How Madeline Te Whiu became a fantasy author

Author Madeline Te Whiu working at her desk, surrounded by editorial notes and bookcases.

For veterinary nurse Madeline Te Whiu, her writing dreams started with a simple scene. As an avid reader, she thought she’d give writing a go by sketching out a few scenes for her own story. She wasn’t quite sure what to do next, but committed to writing 4000 words a week.

“After that, I really threw myself into writing. I was very strict with myself to try and reach my word count every week; I spent many of my days off at my local library in an attempt to keep myself distraction-free.”

Her perseverance paid off with the completion of her first draft for The Assassin Thief. But over 50 rejections later, she knew she needed to try a new approach. Madeline enrolled in Creative Writing Stage 1 at the Australian Writers' Centre to nail the basics of her story, then went on to edit her manuscript with Cut, Shape, Polish. After taking Pitch Your Novel: How to Attract Agents and Publishers, she was ready to send out her novel again – and this time she was snapped up by New Dawn Publishing.

“I had so many emotions that day that it's hard to even begin to explain it; but pride, disbelief, joy and euphoria would be the best words I could think of. And surreal.”

Madeline’s debut novel The Assassin Thief was published by New Dawn Publishing in 2022 and the second novel in the series, The Soul Thief, is out now.

Step by step

Like a lot of new writers, Madeline lacked confidence and guidance when she started out. With the support of her husband (and #1 fan), she enrolled in Creative Writing Stage 1, as it is a well-rounded course that isn’t too onerous.

“The feedback from the teacher and other students was immensely helpful,” Madeline says about Creative Writing Stage 1. “Also being encouraged to critique each other's work really helped me look at my own a little more critically. Having weekly activities really pushed me to get things done within a deadline – excellent for a procrastinator like me. One of my favourite parts of that course was the exercise where we ‘sat' in our scene or world, closed our eyes and imagined everything in great detail; without all the distractions or action or plot.”

The course also helped Madeline realise the main weaknesses in her writing related to structure. “So after that, I picked up Fiction Essentials: Structure … I loved that this one was self-paced, so I could get it done as quickly or as slowly as I liked.”

Next, it was time to edit her manuscript so that it was the best it could be, which is when she enrolled in Cut, Shape, Polish. This highly practical course focuses on how to edit a completed manuscript into great shape so that it’s at a standard where you can confidently submit to publishers. This is vital because you don’t want to blow your chances with a publisher by sending them a half-baked manuscript that needs a lot of work. Remember, you only have one chance to make a first impression!

“This was my favourite course, hands down. I am one of those people who love lists; not only does it keep me on track, but it makes me feel like I am making progress every time I can get something checked off,” Madeline told us, referring to the systematic blueprint for editing taught in the course.

“In Cut, Shape Polish, the checklist was so helpful. I have a printed copy that I will be using in all my edits. All the little course handouts that contained lists and tables to fill in, or some other form of activity, were also really helpful for me. Not only did it help keep me on track, but it also allowed me to see how I was slowly moving forward in my edits, and allowed me to break certain parts of the book down to make sure each scene was earning its keep and every character was three dimensional.”

Madeline then dove right into the course Pitch Your Novel: How to Attract Agents and Publishers at the Australian Writers’ Centre.

“Having done this course helped me feel a little more settled going into the pitch, especially for someone like me who had no prior experience with pitching,” Madeline says. “It helped me know what to expect, which made it a little less scary. Don't get me wrong; it was still incredibly nerve-wracking and I was extremely nervous!”

Then came the email from Dylan Ingram at New Dawn Publishing saying they wanted to pick up her novel.

“I was actually at TAFE on a coffee break. I had been checking my emails constantly for the last two weeks after I sent away my full manuscript,” Madeline recalls. “I remember reading the email and stopping dead in the middle of the corridor. I must have been in everyone's way. I read the email so fast I barely processed it and had to force myself to go back and read it again to make sure I was reading it right.

“I immediately called my husband who was so excited I thought he might jump through the phone to tackle me in enthusiasm – and had to announce to his entire worksite that ‘his wife was a published author!' After that, I called my mum, who burst into tears before I could even finish telling her. I was such a whirlwind of emotion. I was late back to class but my lecturer was so excited for me that she didn't mind. I don't know how I concentrated for the rest of the day; it was the embodiment of ‘on cloud nine’.”

An amazing surreal journey

Madeline’s novel The Assassin Thief is a fantasy set in the world of Alkoria, where former royal assassin Telium, now exiled, must team up with a Fae warrior to defeat the Mad Fae King and prevent an all-out war. The Soul Thief picks up where the first book ends, continuing the unforgettable world Madeleine created, which is rife with grave secrets and suspenseful romance.

While writing now makes up a large part of her life, Madeline still works four days a week as a vet nurse.

“I am hoping that in the very near future I may be able to start working part-time as a veterinary nurse, so I can put more time into my books. For the last three years, writing has been a part of my life; it has been a very cathartic journey. Of course, being a writer full-time would be an absolute dream – but at the same time, I think I would struggle to give up nursing completely!”

For now, she spends her ‘days off’ writing and after work she edits and works on the promotional side of being an author.

“It's all been such an amazing, surreal journey, that has somehow been a long time coming and also whizzed by; I think I am still a bit starstruck.”

In just a few short years, Madeline has gone from writing as a hobby to being a published author.

“I think the results speak for themselves here; I had somewhere around 50 rejections for The Assassin Thief before I started these courses. Previously, I had a manuscript with a weak beginning and unstructured middle. After the courses, I was able to write a much better manuscript, where a publisher could see its potential. And the result: I was signed to New Dawn and my manuscript is now a published book!”

Courses completed at AWC:

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