Kerryn Mayne was on maternity leave from her job on the police force when she returned to her high school love of writing. She soon realised that her professional experiences of crime and policing could be useful when penning her own stories, so she fired up her computer and got down to work. With an outline for a new book idea, Kerryn enrolled in Creative Writing Stage 1 online at the Australian Writers’ Centre, so she could learn about the writing process and connect with other aspiring writers.
That outline became the manuscript for what is now her debut novel Lenny Marks Gets Away with Murder, published by Penguin Random House Australia in March 2023.
“When the advanced reader copies arrived in the post it felt like I’d just been handed a new baby. Only the book is better because although it may have stressed me out at times, it's never vomitted on me.”
Mastering the craft
Kerryn wanted a strong foundation in the craft of writing. “I signed up to Creative Writing Stage 1 because … I thought the course would be great for learning the process from the ground up – and it was,” Kerryn says.
As well as the convenience of being online, Kerryn liked that the course packs a lot into just five weeks. “I also liked the option of staying in my pyjamas/trackies/ugg boots for the course. I’d already listened to the podcast and AWC was reputable, affordable and had plenty of authors I knew hitched to its name. It was a no brainer in picking an Australian Writers' Centre course.”
The course armed Kerryn with the foundations of her craft. “It did help me with being a little bit more structured and also in learning the rules before I broke any of the rules. Because [before doing the course] I didn't really know any of the rules.
“One of the big things I took away from it was that I didn't really inject a place [into my stories].I just get straight to the action and the dialogue. So I remember quite clearly Creative Writing Stage 1 taught me to describe somewhere completely. And doing that really helped me because I'd write a chapter, but then I'd look and I'd go, oh, we don't actually know where we are. I needed to ground my readers into where my character was,” Kerry says. “It did help me with being a little bit more structured and also in learning the rules before I broke any of the rules. Because [before doing the course] I didn't really know any of the rules.”
Kerryn’s debut novel Lenny Marks Gets Away With Murder is a humorous and emotional tale about a woman who prefers contentment and order over the unreliability of happiness and the messiness of relationships. But Lenny starts to unravel after receiving a letter from the Adult Parole Board. It has been described by author Petronella McGovern as “an incredible debut which will have you both laughing and crying.”
“The writing process for me was a bit haphazard. I had a plot in mind, but it shifted massively from the first draft to the version it is in now,” Kerryn explains. “I tried to write as often as I could, but always focused better in the mornings. I wrote almost exclusively from home (a cafe occasionally) while my kids slept or watched TV.”
With the help of fellow writers and beta readers, Kerryn fine-tuned the manuscript and sent it to an editor at Penguin. There was no doubt in Kerryn’s mind that Penguin was the right home for her beloved story.
“It’s Penguin for goodness sake!” Kerryn says. “The day I signed my contract I was all abuzz. My four-year-old was kind enough to bring me back down to earth by vomiting in the lounge room.”
A proud debut author
A former wedding photographer and current police officer, she is now embracing her new career as an author. Kerryn says that while she was initially shy about calling herself an author, she now proudly tells everyone she knows that she has written a book – even the medical staff during the birth of her twins! “I love writing. It kept me sane through lockdowns and maternity leave and I would still write even if I wasn’t being published.”
Kerryn is hard at work on a second novel – a process hampered by her kids writing in her notebooks and stealing her Post-It notes. She writes in short sprints of 20-30 minutes, aiming for 350 words each time – if she manages to get one sprint in a day, she feels like she’s done something for herself.
“The biggest takeaway message I took from Creative Writing Stage 1 was to just keep going. An Australian Writers' Centre course will get you motivated to get words on a page. It is one hundred times easier to edit a book once you’ve actually got the words down!” Kerryn told us. “Writing is a very solo endeavour and it can be very daunting to put your work out there for other people to read. If you’re writing with the hope of being published, this is a hurdle you have to jump and it may as well be in the positive and constructive environment that Australian Writers' Centre creates.”