10 questions with an author

We chatted to Petronella McGovern to find out what a career as an author can look like…

How did you get into it?

I did a Bachelor’s Degree in communication and worked in corporate marketing and business magazines. I always wanted to write novels and undertook short courses to keep developing my skills. First, I co-wrote two non-fiction memoirs for other people, then I wrote my own novels. I also completed a Masters Degree in Creative Writing. It’s a competitive industry and it took me a long time to get a deal with a traditional publisher. 

How many years have you been working in this job?

I have been writing all my life. The first non-fiction book came out in 1996 and my first novel in 2019. After taking so long to get my own novel published, it was fantastic to have it debut on the Australian best-seller list. 

What advice would you give to someone trying to get into the field?

Read lots of books to help you understand storytelling and to work out what type of books you want to write. Develop your skills and connect with other aspiring writers. Go along to book events and writing festivals. Listen to writing podcasts. There’s also helpful information on the Penguin website about getting published.

What is the best part of your job?

I love creating characters, settings and storylines. I enjoy the puzzle of setting up red herrings, plot points and twists – and the sense of achievement when it all works!

What is the worst part of your job?

Creative work is undervalued. Most authors need to juggle other jobs because writing doesn’t pay all the bills. I also work as a corporate editor and a creative writing tutor. 

What is your most memorable day/event at work?

I was thrilled when my debut novel was shortlisted for a number of book prizes. It didn’t win but I’d never even considered awards, so I was over the moon. My most recent novel, The Liars, was on the Top 100 Better Reading list for 2023.

Have you always wanted to do it?

Yes, but I felt I had to get a ‘proper’ job first to earn an income. However, it was hard to find the time to write around full-time work and having a family. 

Tell us about your first day at work.

At the launch of my first novel, I finally felt like I was a ‘real author’. I had over a hundred people and I signed copies of my book until my hand cramped. It was the moment I’d been working towards for so long!

What is the worst mistake you’ve made on the job, and what did it teach you?

A friend interviewed me on his podcast and I assumed he would have read the book but he hadn’t. I was thrown by his bad questions and I didn’t answer well. It taught me to always be fully prepared for an interview and to take control of the conversation if it goes in a strange direction. 

How fulfilled are you?

The business side of the industry can be tricky but I love the creative side of writing fiction and the wonderful community of writers and publishers. Sometimes I still can’t believe that I’m living my dream of being an author.

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