Course taken at AWC:
Writing Picture Books
Maggie Hutchings’ determination to improve and keep writing until she was published has paid off, thanks to taking AWC’s Writing Picture Books course and the subsequent publication of her children’s book Unicorn! by Affirm Press.
“I was absolutely committed to the process of getting published. It was always a goal. I’m pig-headed. I did get disheartened by rejections of course but my method is for every rejection, write a new story! Unicorn! came about for that very reason.”
Initially Maggie thought she wanted to write for adults and an agent took on her manuscript.
“But that book didn’t fly and so cheekily, years later, I sent them some kids picture book texts. My agent who has always been a great support suggested I take a course in picture book writing and she suggested I do Writing Picture Books with the Australian Writers’ Centre.”
What Maggie learnt from AWC
“The course really made you actually produce work. Then to have others read the work and make commentary forces you out of your comfort zone. It was a great experience on that level and the first thing I did when I got my publishing contract was to contact the classmates I had been on the course with!”
The biggest surprise for Maggie was learning about the structure and pacing of picture books.
“A great book has to have that perfect structure to hold the listener's attention. I found that quite fascinating.
“I find that the ‘32 page’ structure is second nature to me now and often when I come to the point of dividing the story into ‘spreads’ it’s just happened with very little tweaking.
“The other big thing was learning that less is more. At first, I was writing far too much description. I’m almost obsessed now by telling a story with few words and at the same time leaving room for an illustrator to shine.”
During Maggie’s working life as a counsellor, she spent much of her time listening to the stories of others and helping people to write the next chapter or refile their old story in a more positive way.
“I'm fascinated by the way individuals see the world and more specifically by the way children make sense of their everyday experiences. So writing for children seemed a natural extension of my working life. I was often looking for books that can help and inspire children to explore their emotions and form their value system and worldview. I also had to learn to find the child’s voice and perspective in myself and this was the hardest thing of all.
“As I’m in my fifties I also wanted to write for my grandkids so this was perfect timing for me.”
Maggie says once she did the AWC course she was set on a path and didn’t look back.
“I think it helped me see that I could write and that I needed to commit to reading as much as possible as well as writing. I was out of touch with what was happening in the industry, and the course helped me to understand the industry and who does what in terms of production and buying.”
Today, Maggie is writing as much as she can.
“I try to write something each week either an adult short story or a picture book text. When I’m in this mode I can’t stop. I decided to enter every short story competition possible this year and so far, I have been a finalist in the Tasmanian Writer's Prize and I’m short listed in a couple of others.
“My advice is to keep a notebook for phrases, characters and ideas. It can be random as all heck. I find notes to self like ‘flamingo use word’ or ‘Big sandwich boy”. And believe it or not both of these cast-off ideas became books.
Maggie says she had told many people about the value of Writing Picture Books.
“I always say learn about the industry and how books are constructed then learn to write. Rewrite over and over again. Slash and burn, kill your darlings and learn to take criticism in a constructive way. Writing Picture Books helps in all these areas.”
For more success stories see here.