In this interview, Camille Booker, author of What If You Fly, gives us mountains of advice and practical knowledge into what it’s like to be an author. From using writing as a creative outlet during stressful times, to understanding that selling yourself as an author just comes with the territory, Camille talks us through competitions, what the judges are looking for and how studying creative writing was the only way to really learn how to write.
What a lot of people will relate to in this interview is how Camille uses writing as a creative outlet. I don’t know about you, but when there are no deadlines, and no one around, I can’t think of anything better than writing (apart from reading). Camille was the runner up in the Hawkeye Competition, which led to new novel being published. Camille explains how writing was her way to relax after parenting, during a stressful job and during long commutes. She also hints at what she’s up to now!
How long have you been writing?
I’ve always loved books, reading, and being swept up in a story, but I only started writing during my first year of teaching at a prestigious boys’ high school in Sydney, which was in 2014. It was a really high-pressure job for my first teaching gig, and I was so stressed out, so I used writing as a creative outlet. I would daydream about it throughout the day and then try and write on the commute. I put the manuscript in a drawer, and it remained unfinished for a long time. Then when I became a mum, writing was a way to take some time for myself. Something just for me. I completed the first draft of my novel sort of intuitively, with no idea of plot, just to get the story out of my head and down on the page. In 2019 I enrolled in a creative writing degree, which helped a lot because I was able learn about the craft of writing. There’s only so far intuition can go. I had absolutely no idea about things like narrative voice, character development, or story arc. Pursuing the degree absolutely made me a better writer, and made my novel a better book.
How many submissions did you make to agents/publishers prior to winning your award publishing contract?
I remember I had just finished writing Part One of my novel, which ended up being about 20,000 words. Having no experience or even any idea about how many words a completed manuscript needed to be, I submitted it to agents asking for feedback. Most of them, perhaps unsurprisingly, didn’t respond, but one kind lady did. She told me she liked the title but to keep writing! I went on to write Parts Two and Three over the next few years and got the manuscript up to about 120,000 words.
I submitted the completed first draft to as many unpublished manuscript competitions I could find, and I also submitted it to every publisher that offered submissions to their slush pile. I had some success and some complete rejections, and then, finally, I found the Hawkeye competition. I never expected to be a finalist, but being runner up in their 2020 competition led to an offer for publication and my book was released in 2021.
Your first reaction when they offered the representation/contract?
I remember I was at Towradgi rockpool with my husband and son, I think he was about three years old at the time. I hadn’t planned to go swimming, just be on ‘mum duty’ (i.e., sit with the bags and mind all our stuff), while they played together in the water. The email flashed up on my phone telling me that I’d been offered a publishing contract. I read it and I was so happy I actually ran and did a flip into the water. When I surfaced, I could tell they were both quite confused and wondering why I had suddenly changed my mind.
What are the best tips writers can learn about submissions to competitions?
It sounds obvious, but I think a good practical tip is to have the story as polished as possible, with no obvious spelling, punctuation or grammar mistakes. Also, make sure it is formatted correctly.
On a more general note, I think it’s important to understand your story’s genre and the conventions within that genre. This will prove to the judges that you know what you’re talking about. The same goes for having an understanding of who your ideal reader is.
Also, be prepared for marketing and sales. No one really tells you this when you’re writing a book, but authors play a huge role in the marketing and sales of it. I think judges like writers who are aware of this and so knowing who your ideal readers are will assist you. When you submit to competitions, it’s a good idea to keep this in mind.
Tell us a bit about your novel.
The novel is a love story, set in the 1940s in Como, and suburb south of Sydney, and centres around a girl named Frances, or Frankie, who, at the start of the book is just finishing high school. She feels unaffected by the war in Europe, until her older brother Thomas is sent to fight in Singapore and soon goes missing in action. Frankie meets Leo, an Italian immigrant, and they fall in love, but when he mysteriously disappears, she decides she has nothing left keeping her at home, so she sets off on a journey to search for them.
The next part of the novel is where the action/adventure takes place because Frankie gets caught up as a spy for the British government and finds herself in some pretty dangerous situations. For me writing the book, it began as an exploration of what life was like for Australians at home during the war, but then it became a tribute to the female heroes of WWII who we don’t really know much about. Women like Frances were a tremendous asset during the war because they could do things men couldn’t.
What’s next for you?
I’ve had an idea for my next story floating around in my head for a couple of years now, so in April I signed up to Camp Nanowrimo. I set a goal for myself to write every day. Then I recently submitted what I wrote to apply for the six-month ‘Write Your Novel’ course with Curtis Brown and, surprisingly, they offered me a position, so I’m really excited to get stuck into that when it starts at the end of May. I loved everything about my creative writing degree, and I consider myself rather new to writing, so there’s still so much for me to learn and improve on.
This is so exciting, Camille! Can’t wait to hear what you get out of the CB course! Well done for getting accepted in, too. You have shared so much honest info with us and there is so much writers can take away from this!
Thanks for stopping by,