Kiralee Strong never imagined she would be a published author one day. But needing a creative outlet, she dived into the Writing Picture Books course with the Australian Writers' Centre and quickly caught the writing bug. Kiralee’s debut picture book, Hugs Still Feel the Same, is soon to be published by EK Books.
“The courses gave me the confidence to pursue writing further and sparked a passion for children’s literature,” Kiralee told us. “They kickstarted my whole writing life.”
Finding creative guidance
With four kids and a small business to run, Kiralee had a lot on her mind. But she knew that she needed something creative to hold on to some sort of sanity. That’s when she discovered the Australian Writers' Centre.
“Being able to choose self-paced courses is a great option when you have other commitments. The courses are easy to follow, are led by great teachers and gave me a great understanding of writing for children and creative writing in general.”
Kiralee completed Creative Writing Stage 1 and Writing Chapter Books for 6-9 year olds, and also worked her way through the complete writing picture books program, starting with Writing Picture Books before moving on to the Writing Picture Books Masterclass.
“Through discovering the wonder of writing it’s given me a way to embrace creativity and create a more consistent balance between business management, logical left-brain thinking and fun, creative, right brain thinking,” Kiralee says. “As someone who has suffered from anxiety disorder and bouts of depression, engaging my creative side is integral to my mental health and has helped with my self-confidence too. I think writing, whether just for yourself or with a goal of being published is such an easy accessible form of therapy.
Kiralee’s debut picture book was inspired by her experience as a volunteer working through the NSW Northern Rivers flooding crisis of 2022.
“Every night I would lay awake thinking of the chaos consuming the victims’ lives. Literally having everything you own washed away. As a parent, I recognised that a deep trauma parents were feeling was that their children had been in danger,” Kiralee recalls. “The water came so fast and so unexpectedly high, that so many families were caught off guard or separated from each other for days. We’re all aware that routine, consistency, and familiarity are important aspects of a child’s mental health and well-being, so what about when all of that is gone? I wanted to find something that was still relevant, that still held the same meaning, familiarity and comfort, something that children and parents could lean into in hard times. I then realised, it’s HUGS!”
The first draft of Hugs Still Feel the Same came quite quickly after that. Kiralee wasn’t certain it was a story that publishers would want, but she wanted to find a home for it.
“I knew I wanted a publisher who has a strong theme of emotional and social issues and I thought EK Books would be perfect. I had previously had an assessment and acquisition with Anouska from EK for another story. Unfortunately, it didn’t go any further, but I took a chance, sent Anouska an email asking if she’d like to look at it and she said yes!”
Hugs Still Feel the Same is due to be published in 2025.
“I still can’t believe it actually. It never occurred to me when I was starting out that I would meet someone who believed in my work enough to publish it. It’s crazy and so exciting,” Kiralee says.
“To find everything you need to start your writing career in the one place, take an AWC course. They are great value and having people tutor who are some of the best in the industry is such a bonus.”