Even as a 10-year old, Rebecca Marshallsay was confident she would one day be an author. After gaining her Master of Arts (Writing and Literature) she felt she had the writing and editing skills she needed, but still lacked practical advice about the writing industry and how to pitch. Having completed a picture book manuscript, Rebecca turned to the Australian Writers' Centre.
“I knew it was worth taking the time to workshop it a bit and, serendipitously, an AWC Writing Picture Books course was starting the following week. I took the leap and signed up straight away,” Rebecca says.
That manuscript became Facing the Wave and it has now been published by Larrikin House.
“I was very excited to be published from my first pitch and I know that the things I learned through the AWC helped me be as prepared as possible.”
Committing to her craft
For Rebecca, doing courses at the AWC pushed her to not just write, but to think like a writer, and to turn half-formed ideas into fully fledged ones.
“I was one of those writers who has lots of stories in their head but who puts off actually writing much for fear of spoiling the potential of a ‘perfect’ idea (no such thing – particularly if it never gets written). So although I have many stories in my head and an assortment of half-started (not even half-finished) stories on my laptop, I had never actually finished and pitched anything,” Rebecca told us.
That changed when she decided to enrol in Writing Picture Books.
“While I had some background in writing, the most helpful thing all of the AWC courses offer is not just advice on writing in the general sense but in how to be a writer,” Rebecca says. “This includes things like how to engage with industry or connect with the community, how to fit writing into your life, how to present your ideas in a compelling way, and much more.”
After polishing her picture book manuscript, Rebecca sent it to Larrikin House for an assessment. Their publisher, James Layton, thought it was a strong story and, after a few edits, Rebecca was offered a publishing agreement.
Rebecca’s debut picture book is Facing the Wave, a story about facing fears and how a few words of encouragement can change someone's day. With a little push and a lot of paddling, even the biggest waves are possible.
“When my first baby was 7 months old, we were reading a lot of picture books and spending a lot of time rocking to sleep. While I was rocking I had the idea, and subsequently wrote (during many rocking and feeding sessions), Facing the Wave,” Rebecca says. “This was quite a surprise to me as although I love all types of reading and writing, I had previously focused my writing attention on other genres.”
While waiting for her book to come out, Rebecca again turned to the Australian Writers' Centre, this time to help build her author platform. The course motivated her to start thinking about the platforms and tools that would be best for her.
“All of the courses were very honest about the fact that it can be hard to get published but they helped give me the best chance by strengthening my understanding of industry expectations, by motivating me to keep writing, and by making it very clear that you are a writer long before anyone offers you a publishing agreement.”
Having had her first taste of success, Rebecca is continuing to write picture book manuscripts and is working on a commercial non-fiction project. But even more importantly, she now considers herself a writer and makes sure to commit time to her craft. She has learned to face her own waves.
“Writing is woven into every part of my life now. Previously I had big dreams of writing but they always felt like ‘one day’ dreams. I was always waiting for the right time to write,” Rebecca says. “I feel like I have gathered enough momentum to stop putting things off and to embrace it. I don’t wait for the right moment anymore; I just write in the cracks available to me between work and other commitments. I also feel a lot more motivated to switch off Netflix and to make writing a priority – and although some days it doesn’t come easily, I am enjoying it so much.”