Novel writing, here I come...

I'm back from Fiona McIntosh's Commercial Fiction Masterclass.

You'd think as a writer, I'd have plenty of words to describe the intensive 5 days. There are many words but none of them seem adequate to encapsulate the experience.

Leaving my family to spend the longest time I've ever been alone in 14 years was quite a commitment. Let's not pretend it was all sad. There may have been some fist-pumping as I approached the airport. Reading a book, on my own? Hallelujah! 

My husband managed the four kids, all their activities, school paperwork and assorted dramas, just fine. He may have even enjoyed moments.

I got to be in a room with 15 other aspiring novelists. Some further down the track than others, but all of us nervous, excited, insecure about our abilities, hopeful of one day having a book on a shelf (other than our own bookshelf), and ultimately all of us had an overwhelming desire to write. 

It took all of five minutes in Fiona's company to feel at ease. She was self-assured, driven and enthusiastic but she was equally kind, compassionate and supportive of where we all sat. For she, 17 years ago, sat in the same place, being instructed by the brilliant Bryce Courtney.

We learnt technical writing skills - plot, character, emotion, pace - things we probably all knew in some form already but Fiona's delivery and explanations were full of humour and practical application. It wasn't simply her knowledge and experience over 34 books that made this class different, it was her genuine care, as though we were all orphans she was trying to find a home for! Or perhaps the manuscripts are the homeless ones... looking for a family to call their own.

I left after 5 days, almost sad to leave, but fired up. I know how to fix my novel now. The hard works begins but I have an arsenal of ammunition to attack Draft 1.

I was humbled by Fiona's generosity and her genuine care for each and every one of us. She was like our personal cheerleader when we had to pitch our stories to a commissioning editor. I felt like I should have packed a spare pair of pants that day ... 

If there's only one course you do, I'd say this is the one. It doesn't come cheap (and I was super fortunate to have been awarded the scholarship by Fiona & Dymocks which I will forever be grateful for), but it is worth every cent. To get the best out of the experience, you need to know that commercial fiction is what you want to write, and have a manuscript, or at least the beginning of one, to work on.

Can't wait to sink my teeth into my novel!



Fiona McIntosh and me at the Commercial Fiction Masterclass, Adelaide 2017

Fiona McIntosh and me at the Commercial Fiction Masterclass, Adelaide 2017




Fiona McIntosh's Commercial Fiction Masterclass .. in 13 sleeps!

I have been working on a commercial fiction novel for almost two years. The process has been equal parts inspiring and deflating.

I was originally approached by Haylee Nash when she was a commissioning editor at Pan Macmillan. She liked my writing style and wondered if I had any "gems" lying in my bottom drawer. I set to work writing one of the gem ideas and submitted the first 20,000 words to her. She liked it but there were some definite plot issues and character development problems. Unfortunately, Pan Macmillan was unable to offer me anything at that time.

I was crushed. I thought that was going to be my big break into the novel world. I rocked in a corner for a while, wondering if I would ever be good enough to call myself a published author.  I had no idea how to fix the issues in my novel.

Once I shut down the pity party, I decided I needed to finish that novel, for myself. I needed to prove I could write it to the end. I wanted to believe I could make it work, that I could find a way to get the story out. So, I applied for a mentorship with Kathryn Heyman. For six months Kathryn helped me find my voice. She guided me through the first draft of my novel, 85,000 words bleeding onto the pages. Some great words, some awful words, some just plain boring words. But that is what a first draft is: the bones; bare and exposed. Now I had something to work with.

Midway through my mentorship, my sister-in-law sent me an email promotion from Dymocks & McIntosh Books, putting the callout to aspiring writers to submit 10 pages of their novel to win a scholarship to Fiona McIntosh's Commercial Fiction Masterclass in SA.  Seeing as I already had the first 10 pages written, I spent some time polishing them and even more time trying to squeeze an entire story into a 400 word synopsis. That was a challenge! I sent it off and crossed every part of my body, hoping I may be the chosen one. 

When Sue from Dymocks called me, she asked, "Are you sitting down?" I cried, somewhat hysterically, when she said Fiona had chosen my novel as the winning entry for the scholarship. She must have thought I was a maniac. It was unbelievable news. I felt validated by an industry that is notorious for its steel doors that make us emerging writers feel locked out.

We all thought [your novel] was utterly compelling and we can’t wait to read more. It was a unanimous decision among our internal panel and overall judge Fiona McIntosh. Fiona said it was the most commercially ready manuscript of any submitted to the competition. Well done! 

The Masterclass is finally within reach. I have been looking forward to it for nine months, like a baby due to be born. The scholarship win was the final piece in the puzzle that confirmed this book, my very own novel, is worth writing. It is a story worth telling and I believe I am the one to tell it. I cannot wait to inhale and absorb Fiona's enthusiasm for writing, and her business-focused direction to get us all writing, as a fulltime profession. To sit in a room with a group of other, equally nervous yet hopeful writers, will bring a buoy of support to all of our insecure writing heads.

I can finally see a pinhole of light at the end of an extremely long tunnel. I feel so close to living the dream...!