Samera Kamaleddine quit her job as editor of Women’s Fitness magazine to finally write the novel that was in her head – but she quickly discovered she had no idea where to start! After taking a course at the Australian Writers' Centre, she found her writing rhythm and has now gone on to publish the delightful middle-grade novel, The Sideways Orbit of Evie Hart, and her debut young adult (YA) novel, Half My Luck.
“I thought writing a novel would come naturally to me given I’d spent years and years as a features writer in magazines,” Samera told us. “But after months flailing about, I realised writing an article is one thing … but writing a novel is a whooooole other thing. I needed some help – and FAST, because I’d just declared quite publicly that I’d quit a good job to write a book and had nothing to show for it!”
Samera turned to the Australian Writers' Centre and enrolled in Creative Writing Stage 1.
“Learning how to create characters that readers would believe in is something I found particularly useful, and I took so many things from this course into my manuscript for Half My Luck.”
Samera’s manuscript for Half My Luck, a heartwarming coming-of-age story, went on to win the inaugural Matilda Children's Literature Prize and was published by HarperCollins. The Sideways Orbit of Evie Hart, written for kids 8 years and up, has also been published by HarperCollins.
Turning to fiction
Samera had been an avid reader and writer as a child, so busy with her head in books and notebooks that she never learned to ride a bicycle. Writing was a natural step and she built a successful career as a features writer in magazines. When she finally decided to give fiction another go, she knew she had to do something drastic – which is when she quit her job.
“I couldn’t find the time or headspace to fulfil this years-long dream of writing a book. All advice insists you do not quit your day job to write a book, but what can I say … I’m a rebel!”
As a seasoned features writer, Samera thought writing a book would come naturally to her, but quickly realised she needed help.
“Sure, you can Google things like narrative arcs and character development, but there was something that felt localised about the advice in Creative Writing Stage 1 – because it’s created and taught by Australian authors and publishing professionals, I felt confident that I was getting advice that made sense for this market and for Aussie readers.”
Sticking to a gruelling word-count schedule, Samera finished the manuscript for Half My Luck (which had a different title at the time) very quickly.
“I wrote the manuscript in about three or four months. I initially thought I could be all free-spirited with it, now that I was unemployed as aforementioned and had so much time to be creative. But alas, free-spirited-ness is not how a book is made and I realised routine was key. I created a desk calendar on which I had to cross off my daily word count (1,000 words) each day – and then I rewarded myself with a ‘treat’ like a swim at the beach.”
She started sending the completed manuscript out to publishers and received three (quite lovely) rejections – a fact she is quite proud of. She then entered it in the Matilda Prize, which was looking for uniquely Australian stories.
“That’s exactly what I considered Half My Luck to be – I never wrote this to ‘make it’ in the US or anywhere else; I always wanted this to be a new and different point of view of growing up in Australia and for Australian teens to read, relate to, and learn from.”
Winning the Matilda Prize led to her first publishing deal as well as a contract for her second book, The Sideways Orbit of Evie Hart.
“I almost fell off my chair that we were talking about longevity as an author already,” Samera says about the second book deal. “It was a tough juggle with full-time work and ensuring I actually had a life outside of both those things, but I got there and filed the second manuscript right on D-Day. I’m still unsure how it happened.”
A uniquely Australian story
Samera’s debut novel Half My Luck is about growing up in Australia when you're caught between two cultures. Layla Karimi is “sort of Australian and sort of Lebanese” who finds herself torn between her friends and her family after all hell breaks loose at a beach party.
Samera says writing the book was a very cathartic experience.
“Given how deeply personal the story was, the words were sort of just falling out of me and I think that’s why I was able to get it done so fast. For the same reason, it was also a super emotional process – almost this cathartic release, as I was digging up feelings about my cultural identity I didn’t know I was still clinging onto. As they say, writing a book is cheaper than therapy.”
After finishing Half My Luck, Samera went back to working full-time and fits writing around her busy schedule, fulfilling her childhood dreams of being a published author. Her second book, The Sideways Orbit of Evie Hart, is aimed at younger readers and is a tender and moving story about one girl's journey to find her place in the world.
“It’s unfeasible at that age to think your own name could be on a book on actual shelves one day. I don’t even think Teen Samera could foresee this. I’d love to go back and tell her.”
And Samera’s advice to other aspiring writers who are considering doing Creative Writing Stage 1:
“Your future published author self will thank you.”
Course completed at AWC:
Creative Writing Stage 1