Sarah Speedie on her new dream career as a picture book author

Sarah Speedie was a full-time stay-at-home mum and, when her children reached an age where she could carve out time for herself she chose to embark on a new journey – one that would reignite her passion for learning and storytelling. Sarah enrolled in the Writing Picture Books course at the Australian Writers' Centre.

“I was looking for a course that would suit someone who knew absolutely nothing about writing a picture book or the publishing industry,” she says. Sarah was also drawn to the flexibility of the online course. “Life gets busy, and I wanted to study at my own pace and at times that suited me.”

And life has become even busier for Sarah – she has now published three picture books with three more on the way! Her latest picture book is Boss Cat, out now with HarperCollins.

“The Writing Picture Books course and the Writing Picture Books Masterclass gave me the knowledge to be able to confidently write and submit manuscripts to publishers. Without that knowledge, I would not be where I am today.”

Gaining knowledge and skills

Sarah found the AWC course invaluable to kickstart her new career as a picture book author.

“For somebody who knew absolutely nothing about writing picture books or the publishing industry, I felt that all of the fundamentals covered in the Writing Picture Books course were extremely useful,” Sarah says. “It is very hard to pinpoint one part of that course as being the most useful because I found it all very important knowledge to have when starting out. I loved every minute of it.”

As well as giving her the knowledge and confidence to put her work out there, the AWC courses led to Sarah making some great friends along the way. 

“The courses led me to meet other aspiring authors, which in turn has led to some wonderful friendships,” Sarah told us. “Writing can be such a lonely pursuit, but I have made some amazing writing friends with whom I now share the journey. We celebrate the wins, commiserate over the losses, discuss and critique manuscripts, and support each other.”

Achieving the dream

As soon as she started her first course, Sarah dreamt of becoming a published author. 

“I was determined to work as hard as I could to make the dream become a reality. However, to be honest, initially, I didn't fully believe or imagine that it would actually happen.” 

She had her fair share of rejections, but reached a turning point when she was longlisted in the CBCA NSW Aspiring Writers Mentorship Program. 

“Although I didn’t win, having my work make the longlist meant that it had been noticed by people who knew the industry very well, and I finally allowed myself to believe and imagine that, one day, I would become a published author.” 

With her new self-confidence, Sarah kept honing her skills and pursuing her publishing dream. Her persistence paid off when she signed her first picture book contract with Larrikin House. 

“I will never forget the day I received the phone call from publisher, James Layton, telling me that he loved my manuscript and that he wanted to publish it. I was in complete shock!” 

The start of a new career

Her debut picture book, Mozzies Vs Flies, illustrated by Rebel Challenger, was released in November 2021 and went on to be shortlisted in the Speech Pathology Australia Book of the Year Awards 2022. 

Sarah's second book, Meowster Chef, followed in June 2022. It was quite a different experience from writing her first book, as the publisher asked that she change the animals that were the focus of the story.

Meowster Chef started life as a story about a cooking competition between the slugs and the snails in the garden (it had a very different title then too, of course!). When James Layton read the manuscript, he reached out to let me know that he loved the idea of a cooking competition, however he wasn't so keen on slugs and snails. He said that he would be interested in signing the story if I re-wrote it with different animals. So, I went away and re-wrote the story with cats and then Meowster Chef was signed! The illustrator of Meowster Chef is the hugely clever Marina Verola. She has really brought the action-packed story about a fast-paced cooking competition to life. Her illustrations are so dynamic!”

Her next picture book, Wild About Book Week, is also published by Larrikin House.

Building a new life

Sarah's world has changed dramatically since she began her writing journey. “Not only do I now have published picture books, but I have also started visiting schools, kindergartens, and libraries to read my books and run writing workshops as a published author,” Sarah says. 

She has presented at writers' festivals and is involved in educational programs. She has also signed with Beyond Words Literary Agency and runs workshops for the Primary English Teaching Association Australia (PETAA). 

“My entire world has changed since I began my writing journey with the AWC.”

Latest achievements

Sarah's journey continues to blossom with new projects and publications on the horizon, including a non-fiction picture book for CSIRO Publishing and a picture book with New Frontier Publishing.

An interesting fact: all of Sarah’s picture books, both released and in production, have been written in rhyme – a style she absolutely adores.

Sarah's experience with the Australian Writers' Centre has been transformative, and she passionately recommends their courses to aspiring authors. 

“I would highly recommend anyone who is interested in becoming a picture book author to complete both the Writing Picture Books course and the Writing Picture Books Masterclass. I learnt so much about the fundamentals of how to write a picture book and the publishing industry in general through these courses. They are fantastic.”

Courses completed at AWC:

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