It has been an unusual road to success for author and RMIT graduate Graeme Simsion, but hard work and a light-bulb moment has certainly paid off.
Advanced Diploma of Professional Screenwriting Associate Degree in Professional Writing and Editing
Author of The Rosie Project
His debut novel The Rosie Project was earmarked for unrivalled success from the moment it scooped literary prizes in unpublished manuscript form.
Nobody could have imagined, however, how far across the world the quirky story of genetics professor Don Tillman and his unorthodox search for a wife would stretch.
From book of the year – the literary equivalent of the Gold Logie – to a deal with Sony Pictures optioning screen rights, The Rosie Project has been an international publishing phenomenon.
So far, 1.5 million copies of the romantic comedy have been sold in 42 countries and 38 languages, with more than 100,000 copies sold in Australia.
Since its publication, life has flipped into fast forward for Mr Simsion, a former data modeller who is now living the dream as a best-selling writer.
His sequel, The Rosie Effect, which is set in New York and focuses on Tillman's panic about impending parenthood, has just been released.
The follow-up is a welcome surprise for his fans, as Mr Simsion insisted he wasn't going to write one.
But as he was preparing to give his "how-to-be-a-dad" talk to the partner of one of his RMIT writing group friends, he realised that Don Tillman also needed such a talk.
It was a light-bulb moment.
"It struck me that Don Tillman, the hero of The Rosie Project, needed to hear that talk as well, and suddenly I had a way into a sequel, so I dropped what I was working on and got to work on it,'' he said.
"There is always some pressure about writing a second novel, particularly a sequel, as you feel that the critics are waiting with their knives unsheathed ready to say it is not as good as the first one."
It seems that success has come easily for Mr Simsion – a poster boy for a late career change – but it has been damned hard work.
At 50, he turned his back on a successful IT career to enrol in the Advanced Diploma of Professional Screenwriting and then the Associate Degree in Professional Writing and Editing at RMIT.
He regards his investment in creative writing as one of the best he has made.
"Without the studies at RMIT, it (Rosie) wouldn't have happened for me," he said.
"I am somebody who does learn from instruction and frameworks as well as just practice. I was coming at this pretty late in life, without a lot of practice."
He said the program offered a valuable mix of knowledge and discipline.
"You have to put assignments in, get stuff done. It gave me peer and expert review, feedback on what I was doing and a lot of practicalities of understanding how the industry worked, so I know without that The Rosie Project – and certainly The Rosie Effect – would not have happened."
Interestingly, The Rosie Project was initially written as a screenplay. Turning it into a novel was remarkably swift.
Now Mr Simsion has reworked it back to a screenplay for Sony Pictures.
"Going back to a screenplay, I was writing with an even clearer idea of what I was doing," he said.
"The main thing with the book was that I was putting Don on a page and I'd been living with that in my mind over 5 years as I developed the screenplay."
He said the book's continuing presence on The New York Times bestseller list strengthened the chance of the film adaptation being made.
Although he worked in the IT industry, Mr Simsion had written screenplays for a number of short films including Charles (Bud) Tingwell's final film The Last Bottle.
His advice for current students with the dream of getting published is to "work hard".
"Probably the biggest thing I learnt from my previous career was that it really does take a long time to get genuine expertise at something.
"If you are going to get a novel published you are in an even more competitive world than being a database designer or a neurosurgeon, for example.
"Think that instead of being a writer you are learning to be a neurosurgeon, think of how much work you would need to put in in order to get there."
Mr Simsion said he did not watch television while he was studying, except for learning purposes.
"I would sit down with a DVD and say, ‘I am studying Breaking Bad to see how many changes there are in a scene’ … I wasn't just vegging out while I was doing it."
He joins a growing list of RMIT alumni to achieve success in writing as part of the Professional Writing and Editing program, including novelists Toni Jordan (Addition) and Holly Childs (No Limit).