Jacinta Froud loved children’s literature, but didn’t love the experience of studying it at university. So when she stumbled across the Writing Picture Books course at the Australian Writers' Centre, she jumped at the chance to learn the practical storytelling skills she was looking for.
“I loved the fact that it was online, self-paced and that I could complete the course around my family commitments,” Jacinta says. “It was exactly what I wanted to learn about. The best part was there were no essays or a multitude of readings.”
“The courses gave me the confidence to write down my silly ideas! I made connections with the lovely writing community and more recently I secured a publishing deal with the amazing Larrikin House.”
Jacinta’s debut picture book Jingle Belly will be published by Larrikin House in November 2021, with illustrations by Gabriella Petruso.
“I still pinch myself,” Jacinta says. “My first copies of my picture book arrived recently and it still feels a bit surreal. My family and friends are very excited and are so supportive.”
The nuts and bolts of storytelling
With her third child nearing school age, Jacinta decided to return to full-time teaching, but after a year she was completely burnt out. That’s when she decided to take some time off and study children’s literature at university.
“It was not what I was looking for at all,” Jacinta admits. “I was failing my first unit badly when I stumbled across the AWC and the picture book course. It was a perfect fit!”
Instead of delving into theory, Jacinta wanted to learn the nuts and bolts of storytelling and writing a picture book.
“I was interested to learn about the layout and structure of a picture book,” Jacinta says. “I learnt about voice, the three-act structure and writing in prose. I found the feedback on tasks was excellent and helped me to improve my writing.”
Having discovered that the Australian Writers' Centre offered the right style of courses for her, Jacinta went on to do the Writing Picture Books Masterclass and Writing Chapter Books for 6-9 year olds.
“I found the Writing Chapter Books for 6-9 year olds course really helpful with structure and how book series work for this age group and why.”
“Each week a prompt was shared and group members came up with an idea based on the prompt word. The word was Jingle! I had written a short synopsis but that was it.”
Jacinta returned to the story a few years later when home renovations saw her family living with her in-laws.
“I decided to use the Jingle idea and base it on my husband's family dog Eddie from when he was growing up. The story grew from there.”
As well as writing, Jacinta had been researching potential publishers, and she thought that Larrikin House would be a good fit for her quirky style of stories. So when her local SCBWI group announced that James Layton from Larrikin would be doing manuscript assessments, she quickly nabbed a slot with him.
“I knew he didn't have a Christmas story on his list yet,” Jacinta says, showing that she’d clearly done her research. “James liked the story and said it had potential and that he would like to ask the rest of his team what they thought.”
Jingle Belly tells the story of Eddie the corgi, who swallows the angel from the Christmas tree and runs off on Christmas Eve, with the family in pursuit. It is a fast-paced adventurous Christmas romp filled with humour and action.
“Thankfully the team liked it and James called me a couple of weeks later to tell me the exciting news – that Larrikin would like to publish my story. It was an amazing feeling! I think I jumped around for a while after getting off the phone.”
Oh what fun it is…
Jacinta is keeping herself busy teaching part-time and writes teacher’s notes and activity sheets for Larrikin House and other authors. She also attends workshops and conferences where possible.
“I write every day,” Jacinta says. “I try to write a new story every week. Some are terrible! But I love being creative in all these ways; it makes me happy.”
And it all started with the Writing Picture Books course.
“It gives you a wonderful foundation that you can build on, the confidence needed to write within a structure and connections to the wonderful writing community that exists here in Australia and beyond.”