Kell Woods finds international success after courses at Australian Writers’ Centre

Kell Woods always wanted to be a published author. But then she put her creative dreams on hold while she did grown up things like having babies and getting a job. When she was ready to focus on her creativity again, she found that courses at the Australian Writers' Centre fit perfectly around her busy life.

“I wanted to improve my writing, and I wanted to give my dream of being a traditionally published author a good, hard nudge,” Kell told us. “I have always loved learning and studying and I was prepared to learn as much as possible and do the work needed to make that happen. The Australian Writers' Centre offered great courses with fabulous teachers who offer insights into the publishing world, as well as the technical aspects of writing.”

After studying a suite of courses, starting with Novel Writing Essentials, and including History, Mystery and Magic and Plotting and Planning, Kell’s publishing dream came true when she landed a two-book deal with publishing powerhouse Tor US. Kell’s debut novel, After the Forest, was published in 2023, with international publication by Titan Books in the UK and HarperCollins in Australia/New Zealand.

The path to publication

Kell always knew that she would return to her creative pursuits, and so when she went looking for a course, the Australian Writers' Centre was the perfect fit for her.

“I looked around for a writing course that would help me brush up on my knowledge and also teach me new skills. The course I chose was Novel Writing Essentials which was online and perfect for me to fit in around study and my kids. It was exactly what I needed to get the writing moving again.”

Kell followed that course up with History, Mystery and Magic and Plotting and Planning, two of our courses created by Kate Forsyth. It was through the latter course that Kell met one of her best friends and longtime ‘work wife’, who she’s still in contact with.

“The creative writing courses I have done have always been full of really practical, useful information – technique, the publishing industry, how to structure a novel. The ability to study online was a huge help to me, too.

“I have no doubt that the fiction writing courses I attended helped me get published. They taught me about the industry and the craft of writing, but they also allowed me to connect with other writers – such as Kate Forsyth – who have been instrumental in my journey.”

When Kell was happy with her manuscript for After the Forest, she began pitching it to agents in Australia and the UK.

“Within weeks I had found my agent, Julie Crisp, who is based in the UK and actively seeking fantasy, fairy tale retellings and historical fiction. Being an ex-publisher, Julie is very hands-on and we worked together on the book before she began pitching it to publishers in the US and the UK. Tor US, which is the fantasy imprint of Macmillan, ended up offering a two-book deal. From there, Tor sold sub rights to Titan Books in the UK and HarperCollins here in Australia/NZ. All three publishers chose to release the book simultaneously in early October 2023. It was such an exciting (and terrifying, I’m not going to lie) time.”

A clever retelling

Kell’s debut novel is After the Forest, which is a retelling of the Hansel and Gretel fairy tale. Set in the Black Forest region of Germany in the mid seventeenth century, it tells the story of red-headed gingerbread baker Greta who, along with her brother Hans, survived a terrifying – and infamous – ordeal in the woods when they were children. Their troubles, however, are far from over. Greta is viewed with suspicion and mistrust by the other villagers, who can’t ignore her past or her red hair, while Hans’s gambling debts could cost them their home. As well as that, men have been found dead in the woods, mauled by an unknown beast.

When dark magic and wild beasts return to the woods – and the villagers’ mistrust and suspicions deepen – Greta finds that the past might not be as distant as she had thought, and that she might have to fight for her life all over again.

“The book is historical/fantasy and I was always aiming to anchor the fairy tales in a real place and time – the Black Forest in the mid seventeenth century,” Kell told us. “With that in mind, I did a lot of research before and during the writing, as well as during the editing stage to make sure I had the research right. I used the internet, books, photos and maps, primary sources from the Thirty Years’ War and German witch trials, and recipe books and paintings to get the food and clothing right. Research is a very important part of the creative process for me, and parts of After the Forest only exist because I stumbled upon them during the research.

“I was also lucky enough to travel to the Black Forest and snoop around the woods with a forest guide, wander through seventeenth century houses and buildings in an open-air museum and get up close to bears and wolves in a sanctuary. I soaked up as many details as I could and took a million photos. Like the research, I found things there that made their way into the book – for example, the scenes at the waterfall came about when I visited Triberg Falls, and stumbling upon a ruined schloss in the forest one morning led to the idea of the Sturmfels.”

Kell is currently working on the second novel in her two-book deal, which is due to come out in 2025. She also completed the Australian Writers' Centre’s copywriting courses, and has applied what she learned to her role in marketing and communications. “The copywriting courses were fabulous, too. I use the skills I learned there all the time,” says Kell.

“Writing is a huge part of my life, I’m very pleased to say. I dreamed and hoped it would happen. I worked hard and gave up a lot to make the time to get it done. So yes – I dreamed and I hoped. I’m still pinching myself that it actually happened!”

Courses completed at AWC:

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