THE SISTERS' SONG is OUT NOW from Allen and Unwin.
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I’m delighted to welcome well known and well loved Australian author, Pam Cook, to the attic today. Many of you will know Pam from her four published books, as well as the Writes 4 Women podcast she hosts with Kel Butler. Pam is about to publish her fifth book, but has switched from traditional to indie publishing this time—read the reasons why in this post.

So many of Pam’s words resonated with me, but it was probably her mentioning the pressure of being a certain age and the sense that there’s no time to waste that really hit home. I feel similarly. Every day.

But there’s so much more in this post, too, so please read on:

Pamela Cook writes page-turning women’s fiction set in escape-worthy places. Her novels feature tangled family relationships, the ups and downs of friendship and explore life issues like grief, belonging and love.

Pam has written four novels: Blackwattle Lake (2012), Essie’s Way (2013), Close To Home (2015) and The Crossroads (2016). Her September 2019 release is Cross My Heart. Pamela is the co-host of the exciting new podcasts Writes4Women and Writes4Festivals, and Assistant Program Director for the Storyfest Literary Festival which takes place in Milton, on the south coast of NSW, Australia in June each year.

Pamela is proud to be a Writer Ambassador for Room To Read, a not-for-profit organisation that promotes literacy and gender equality in developing countries. When she’s not writing, podcasting or festival planning she wastes as much time as possible riding her handsome quarter horses, Morocco and Rio. 

You can connect with Pam at her website, on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and through writes4women podcast and instagram pages.

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Finding The Courage To Be Yourself

Over the weekend I attended the Romance Writers of Australia Conference. As always it was a whirlwind time of workshops, dinners, meeting old friends and making new ones and hoping there would be at least one light-bulb moment. And, as always, there was …

In a workshop on Social Media for Authors, the presenter left a copy of an inspirational quote on each table and we were asked to walk around and choose the one that resonated with us the most. There were two that appealed but this one spoke to me in the loudest, strongest voice: 

It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are ~ e.e.cummings

We then had to consider why the words clicked. Why was I choosing a quote about growing up when I’m definitely on the plus side of middle-aged? Didn’t I sort out that identity issue years ago? What does courage have to do with my current life situation?

The workshop moved on but the relevance of the quote to my writing life bubbled away in the back of my mind. As the author of four published and one soon-to-be released novels the questions of what I write about and why I write have never been far from the surface. My first novel was written for Nanowrimo back in 2009 with no agenda or intention other than to write something fast and reach the 50K word goal (rather than spend 6 plus years on it as I’d done with my previous manuscript). Pushing myself to write daily and quickly somehow tapped into my subconscious and an almost fully formed story about a woman returning to the horse property she grew up on was created in a single month. I’d reached my goal and come up with something I’d never anticipated. Little did I know I’d written a book that fitted into the rural romance category (albeit very loosely since that particular book contains minimal romance), a genre that was becoming increasingly popular.

Fast forward three years and Blackwattle Lake was published by a traditional publisher. My debut novel was out. All my dreams had come true. I went on to write another three novels in the same genre and although each contained what’s known in ‘the biz’ as romantic elements, my main focus was always on the main character’s life, on how an issue from her past had come back to haunt her present and how life was insisting she deal with it. In short, each of my protagonists, all women, had to find the courage to grow up and become who they really were. It’s the unavoidable, overwhelming theme of all my stories and applies equally to both the message and publication of my upcoming release Cross My Heart.

Growing up is all about accepting challenges, learning from them and deciding what direction to take next. It’s about being comfortable with your past and working towards a fulfilling future. And it’s about being comfortable with ‘who you really are’. The most recent challenge in my writing life was my publisher of six years saying no to my latest manuscript. It’s not a new story: most writers have to deal with rejection at some point in their career and I’ve had plenty of it in the past. But this particular rejection pushed me to question my writing skills and my future as a published author.

The reality of the industry is that not every book can be published. Acquiring editors have to make tough decisions and there’s only so many pieces of pie to go around. My publisher’s advice was to put it in the drawer and write something else, maybe something that fits in with what’s currently popular. Despite my nanowrimo experience I’m not a fast writer so I was looking at another year (at least) to write a new story and then additional time trying to find it a publishing home. As I hinted above, I’m not getting any younger so spending years on a new manuscript no one might ever read didn’t exactly thrill me. It’s true that not every story deserves to be published, but a little nagging voice inside me told me this was a story worth telling, that I was finally writing the way I truly want to write, about things I really want to explore. And so, the idea of publishing the book myself became more and more appealing.

Self -publishing, or Indie publishing, has been around for quite a while and to be honest it’s not something I ever thought I’d contemplate. Without the experiences and checks offered by a traditional publisher some not-so-well-edited books find their way into the world via this route. Equally, many wonderful stories have been published by their authors, which would otherwise not have found their way into the hands of a reader. 

In weighing up my choices I had to seriously consider, or re-consider, why I write. It’s definitely not for the money – only a very small number of published authors are able to make a living from their writing. So why was I even considering what some might see at worst as an act of vanity or at best a fool-hardy decision? 

I thought long and hard about the published books I’ve read, about the many skilled writers and amazing story-tellers I’ve met over the years and realized something: being traditionally published doesn’t necessarily make you a better writer. What makes you a better writer is hard work, developing your craft, listening to your intuition, and courage. Always, at every step of the way it takes courage. In deciding to independently publish I’ve had to take an enormous leap of faith. I’ve had to back myself and have belief in my story, and in a strange, round-about way it feels like I’ve actually grown up as a writer. 

If readers don’t connect with the story, if it doesn’t find its way onto many shelves then at least I gave it a shot and I’ve told the story I genuinely wanted to tell. I’ve learnt a whole lot of new skills, pushed myself to revise more thoroughly and had wonderful support from so many writing buddies and friends along the way. Like my protagonists I’ve had to push through the obstacles, dig deep to find the courage to face my fears and learnt so much about both myself, and the process. Time will tell if I’ll do it again but for now I’m revelling in the feeling of being a grown-up.

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