After more than 20 years as a solicitor and legal academic, Penelope Janu thought it was high time she finally followed her creative impulses. She completed a short course at the Australian Writers’ Centre (AWC), which gave her the confidence to pursue a creative writing degree – and led to her first novel, In at the Deep End, being accepted for publication.
Her second book On the Right Track released mid-2018 took a year to write and and was close to her heart.
“I write romances about clever and adventurous women who don’t mean to fall in love, but do, and I like to write about characters who have interesting careers, passions, and backstories. Family relationships and friendships are all a part of that. On the Right Track let me explore a few other things as well—I more or less grew up on a horse and, purely because of the horses, I have an interest in thoroughbred horses. And I have a legal background—money laundering, horse racing, a mystery…were all elements that developed as I wrote the story.”
With another book due to be published before the end of 2018, Penelope considers herself a full-time writer – and in many ways, she has her daughter to thank for the turn of events. “My daughter Tamsin* took a weekend course at AWC a few years ago and sent me a link,” she recalls. With the link was a quick note – “Mum, this might be good for you.”
Penelope enrolled in an AWC creative writing course run by author Lisa Heidke and instantly loved the supportive environment. “I had never written creatively before that – I was nervous. But Lisa was really encouraging to all of the course participants, whatever stage of our writing journeys we were on. I guess it gave me the courage to think, ‘gee, this is something that I can do.'”
The course also gave Penelope the drive to do a Masters of Arts in Creative Writing. “Lisa’s can-do attitude, got me thinking about it as a serious possibility.”
That confidence yielded results with the news that Penelope’s contemporary romance novel, In at the Deep End, would be published by Harlequin MIRA.
“I actually pitched the novel to them at the Romance Writers of Australia conference. They loved it and wanted to take it to acquisition. I wasn’t popping champagne quite yet, but I knew that there was a likelihood that Harlequin MIRA would support the novel and publish it.”
After a busy year of editing, the book was published in early 2017. “I don’t think I would have done it unless I had done that weekend course,” admits Penelope. “Certainly some of the things I learnt there just gave me the encouragement to think I could start.”
The publisher offered Penelope a two-book deal – and once the ink dried, the reality and celebrations could finally kick in. “The two-book deal was a real bonus,” she says. “It demonstrated Harlequin’s commitment to me as a writer.”
Happily ever after
The biggest adjustment in her new writing career has simply been trying to fit it into all the other pieces of her life. “I love the writing process, but it is hard and time-consuming work – a challenge I am really enjoying. I’ve always had a busy schedule, working full-time as a solicitor, and then as an academic. My husband and I have also raised six children who are quickly growing up. But writing takes time and from a career point of view it is now my first priority.”
And for someone who took her time to get into the creative writing game, Penelope is now showing no signs of apprehension. “I have written another novel that precedes this one (that I hope will be published) and I am working on my third novel now. I started a bit later in life, there are benefits in that because you’re someone who’s already had a career and raised a family.”
It’s clear that the generous advice gained in that very first course at AWC has helped shape her path. “Lisa introduced me to the concept of ‘voice’ – and showed me that I was only likely to succeed if I wrote what I wanted to write, and how I wanted to write it. This gives the writer joy in the writing itself. When publication happens, the joy is enhanced because it gives the writer the opportunity to share their writing with readers. My own voice is unique to me. As a new author, I have something to say that other people might want to hear. And when publication happens, the joy is enhanced because it gives me the opportunity to share my writing with readers.”
For Penelope, the course will always be a memorable starting point to becoming an actual writer (rather than someone who had ‘always wanted to write’). As well as confidence, it gave her a new tribe. “You will find people within the community that are supportive and encouraging and they are people you need to connect with in order to grow and to succeed as a writer.”