From soldier to storyteller: How M. Dane found his voice at the Australian Writers’ Centre

After a 17-year career in the army, M. Dane was facing a medical discharge. The dramatic change in lifestyle was a difficult period for Dane, and after some soul searching he decided to embark on a transformative journey to realise a long-held dream – becoming a successful author. This led him to the Australian Writers' Centre.

Dane immediately felt the impact of the courses, which allowed him to focus on specific areas of improvement. In fact, he went on to do more than a dozen courses.

“I appreciated the variety of course formats, from self-paced modules to weekly sessions with an instructor and classmates, which was a fun experience. Engaging with my peers and taking part in critique exchanges was incredibly beneficial,” Dane says.

Dane has now gone on to find success as a self-published author, with his novel Born Upon a Curse gaining considerable attention on TikTok, attracting over 1150 applicants for the role of advanced reader.

“The courses at AWC are absolute game changers. They've elevated my skills in so many ways, and I wouldn't be where I am without them.”

Unlocking the power of feedback

One of the most impactful aspects of the courses was the invaluable feedback received from both instructors and classmates. 

“I'm a huge fan of the instructor feedback,” Dane told us. “Submitting my project and receiving their experienced input worked a treat in helping me understand strong and weak areas of my writing. I appreciated the time and effort they invested in each of my submissions. [The presenter] Tim Harris was a standout; I loved his breakdown of my Laugh Out Loud submission.”

Feedback from classmates also revealed blind spots in his writing. “Apparently, I can't get enough of similes. Now, being aware of this tendency, I've learned to rein in my similes like a shepherd herding sheep.”

He also found that the courses provided the structure and guidelines that he needed to write better and faster. 

“The number of lightbulb moments I experienced during my courses at AWC is unbelievable,” he says. “I now write a faster first draft that is significantly cleaner than any of my previous works. I spend less time pulling my hair out, frustrated and confused with writer's block, as I now have a solid understanding of story structure, character development, and effective plotting techniques. This allows me to write more books, which is my passion.”

He was also able to connect with other writers. “Since completing the courses, I've expanded my network, connecting with fellow authors, graduates like Reece Carter, and instructors such as Tim Harris. These connections have been invaluable.”

Born Upon a Curse: A dream realised

Dane's latest novel is Born Upon a Curse, a new adult paranormal romance.

“The story follows Alina Rose, a 19-year-old struggling to control her alter ego, Machina, when a night out reveals there's more to her split personality than she could have imagined: she's a demon, and her powers have just awakened. This leads her to Astaroth Academy, a prestigious institution in an alpine France-like setting, where she hopes to learn to control her powers and silence Machina once and for all.”

He was inspired by his love for the fantasy books that he read voraciously as a child.

“I wrote this story because I was obsessed with Hogwarts as a kid. I'd dream of attending so I could explore the secret passageways and eat all the food. In a way, Astaroth is Hogwarts for college-aged demons. Swap out broomsticks for beers, and you're close to experiencing the world I've created.”

Although a paranormal romance seems quite different from a soldier’s life, Dane was able to draw on his military experience in his writing.

“The army was such a huge part of my life for so long, it would be impossible for it not to rub off on my writing,” he acknowledges. “In Born Upon a Curse, some action scenes are directly inspired by my military experience, with the terminology and strategies reflecting my background.

“Additionally, I'm working on a middle-grade series where each book is a standalone in a unique location around the world. My goal is to introduce young readers to different customs, myths, and ways of life, encouraging them to explore the world with an open mind. My extensive travel with the army gave me an appreciation for the wider world, and I hope to pass that sense of wonder and curiosity on to my readers.”

A process that works

Dane kicks off all his stories by reading Save the Cat, a popular plotting book, and he did the same when starting Born Upon a Curse.

“Once I felt confident in my structure, I outlined each chapter by hand, filling an entire notebook – what I call my ‘draft 0.5'. I then wrote drafts 1 to 3 on my laptop in Scrivener and sent them to a list of beta readers for feedback. After reviewing their thoughts, I dove into another three drafts before sending the manuscript to my copy editor. That's when the real fun began. I turned to TikTok to find readers for my ARCs (Advance Reader Copies), offering my book in exchange for honest and fair reviews. This strategy helped me gather over 1150 advance readers, ensuring I had reviews ready on Amazon and Goodreads at launch. Now, it's all about promoting, promoting, promoting.”

Dane was initially hesitant to try out TikTok, but was encouraged by his girlfriend to use it to connect with other authors and bookish people. 

“I don't enjoy being the centre of attention, and recording myself for everyone to see was outside my comfort zone. But as I made more videos (including one terrible one with me dancing, which I later deleted), I became more comfortable, and now I can't imagine life without it. The bookish community of TikTok is phenomenal – they're incredibly supportive and friendly, and I've made some fantastic friends there. Plus, TikTok is a hotspot for books going viral, and I'm hopeful that one day, one of my stories will join the ranks of TikTok-famous books.”

He aims to post at least five times a week, but ramped up his activity during his book launch.

“I make it a point to respond to every comment because if people take the time to engage with my posts, I want them to know I appreciate it. I try to be as authentic as possible because I believe people can sense when something isn't genuine. My content varies from me talking to the camera about various topics, showcasing my books, to sharing snippets of my life, like my writing retreat in England last year. This mix helps keep my feed engaging.

“Through TikTok, I've found my beta readers, ARC readers, and customers. It's been significant in building my audience. I've also created a mailing list to keep people informed about upcoming books, which is invaluable. Plus, I've gained a lot of insights from the community, taking their feedback on what works and what doesn't, and making sure to incorporate those points in future books.”

A resounding recommendation

As well as his new-adult novel, Dane has published a picture book called Beyond the Clouds, which he illustrated himself.

“I’ve also worked on another picture book titled Dino Masters, which I authored and illustrated. These projects wouldn’t have seen the light of day without the skills and confidence I gained from the Australian Writers' Centre.

“The instructors are fantastic, and the courses are broken down into easy-to-follow chunks. Take a look through their course library and pick ones you think will benefit you the most. The value for money is unmatched. Trust me, if these courses weren't top-notch, I wouldn't have completed 16 of them.

“Writing has become a central part of my life, and I'm very pleased to say I dreamed and hoped it would happen. I worked hard and gave up a lot to make time for my writing. So, yes, I dreamed and I hoped, and I'm still pinching myself that it actually happened. The Australian Writers' Centre has been an indispensable part of that journey, and I can't recommend it enough to aspiring writers.”

Courses completed at AWC:

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