After self-publishing four novels and a series of eight illustrated children’s educational books on Amazon, Jaci Byrne decided that she wanted to get her books ‘traditionally published’.
She took Freelance Writing Stage 1 and Inside Publishing (previously called How to Get Your Book Published) at the Australia Writers’ Centre and the result is the publication of her first non-fiction book The Music Maker, (Big Sky Publishing).
“I stumbled upon my late grandfather’s WWII POW diaries in the late ’90s but only after writing the novels was I ready to tackle a non-fiction. As the saying goes: ‘When the student is ready the teacher appears…’
“The Music Maker has taken me four years to write and is the true story of my grandfather, Drum Major Jackson. He was a musician who fought in two world wars, was captured in France early in the second, was sent to Poland and survived five years in a number of prisoner-of-war camps, while forced to perform for the Germans as their “kapellmeister” – maker of music.
“One of the oldest soldiers to go to war, he was desperately ill when sent to Stalag 17b in Austria in March 1945. Despite this he went on a 280 km, 20-day forced ‘death’ march across the Austrian Alps with no food or water, and unbelievably, he actually made it to eventual freedom with the help of an Aussie larrikin, but that’s perhaps revealing too much!”
Jaci says writing The Music Maker has been a true labour of love and has caused her much heartache, but it also sustained her, given her hope, as it is also a love story – a story of inspiration and one she hopes will stimulate much conversation on the subject of resilience and survival.
“It may be the story of the past and of war but I believe stories such as my grandfather’s, a story of an everyday man, and the hundreds of thousands of men just like him who had no choice but to dig deep and find the strength to survive or die, hold the key to our future and peace.”
Valuable industry insight
Jaci says taking the AWC courses reinforced her determination to write and gave her a plethora of information.
“The tutors didn’t ‘sugar-coat’ writing as a career path, nor the industry. They were realistic, said that like any job it required dedication. The courses laid open the diverse options available to writers, be it for profession or pleasure, and that writing is not necessarily a career path for everyone, but can definitely be a creative outlet for everyone.
“I began to think of writing in the same way as, say, acting, yoga, art and sports. I could opt in and out depending on my needs at the time.
“Once I understood that, I allowed myself to simply enjoy writing. Relax into it. I took the pressure to perform and earn off myself, and within no time I found myself craving it more a more. I became a ‘writing junkie’ if you like. I would look up after a day at the computer and wonder where the time had gone and revel in the places I had been and the people I had met – all from the comfort of my home office.”
Jaci’s big break
Jaci sent her manuscript out to only a handful of independent publishers and within a surprisingly short amount of time she received interest from three, including Big Sky Publishing.
“Denny Neave is the military history editor of Big Sky and is passionate about POW stories. He was the first to offer me a contract to publish The Music Maker in Australia. After meeting him, I signed up with Big Sky Publishing at the end of 2017.
“The book is now available at all bookstores and I’m delighted to report that my publisher has just received an offer from a major UK publishing house for the rights to The Music Maker in the UK and USA. Big Sky is also presenting the book at the Frankfurt Book Fair in October 2018.”
Jaci says one of the most useful things she’s taken from the AWC course is the camaraderie.
“Writing is a lonely existence, and it was wonderful being among like-minded souls and learning from seasoned writing professionals who generously shared their knowledge and experiences.”
On Perth Tonight Chris Ilsley spoke with Jaci Byrne, author of The Music Maker, a non-fiction novel about her grandfather and how music sustained him through two world wars.
Now a full-time writer
Nowadays Jaci writes full-time but her hours are not always structured.
“I write from my home in Avalon Beach in Sydney and some days I go for beach walks, swims, coffee or spend time in our wonderful library and then write in the evenings.”
Jaci had always dreamt of being published, but it was only during the writing of The Music Maker that she began believing it would happen.
“When your heart sings while you’re working, it’s not work, it’s music…” Jaci says.