It may be true that writing is something you do alone, but that doesn’t mean you have to do it alone. And while you may be happy tapping away at home or at the local coffee shop, there are endless opportunities to pursue your passion in the company of like-minded people.
Adelaide author Victoria Purman is a bestselling author of Australian historical fiction and a big believer in the importance of finding your tribe.
“Writing is, by its very nature, a lonely job, so when I started, I looked for support, guidance, friendship and the countless opportunities they offer,” says Purman, whose new novel A woman’s work comes out in April.
‘I presented my first book at the Romance Writers of Australia conference back in 2012, and three months later I got a three-book deal. I’ve also found lifelong friends and a supportive community of writers.’
Ten years later, Purman still tries to collaborate with other writers.
‘I now mentor a group of emerging writers through Writers SA and we have formed another little community of mutual support, guidance and lots and lots of laughs.’
These groups aren’t just about writing skills – they’re also breaking down barriers and dealing with those moments when life gets in the way.
‘We supported each other through messy deadlines, crises of confidence – and even the birth of a child!’ says Purman.
Tracey Rosen, President of Romance Writers of Australia (RWA), is always delighted with the success of her members.
“I’m so excited about the amazing things we have to offer and how willing our wonderful members are to work together to help everyone,” says Rosen.
‘We have such a welcoming and encouraging community. Writing is a solitary pursuit and it is especially important to connect with others when writing romance because what is romance but connection?’ she says.
RWA offers support to writers of all levels, from those just starting out and taking courses in its online academy to entering competitions and attending the annual conference.
This year’s conference has the theme All That Glitters and will take place in Sydney over three days in August with workshops, author panels, social events and opportunities to pitch with editors, publishers and agents.
‘RWA members have such a wide open heart and their willingness to share their knowledge and skills with those just starting out is such an invaluable resource. Traditional or independent publishing, audiobooks or BookTok? Whatever your questions are, someone will have the answers. Our members are happy to help each other so that we can all achieve our dreams,’ says Rosen.
If murder and mayhem are more your forte than romance and passion, the Australian Crime Writers Association (ACWA) could be your home for writers.
ACWA is dedicated to promoting crime, thriller and mystery writing in Australia and works to protect the interests of all authors of these titles. It hosts a busy program of awards including the acclaimed Ned Kelly Awards, which recognize Australia’s best crime writers. The 2022 awards attracted 135 entries in a variety of categories including crime fiction, true crime, debut crime film and international crime fiction published in Australia. Sydney author Candice Fox won the award for best crime novel Pursuit, published by Penguin; she also won the Debut Crime Award back in 2014 for Hades.
Now known as ‘Australia’s global best-selling crime queen’, Fox is a lesson to us all in never giving up, having received more than 200 rejection letters before her first novel was even picked up. Her new novel, Fire with firealso published by Penguin Random House, out April 4.
Interestingly, ACWA isn’t just for crime writers; provides a resource for anyone devoted to the genre of crime writing. Membership is open to reviewers, editors, agents, publishers, booksellers and crime readers, as well as aspiring and established crime writers. And, on sale right now, it’s just $20 for a lifetime membership.
There is also Sisters in Crime, an association especially for women who write about dark deeds. Based in Melbourne, The Sisters have been celebrating women’s crime fiction since 1991.
‘Sisters in Crime Australia has changed the scene for both crime writers and readers over the past three decades,’ says Secretary of State Carmel Shute.
‘Back in 1991, when Sisters in Crime appeared in Melbourne at Feminist Book Fortnight, there were literally few Australian female crime writers published; now we have over 500 members, 3500 followers and chapters in all states. In Victoria, where most of our members live, Sisters in Crime has a very busy events calendar, which usually includes author panels and food and wine sharing. The pleasure principle is mode of operation,’ he adds with a smile.
One of the original co-founders of the Sisters, Shute was enthralled by the explosion of women’s crime writing in the 1980s fueled by Sara Paretsky, Sue Grafton and Patricia Cornwell in the US, Val McDermid in the UK and Kerry Greenwood here in Australia with her now world-famous The Phryna Fisher Murder Mystery series.
‘This new breed of crime writers offered us heroes who delighted, entertained, subverted and inspired at the same time. They were physically fit, smart and stood up to men. They talked to us about the big issues we face as women and citizens, whether it’s violence, sexual assault, or simply living in a male-dominated world. These were topics that often went to the core of many aspects of contemporary politics,’ says Shute.
Always busy, Sisters in Crime hosts many events, often featuring international crime writers. One of the highlights is the annual Scarlet Stiletto short story competition, celebrating its 30th anniversary, and the Davitt Crime Awards, now in its 23rd year. Davitts is named after Ellen Davitt who wrote Australia’s first full-length murder mystery, Force and Deception: The Story of the Bush, in 1865
‘These programs have launched many literary careers and are helping to build the reputation of Australian female crime writers. Many of our Scarlet Stiletto winners have gone on to become published authors, including Cate Kennedy, Tara Moss, Angela Savage, Ellie Marney and Aoife Clifford.’
