How Faber Writing Academy helped Rob McDonald write The Nancys

After ten years with the ideas for his novel The Nancys in his head, it took our Faber Writing Academy courses to finally bring Rob McDonald’s story to the page, and here he discusses how the Writing a Novel course, his tutors and fellow students helped him on the path to publication.

Getting started

I’ve always loved writing, and before I came to the Faber Writing Academy I’d write snippets, short scenes but never attempted a novel. The closest I’d got was writing the first draft of a novella and after an online scriptwriting course doing two first draft film scripts. I had the idea for The Nancys, the manuscript I worked on during the Faber Writing a Novel course, for ten years – the characters rattling around in my head. I tried to write but found my life would get in the way, I’m a parent with a busy job and I was also studying Post Grad business. When I finished my Masters I decided I wanted to finally prioritise my writing and use that time I had carved

Don’t write alone

I read a write up about Faber Writing Academy in a Saturday paper and to paraphrase Paddy: “you may be good at tennis but would you go and play Wimbledon without some coaching?”. For me, that was a Eureka moment. I had grown up thinking you had to write a novel on your own and then submit it – and if you could do that you might get published, and if you couldn’t do that then you wouldn’t.

Which isn’t true – you do have to write it but you don’t have to do it alone. And I would say now you can’t do it alone, not without any help. Before the Faber Writing Academy, I had no contact with authors or the publishing industry but I knew I should be writing, that it was something I was supposed to be doing.

Don’t stop writing

So fast-forward and I had completed Writing a Novel Part 1 and had signed on for Part 2 when life amped up. Suddenly all areas of my life were competing for my time and I was stressed. I decided to drop out of the Faber Writing Academy. My whole life writing was always the first to go. At this stage I had around 50,000 words of my first draft written. I emailed Paddy and Toni and told them this was what I was thinking of doing. That I’d pick it up again the following year.

They came back to me and said don’t. That they had seen writers do this before and not come back. And they were right, I know if I had left before setting up a writing practice, or completing my first draft, that would have been it for me. All over.

Every step of the way Toni and Paddy and Faber have been there. Not only do you get this great writers’ education and a first-draft done, but you get to be part of a writers’ network.

My class became a writers’ group. We still meet up Tuesday nights at the pub to workshop. Not always everyone, but we are all there for each other, in contact, and I cannot overemphesise the power of that as well.

Get practical skills and insights into publishing

One of the things I love about Faber is you get these brilliant teachers with their own style of teaching and experience. It is practical so you learn tools which you can apply straight away and that are relevant, and you learn about the publishing industry which is vital, with guest lecturers including authors, editors and agents.

You also get the opportunity to have a piece of your work published in the annual anthology which goes out to agents and publishers. Several of us were contacted by an agent to see our manuscripts based on this.

Becoming a writer and getting published

And most importantly you get to claim the title of writer, which I’ve previously written about. And this isn’t even going into the benefits of having an accountable weekly word count which pushes you through your draft, or the workshopping which is terrifying, but also the most fantastic gift.

I didn’t drop out. I completed my manuscript and after rewriting I sent it to that agent who requested it. She came back with a ‘no’ but gave me notes on how to improve it. Later I found her “no” was actually an “it’s not ready yet”. I was grateful and kept working on it using everything I learnt, redrafting, workshopping and rewriting again.

Then I submitted a version of The Nancys to the Victorian Premier’s Unpublished manuscript competition and got a Highly Commended, that in turn led to getting my agent, Grace at Curtis Brown, and from there, and many more drafts later, we sent it out to publishers and I ended up signing with Allen & Unwin.

Rob McDonald with publisher Jane Palfreyman and agent Grace Heifetz

This novel features lots of laugh out loud moments, and captures the sense of small town prejudice while featuring larger than life characters.
– VPLA Judges’ comments on The Nancys

It changed my life

But if it hadn’t been for the Faber Writing Academy, my classmates, and the two brilliant teachers there’s no way I’d be where I am now with my writing, let alone having a novel come out. It literally changed my life and I thank my tutors, Paddy and Toni, for that.

Rob with tutors Toni Jordan and Paddy O’Reilly, plus Faber Writing Academy staff Elise Jones and Sam Twyford-Moore

Rob McDonald is a Kiwi living in Melbourne with his two daughters and an extended family of two baby mommas, an estranged cat, Flower, and Stevie Nicks the chicken. Rob attended Faber Academy‘s Writing a Novel Stage 1 and Stage 2 in 2016. Rob realised while studying journalism that writing fiction, rather than reporting facts, was his true bent. His debut novel The Nancys is published in June 2019, and you can read an excerpt here. Read more from Rob on his experiences with Faber Writing Academy in this blog post on coming out as a writer and in this great interview with Toni Jordan for Melbourne Writers Festival.

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