15 February, 2022

My Writing Journey

My Writing Journey

Like many writers, I discovered my love of literature at a young age. You know that distinctive smell of new books? Well, that forever reminds me of my childhood. My family owned a bookstore in the heart of the Adelaide CBD, and I was fortunate to grow up surrounded by the written word. Even before I could read and write, I had an innate appreciation of books and entertained myself by making up fantasy plots and characters.

That passion has sustained me ever since. I’ve lost count of how many stories I’ve written (most which will never see the light of day but were crucial in developing my skills – sound familiar?). Throughout school I excelled in creative writing and devoured books with kick-ass heroines, like Garth Nix’s Sabriel. I can remember gaining a lot of confidence in my abilities after I started writing speeches for public speaking competitions. Fun fact: my first speech was about the exhilarating experience of riding the Superman Escape rollercoaster in Movie World (which left quite the impression on my nine-year-old self).

Thinking back, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t write. Even during year twelve, I had a WIP on the go – and somehow still managed to achieve an ATAR of 99.40. Don’t ask me how because that year is a caffeinated blur. Disclaimer: for any students who may be reading, please don’t place unnecessary stress on yourselves trying to achieve certain results. There are many pathways into degrees and careers. Safeguarding your mental and physical health is the most important thing.

Which brings me to psychology. Most people think that my choice of university degree was influenced by my mother’s background in psychology (she’s a non-fiction author and presenter of self-empowerment workshops). But my interest in mental health stems from a near-death experience I had at age eight, which resulted in PTSD symptoms for a long time afterwards. I wanted to pursue a career that would allow me to better understand the brain and use this knowledge to help others.

Fast forward to enrolling in a Bachelor of Psychology (Honours) at the Australian National University and moving to Canberra. This was an amazing experience. Living on campus with other students meant having an immediate social circle and a family away from home. My first year of university was one of the happiest of my life. But psychology was less practical than I was hoping, and while I learnt a lot, I didn’t feel like I’d found my professional pathway. I also ended up pushing myself too hard to remain in the Honours program, whilst sick with glandular fever. I ended up with Chronic Fatigue and had to move back home to Adelaide.

Chronic Fatigue is a difficult condition to explain if you haven’t experienced it. It’s not like normal tiredness. It’s as if all the strength and vitality has left your body, and even the simplest tasks become a monumental effort. Sometimes I couldn’t even leave my room, let alone the house. Thankfully, I was still able to write. And writing, as usual, became my solace.

I deferred university and, after recovering from Chronic Fatigue, spent the next two years living in Melbourne and Sydney. I returned to modelling (I started modelling when I was sixteen) and have always loved the creative side of it. The industry is competitive, and it can be hard on self-esteem, one of the reasons I didn’t pursue it more vigorously during my teen years, but I have always loved fashion. Some highlights: being named a state finalist for the Miss Universe Competition, shooting in Lexi Clothing, and working with amazing photographers like Linda Pollachi and Peter Soulis (see below):

After completing some acting courses at the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA), I moved to Sydney. Living in Sydney was an eye-opening experience, and very different to living in student accommodations in Canberra. It was lonelier than I thought it would be, and there were plenty of challenges along the way. Hours after I first moved into my apartment building, the roof was torn off during a storm and I spent the following few months living in a hotel.

There were plenty of exciting opportunities too (I was able to wear a real police uniform for a shoot), and I had the chance to act in various productions. I even got to meet Jessica Malbouy during my brief appearance on Channel 7’s The Secret Daughter.

I started managing the Mimco store at Bondi Junction to help my dwindling finances, and throughout all of this, I was still writing. When I did eventually return home to my family in Adelaide, where I volunteered at the South Australian Medical and Research Institute (SAHMRI) and returned to my psychology degree, I had written a 600,000-word science fiction trilogy. Perhaps I should have been thinking about publication then, but despite my family insisting that I should be a writer, that story was (and currently still is) reserved solely for my entertainment. Perhaps one day, after extensive editing, it will be ready to show to others. Perhaps.

But then, in January of 2020, I had a dream. A nightmare, really, and remembering its ending still makes me shiver. Terrifying though it was, the concept was fascinating. Even my parents, who can’t stand horror elements, told me I should write it. My partner said it would make an excellent movie (he’s not a reader). Either way, the consensus was clear: it was a concept worth telling. But was I capable of telling it?

In the end, my inner critic didn’t allow time for self-doubt. Once I started thinking about the concept, it refused to let me go. So I wrote a short pitch, which is the way I start every project, with just enough information to get my creativity flowing. Then I sat down to write. And boy, did I write.

I’ve never written an entire story so quickly. It was complete in three weeks. Three weeks of furious typing, and I felt like if I stopped, the words might too. There was no option except to keep going and let my inner muse run free.

The result was what I consider to be my first proper manuscript, a young adult thriller. I spent a year rewriting and editing it, before finishing both my manuscript and psychology degree in 2020. Soon afterwards I started my second proper manuscript, a young adult fantasy perfect for fans of Witches Steeped in Gold by Ciannon Smart and The Kinder Poison by Natalie Mae, with plenty of court intrigue and sword wielding action.

By the time I finished editing my second manuscript and prepared to begin my third, publication was at the forefront of my mind. I pitched a few story ideas to a senior editor at Harper Teen, who resonated with one in particular – so much that she invited me to send it to her when I was agented. Another editor has since expressed interest in reading the full, and the excitement of my author friends has been so encouraging, leading me to begin the daunting (but exciting) process of querying my third manuscript.

As you may have read in my first blog post, this manuscript can be pitched as Caraval meets The Cruel Prince. It includes all my favourite things – an enemies to lovers romance, a dangerous bargain, plenty of moral complexities and a strong female protagonist who doesn’t rely on a man to save her.

Even after extensively editing and polishing my manuscript, I don’t expect the query trenches to be easy. But I believe in this story, and these characters, and I believe there is a readership out there. I saw a tweet the other day, which I think is appropriate: so much of writing success is persistence. If I had stopped writing after my first manuscript, or my second, I wouldn’t have this story to share. And I know I have more stories in me.

For those also in the query trenches: at the end of the day, there is no such thing as failure in writing. So long as you keep writing, so long as you keep honing your craft, there is always a chance to succeed.

Love,

Alina

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