Courses taken at AWC:
Creative Writing Stage 1
Winner of two coveted literary awards in 2018, the Ned Kelly Award for Best First Crime Novel and the Davitt Award for Best Debut Crime Book for her first novel, The Dark Lake, Sarah is proof that following your passion and dreams IS achievable.
We all like to daydream about finding success with our writing, but simply wishing for something tends to be an unreliable strategy. Advertising executive Sarah Bailey was one such daydreamer, but she found a way to devote more time to her writing and ultimately land her first book deal.
Sarah’s job deadlines and demands often didn’t leave much time for anything else – resulting in sporadic writing attempts. “I loved my job in advertising, but was increasingly finding myself desperate to have more time to write,” she says. “At work, I was distracted by my own ideas. And I was in danger of becoming the Master of Starting Things … not so good at finishing them.”
Sarah started writing short stories to give herself a sense of completion and flexibility that fit with her busy lifestyle. Words flowed, and it help cement for her that writing was something she wanted to pursue. She was keen to hone her skills and hear from professional writers on the fundamentals to writing a good story. This is when she checked out Creative Writing Stage 1 at the Australian Writers’ Centre.
“I’d heard really good things about the Australian Writers’ Centre course, the reviews were always really positive and people were always providing really good feedback on social media, so I just thought that was a really good place for me to start.”
Simply allowing herself the opportunity to follow her passion was a huge first step for Sarah.
“I think it was a little bit about permission. When you are not a professional writer I think you become convinced that any time you spend writing is self-indulgent, even selfish. I think structured courses can help you feel a bit more purposeful and you meet other writers which helps to legitimise the cravings!”
Sarah learnt a lot in just one weekend. “It helped me fall in love with narrative all over again. It made me really think about writing as a discipline and in some ways as a science,” she says.
“I found Nicole Hayes [the tutor] really inspiring, really down to earth in her teaching style… She had such a passion for narrative and structure and she sparked really great discussion within the class… Being a published author at the time, she had some really practical advice and knowledge to share as well.”
The course also reminded Sarah that there was a real psychology to writing. “While you always want to write something original, you want to do it in the safety of a proven framework. This course helped me to map out a clearer vision for the story that was starting to kick around in my mind.”
The course was a turning point for Sarah. “I walked away from the course feeling incredibly determined. I went from wanting to write a novel to deciding to write a novel. It helped me to feel like I had a right to spend more time writing. And most importantly, I think that it inspired me to create my own world and get the words down.
“Writing is now a massive part of my life. 2016 was an amazing year for me. After I finished the draft of my book The Dark Lake in April, I pitched it to an agent, Lyn Tranter from Australian Literary Management and was lucky enough to be signed. She then worked with me to get the manuscript into the best possible shape before she pitched it to publishers. Incredibly, Allen & Unwin bought the world rights to the book in July of that year.”
Her bestselling debut novel, The Dark Lake, was released in Australian in May 2017 and she was commissioned to write another – Into the Night – published in June 2018. Her third novel, Where the Dead Go, was released in August 2019.
“When Allen & Unwin decided to publish the novel and that was all confirmed it was amazing. It was just such an amazing experience to go through and I felt really fortunate, but also really proud because it was obviously a really hard journey to get there.”
Life as an author
Sarah is still working in advertising, but has recently taken up a new role managing a creative projects agency. For her, mixing writing with another type of work is good for her brain – helping to keep the ideas coming. Plus, she gets to be around people – a welcome change from writing by herself.
A few short years ago, the thought of someone buying her manuscript was the stuff of fantasy. “I think when you’re writing, alone at home or in a cafe or wherever, the end point just seems so far away. You don’t even think you are going to finish whatever it is that you are writing, let alone ever get paid for it.
“Plus, there are so many steps to writing. You have to have the idea, then you have to write it, rewrite it, edit it, get an agent or a publisher to like it and then there is more editing.”
Ultimately, she found the path to publication to be a great experience. “A lot slower than the advertising industry but a journey that I am excited to continue on again and again!”
Permission to write
And would she recommend an AWC course to others in a similar position? Absolutely. “Do it. Research the classes available and pick the one or two that sound right for you… and sign up. Let it inspire you and help you feel like writing is something that can be a part of your life. I am definitely a believer that action inspires action.”
For Sarah, it was all about being given the permission to follow her dreams. “I think it really just set me off on the right path and since then obviously so much has happened in my world – in terms of writing – that I really do see it as the first step that I took along that path. It’s amazing, I feel very very fortunate to be in the position where, that’s my current life.”
Daydreams really do come true…