Sally Abbott is the author of novel Closing Down, published by Hachette. Michelle Wright is the author of Fine, a collection of short stories and a forthcoming novel both published by Allen & Unwin. Here, they chat with Faber Writing Academy on how they got their publishing contracts.
What were the key turning points in getting your novel published?
Sally: Doing Faber Writing Academy’s Writing a Novel course in 2012 was very important in getting me started on the book even though it was a long process. I’d written 30-35,000 words roughly by the end of the course.
I remember Chris Womersley talking as a guest on the course about his writing process and Kafka’s Metamorphosis and he said you can do whatever you like and I walked away thinking I can write the book I want to read and I don’t have to worry about anyone else. Closing Down is speculative literary fiction. It has magical realism, a love story, a country town, cats and a ghost – the kind of book I love to read so that’s what I wrote.
Winning the inaugural year of the Richell prize for an unfinished manuscript came three years later and is how Closing Down is now in bookshops. (The winner of the prize has their manuscript published by Hachette Australia.)
Michelle: I did Faber Writing Academy’s Writing a Novel course in 2015. When I started I had 3 dot points on a piece of paper and that was the extent of my novel. By the end I had about 40,000 words. The course was 6 months long then (now it’s split into Stage 1 and Stage 2; two courses of three months each). My collection of short stories, and the prizes I won for those, showcased my writing. Doing the course was really instrumental in showing Allen & Unwin that I was serious in being a novel writer as I was well underway with writing it by then.
Has feedback on your writing been important to your progress?
Sally: During the the Writing a Novel course, Sophie Cunningham, my tutor, did a rough edit on my first chapters which was very useful. Her encouragement and the course demystified the whole process and made me believe writing a novel was doable. I don’t have a group of writers around me. I don’t need the feedback in the initial stages.
Michelle: With novel writing, I write in scenes and not in chronological order (like I know you do Sally) and so I can’t really get feedback on that until it’s all done. Workshopping part of my manuscript with the other students on the Faber Writing a Novel course and giving feedback on their work was very valuable. Five of us still meet as a group. We do writing exercises rather that critique each other’s work. I do have people critiquing my short stories as they are self-contained.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Sally: Enter competitions. Competitions are really helpful in terms of making things happen and someone has to win them.
Don’t assume that everyone is better than you. I actually shelved my manuscript for a while because I thought everyone was better than me.
I have learnt that the manuscript has to be good but it doesn’t have to be perfect. I received three rounds of feedback from my publisher who gave me a big picture overview on the first 35,000, then left me alone to finish it. Then I went through a structural edit and then final copy edit. I didn’t realise how much help you get to make your manuscript the best it can be. Now I am starting my next novel and I have much more confidence. I don’t have to sit there paralysed that unless it’s perfect no one will be interested or look at it.
Michelle: I’d strongly recommend entering competitions too. Winning The Age short story competition started things off for me. It was the second story I’d ever written. I hadn’t thought about being a writer. I just needed to write those stories and didn’t know what to do with them. A writer friend of mine suggested the competition and I entered it thinking I had no chance of winning. Publishers look at who wins and you avoid the slush pile.