When she was a child, Victoria Mackinlay assumed she would grow up to be an author. And now that she has released three picture books – The Lion Who Came to Stay, The Bark Book and Ribbit Rabbit Robot – with more on the way, Victoria’s dream has come true. To top it off, Victoria won the State Library of NSW Award for Emerging Children's Author in 2020.
“I’m so happy to be able to tell my four-year-old self that yes, she will be a published author,” Victoria says. “My younger self would be jumping for joy, before getting her head down and doing more scribbling!”
It's a far cry from her former job at Google where Victoria was leading an international team of account managers. Yearning for a creative outlet she googled (of course!) what creative writing courses were available and enrolled with the Australian Writers' Centre.
“I’d studied languages and literature at uni and wanted to use those parts of my brain again,” Victoria says. “I’ve always written for pleasure and dreamed of becoming a published author since I was very young. I thought that taking one of the Australian Writers' Centre's courses was a positive first step towards making that dream come true.”
Although she had read hundreds of picture books with her daughter, Victoria didn't really know where to begin to write her own. Having already taken some courses with the Australian Writers' Centre, she decided to enrol in Writing Picture Books. After the first week, her mind was blown.
“When I took that course I knew very little about picture books,” Victoria says. “Basically, I learnt all the practical essentials about picture books from that course, as well as insights into how the industry works and how to get in front of publishers.”
For Victoria, the level of insight she gained from the presenter was invaluable.
“The tutor had worked in the industry for years, and she just had a wealth of knowledge,” Victoria says. “She was a very well respected publisher and editor It was just amazing to pick her brains, really. And she was very generous and sharing.”
“My daughter and I were playing in the bath with a frog sponge (ribbit) and using it to wash (rub it),” Victoria explains. “I became fascinated with how many words followed this sound pattern and how funny they sounded together. I wondered if it would be possible to tell a whole story only using these words.”
Beautifully illustrated by Sofya Karmazina, the picture book is aimed at four to ten year olds, with themes of kindness, friendship and critical thinking. Victoria has a second picture book on the way with Scholastic Australia and she has also signed a contract for a third.
Victoria met her publisher from Scholastic at a writers’ festival. “She liked one of my stories and invited me to submit it to her. When I got my first offer I danced around the house. The second offer was even better as I was always worried the first had been a fluke or a mistake!”
In 2021, Victoria released two more picture books – The Bark Book, illustrated by Beth Harvey and published by HarperCollins, and The Lion Who Came to Stay, illustrated by Ronojoy Ghosh, and published by Scholastic.
Victoria has also completed freelance writing courses with the AWC, starting with Freelance Writing Stage 1. She now fits in writing picture books around her freelance writing career, and has written for Fairfax, Practical Parenting, Rattler magazine, Mamamia, and even the Australian Air Force.
“I enjoy the variety and it’s fun switching up voices and genres and being able to write for different audiences,” Victoria says. “I love interviewing people and picking their brains – it’s such a privilege and I always learn so much. People are fascinating and I love discovering their stories.
“I know I'm really, really lucky because my work is completely flexible. I get to work around my daughter so I'm still always there for pickup and drop off. She inspires me. She's kind of my muse. I love spending time with her.”
Building a network
An unexpected bonus of doing the courses with the Australian Writers' Centre was the networks that Victoria was able to tap into. As well as the expertise of her tutors, Victoria has found the graduate groups a source of information and opportunities.
“The Facebook groups that you get from the courses are amazing,” Victoria says. “I’ve found work from people sharing opportunities for freelance writers and I like to repay the favour whenever I hear about jobs to share. AWC graduates are very supportive and it’s wonderful to be able to cheer people’s successes. Lots of AWC graduates are doing amazing things and it’s inspiring to watch their dreams come true.”
A winning combination
Victoria knows that she is lucky to be able to work from home doing both freelance and creative writing, with a flexible schedule that means she never misses a moment of her daughter growing up.
“The Writing Picture Books course really made my dreams come true. That was the beginning of my path to publication,” Victoria says. “It was life changing for me.”