Luke Rutledge loves his job in communications, but was keen to scratch his creative itch. He had enjoyed writing as a child, but had stopped when life got in the way, before deciding to start again in his late 20s. After completing Novel Writing Essentials at the Australian Writers' Centre, he started writing the manuscript for what would become A Man and His Pride – his debut novel which is out now with Penguin Random House.
“When I heard that one of the publishers at Penguin Random House loved my manuscript, my initial reaction was disbelief,” Luke told us. “I’m still pinching myself and struggling to comprehend what it will mean to have my book out there in the world. It’s a very exciting time, and it’s all happened so quickly!”
Discovering the Australian Writers' Centre
Before discovering the Australian Writers' Centre, Luke had written young adult (YA) stories and finished a YA manuscript but hadn’t been able to find a home for it. “I had a story and ran with it without thinking too much about structure or anything. I spent a year and a half writing a manuscript that subsequently got rejected by everyone I sent it to. So I made the decision to start a new manuscript and try to learn from the mistakes of the last one. Once I’d planned out some of the plot and written the first 15,000 words or so, that’s when I decided to enrol in the Novel Writing Essentials course.”
Luke found the feedback aspect of Novel Writing Essentials a real game changer for his writing.
“The benefits of that feedback were twofold – the feedback was constructive and really did make me see things in my own writing I’d never noticed before, but also the feedback gave me confidence to keep going,” Luke says. “The positive feedback made me think for the very first time, ‘Okay, maybe my writing isn’t that bad after all and I just need to keep going’.”
The right direction
After completing Novel Writing Essentials, Luke decided to change tack; he began a story for adults. He immediately knew that this was his audience, but still wasn’t satisfied with what he’d written. It was time to go hard into edit mode!
“I could see there were major issues, but felt overwhelmed by how I should tackle it. That’s when I decided to enrol in two self-paced AWC courses: Fiction Essentials: Structure and Cut, Shape, Polish. I still had access to the course content from Novel Writing Essentials too, so re-listened to some of the classes on character and point of view.
“Completing these courses led me to make some pretty substantial changes to the manuscript, including rewriting the whole thing in first person (which I quickly realised was not as simple as changing ‘he’ to ‘I’!), significantly changing the structure (I realised my manuscript was suffering from the ‘saggy middle’), and going back to add more depth to my characters.”
During this lengthy rewriting process, Luke stayed inspired by listening to episodes of the popular So You Want to be a Writer podcast.
“Hearing other authors talk about their own doubts and struggles makes me want to keep going, because it makes me realise those periods of doubt are totally normal, even inevitable,” Luke says.
After a few more drafts, Luke secured an agent and sent off the manuscript for A Man and His Pride. Then came the confirmation from Penguin that they were interested.
“I kept telling myself there were still all these hurdles to overcome first, like the acquisitions meeting. And then when they formally offered to publish, I told myself things could still go wrong with the negotiations between the publisher and my agent. Basically, my frame of mind was such that I was so convinced things would fall through that the excitement actually took a while to sink in.”
Finding a writing community
A Man and His Pride tells the story of 26-year-old Sean Preston, who has sworn off emotional attachments. But then he meets naive but kind nurse William; an unlikely friendship blossoms and the two discover they have a lot to learn from each other. It’s set against the backdrop of the 2017 same-sex marriage plebiscite and shows that finding your pride is a journey – one you cannot take alone.
It’s fitting then that Luke feels that during the process of writing he has found his own writing community.
“The good – and unique – thing about the AWC is that there are loads of different courses you can do. You can either do ‘bite-sized’ self-paced courses that focus on a specific aspect of writing, which is great if you’ve identified a particular weakness in your writing. Or you can go all in and do courses that run for months and which not only provide you with individualised feedback, but also set you up with a supportive community of other writers. You can’t really put a price on that.”
While he has no plans to quit his day job, Luke manages to squeeze his writing in each morning and some weekends.
“I’ve learned so much from the AWC courses I’ve taken. I can confidently say that I don’t think I would have secured a publishing deal if I hadn’t taken those courses, because I can look back at my writing before completing those courses and quite clearly see the difference.”
Courses completed at the Australian Writers' Centre: