Joanne Speirs turned to writing to help her through some mentally and emotionally tough times. A friend urged her to “just write it all down” and so Joanne dove into poetry and recollections, using words to help her process her emotions. Next, she turned to blogging and started taking courses at the Australian Writers' Centre, including Romance Writing, and worked on her first novel.
That novel is out now as Second Chance Love in Point Perry, published by Harlequin Australia, a division of HarperCollins Australia.
“When I found I was going to be published, I cried like a blubbering toddler who’d had a lollipop taken away. It was surreal. I read and reread the email about fifty times – I’m still pinching myself now and leaning into the thrill of being a Harlequin author.”
Along the way, Joanne also acquired copywriting and editing skills through the courses Copywriting Essentials, Editing Essentials, and Fiction Essentials: Grammar and Punctuation, and has now launched a successful (and popular!) editing business for other authors.
Joanne’s first course with the Australian Writers' Centre was Reinvent Yourself – the name resonated with her, as she was feeling lost following the death of her mother.
“In the years before losing Mum, I was an aspiring photographer and had just set up a business to fulfil this dream, only to put it on hold to help care for Mum and support Dad and spend quality time and make memories,” Joanne told us. “I haven’t picked up my camera since.”
During this dark period, Joanne’s friend encouraged her to start writing and the effect was life changing.
“I started blogging under The Emerging Chook. Sharing experiences about grief and other funny things in a house with teenage boys. I’d caught the writing bug.”
Joanne threw herself into the writing world, entering writing competitions and joining the Romance Writers of Australia (RWA). She started writing a novel, inspired in part by watching her own father navigate widowhood. Finally, she got up the courage to pitch her manuscript idea at the RWA conference.
“This was the most nervous I’ve ever been!” Joanne says. “Harlequin requested the complete manuscript, and I was super excited but cautious as I heard they ask that for most pitches, and we all know the likelihood of getting a contract is slim. It took me nearly a year to be brave enough to send my manuscript. There were many edits and changes – and I think I did a few more AWC courses at this time too. In July 2019, Second Chance Love in Point Perry (all 107k words) was sent off to the team at Harlequin. And later that year, it was awarded Runner-up in the prestigious Valerie Parv Award.”
Although Harlequin didn’t accept Joanne’s manuscript at that time, they offered suggestions and invited her to resubmit. A million edits and several beta readers later, Joanne sent through a revised manuscript that she knew had gone from good to great – and she was offered a contract for publication through Harlequin’s Escape Publishing. “It was a dream come true,” says Joanne.
A new career
All that editing experience has led to an unexpected career opportunity for Joanne: she now offers editing services to self-published authors through her business Nurturing Words.
“This is where the Copywriting Essentials course and Australian Business Style Guide came in handy as I navigated those early months of finding my feet, finding clients, and taking on whatever opportunity came through the door – copywriting included.
“Having been to a couple of RWA conferences and through social media, I’d built some strong networks in the community, and it wasn’t long before I was working on manuscripts for self-publishing authors. As time went on, my confidence grew. I continued to do all the online courses – with a focus on structural, line and copyediting – and the AWC Romance Writing course – and my client base grew to the point I’m now booked a year in advance.”
At the moment, Joanne is balancing book promotion for Second Chance Love in Point Perry with her editing business and family life.
“Writing is a bit lower on the list, but my brain never stops thinking about the story, and I’m often scribbling sentences, characteristics, and plots on sticky notes – it’s all part of MY process and how my brain works. I’m not one of those writers who can sit down and just smash out 2k words. I’m a more deep thinker – a muller – and will write when the scene is more apparent,” Joanne says.
While Joanne had never dreamt of becoming a published author, she loves the life she has built for herself as a writer and editor, and values everything she has learned along the way.
“The AWC has courses for all levels; whether you’re starting out, dipping your toes in, or needing a refresher as an established author – there is always something to learn.”
Courses completed at AWC: