As a reader, we want the protagonist of our story to be interesting but not perfect. We want them to reach their goal or follow their quest. They need to be vulnerable, so we can identify with them. And we want to see a glimpse of greatness – not too much because that would make them too perfect. But just enough to make us believe in their ability to reach their goal.
Last weekend, I went to a course run by Faber and Faber with Allen and Unwin – Getting published as a writer for children. Susannah Chambers, commissioning editor, was a wonderful presenter, giving us specific details about publishing proposals, editorial meetings and pitching. She explained that for Allen and Unwin to publish a book, the editors must catch a glimpse of greatness in the writer.
We all had a chance to pitch our novel to her, as well as receive feedback on the first chapter of our work in progress. Susannah’s encouraging presence made this daunting task seem possible! This kind of individual attention to aspiring authors is what sets Allen and Unwin apart from other publishers. I’ve been to many writing courses over the last six years but there’s not many that offer this kind of feedback. Susannah’s passion for books and her instinct for what worked and what didn’t work rang true throughout the whole workshop.
We also listened to Chris Miles, a children’s author, talk about his road to publication. A couple of non-fiction books, a couple of Zac Powers books, and then his children’s novel, Spurt. He reminded us that there are many opportunities out there, even if they’re not the opportunities we’re dreaming of.
We heard from Ann James, an illustrator of many, many, many picture books. She showed us her dummy books, her sketches, her finished work for books like Lucy Goosy, I’m a dirty dinosaur and Audrey of the outback. She spoke to us about the importance of ‘finding books that remind us of possibilities’. I have been to Ann’s bookshop, Books Illustrated, and I’m looking forward to visiting their new location in Albert Park one day. Now that is a place full of possibilities!
Apart from the discount Readings voucher, the discount offer on subsequent Faber and Faber course, the useful handouts and the gift of an Allen and Unwin book – yes, apart from all of that goodness! – Allen and Unwin also encourage Faber and Faber graduates to send in their work via their Friday pitch.
One of the best things about going to the Faber and Faber workshop was that my creative energy was renewed, my commitment to my writing strengthened and I felt just so delighted to be in the company of people who care about writing and publishing beautiful books.
So, my first book in my four book series for middle grade is almost complete. I’m working on a last structural edit, moving scenes around, adding in a few new ones. I’m checking my characters’ motivations, making sure I’m showing and not telling. I’m colour coding elements like setting and external goals and internal goals and tension so I can see the pacing more clearly. My writing group have offered to read another draft – thanks, team! It feels like I’m holding a woven piece on a loom, tying all the loose threads, making sure the patterns are there in the light of day, that the colours shine through, that none of the threads slip and become lost.
I’m chasing the glimpses of greatness in my protagonist, so I can send my manuscript to Allen and Unwin later in the year.