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Member only guide to the Australian book industry.
We are thrilled to share our September Member Spotlight features Holden Sheppard! Holden’s novel, Invisible Boys, has been commissioned for production by Stan, with filming for the ten-episode series commencing in 2024.
Holden Sheppard is an award-winning West Australian author. His coming-of-age novel Invisible Boys (Fremantle Press, 2019) won multiple accolades, including the 2019 West Australian Premier’s Prize for an Emerging Writer, and was recently greenlit for production as a television series with Stan. His second novel The Brink (Text Publishing, 2022) won the Young Adult category award at the 2023 Indie Book Awards and was shortlisted for the 2023 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards. Holden’s stories and articles have been widely published in books, journals and in the media. When he’s not writing, Holden can be found working out in the gym, watching or playing footy, or hooning around in his V8 ute. He lives in Perth’s far north with his husband.
What inspired you to begin a writing career?
I’m the second youngest of six kids, so I grew up with my siblings and parents reading to me and I fell in love with books at a very young age. We lived in Geraldton and when we went on holidays to Perth, I’d ask to go to the bookshops which fascinated me cause they had heaps more books than back home. On one of these trips in 1996, when I was seven, we were driving back to Gero and I had this lightning bolt moment: what if I didn’t just read books, but wrote my own? Nothing had ever made me feel more exhilarated than realising I had the power to create my own stories and that there was literally nothing stopping me from doing it.
The next day, I bought an exercise book and a four-coloured pen and started writing my first book, First Form at Clifton Towers. It was in the style of Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers novels. I’m usually pretty self-deprecating about the quality of my early writing, but if I reflect through a more generous lens, I was unconsciously trying to show myself on the page. That first boarding school story was Blyton-derivative but I wrote it with a male, Aussie protagonist, set in the 90s. A later sci-fi story centred on a character with a gigantic Italian family (like mine). Even my teenage Pokémon fanfiction focused on adolescence in country Australia – Pokémon battles interspersed with bulk teen angst, barbecues and backyard piss-ups. I was always finding ways to write myself into existence.
I was very serious about writing from the age of seven, too. It was never just a hobby. I thought I’d be published by eight. Obviously it took a bit longer. But I was always deadset: this will be my career. Writing made me feel strong and excited and I knew this was what I was meant to do with my life.
What does it mean to you that Invisible Boys has been commissioned for production by Stan?
It’s bloody awesome! As writers, we spend years (or decades in my case) aspiring to getting a book published, so the book is ultimately the main dream, and that dream was fulfilled when Invisible Boys was published in 2019. To have that book now greenlit for production as a ten-episode television series, with filming starting in early 2024, feels like the most epic kind of bonus round! I’m pumped that Zeke, Charlie, Hammer and Matt will be brought to life on the screen, and knowing the series will be filmed in Geraldton is surreal. Nobody makes TV shows in Gero, you know?
I’m grateful to Stan and the producers for backing this book. The story will reach new audiences and will amplify representation of different kinds of rarely-seen young gay men – the wog boys, the punks, the bogan farm boys, the footy players – so I can’t wait to see the impact that has. Stay tuned!
What do you know now that you wish you’d known at the start of your career?
Man, so much. That rejections are constant but will make you stronger. That the first book you finish might not be the first book you get published. That sometimes killing your darlings means chucking a whole book in the drawer. That hard work and resilience are more essential writer skills than knowing whether to use a semi-colon or an em dash. That vulnerability makes the best art, but being too vulnerable in public events and interviews can overwhelm you. That you can and should ask questions, query contacts, say no to things you don’t want to do, and should never let people make you feel like you’re wrong for doing this, because this is your book, your career, your business, so your feelings and opinions about it do matter. That you can and should set boundaries. That some of your family and friends won’t give a crap about your book and will never read it, and not to take it personally. That connecting with other writers will be one of the most enriching things you ever do.
Which Australian authors/illustrators have been influential for you?
As a young writer, I was first influenced by the books I read as a kid, especially Emily Rodda’s Teen Power Inc series and Rowan of Rin series and Geoffrey McSkimming’s Cairo Jim series. The biggest Australian influence on my writing was John Marsden, especially the Tomorrow series – I read that series when I was fifteen and I loved everything about it. Marsden writes with battle-scarred emotional honesty about mental health and adolescence. The handling of the sex scene in The Dead of the Night influenced my approach to first-time sex in my novels Invisible Boys and The Brink. Ellie’s credo in the closing pages of The Other Side of Dawn – about wholeness, over happiness – has stayed with me for life, too. Marsden also wrote a puberty book for boys called Secret Men’s Business, which teenage me was very grateful for. Suffice it to say, I’m a John Marsden fanboy.
As an adult, the two Aussie books that influenced my work the most were Holding the Man by Timothy Conigrave and Loaded by Christos Tsiolkas. Both books about Australian gay men, both rendered in a kind of 90s grunge lit vibe, both told with a brutal sexual and emotional honesty. The former was the first book that made me cry, and the latter book made me feel that rush of being seen – that I was not the only disenchanted, lonely, addicted same-sex attracted man out there. More recently, I’ve devoured the works of fellow Aussie authors who write gay male characters and stories so well, especially Tobias Madden, Gary Lonesborough and Nigel Featherstone.
Why do you think it’s important to be a member of the ASA?
I reckon ASA membership is one of the most important steps an Australian author can take. I have been a member since 2015 and I would credit the ASA’s services with helping me take my writing to a publishable standard, via the mentorship service which helped me hone my novel-writing craft with an experienced editor. I went to as many seminars and webinars as I could to learn about the industry side of publishing, how to get an agent, how to handle promotion and social media. The standard and variety of professional development the ASA offers is outstanding.
Moreover, the ASA is our peak advocacy body – the reason we have minimum rates of pay as authors and payment schemes like PLR/ELR. The ASA has a long history of fighting for us to be able to make an income from our work, and I know they are continuing to lobby for this – our membership supports them to do this. The support and guidance from the team is also top notch: you never feel alone in this industry when you are an ASA member. I am proud to be a member and I always encourage new writers to sign up as soon as they can – it’s worth it.
Find out more about Holden at www.holdensheppard.com.