The turning point that led to James Antoniou becoming a published picture book author

James Antoniou was in the middle of a haphazard gap year when he decided to enrol in Writing Picture Books at the Australian Writers' Centre. He had always wanted to be a published author, had studied English at Oxford, and was ready to launch his writing career. But it was the course at the AWC that gave James the practical tools he needed to finish his manuscript. 

“When I enrolled on the course I wasn’t yet writing professionally,” James says. “At the time I had a whole cauldron of ideas for children’s books in my head, swirling around, and I wanted to get them down. The course was a turning point and gave me a direction for the remainder of the year.”

James' delightful debut picture book Hedgehog Heart, illustrated by Nikki Slade Robinson, is out now with Duck Creek Press.

The practical tools to write a picture book

Although he had studied English at university, James appreciated the practical approach of the Writing Picture Books course. Rather than focusing on theory, the AWC course is very grounded in the reality of how to write and publish a picture book.

“The tutor Cathie Tasker took a refreshingly down to earth approach to teaching picture book writing,” James says. “The emphasis was very much on craft: she critiqued our work and took us through the history of picture books, explaining each major development. She was a rigorous critic but also very welcoming.”

The critiquing aspect of the course is something that students tell us that they love time and time again. Receiving feedback from established professionals is absolutely invaluable. The role of the tutor is to be practical, supportive, positive and honest – and it's this combination that can transform a student's picture book manuscript.

The course also takes students through the nuts and bolts of the picture book publishing industry, covering everything from the right length for a picture book to what publishers are currently looking for. As one of our recent graduates, Dianne Britton, says: “I learned so much about writing picture story books. It made me wonder how anyone has a chance of ever having their manuscripts considered for publication without knowing what this course teaches you.”

Useful resources that continue to provide valuable information

Aside from the critiquing and tutor guidance, James appreciated the materials that came along with the course. 

“Cathie gave us two extremely comprehensive booklets each which included the course material in full,” James says. “I often pored over the booklets afterwards while I was getting the stories written.”

Students of Writing Picture Books are frequently amazed at just how much information is jam-packed into the course. As the focus is on practical information, there are loads of templates and examples, real-world information, and resources that continue to be useful long after the end of the final module.

“They were remarkably lucid and well-structured books – so there was a sense in which the course helped me for a great deal longer than expected,” James says. “I don’t think I would have had access to such material if it hadn’t been for the course.”

James is now a published picture book author

After that ‘haphazard' gap year, James has found his feet as a freelance journalist, writing across all mediums on a variety of topics. And he was thrilled when his first picture book manuscript, Hedgehog Heart, found a home with Duck Creek Press.

“I was delighted,” James says about the moment he heard he was going to be published. “Especially as the publisher sent along a wonderful sample illustration by the New Zealand illustrator Nikki Slade Robinson.”

Hedgehog Heart is a joyful celebration of love and friendship, exploring how love can show itself in many different ways.

Congratulations to James, and we can't wait to see what emerges from his ‘cauldron of ideas' next.

Courses taken at AWC:
Writing Picture Books

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