it includes Margaret Morgan, whose novel The Second Cure came out in 2018; Petronella McGovern, whose novel Six Minutes has just been published by Allen & Unwin, Catherine Hanrahan, Katy Pike and myself.
“I think sitting in a room with other people who are facing similar problems and challenges is so valuable. You learn so much by workshopping, reading other people's work and trying to pinpoint the ways to make it better.
“When we started, we were all unknowns; now, three of us have publishing deals and two of us have agents. I feel so lucky to have been part of the group and to have been a part of watching their novels develop and grow. We've come such a long way and I'm so proud of us.”
Now Frances fits creative writing into her daily life
For many years, Frances had been a freelance writer, fitting her fiction and creative work around her journalistic commissions.
“Over the last couple of years my creative work has started to take priority and it's been a bit of a natural progression into doing half-paid work, half-creative work. And occasionally I'm even paid to be creative!
“I write four days a week and I treat it like a job. Although I'm working from home, I retreat into my office and ignore all the housework. I love it so much, even when it's hard and the words aren't coming. I know a lot of writers feel like it's pulling teeth and they have to force themselves to do it, but I just really love it.”
Dreams of being published
Frances had always dreamed she would one day be published, but at times it seemed very remote.
“Not long ago, I received some disheartening feedback from a contact in the industry and it really sent me into a tailspin of wondering whether I'd ever find someone who loved my book enough to publish it. It is such a subjective process and that's been hard. It really is just about finding that person who falls in love with it.
“Stars Like Us is my third manuscript and the first which someone has actually wanted to publish. So it's been a very long road, but I have learnt so much along the way.
“I first entered the Ampersand Prize with my previous novel, but it didn't place. I was shocked when I was longlisted this year with Stars Like Us and never imagine I'd make it to the shortlist, let alone win it.
“When I found out I was the winner I was trying so hard to be calm and professional but I just jumped up and down and made weird squeaking noises! Roscoe, my winsome mascot hound and ‘Head of Security’ was very perplexed!
“There's nothing that makes me happier than writing. If I'm ever not writing, I'm always trying to get back to a place where I am.
“My experiences at the AWC set me up with a great network of other writers who have been supportive and brilliant. I would highly recommend it.”
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