Courses taken at AWC:
Inda Ahmad Zahri likes to keep busy. As a working surgeon with a young family, she added ‘published author’ to her repertoire of achievements after releasing her debut picture book Salih with Ford Street Publishing. Her latest picture book is The Month That Makes the Year, published by Allen & Unwin, which explores Ramadan through the eyes of a Muslim child – and also marks her debut as an author-illustrator!
Inda's other books include Night Lights, published by Little Pink Dog Books, and Twice the Love, published by Affirm Press, AND she also illustrated The Legend of the Golden Swan, written by Rosemary Coburn
“I’ve wanted to be a published author since I was a little girl with my nose stuck in a book for most of the day (and night!). Writing was always an outlet for me,” Inda says.
Inda is a self-confessed course addict and knew that, if she were to make her publishing dreams come true, she would need structure, deadlines, and the best training available. That’s why she turned to the Australian Writers’ Centre for its creative writing courses and community.
“The fact that all these little steps are finally coming to fruition makes me feel very happy and blessed. It is certainly a very inspiring and fulfilling path that I want to keep exploring.”
Courses provide structure and accountability
While juggling her work and family commitments, Inda also thinks it’s important to feed her creativity and curiosity in a constructive way. As well as her writing, she studies Japanese and watercolour painting. So for Inda, the accountability of enrolling in a course at the AWC was key to honing her skills.
“Having outlines, deadlines and exercises helped me move my craft forward, instead of feeling like I’m flapping in the breeze without something to anchor my intentions,” Inda says. “The course instructors really know their stuff, and have given a lot of thought to the content, which is packed with information and excellent writing examples.”
The format of the courses meant that Inda could fit the lessons into her already hectic schedule.
“Like the podcast, the audio format of most of the courses allowed me to indulge in lessons while driving or pottering around the house,” Inda says. “The other formats were great, too – daily emails with prompts and motivation in Make Time To Write and weekly writing tasks in Creative Writing Stage 1 – all allowed me to be immersed in my writing despite everything else that’s happening in my life.”
Being part of the AWC community keeps Inda motivated
Inda also appreciated the community aspect fostered by the AWC.
“Although the courses I did were online and self-paced, I didn’t feel isolated as there are active and supportive AWC graduate and podcast communities I could fall back on if I needed,” Inda says.
That community aspect, teamed with expert advice, gave Inda the confidence to explore her writing in a supportive environment geared towards bringing out her best.
“Investing in a course is dedicating time and space for my writing. It gives me the chance to experiment under the guidance of a person or team who knows the craft of writing well,” Inda says. “Coupled with the podcast, it’s a great way to keep motivated in the long run, and an anchor through the ups and downs of writing.”
Publishing success with debut picture book Salih
Inda was no slouch when finding a home for her writing. She actively looked out for publishers with open submission windows and attended conferences and pitching events.
“Through these conferences, I’ve also made contacts with editors who might be willing to receive direct submissions from me as and when I have a story ready,” Inda says.
After a face-to-face assessment with Meredith Costain at the CYA conference in 2019, Inda submitted three manuscripts, including Salih, to Ford Street Publishing.
“A few weeks later, I got an email from publisher Paul Collins from Ford Street to say they would like to publish it,” Inda recalls. “I think I was just getting into my car after watercolour class when I got the news, and was all smiles and squeals. It was the second contract that I was offered, but would become my first published book.”
Inda’s book was inspired by the ongoing struggles of refugee families around the world, but she wanted to make sure that it was positive.
“Salih is about a little boy who imagines he’s a turtle carrying his home on his back as he escapes the horrors of war,” Inda explains. “Though the journey is perilous, he finds a way to send out messages of hope, without knowing what awaits him.” The picture book has been gorgeously illustrated by Anne Ryan, and was named a Notable Book in the CBCA Picture Book of the Year Awards in 2022.
A new chapter
With her latest picture book, The Month That Makes the Year, Inda explores Ramadan through the eyes of a Muslim child, allowing children the chance to see themselves or their friends in the celebration. It also marks her debut as an author-illustrator – an incredible achievement! She is set to publish a second author-illustrator title with Allen & Unwin in 2024, along with another picture book publication with Hardie Grant's Bright Light imprint.
So with her life so full of creative pursuits, how does India fit it all in?
“I’ve cut down my work in surgery to a couple days a week, and the rest of the time I dedicate to family, writing and illustrating. I find deadlines to work towards – or they find me! – and I always feel like I’ve got three and a half main projects going at once!” Inda says.
Obviously, Inda likes to keep busy. But she highlights the importance of committing to your passions in order to reach your writing dreams.
“Most importantly, believe in yourself!” Inda says. “A course can be a treat to satisfy your curiosity, but also a way to honour your craft, your abilities and your creative goals.”