This local success is often followed by international recognition.
‘Australian women’s crime fiction is now recognized globally with many awards winning, including the Golden Dagger in the UK and the Barry Awards in the US. We also have many successful film adaptations including Kerry Greenwood The Miss Fisher Murder MysteriesLiane Moriarty Big little lies and Nine perfect strangers, Jane Harper Dry and its sequel A force of nature (to be released this year) and Candice Fox Troppo.’
Dervla McTiernan’s debut novel Ruinset in Ireland and featuring detective Cormac Reilly, is currently in production at Colin Farrell’s Chapel Place Productions.
Crime writer Vikki Petraitis achieved considerable success with her debut novel Unbeliever, published last year and winner of the Allen and Unwin Crime Fiction Prize. She is also a big believer in finding your tribe.
‘I started a group of writers when I wanted to try my hand at fiction after many years of writing true crime. Along with another writer friend, we invited writers on the same level as us. I think that was important to the success of the group. We were all published authors, so none of the discussions were about the “how” phase; it was all about craft and refinement.’
Petraitis says that writing groups need to have clear expectations about their role in order to be most effective.
‘It’s important to be clear about the type of feedback you need, so that after each meeting you feel renewed and excited, rather than feeling overwhelmed and never wanting to write again. I suggest that feedback from a writing group should mirror what we do with children at school – two pats on the back and a wish,’ she says.
In practice, this means critiquing the work by saying what you liked and then adding some ideas that would strengthen it, making it both useful and positive. And, as she notes, writers can learn just as much from giving feedback as from receiving it. She’s also realistic about what the group can accomplish, saying that every writing group probably has someone who is completely resistant to feedback.
Petraitis also teaches writing and says she always encourages her students to seek out other writers they like and form their own writing groups.
‘Writing is a rare skill. Before I became a writer, I had never met another writer. Once you become a writer, the company of other writers is a real pleasure.’
Read: Topic: Why Australian crime writers are killing it
Another way to find your writing tribe is on Meetup. A quick search will bring you into groups such as Meeting of screenwriters in Sydney, Writing Sydney Saturdays, BIPOC meeting of creative writers in Brisbane and brilliantly titled Shut up and write! which are held at various public libraries in Adelaide and online elsewhere. And, yes, your local public library probably hosts writers’ groups and is always a good place to start.
The Association of Australian Writers (FAW), founded in Sydney in 1928, is Australia’s oldest writers’ organization and has branches at national and regional levels.
The Australian Society of Authors (ASA) is for professional published authors and includes a wide range of writers, illustrators and industry professionals at every stage of their careers. Prospective, unpublished authors can join as Associate Members.
‘From journalists to cartoonists, screenwriters to bloggers, novelists to narrative designers and translators to poets, our members cross many disciplines,’ says the ASA website. He has been involved in a number of campaigns including digital lending rights, fair contracts and parallel imports.
Australia’s vibrant writing community is also well served by writers’ centers in each state, such as Writing NSW, Writers Victoria and Writers SA. They all have plenty of resources for writers, and their websites include lengthy directories of local writing groups. Writing NSW, for example, hosts more than 30 writing groups and also offers useful advice on how to start your own group.
There are 19 writers’ groups listed on the Writers SA website, including many in regional centers and special interest groups such as speculative fiction writers, crime writers and migrant writers.
Michelle Prak has been a member of Writers SA for many years and recently joined Sisters in Crime. Her first thriller Hurry out in May with Simon & Schuster.
‘Writers SA has been incredibly beneficial to my career. I attended workshops, not only on writing skills, but also on topics such as submitting a manuscript to a publisher. There are also networking events and, as you can imagine, they attract all types of people at different stages of their writing careers,’ says Prak, who loves these opportunities to interact with other writers.
‘When I’m at a networking event, the conversation is fast-paced and full of questions. I leave inspired and often with useful advice, but also reassurance, no matter what stage I’m at in my writing journey. Now, with my novel Hurry it’s coming out soon, I’ve been listening to recently published authors talk about the book launch, what’s expected in terms of marketing and PR, what it’s like to read reviews and so on.’
Although writing is usually a solitary activity ‘suitable for introverts’, Prak thinks this is exactly why writers enjoy social opportunities so much.
‘Maybe because we spend so many hours alone, we long for company! Writers are like sponges, we are interested in how other writers work and their latest projects.’
This sentiment is echoed by Vikki Petraitis, who neatly describes the true joy of finding her writing tribe: ‘You have to connect with others who are like-minded. Ordinary people are not going to spend an hour at lunch debating the use of semicolons.’