Joanna Nell: From GP to bestselling author

Australian Writers' Centre graduate Joanna Nell has published a slew of bestselling novels, including Mrs Winterbottom Takes a Gap Year, The Tea Ladies of St Jude's Hospital, The Great Escape From Woodlands Nursing Home, The Last Voyage of Mrs Henry Parker, and The Single Ladies of Jacaranda Retirement Village, all published by Hachette Australia. And it was a series of unexpected events featuring cobwebs, hamstrings and bowling which led her there.

“I enrolled in Creative Writing Stage 1 when I was wrangling a full-time career as a GP, as well as a taxi service and personal assistant to two teenagers. I was in my mid-forties and like every busy parent, simply trying to get through to Friday without crashing. I did very little for myself and had few hobbies beyond reading and ironing.

“However, my life changed in a split second when I did the actual splits in the middle of a Ten Pin Bowling alley. To add to the considerable physical pain, was the humiliation of leaving the parent-student social night at my son’s new school in an ambulance.

“There was, however, a silver lining to lying flat on my back for six weeks after the surgical reattachment of my hamstrings, in the form of some valuable thinking time. I saw a message written in the cobwebs hanging from the ceiling fan. Not only was the universe telling me I should do more dusting, but that now was the perfect time to get round to all the things I’d been putting off in life, and writing for pleasure was at the top of the list.”

Joanna says she devoured the Creative Writing Stage 1 modules during her recuperation and never regretted signing up for that first course.

“Having completed Creative Writing Stage 1, I immediately enrolled in Stage 2 – Advanced Fiction Writing Techniques. By now I’d gained enough skill and confidence to write and submit a couple of short stories. I also began work on a novel around this time, which subsequently led me to the Novel Writing Essentials course with Pamela Freeman.”

Joanna Nell
Graduate of Australian Writers' Centre, author of Mrs Winterbottom Takes a Gap YearThe Tea Ladies of St Jude's Hospital, The Great Escape From Woodlands Nursing Home and many more bestselling novels.

What did Joanna learn from AWC?

From the outset, Joanna says she felt as though Creative Writing Stage 1 was written just for her!

“The course was the absolute nuts and bolts approach I was looking for. I loved the logical step-by-step approach to the craft of writing. It sounds strange but although I’d been a voracious reader all my life, I’d never stopped to consider how a book was actually written, or even that it was divided into a series of scenes with a defined structure. It’s obvious now, but at the time I thought I’d discovered radium.

“The most useful part of that first course was also the most terrifying, and that was submitting a piece of writing for critique. Learning to give and receive feedback is fundamental to improving as a writer, and the way this was handled was both safe and encouraging.

“I also enjoyed meeting other aspiring writers, both online and in the case of the Novel Writing Essentials course, face-to-face. In fact, I’ve kept in touch with several other writers from Pamela’s course and we have continued to support each other on our individual writing journeys.”

Prior to enrolling Joanna says she hadn’t given much thought to how a book was produced or published, but learning more about the industry helped her to understand what publishers were looking for, which helped her to secure a contract.

“Not only have the courses given me the tools to write and publish my first novel but the AWC has also opened my eyes to the publishing industry in a wider sense.

“What’s more, that very first writing assignment, creating a character and a setting inspired not only my first shortlisted short story but also the protagonist and setting for what eventually became my debut novel.”

Joanna followed her dream

Before discovering the Australian Writers' Centre, Joanna says she’s had a recurring dream for as long as she can remember.

“I’d dreamt that I found a door in my house that led to an empty room, one I had never ventured into before. Night after night I would discover this new room and wonder why it wasn’t being used. All along I’d assumed the dream represented some subconscious desire for a bigger house since the one I was already living in was filling rapidly with teenagers and dogs, but it was only after I’d enrolled in Creative Writing Stage 1 that the dreams abruptly stopped, that I understood their significance.

“All my life I’d been ignoring my creativity, suppressing it beneath what I thought were more legitimate pursuits such as family and work. But denying creativity a suitable outlet is something I believe we do at our peril.

“Unleashing mine has led me in a completely new and exciting direction, and I’m a much more balanced and fulfilled person as a result.

“At 52 however, I like to think I’m taking the advice that is at the heart of The Single Ladies of Jacaranda Retirement Village, which is:

“It’s never too late to live the life you’ve always dreamed of”.

Joanna signed a two-book deal with Hachette Australia and her second novel The Last Voyage of Mrs Henry Parker (October 2019) draws on some of her adventures as a cruise ship doctor. Her third novel, The Great Escape from Woodlands Nursing Home, was published in October 2020, followed by The Tea Ladies of St Jude's Hospital in 2021 and Mrs Winterbottom Takes a Gap Year in 2023.

Joanna's advice to aspiring writers

“For anyone who’ll listen, I’d say:

‘The AWC courses are no-nonsense, enjoyable and value for money. Not only will they show you how to be a writer, they’ll help you to think like a writer, and then give you the confidence to call yourself one.'

“I’m living proof, along with the countless other AWC graduates who are following their dream.”

Congratulations Joanna, we are thrilled for you.

For more success stories see here!

Courses taken at AWC:
Creative Writing Stage 1
Advanced Fiction Writing Techniques
Novel Writing Essentials
Build Your Author Platform
Pitch Your Novel: How to Attract Agents and Publishers

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