A give-it-my-best-shot attitude and a commitment to learning has led to the realisation of a dream for West Australian debut author Shirley Rowland, my first guest on In Their Own Write for 2018.
Her interest in writing was sparked in primary school but lay dormant for many years. She joined her first writing group in 1998 and is currently a member of four groups, each providing a different writing relationship.
Shirley published her first fictional novel, Return to Crossways, in February 2017.
To find out more about Shirley, visit her website www.shirleyrowland.wordpress.com
Why do you write?
That’s a bit like asking, why do I breathe? It’s something that comes naturally, that I have always done, although not specifically creative fiction and novel writing.
The exact moment I decided to become a writer occurred in primary school. In Grade Seven (my last year at primary school). I was late returning to class one day. As I stood outside the classroom door, I heard the teacher reading “Compositions” from someone’s book. They sounded surprisingly good – but also vaguely familiar. When I entered the classroom and walked past the teacher to reach my desk, I glanced at the brown-paper-covered book in his hand and saw my name on it. No wonder those stories had sounded familiar! In that moment I decided one day I would become a writer.
I never dreamed that day would take half a century to arrive!
What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer?
Either sailing around the world or doing something creative, like patchwork or painting. When I lived on the NSW coast I painted in oils for ten years. However WA’s harsh environment doesn’t inspire me, although I attended Forrestfield TAFE part-time for six years learning about colour and design – knowledge that has been useful for designing book covers!
Sailing is another activity that comes to me as naturally as breathing. If I hadn’t taken up writing, I would be on the ocean in some exotic location.
What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published?
The decision to self-publish. It’s a huge step to take, but when I sat down with pen and paper and drew up columns listing the pro’s and con’s, I realised it boiled down to one word – AGE. Most sources quote an average time of ten years for a writer to land his or her first publishing contract. I have already outlived my mother in age; one grandmother died two years older than I am now although the other grandmother lived to her mid-eighties, which gives me some genetic wriggle-room. With such poor odds for longevity, I decided self-publishing was the logical option. In life I have generally found that if I want something done, it’s necessary to do it myself.
How involved have you been in the development of your book? Do you have input into the cover/illustrations?
Self-publishing means I have had complete control of development, editing, cover and everything else that makes up a book, which is both good and bad. I have attended publishing workshops, and as a member of The Society of Women Writers had access to advice from others who have taken this route. I have probably made every beginner’s mistake, but hey! it’s all part of the total learning experience. I figure that ‘content is king’ and to date feedback has been positive.
What is the best aspect of your writing life?
The high after a great writing session, when the creative juices are in full flow, the word count is impressive and I surprise myself with what appears on the page. A close second is the friendship of the members of the four writing groups to which I belong, and the camaraderie and stimulation of other creative minds.
What is the worst aspect?
Probably every writer’s gripe – not enough time to actually sit at my computer and type! I could gripe about retired husbands underfoot and other life demands, but who’s listening?
What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer?
Write faster? Seriously, I have considered enrolling in a TAFE or university course to up-skill more quickly, instead of ploughing through every “How-to-write” book in my local library! and then teaching myself by instructing other writers in two of my writing groups.
What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author?
I can’t think of any advice that would have changed my writing journey. How hard it is would not have stopped me. Ditto time-consuming. Becoming an author is not something I “set out” to do; it was always something that I would achieve one day. When I decide to do anything, I go ahead and give it my best shot.
What’s the best advice you were ever given?
To FINISH! Finish the story before beginning to revise it. Stephen King is probably the most famous author to give this advice. I remember Anna Jacobs giving it at a workshop, and reading it from many other authors. It’s the most-repeated, probably because it IS the best single piece of advice, although I think that until you have completed that first draft of your first novel, you cannot fully appreciate its value. A close second is a piece of advice you once gave me, Teena. When overwhelmed with half a dozen projects on the go, pick one and stick with it until it is finished – which comes back to the first piece of advice; to keep going until you finish.
Shirley’s top tip for aspiring writers: Keep writing! I would add, join a local writing group. It’s amazing how inspiring, encouraging and understanding fellow writers can be. I gain something slightly different from each of the writing groups I am a member of. And keep learning: the learning process never ends.
When Priscilla de Rossi’s glamorous marriage fails, she returns to Australia expecting to take no more than a few weeks to untangle her life. On a weekend visit to country Crossways where she grew up, she discovers her grandmother has died and she has inherited a run-down cottage. But someone does not want her there. Is it her estranged mother or local hotelier, Steve Moncrieff?
Meanwhile she makes new friends and lands a job in Melbourne. Does her future lie in the city or the country?
Then she has an impulsive one-night stand that changes everything…
At its heart, this is a home-coming story. Priscilla must face the people she fled from ten years earlier.
The book is availBook Blurb for Return to Crossways: When Priscilla de Rossi’s glamorous marriage fails, she returns to Australia expecting to take no more than a few weeks to untangle her life. On a weekend visit to country Crossways where she grew up, she discovers her grandmother has died and she has inherited a run-down cottage. But someone does not want her there. Is it her estranged mother or local hotelier, Steve Moncrieff? Meanwhile she makes new friends and lands a job in Melbourne. Does her future lie in the city or the country? Then she has an impulsive one-night stand that changes everything… At its heart, this is a home-coming story. Priscilla must face the people she fled from ten years earlier.
The book is available in print and e-book format from Amazon.com here.