Since my first book was published, people have regularly asked me for all sorts of writing-related advice, everything from books and courses to writing retreats and residencies. While it’s impossible to give advice that will suit everyone (I do believe reading is the best way to become a better writer), here are some* of the things/places/people that helped me along the way – you might find them helpful, too. This list is by no means exhaustive and I plan to add to it more as I continue attending festivals and courses.
A Few of my Favourite Teachers
Kate is an Australian author who writes the most beautiful historical novels inspired by fairy tales (in addition to her many other creative pursuits). She’s also one of the only people in the world to hold a Doctorate in Fairytales. Her novels are always incredibly well-researched and combine elements of romance, drama and tragedy. She’s one of the best teachers in the business and one of the most hard-working. If you get a chance to do a class with her, don’t hesitate to sign up.
Jesse is a QLD based author and academic who has written for both children and adults. She’s a wonderful ambassador for Australian writing. I learned so much in the classes I did with her and she also exposed me to some books early on in my writing career which have now become permanent fixtures on my bookshelf (eg. Jeanette Winterson’s The Passion and Kate Grenville’s The Secret River). I highly recommend getting along to one of her courses.
James is an incredibly experienced author of internationally bestselling literary fiction. His work explores the complex connections between science and human survival. His latest novel Clade, a story of familial and environmental breakdown set in the near future, was one of the best books I read last year. He offers mentorships through Writing NSW and The Australian Writer’s Mentoring program and teaches creative writing at the Faber Academy in North Sydney.
A Few of my Favourite Writing Organisations
Based in beautiful Roselle, Writing NSW offers a wide variety of course run by experienced and bestselling authors. Their offerings change every six months so keen an eye out for their upcoming program and make sure you book early to avoid missing out on their most popular courses.
The ASA is Australia’s premier organisation for promoting the interests of Australian authors and illustrators in all genres. I’ve used their Contract services a few times and they’re always very professional and timely. If you’re just starting out writing, you can opt for a first-tier membership, which costs a little less than a full one which you’ll need to pay when your first full-length book is published. They also offer courses, literary speed-dating events (where you can pitch to agents and publishers) and hold an end-of-year Christmas party for members where you can network with your fellow writers (and commiserate about all those rejections which are part and parcel of any writing career).
A Few of my Favourite Festivals
There are so many wonderful writers’ festivals in Australia being run by passionate readers and writers. One day, I’m hoping to get to them all but until then here are a few festivals that don’t disappoint. I’d be happy to return to these ones year after year, no matter who’s on the line-up.
The SWF is a stalwart of the literary calendar. Year after year, the organisers manage to pull together an impressive and diverse program consisting of local and international authors. Having seen what goes on behind the scenes (not at SWF, but at similar events) I know how much work goes into making it happen, but the festival is usually so well-organised that things appear to run seamlessly (unless, of course, you happen to be in a session where some international literary controversy takes place and nobody can predict those). The volunteers who help out at SWF deserve to be commended, too, for their wonderful contribution to the festival’s success. The year my daughter was born, I decided I wouldn’t let new motherhood deter me from attending. Of course, the reality of taking out a six-week old infant into the city and queuing up with hundreds of other people to get into an event is somewhat different to the rose-coloured fantasy. At one point, I had to breastfeed my daughter in a long queue in the hot sun outside a theatre. I remember one lovely volunteer coming up to offer me a chair and then she came back to check on me again and again to see if I needed help. Little things like this really enhance the experience for attendees. I hope to be attending SWF for many years to come.
This little one-day festival held in coastal Milton (approx. two hours north of Sydney) is only a year old but I feel it has a great future (full disclosure: I was a paid speaker at this year’s festival). I found the atmosphere extremely welcoming; guests were engaged and receptive to hearing new ideas, panels were well-chaired and guest authors seemed very comfortable and relaxed. This year’s festival culminated in a special dinner hosted by Maggie Beer and held at the famous Cupitt’s winery. It was a delicious way to finish off an excellent day of talks and I’m looking forward to returning next year. Storyfest has everything I love in a local festival – generous hospitality, opportunity to engage easily with other authors and -ahem- GREAT food (I personally recommend the berry muffins from Milton’s bakery as the perfect snack between sessions).
I’ve found the Brisbane literary community to be extremely welcoming and have discovered some incredible books and authors through attending BWF as both a speaker and listener. Maybe there’s something in the water up there or maybe it’s the fact that the festival is always held next to the beautiful river which wends alongside the city. Regardless, I always return from BWF feeling refreshed, reinvigorated and reenergised to attack my writing projects.
