Julie Fison had been writing professionally her whole adult life, having worked as a journalist and published books for kids and young adults. But when she decided to write a novel for adults, she knew there was more she could learn. She turned to the Australian Writers' Centre to hone her skills around plotting and characterisation.
“I’d previously assumed that writing skills could be accrued along the way, but I’ve discovered there are so many strategies and structures that can be taught,” Julie says. “It saves a lot of time if you know them before embarking on a major project!”
That major project for Julie was One Punch, a contemporary family drama, published by Affirm Press.
Julie was no stranger to writing. She started her career as a journalist, working in television news in Australia, Hong Kong and London. She started writing fiction after being inspired by her sons’ adventures on a family holiday on the Noosa River, which led to her Hazard River adventure series for 8-12-year-old readers. Since turning to fiction, Julie has published 11 books for children and young adults.
Although she had carved out a successful career as a children’s author, Julie decided to take the leap into writing for adults. She had an idea percolating for some time, following the tragic death of a young man in Brisbane, who had been violently assaulted by a stranger.
“His passing touched me very deeply, along with every parent I knew, because we all had kids just like him – energetic young adults with their whole lives ahead of them,” Julie says.
She knew that this was an important story that had to be told, especially as she kept hearing more stories of young men being victims – and perpetrators – of assaults.
“I felt compelled to write a story about violence against young men. I wasn’t sure exactly how I was going to do that. But after talking with more friends who told me about boys, just out of high school, being jailed for assault I realised the story should be told from both sides of the punch,” Julie told us.
“As the story is aimed at women, I decided to tell it from the point of view of the two mothers at the centre of the tragedy – ordinary women facing extraordinary circumstances. I wanted to explore just how far they would go to protect the ones they love and what lies would they tell themselves to justify their choices.”
Getting to the end point
Julie’s journalism experience came in handy as she extensively researched the effects of brain injuries. She then spent six months writing the draft manuscript for One Punch before enrolling in Crime and Thriller Writing at the Australian Writers' Centre.
“I wanted to learn everything I could about building suspense even though my novel is more a contemporary family drama than a crime and thriller novel. I thought the Crime and Thriller Writing course would be a good fit for my requirements.”
In the course, Julie also learned about the importance of plotting and planning. Her kids books had been written more organically, but that was a lot more difficult for a 90,000-word novel.
“This course offered extremely useful tips on building suspense in the middle section of the book,” Julie says. “But for me, the most important advice was about characters – about giving every character sound motivation for their actions. I think it’s easy to focus on the main character and forget that every other character in the novel also needs a backstory to ensure they feel authentic, and for the plot to hang together.”
Having completed and honed her manuscript, Julie pitched it to four publishers at the Childrens and Young Adults Writers and Illustrators Conference. They all showed interest and requested the full manuscript, and Affirm Press replied two weeks later, ready to make an offer.
“To be honest, when I got the email from Affirm, I read the first couple of lines, scanning for ‘however’. I was soooo relieved when I read it thoroughly and found that Affirm wanted to publish One Punch,” Julie says.
“I involved my entire community in this project (something I don't normally do) so they were very excited for me when I got the contract, but I think I was relieved more than excited. I know how hard it is to find a publisher – it’s a massive milestone to achieve, but I also knew what lay ahead – edits, more edits and more edits.”
Having survived the editing process, Julie’s book One Punch has now been published by Affirm, with an audio version produced by Wavesound. She is also working on a contracted second novel, another family drama about ordinary parents facing extraordinary circumstances.
“Getting published requires hard work, persistence and a great story idea,” Julie says. “Even if you know how to write, the tips and techniques that you learn from an Australian Writers' Centre course can give you a head start at the beginning of a project, or might just trigger that light-bulb moment that transforms a saggy middle section and get you to the end point.”