HACHETTE / QWC MANUSCRIPT DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM SELECTION
I had only moved back to Australia a couple of months before after over twelve years as an expat in Europe. Our belongings hadn't even arrived via boat, we were living out of suitcases, but I had finished the draft of my novel, Le Chateau. I heard of the QWC / Hachette Manuscript Development Program. Applications were closing in a couple of days. I thought I had no chance, thinking preferred manuscripts would be set largely in Australia and mine was set in France. I entered because I had a first draft manuscript (a prerequisite). I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. I had no contacts in publishing and I had been told endlessly in France, Ireland and Australia, that luck was a big part of gaining publication, and like many arts careers, knowing people was the key.
I followed the submission guidelines, sent off my fifty pages and then promptly put it out of my mind, returning to the essentials of negotiating the final logistics and constantly mounting paperwork of our move across hemispheres, including dealing with the movement of passport holding cat – who was born in France, had moved with us to Ireland – and was now enduring a 'short' one month quarantine in Sydney. Things like that, and settling the children in schools in a new country, all over again.
A month or so later in the middle of one of these tasks I took a call from the Queensland Writers Centre (QWC) saying I'd been shortlisted for the Manuscript Development Program. I now had three days to submit the rest of my manuscript to ensure participation in the five-day program.
I quizzed them on how many people had applied. It was over 300. That number was a little daunting. I emailed the rest of the manuscript as instructed and waited to hear from the lovely folk at QWC again.
A couple of weeks later they called again and I had made the final selection. Only eight of the 300 plus had been chosen. I was both excited and in shock.
In October I met the seven other selected writers, and the Hachette Australia and Queensland Writers Centre teams: our writer-mentor, Charlotte Nash; and agent, Sophie Hamley over 'getting to know you' drinks at the Queensland Writers Centre. Thus began one of the most expanding and rewarding five days of my life, and probably the best thing I have ever 'won'. The friends and contacts I made through the program have lasted and have grown into important bonds in my writing journey.
QWC / Hachette Program
It was a privilege to be selected for the Program and I thank Meg Vann, then CEO of QWC and Bernadette Foley, then-Publisher, Hachette Australia, for the defining opportunity.
The five-day program included individual meetings with our allocated Hachette publisher, who explained our manuscript's strengths and weaknesses, provided feedback and encouragement. We had individual meetings with our mentor Charlotte who also provided us with feedback on our manuscripts and advice. We had group sessions with Charlotte running us through the publishing landscape and different writing and editing issues. We had informative and useful guest lectures from publishers, agents, booksellers, marketers, festival programmers, and digital platform managers.
We ate all meals together and did a nerve-racking group reading under moonlight on the Maiwar Green in between the State Library of Queensland and GOMA, watched over by the 'toppled' elephant sculpture. It was through pressurised situations like the public readings that the eight of us bonded.
The Program finished with a 'where to from here?' session, which included all the options available and gave examples of choices made by participants from the years before us – one of which was 'stop writing'. We were all surprised by that choice but in fact one from our group did just that soon after completing the program and we lost all contact with her. The rest of us continue to write.
Afterward: empowerment and The Stella Prize Shadow Judging
Finding like-minded writers is liberating and empowering, I had benefited from it before both in France and Ireland. I missed me overseas writing friends terribly, our daily banter, support, encouragement and the opportunity for feedback on our work. After the QWC / Hachette Manuscript Development Program we stayed connected and are still tight several years later. Some of us participated as a group in The Stella Prize inaugural 'Shadow judges Program' as the 'Stellar 6', harnessing our bond, diverging backgrounds, locations and writing stages – some published, some with creative writing degrees, some working in the industry.
Although we were all rejected by Hachette across the year that followed, the selective program has currency within Australian publishing. It has meant our manuscripts were noticed, and now the majority of us have been published or have signed publication contracts or mentoring agreements. It is exciting to see our group’s novels take flight into the big wide world where they belong.
The QWC/Hachette Manuscript Development program is an important program that is entrenched now in the Australian publishing lexicon. I encourage any unpublished writer with a manuscript languishing in a desk drawer to apply for it. It just may change your writerly life.
My novel, Le Chateau, The manuscript selected for the QWC/ Hachette Program is published by Echo Publishing, 1 September 2016.