Reece Carter was living a double life working as a nutritionist and writing stories for kids on the side, hoping that one day his publication dreams would come true. He'd written three manuscripts but none had been picked up, so he decided to sharpen his creative writing skills at the Australian Writers' Centre.
“I enrolled in Writing Children's Novels and became a much better writer for it,” Reece told us. “I took everything I’d learned and wrote a fourth manuscript, A Girl Called Corpse, and the rest is history!”
It certainly changed his life and Reece is now a fulltime children's author! His most recent novel is The Lonely Lighthouse of Elston-Fright, published by Allen & Unwin. The manuscript for his debut novel, A Girl Called Corpse, was picked up by his dream agent and became part of a bidding war, and the book was released in Australia, New Zealand and the UK, with publication to follow in Italy, Spain and Norway.
Starting with a dream
Reece had always loved reading, spending hours in the library in the company of authors like Roald Dahl, C.S. Lewis, Paul Jennings and Emily Rodda. He started writing his own stories, but gave up after high school, before picking up his pen again in his mid-20s. At the time, he wrote for the love of it, but always hoping that he could write something good enough to be published.
“I approached a freelance editor about getting a manuscript assessment on a middle grade novel that I’d written and, after reading a sample chapter, they politely suggested that I take a creative writing course,” Reece recalls. “I’ll be honest: that stung. At the time, I really did think my work was ready. I thought that my imagination and my ‘big idea’ were enough. In hindsight, I needed to learn about structure and pacing. I needed to develop my storytelling skills.”
Determined that it was now or never, Reece dove into his first Australian Writers' Centre course and emerged much stronger for it.
“I now say this to anybody who will listen: Writing is a skill that can be learned. Forget the notion that you are either ‘talented’ or ‘untalented’ because everybody (I mean it, everybody!) has potential in them. But to turn your big ideas into a book that excites and entertains, you need to take the time to learn the tools of the trade.”
After completing his first course, Reece then went on to do Short Story Essentials, which “really taught me how to keep my stories tight.” He also did Presenting to Kids, which has proven very handy now that his author career has kicked off with a bang, and he's getting rave reviews for his presentations.
Finding fulltime writing success
Reece admits he was a bit hesitant about heading into his fourth manuscript. But after everything he’d learnt, he found that the story came quickly.
“Six months later, I had a finished manuscript: my fourth novel, and maybe the one that would sell. I almost didn't trust it, because every other novel I'd written had taken around two years, and this one came together so quickly. Still, I decided to bite the bullet. I sent it to my dream agent – a name I had read in the ‘Acknowledgements' section of all my favourite recent middle-grade reads. She offered me representation, and two months later we had sold the book not only in Australia, but in the UK too. Soon after, it went to auction in Italy, where it sold; and Spain and Norway weren't far behind.”
A Girl Called Corpse is a dazzling debut about a lonely child ghost who goes searching for answers about her past in a forgotten coastal town that fizzes with secret magic. Jessica Townsend, the New York Times bestselling author of Nevermoor, has called it “ghoulishly charming, with a compelling hero you will adore.” His latest novel, The Lonely Lighthouse of Elston-Fright, is set in the same fictional world and features the same characters from his debut, but is also a standalone middle-grade book.
Reece says the whole process of becoming published has been a thrill but he still has to pinch himself that it’s actually happening. He’s now writing full-time, starting at 5am each morning with a big cup of coffee and writing while his brain is sharp. Afternoons are for the business side of writing – and of course, spending time with his dog Hagrid (an excellent writing buddy, Reece told us).
It’s a long way from being a nutritionist and more like a return to that boy in the library, devouring books and dreaming up new worlds.
“It’s always been children’s fiction for me. Kids’ books are just so much fun to write! As a writer, you really get to let your imagination go wild,” Reece says. “There’s also the fact that children’s books tend to deal with important themes – like good vs evil, friendship and bravery – in ways that are big and hopeful. It’s like Phillip Pullman said: ‘There are some themes, some subjects, too large for adult fiction; they can only be dealt with adequately in a children's book.’”
Courses taken at AWC: