After two decades in advertising, Matt Samuel realised that one thing he really missed from his former career as a primary school teacher was reading picture books to a class of eager kids.
“I’ve always loved children’s picture books,” Matt told us. “I can spend hours in a book store, searching for the right picture book present for a child…And I’ve always wanted to write my own picture book. I’ve even had a couple of ideas over the years. But I never really did anything about it.”
Matt decided to enrol in Writing Picture Books at the Australian Writers' Centre and was hooked. Finally, he could put his picture book ideas into practice. After a meeting with an editor at Yellow Brick Books, Matt was offered a contract and his debut picture book The Other Side of the Clouds will be published this year.
“I was sitting with my husband and brothers and sisters when I first saw the email from Rowena Beresford [editor at Yellow Brick Books],” Matt told us. “It was the most incredible feeling. I was in shock! I kept thinking – ‘This is actually happening!’ I really couldn’t believe it.”
Turning a dream into reality
Matt went through a period where he found himself walking a lot more, which led to a lot of thinking time. He realised that he really wanted to achieve his dream of writing a picture book. He started to look into courses he could fit around his life and discovered Writing Picture Books at the Australian Writers' Centre.
“For me the course was all about my weekly writing assignments and delving into the video feedback that I received from the tutor. I also loved seeing what my fellow classmates submitted and learning from their feedback too,” Matt says. “The course work and lessons were all very informative and I loved how they fed into our writing assignments each week. But it was the writing workshop part of the course that truly hooked me.”
Matt finished the course with several stories that he then started pitching to publishers. Knowing that it can be difficult to reach the top of the slush pile, Matt signed up for an editor assessment event at the CYA Writers & Illustrators Conference. During that event, he found himself face to face with Rowena Beresford of Yellow Brick Books.
“Rowena and I only had 15 minutes to discuss two manuscripts. But in that time, she suggested a few things to help improve one story in particular and she invited me to submit that story to her once I had made a few changes. I took her feedback on board and submitted my changes. Then a few weeks later I was offered a contract,” Matt says. “To say I was thrilled was an understatement. To have someone else believe in one of my stories enough to publish it is the most incredible feeling.”
Matt’s picture book will be called The Other Side of the Clouds, and it draws on Matt’s own experiences at the time he was writing it.
“I wrote my story while I had a lot going in my life and I was surrounded by a lot of sadness. This made me want to write something about a child navigating their way out of that,” Matt says. “I’ve now seen the illustrations and they are wonderful, adding more to my story than I could have imagined. It was truly an incredible experience seeing my story being interpreted so powerfully. It has made me love this beautiful art form even more.”
Matt is still working fulltime in advertising, and considers writing a vital part of his relaxation, saying it helps him to unwind.
“The course really gave me the confidence to write and get my stories out there. I often look back at the notes I’d taken and the course work. But now, it is all about taking the skills I’ve learnt – and still learning – and writing as much as I can in my spare time,” Matt says. “I never ever expected that I would become a published author. It was something I dreamed of, but never thought it would happen. But looking back, I think while I was in the Writing Picture Books course – something just clicked inside me and I was like ‘Right! I want this. It’s going to be a challenge. But I really want to do it.’
“I would recommend AWC to anyone that is interested in learning how to write picture books, or wanting to develop their skills in it. Quite honestly it was one of the best learning experiences I’ve ever had. I loved every minute of the Writing Picture Books course. I keep referring to all the notes I took, even two years later. I wouldn’t be in the position now of having a book being published later this year if I hadn’t done the course, that’s for sure.”