It would be remiss of me not to mention this West Coast literary event which takes place every February in the baking summer heat. Luckily, the university where PWF is held is a stunning place full of green lawns, ice-cold drinks (inside the uni bar) and air-conditioned lecture theatres. I attended my first PWF a few years ago and had the BEST time there. This festival feels big in scope (this year they’re hosting Neil Gaiman, who is pretty much the literary equivalent of celebrity rockstar) but it hasn’t lost its coastal roots and a good balance of both commercial and literary fiction offerings seems to be a crowd-winning combination.
Held biannually, this conference, organised by The Historical Novel Society Australasia, alternates between Sydney and Melbourne giving audiences the chance to hear a diverse selection of historical authors from around Australia. Past panels have included Kate Forsyth, Kelly Gardiner, Lisa Storrs and Lucy Treloar, as well as a host of other literary historical novelists. I was fortunate to attend the very first HNSA conference, which was held in Balmain in 2015. As an emerging writer, I found it a really valuable conference as it featured interesting discussions around historical accuracy and truth, creating authentic dialogue and navigating sensitivity issues around cultural appropriation. Since then, the conference has only grown better. This year it was held in Parramatta, with attendees able to choose between academic and non-academic streams. One of the festival’s unique features is the First Pages Pitch competition, where participants submit the first page of their manuscript anonymously to be assessed by a panel of publishing experts.
A Few of my Favourite Books on Writing
There are literally thousands of books available on the craft of writing and I’m still finding new ones to add to my list but these are the ones I find myself referring to again and again as the years pass, not only for the way they’re written but the new gems of wisdom I discover each time I reread them.
A Few of my Favourite Podcasts
Writing podcasts are a relatively new thing for me. I used to view them as an extension or supplement to bookish radio programs (which they are, in some cases) but there are some exceptionally hardworking podcasters out there producing content about the craft of writing and quite honestly, if you aren’t taking advantage, you’re missing out. One of the great things about podcasts is that they’re available to listen to anytime, anywhere. They’re also a very affordable option if you can’t get to writer’s festivals as many sessions are now recorded and produced as podcasts later. I do think if you listen regularly to particular podcasts you should consider supporting them financially, if you can. Podcasters, like bloggers, are often passionate about sharing their love of books and writing but their time is valuable and a podcast takes time, effort and money to produce. Think of it as your way of contributing to the community you’re learning from.
Produced by Australian authors Kate Mildenhall and Katherine Collette, The First Time is a fantastic resource for writers at all stages of their journey but particularly well-suited to debut authors. Now well into its second season, the podcast showcases interviews with publishers, authors and marketing executives who share their experiences of the publishing industry, good and bad. Everything about this podcasts works, from the easy rapport and humorous honesty of the co-hosts to the incisive questions and the generosity with which the guests give us the inside scoop on what it’s really like being published. There are many good podcasts out there but not all of them are lucky enough to possess that elusive x-factor which elevates them above the ordinary. This one has the magic touch.
What I love about this podcast is the way you get to see both sides of the publishing journey. Kel Butler is an aspiring author, still fighting through first and subsequent drafts and finding her feet as a writer while Pam Cook published her first book seven years ago and has recently published her latest. Both women have interesting perspectives to offer on the writing journey as well as publication, which can be a lot less predictable and harder to control. Proudly feminist, this podcast is really well-produced and a joy to listen to. If you become a Patreon supporter, you’ll also get exclusive access to new content.
One of the first (and best) Australian podcasts to focus exclusively on writers, The Garrett, hosted by Astrid Edwards, unpacks the creative processes, habits and publishing perspectives of Australia’s most talented authors. A seriously good listen.
My final podcast recommendation is this weekly highlight which features Australian author AL Tait and director of The Australian Writer’s Centre Valerie Khoo. AL Tait generously offers wise insights into her own publishing journey while Valerie Khoo has been working in publishing for many years. Their discussion centres around art, publishing news and writing craft. A really solid podcast and a good place to learn more about the courses on offer at the Sydney-based AWC.
A Few Final Thoughts
I hope you find these resources useful. Please note that unless otherwise stated I have no affiliation with these groups or authors. I paid for these books, courses and mentorships myself and have found them extremely worthwhile. Please be aware that it’s considered bad form to ask another writer to eg. read your manuscript without first checking that a) they offer that service and b) they are happy to take you on and have time to do so. Writing is an investment. Teachers and writing mentors deserve to be paid for their valuable time, time which might otherwise be spent writing more books for us to enjoy. There are grants you can apply for to support your learning (more on this another time I think). Good luck!