When her youngest son was a toddler, Pamela Jones found herself with two whole free hours a week. Not wanting to waste that precious time on household chores, Pamela instead decided to do something delicious for herself: she enrolled in Writing Picture Books at the Australian Writers' Centre.
“I treasured that time so much, and still look back on it fondly,” Pamela told us.
The course gave Pamela her first glimpse into the world of publishing, a world she is now fully devoted to. Her debut picture book, Ayla's Christmas Wish, published under her maiden name Pamela Jones, is out now with National Library of Australia Publishing. Her married name is Pamela Ueckerman.
A dream come true
Pamela had wanted to be a writer since she was eight years old when she volunteered at her local library. Although she went on to write poetry and articles for various blogs and small newspapers, she didn’t know how to move into writing as a career.
“I liked the idea of being a novelist but writing an adult novel felt too big and too serious, and I didn’t know what I wanted to write about. I’d even enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts when I was pregnant with my eldest son, but I found it too difficult to juggle the coursework with a young baby. But by reading to my son every day, I rediscovered the magic and fun of picture books and I suddenly knew that that was what I wanted to do,” Pamela says.
Pamela found the Writing Picture Books course fit into her schedule and she loved how targeted and industry-based it was.
“I learned so much about formatting a manuscript, about the standard length and format of a picture book, and how and where to submit a manuscript. It was all valuable!”
“Writing Picture Books also introduced me to people in the industry—I’m still online friends with a couple of those first classmates. It sparked my ambition and drive to learn more and gave me confidence that I could do it, I could call myself a writer. Each course since then has added more bows to my quiver.”
Since those early days, books have become a major part of Pamela’s day. She educates her boys at home, and they read, write and review books. She also co-hosted a podcast called Middle Grade Mavens, and reviews books for the Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) and on Instagram.
A unique inspiration
Pamela’s debut picture book is Ayla’s Christmas Wish, and it was inspired by a visit to a Victorian country town with a unique festival, and the story came very quickly.
“The town holds a festival every year that incorporates a hay bale art display, created by the town’s residents. Melbourne had just been through its longest lockdown and Christmas was coming, there was a huge sense of relief and joy in the air. The hay bale art was so clever and creative and witty, and I remember thinking that I should write a picture book about it. That evening, I wrote the first draft,” Pamela recalls. “I worked on it over the following weeks and submitted it to my wonderful critique group but it didn’t change much from that first draft.”
By that stage in her writing journey, Pamela had made strong connections in the industry through pitching, as well as through her podcast and reviewing, so she was able to submit her manuscript directly to publishers. It made it to acquisitions at a major publisher, but they eventually said no. Pamela knew rejections were part of the process, but she was feeling ready to quit. Fortunately, she decided to have another stab at it.
“I decided to look through my submission spreadsheet (yes, I have one!) and see what I could send out. I noticed that the National Library of Australia was open for submissions and I knew Ayla’s Christmas Wish would suit them, so I sent it to them. Two weeks later, I received a reply to say that they agreed that it would suit them and that they would like to publish it.
“It has been such a thrill—seeing the first roughs from Lucia Masciullo (the illustrator), and then final spreads and the cover was amazing. I’ve had poetry professionally illustrated before, but this is something else, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the team effort that’s gone into bringing to life that little idea sparked by hay bale art.”
Pamela now writes most days, and loves being part of the literary community.
“I’m currently working on a middle-grade mystery/crime novel,” she told us. “As well as writing, I also volunteer as a subeditor for a home education magazine, to hone my editing skills. I love the current balance of my days, but I’m also moving myself towards a time when my boys no longer need me as much and I have more time to spare. I want to stay in the book industry; I can’t see myself anywhere else.”
By giving herself permission to not do chores, and do something delicious instead, Pamela has found something she truly loves.
“I have recommended the AWC many times! If you want to write, jump in and do an AWC course; you won’t look back.”
Courses completed at AWC: