Having worked for years in the visual effects and animation industry, Richard Pritchard knew a lot about storytelling. But when he wanted to write a middle grade novel, he felt that he needed solid guidance, so he turned to the Australian Writers' Centre.
“Since I worked in the film industry I knew my peers would be looking at my storytelling so it needed it to be the best it could be,” Richard told us. “I had no experience writing for children or the novel writing process and format. The courses I took are the best for any new writer wanting to know how to bring their stories to life.”
After completing six courses at the Australian Writers' Centre, Richard landed a contract with Allen & Unwin for his first middle grade novel Guardians: Wylah the Koorie Warrior 1 along with co-creator Jordan Gould. The second book in the series, Custodians: Wylah the Koorie Warrior 2, is out now.
“I worked in the film industry for 15 years on other people's ideas and stories. I'd been writing my own screenplays but being a published author is a real dream come true.”
Since moving to Australia from New Zealand, and being of Samoan heritage, Richard had wanted to work with Aboriginal people and culture to increase their representation in mainstream media.
“In 2018 I had an idea to create an Aboriginal female warrior. I teamed up with a young Aboriginal man [co-writer Jordan Gould] and we developed my idea into Wylah the Koorie warrior,” Richard says.
Gaining permission and blessing from elders
Richard sought and received the blessing of two local elders to pursue his story, and he and Jordan set to work creating Wylah.
“At first, I expected Jordan to write half and I would write half. But Jordan has autism which makes it very difficult for him to write in long form structure. However, my experience in the film industry taught me that not all screenplays are written; many of them are storyboarded and then written later. Sometimes directors talk about the story and they hire other people to write it.
“I know from my own Samoan culture that our stories were verbally transferred and that's the same as writing. So Jordan and I developed a process of discussions over Zoom meetings. I would set up the story structure and character arcs and we would talk about every aspect of the book. Then I would distill it into a plot and then write the entire book. Jordan would read the book and give me notes especially if it contained issues with Aboriginal culture.”
Richard had learned from the Writing Children's Novels course that he needed to adjust his writing style for this age group.
“Most of my screenplays were for young adults and contained very deep and serious themes. Writing for children from ages 8 to 12 required my writing style to change and become more hopeful, fun and adventurous,” Richard says. “The courses helped me understand that writing for young children means you have to also consider the parents’ point of view. You can't just write anything for children; it needs to be age appropriate and have themes that matter to children and not your own interests.”
When they had written 40,000 words, Richard and Jordan took the unusual step of starting a kickstarter to help Wylah get published. That caught the attention of several publishers and eventually led to their two-book deal with Allen & Unwin imprint Albert Street Books.
“Some of my professional friends were urging me to go self-published and this would have been easy for me with my background. But the goal is to promote Aboriginal culture to the widest possible mainstream media. So to do that we wanted the best publisher that we felt had the best home for Wylah.”
The start of a successful series
Richard and Jordan’s first Wylah book, Guardians: Wylah the Koorie Warrior 1, is set 40,000 years ago, and is about a young Aboriginal girl called Wylah who must go on a quest to unite the five Guardians and save her tribe from an invading dragon army. The second book, Custodians: Wylah the Koorie Warrior 2, follows Wylah as she learns what it takes to become the Koorie warrior.
Before starting on Wylah, Richard had been looking at writing courses when he came across the success story of a work colleague.
“I was searching for writing courses online and found AWC. While listening to one of the podcasts a promotional advert came up. It was a testimonial of a co-worker of mine, Astrid Scholte. We had worked together on Happy Feet 2 and I was so excited to see that she had written a number of books. From that I decided to take the courses,” Richard told us.
He thrived in the online format, enrolling in several courses, including Pitch Your Novel: How to Attract Agents and Publishers, Writing Children's Novels, Fiction Essentials: Point of View, Laugh Out Loud, Fiction Essentials: Grammar and Punctuation and Fiction Essentials: Characters.
“The content of the courses was fantastic and the methods and topics covered were very insightful. I hadn't landed a publisher or an agent so I was really wanting to fill myself up with everything from the writing process to the business side of things.
“Having the courses in an audio format meant I could listen to the course over and over again while at the gym or working. I would just let all the principles sink in and listen on repeat. Also having the feedback and other students comment on my ideas was a great way to gauge what level I was at and if I was on the right track. Getting feedback from the tutor was fantastic especially when you only have a concept idea and you have no idea if it's going to work.
“Every course was fantastic and gave me a solid foundation that is similar to but very different from screenwriting.”
Courses completed at AWC:
Pitch Your Novel: How to Attract Agents and Publishers
Writing Children's Novels
Fiction Essentials: Point of View
Laugh Out Loud
Fiction Essentials: Grammar and Punctuation
Fiction Essentials: Characters