Course taken at AWC:
Writing Picture Books
When Sandhya Parappukkaran quit her food technology job to pursue her creative dreams, she originally turned to arts and crafts. But while reading with her son, Sandhya’s childhood love of books was rekindled. The thought that she could be a writer herself suddenly popped into her head and she enrolled in the AWC’s Writing Picture Books course. Fast forward to now, her debut picture book The Boy Who Tried to Shrink His Name has been published by Hardie Grant Children’s Publishing. Her second picture book, Amma’s Sari, will be released in early 2022.
“Completing the course, combined with my tutor’s feedback on my stories, filled me with confidence. It was my springboard to jump further into the world of writing and start submitting stories with the aim of getting published,” Sandhya says.
Her sights set on the stars
Before enrolling at the Australian Writers' Centre, Sandhya had been blogging and Instagramming about picture books and crafting stories for her son. But despite this solid background in the world of children’s literature, she was reluctant to join a class.
“I was hesitant at first, thinking that the AWC was for writers and wondering if six months of blogging and bedtime stories made me a writer?” Sandhya says. “But then, with the urgency of being the same age as Voyager 1 and the burning desire to give it a go, I jumped straight in.”
What Sandhya found was a wealth of information, a supportive tutor, and deadlines to keep her on track.
“I knew nothing about the physical and narrative structure of picture books when I started,” she says. “I loved that the course covered not only important aspects of story structure but also delved into how to do your research on where your story fit and with which publishers. The experienced eye of an industry professional such as Zanni Louise on my work was exactly what I needed. I knew I was getting the perfect base to start writing stories for picture books.”
Catching her dream and running with it
Sandhya started to play around with the idea for The Boy Who Tried to Shrink His Name shortly after finishing the course.
“Having the AWC notes handy when you’re writing a new story is awesome, and the handouts are excellent resources that you can refer back to,” she says. The Boy Who Tried to Shrink His Name is about a boy, Zimdalamashkermishkada, who desperately wants a shorter name when he starts school. Armed with the confidence the course had given her, Sandhya decided to pitch the story at the CYA conference.
“The story was an early draft when I took it to the conference,” Sandhya says. “I met Alyson O’Brien, Associate Publisher of the Bright Light Imprint at Hardie Grant Children’s Publishing, at an in-person editor assessment. I went in nervous but full of hope. I was over the moon when she loved it and suggested I submit it after some reworking. I feel so lucky to have met Alyson; her encouragement and belief in me and my story was a vital factor in my success.”
Sandhya recalls the moment she found out that her book would be published.
“I was in our backyard taking down the laundry when I heard the phone ringing inside. I was expecting Alyson’s call because I knew my story was at their acquisitions meeting that week. So, I ran in and was thrilled to hear they wanted to publish it. I felt the exhilaration of reaching the summit of a gigantic mountain. I remember my hands shaking and just flopping down, overcome with relief and emotion. I also felt immense gratitude for everyone who cheered me on and helped me on my journey and for my own courage in catching a dream and running with it.”
Always finish what you start
While working on The Boy Who Tried to Shrink His Name, Sandhya continued to have ideas for more stories.
“I’d develop those into rough drafts and shelve them in a drawer,” she says. Then one day, she heard a kernel of advice on the Australian Writers’ Centre’s Magic and Mayhem podcast that gave her the push she needed at the time.
“One of the authors on the podcast mentioned going back and finishing all the story ideas you started on. That was awesome advice, and I was motivated to do that.”
Sandhya returned to one of her many ideas and finished it. She submitted the manuscript to the 2020 ASA/CA Award Mentorship program – and gained a spot!
“I was so lucky to work with the incredible Sue deGennaro, and my story Amma’s Sari is being published by our same Bright Light team in April 2022.”
It’s been a whirlwind ride for Sandhya, who initially channeled her creativity into sewing and embroidery before rediscovering her love of books. And while she is still looking forward to taking up embroidery again, she has her eye on a few more AWC creative writing courses first.
“I am so happy to be in the children’s literature industry. I’ve met so many amazing people and made friends who love books and reading. Prior to this I hadn’t met any adults who loved to read children’s books and wanted to chat about them! So, it really is my ultimate dream come true.”