Therese Spruhan loves swimming pools. After writing for her blog Swimming Pool Stories, she knew she wanted to create a book based on this theme. The result is The Memory Pool, a collection of 28 stories from a diverse range of Australians including Bryan Brown, Leah Purcell, Merrick Watts, Shane Gould and Trent Dalton – as well as stories from less-famous Australians.
After doing several courses at the Australian Writers’ Centre, Therese had the confidence to pitch her book to NewSouth Publishing, who recognised the appeal of stories involving the iconic Aussie pool. “After interviewing each person, I retold their story in their own words – in first person – so that each one’s distinctive voice and experience would come through,” says Therese. “I also wrote my own story about growing up at Northbridge Baths, a tidal pool in a quiet corner of Sydney’s Middle Harbour.”
Therese had resigned from her role as a communications manager and was in her first year as a freelancer when she did a course in how to be a successful freelancer at the Australian Writers’ Centre. She followed up with a course on blogging at AWC to get advice on how to take themes from her blog and turn them into a book.
When the opportunity came up to do a memoir writing course in Paris with Australian Writers’ Centre presenter Patti Miller, she signed up. “Patti Miller was very encouraging and enthusiastic when I spoke to her about my desire to write a book about Australia’s swimming pools,” she says.
The birth of the book
“There were a few key stages in the process of writing The Memory Pool. The first stage was getting the idea for the book which came to me one day when I was reading an article in the newspaper from musician Paul Kelly about his love of swimming and his connection with various pools. I cut the article out of the paper and put it into a display folder. From then on my pool radar was on high alert and I regularly added press clippings and snippets of information to the file when I heard a prominent Australian talk about a pool.”
Contacting publishers and famous people
When Therese decided to focus on childhood memories of the pool, she knew she had a strong hook to pitch to publishers. “That’s when I also came up with the title of the book – The Memory Pool. Once I was clear about the focus of the book I started trying to contact people to interview them. I sent hopeful emails to literary agents, turned up at writer’s festivals, book and CD launches and sent messages via social media accounts.
“Some people didn’t reply but many had an immediate connection with the project and were enthusiastic about taking part. That process taught me to never think people are too famous to contact. Just do it but it does require stepping out of your comfort zone.
“After I interviewed each person I transcribed the recording, and as I did, I got a sense of where the story was – the main theme and smaller themes – and how I would re-tell the story. I had already decided that I wanted to write the stories in first person – in the words of the interviewee – so that each one’s distinctive voice and experience came through.”
Getting the book deal
Therese explains how she connected with NewSouth Publishing. “Earlier on in the process of writing the book I had identified NewSouth Publishing as a possible good fit for my book along with a couple of other publishing companies. When I had written about six chapters of the book I approached one of those publishers. While nothing came of my first contact, a few months later I had an opportunity to send my synopsis and 3000 words of the book to a large publishing house, and later spend 20 minutes with one of the company’s non-fiction publishers. While the person I met with wasn’t that enthusiastic about my book, at the end of the session her closing comments were something along the lines of – I think what you’ve written is quite literary, social history. I think your book is more suited to NewSouth.”
With the encouragement of a friend, Therese decided to seize the day and contacted NewSouth that afternoon. “I followed up with a publisher at NewSouth in November 2018. While on holidays in Tasmania I received an email from her saying she liked the eight chapters I had sent her a lot and others in the office did too. At the end of her email she asked if we could meet up to talk further about the book.”
In February 2019, NewSouth offered her a contract. At that point, Therese had written about one-third of the stories in the book and was given a deadline of mid-April 2019 to complete the manuscript. “There were a few tears of happiness and relief when I read the email and a lovely feeling that someone else believed what I was writing was worthwhile.”
Since submitting the manuscript, she has keeping been busy. “I have been involved in all the other stages of the book from editing to proofreading, developing a cover design, organising endorsements, creating a new author website, writing articles about the book, producing a video on the book, publicity activities such as radio interviews and promoting my book on social media.
“It’s been an intense but wonderful year to finally achieve my goal of publishing a book. On 1 November, The Memory Pool became a reality and when I go to my local bookstore and glance across at the shelves – there it is in all its pink and grey glory!”
Support from AWC
Therese recommends courses at AWC to aspiring writers. “Go for it! Australian Writers Centre has so many different courses – some are just a few hours one night when you can get a taste for whether you want to study further and do one of the centre’s longer and more in-depth courses. Over a number of years of reading the AWC’s e-news, there seems to have been many hundreds of people making a career out of their writing or securing a publishing contract. I am also sure there are many people who discovered something they loved to do after completing an AWC course.
“For me, the courses I did at the AWC and at other places have been crucial to my development as a writer and achieving my ultimate goal of publishing a book. AWC is a great place to kickstart a writing life!