Developing Craft & Career: what I learnt at the Williamstown Lit Fest

I’ve been trying to attend more “writerly things” this year, and one of them was an author conversation between Sue Whiting & Claire Saxby at the Williamstown Literary Festival on Sunday the 17th June. They chatted about the book industry, their experiences in writing and publishing and how the worst way to get your manuscript noticed was to slide it under the door of a toilet stall!


Sue Whiting “has written numerous books in a variety of genres: fiction and nonfiction, picture books through to YA, including the best-selling The Firefighters, and the award-winning A Swim in the Sea. Her latest book, Missing, is a middle grade mystery/suspense novel for readers 10+.”

WLF01Claire Saxby “is an Australian author of fiction, non fiction and poetry for children. Her books are published widely in Australia and internationally.” Some picture book titles include, Emu, Big Red Kangaroo and Koala, which is on the 2018 CBCA shortlist for the Eve Pownall Award.


Claire and Sue spoke for an hour, asking each other questions about their writing history. For someone like me who’s never been through the publication process it was really eye-opening but also reassuring to hear that it can be quite a complicated process even for people with a book contract. Claire, for instance, told us that with one of her picture books she was in the final stages of being published, but right before it went to print the deal fell through because of issues beyond her control. It then took quite a few more years before the book was finally published, but Claire never gave up.

Perseverance was one of the key takeaways from their conversation. There are going to be heaps of setbacks along the way, regardless of how long you’ve been in the game. And in some instances you may feel like you want to pack it all in and move to the beach to live out your days as a mermaid (or hermit crab). But you need to keep on keeping on if writing is something that you love.

Sue used to work as a publisher, most recently at Walker Books, and spoke about how to approach someone at a writing conference to chat about your manuscript. She said that the best way is to be genuine and have a conversation that will hopefully lead naturally into the topic of your writing. Much better than waving your work in a person’s face without even so much as a hello (or the dreaded “let me just slip you my work under the loo door while you’re in there” approach mentioned earlier!).

Both Sue and Claire also spoke about the importance of having an elevator pitch – a short summary of your novel you can deliver instantly that will capture a person’s interest. I often have a lot of trouble with this because even though I think my story sounds brilliant and concise in my head, the moment someone asks me to describe the plot I start to ramble and the only thing my brain can remember is the Friends theme song. So no one told you life was gonna be this way working on my elevator pitch is a must!

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It was also really cool to meet Sue in person as she was my online tutor for the Australian Writers’ Centre course I was doing at the time, ‘How to Write for Children and Young Adults’ (another “writerly thing” I attempted this year to refresh my skills & it was really helpful in shaping the story I’m currently working on).

Thanks to both Sue and Claire for a fun and informative session!

6 thoughts on “Developing Craft & Career: what I learnt at the Williamstown Lit Fest

    1. No worries, thanks heaps for reading it! And I totally agree. It was really humbling and also reassuring to hear that even authors who have been published multiple times still go through the hardships and struggles. Sue and Claire were great to listen to!

      Liked by 2 people

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