18 July 2017
My love for making up stories went from ‘just fun’ to a ‘when I grow up I want to be…’ when I started entering poetry competitions and short story contests in primary school. I was always that student teachers raised an eyebrow at when I handed in a 10,000-word ‘novel’ instead of the assigned 500 words. These little milestones were what pushed me to consider how I could make a living as an author and to start writing a ‘serious book’. However, the realities of adulthood set in, and my wordsmithing was swapped for a variety of casual jobs while I settled into the big bad world, living out of home for the first time at 17. And, as most creative artists will know, the ‘magic process’ doesn’t happen when your mind is cluttered with bills to pay and budgeting for next week’s rent!
Four years out of school and I was no closer to writing that bestseller than I was to completing the ‘patchwork’ degree I’d started and dropped out of, lost somewhere between ‘psychology’ and ‘anthropology’ (or any other ‘ology’ I cared to study). For three years, I drifted between Events Management at TAFE and working full-time for an Optometrist (talk about left field!). In 2013, I sidestepped the career tracks and tried my hand at Property Management and Tourism, working at an exclusive holiday rental agency in Palm Cove, Far North Queensland. Instead of getting words on paper, I was getting a killer tan and meeting city professionals on holiday trying to forget deadlines and peak hour traffic — not the motivation I had in mind.
Then, one morning in 2013 I had a light bulb moment.
I woke up at 4am and applied for uni. This time, I did my research: I had friends on the Sunshine Coast who told me there was a uni only ten minutes from where they lived: I wouldn’t have to drive to Brisbane and could enjoy the best of both the lifestyle and studying at a modern and quality institution. This alone made me keen to apply. Then, all the puzzle pieces fitted into place when I found out, not only did USC offer a Bachelor of Creative Writing, but the Program Leader was award-winning author, Professor Gary Crew, whose books I’d grown up with. The move was meant to be. As any decision does, it came with its challenges: I’d never house-shared, or driven in more than two lanes of traffic, let alone have connections for work. But I took the risk.
I accepted my offer into USC, my dad and I road-tripped south and I began undergraduate in 2014. By the first week I had casual work at the uni. I found the vibe and natural surroundings of the campus as welcoming as my tutors and lecturers. I felt as though I belonged at USC. In fact, meeting my student mentor the first day meant I had a friend from Day 1, and she and I house-shared for my first year at uni. My initial nervous excitement at meeting and being taught by one of my childhood idols has turned to a collegial friendship over the four years I have been at USC. Respectfully, students and staff at USC know and greet each other by first name, and the supportive, friendly vibe means you’ll often stop for a chat over ordering coffee while you discuss your latest book proposal.
I strengthened my craft and mastery of the written word, having several short stories published in USC anthologies as well as RMIT’s Visible Ink and was asked to co-Judge the 2015 Sunshine Coast Literary Association’s annual open Short Story contest. Studying amongst real industry people as well as published authors meant that opportunities were a matter of putting up a hand in class or sending an email to volunteer at an event. Word of mouth and networking proved to enhance my employability both as a student and as a freelance writer.
So, I got really good at multi-tasking, as I navigated my final semester with full-time study, 3 jobs and volunteering as a Marketing intern at the inaugural Noosa International Film Festival for my capstone industry project. In April 2017, I graduated from my Creative Writing degree (a hugely emotional achievement when I consider the 17-year-old who failed her first year at uni and was too scared to let anyone read her writing). A writer with passion and purpose, I have also returned in 2017 for USC’s Master of Professional Practice (Creative Writing) with a portfolio of publications.
Now setting sail in the unchartered waters of writing my first manuscript, ‘The Solitary Light’ (a 60-80,000-word historical fiction novel for masters), I have my first exciting opportunity to undertake site research! Due to the historical nature of the genre, I will take a 3-hour guided tour by helicopter to the remote South Solitary Island to visit the lighthouse and keeper’s quarters accompanied by the last living Lighthouse Keeper, a NSW Park Ranger and an Indigenous Elder. The expedition will have an immense effect on my writing, and I feel it will give the insight I need to really explore and understand the conditions these remarkable and resilient families lived through.
Besides the writing aspect of Masters (which is around 6000 words per course, per semester), I have also had the privilege of reviewing the work of my peers. The reviews have taught me so much about my own writing, and the creative process in general. As most writers would agree, the best cure for Writer’s Block is…writing! From a sentence to a paragraph to 500 words on any day is one step closer to the finish line. The rapport I have built with my peers and USC’s program leaders and tutors has given me the tenacity to make my lifelong aspirations a reality.
By, Bianca Millroy.