Interview: Poppy Nwosu, YA author

Poppy Nwosu is an Adelaide-based, young adult author. Growing up in central North Queensland, she enjoyed a thoroughly wild childhood surrounded by rainforest and cane fields. Her debut novel, Making Friends with Alice Dyson, was published in March this year and has just been shortlisted for the prestigious Readings Young Adult Book Prize 2019.

Editor Shelley Carter spoke to Poppy about her debut novel, her literary inspirations and tips for aspiring writers!

Firstly, tell us about your writing career! How did you get started?

To be honest I am not one of those writers who always longed to be a published author, but I have always been thoroughly obsessed with stories of all kinds, as well as an avid reader and movie lover. Every time I liked a story (or didn’t like a story) I’d spend so much time imagining how I might have put together the narrative differently if it had been mine. I think that was what lead me to want to write a book, simply because it was a way to take control of creating my own stories.

I don’t think I particularly loved the craft of writing at the beginning. It was more about finding an avenue to create the kind of stories I wanted to create, but now I obviously love the writing side too. I’ve never been quite so obsessed with anything before in my life!

In terms of getting started, I’ve spent the past five or so years writing, getting more serious about wanting to be published with each passing year and working harder each year to achieve that dream. My debut novel, Making Friends with Alice Dyson, is actually the fourth full manuscript I have ever written, so it was definitely a long and arduous road to seeing my work in print!

You have just released your debut novel—what’s it about? What was the inspiration for the story?

Making Friends with Alice Dyson is a light YA contemporary novel set in Adelaide, which is where I currently live. I feel like the book is about friendship at its core, and I wanted to explore the different kinds of friendships we have and the different things we want to get out of those friendships, especially during those tumultuous teen years!

And of course, Alice is also a love story. I adore romantic stories and I wanted to write the kind of quiet friendship-based romance that I personally find moving, something a little more based in real life than the kind that American teen dramas often portray (although I obviously love those larger than life romances too!).

The idea for this book was originally sparked by a viral video I saw a few years ago of two teens walking home from school in South Korea, wearing uniforms with big backpacks on. It was a caught-on-camera moment as the two teens started dancing some very silly dance moves, thinking no one else was watching. It was such a cute video it really stuck in my mind as I kept wondering what kind of friendship the two teens must have to be able to act so silly in front of each other without feeling embarrassed. And that of course morphed into the love story that became Making Friends with Alice Dyson.

Are there any YA authors that you look up to/compare yourself to?

Oh gosh, there are so many amazing YA authors I look up to! I am a huge fan of Vikki Wakefield, Ellie Marney, Jay Kristoff, Helen Scheuerer and about a thousand others. I also love Ryan Graudin and Brigid Kemmerer.

I am a little terrified to compare myself to any other authors, although recently my debut was actually likened to Jaclyn Moriarty’s Finding Cassie Crazy in an article that appeared in The Age. That made me so unbelievably excited as that specific book was a huge influence behind my novel. I have always loved it and really wanted my own debut to hopefully make others feel the way that Jaclyn Moriarty’s book always makes me feel, which in a nutshell, is just really really happy!

What was the publishing process like? How did your book go from manuscript to bookstore?

It was such an amazing experience! And very eye opening. Going through the editing process was just incredible and I loved seeing my work change and grow with my publisher’s, Margot Lloyd, help. I was so very lucky to also have the opportunity to be involved in the book cover too. The illustration that appears on the cover of Making Friends with Alice Dyson is actually an artwork done by my dad, Rory Brockman-Tanham. I was over the moon when Wakefield Press liked the illustration he did for me, and then their designer added the text and chose the pink cover, and I just adore the result.

Holding your finished book is really something else.  The strangest part is just flipping those pages and recognising your own words between the covers. It is an extraordinary feeling!

You’re quite active on social media, especially Instagram. Do you think social media platforms are important in the marketing of a book?

[Poppy laughs] I try to be active, but I definitely see other authors doing a much better job than I do. But yes, although I struggled with it a lot in the beginning, I do believe that social media is a great tool for marketing your book. I know for a fact that people came along to my book launch simply because we had connected over social media and then I was over the moon when one lovely attendee turned out to be a librarian and actually ordered copies of my book for her library!

And that just is one small amazing example of why I do think social media is really worth it for authors. It can of course be scary and also hard work, particularly if you are not used to it like I wasn’t when I first started.

My advice is to just choose the platforms you enjoy. I see so many articles saying you have to do everything, but I figure I’d rather do one platform well and get some enjoyment out of it, rather than do everything but do it terribly. I chose Instagram as my main platform simply because I like it the most. It is funny because I am a writer, but I can never really think of anything to say on social media, but I find it easy and fun to post pictures of what I’m reading and just generally be a YA fangirl over on Instagram! Ha!

Do you have any advice for someone wanting to write young adult fiction? Anything you learned in the writing process?

Yeah definitely, I think there is a lot to say about understanding what you are wanting to write and understanding the industry. For instance, when I first started I was writing mega manuscripts well over 100,000 words, and yet for YA contemporary, most publishers are not going to look at a manuscript that length (think more 60,000 to 85,000 at the most). Therefore, getting connected enough to find out basic information like that can be really helpful.

Another big turning point for me was when I decided to get serious about what I was trying to do and take myself more seriously as a writer. For me, that looked like carving out time to write on a daily basis (getting up at 5am to get in 2 hours before I go off to my day job) and learning more about the side of writing I personally find really difficult, like self-editing. So, I dedicated time and energy into learning everything I could about the actual skill of writing, instead of just spending more years doing the same thing I had always been doing but wondering why I wasn’t getting a different result.

And lastly, this must be the cheesiest piece of advice ever, but honestly, if you truly love it then just don’t ever give it up. It sucks, but most authors get knocked around for years by thousands of rejections. Most people experience this. I certainly did. If you really do love what you are doing then just keep an open mind, keep learning about your craft and your industry, and just never, ever give up!

Lastly, what are some of your favourite books! We love getting book recommendations from our interviewees!

Oooh, this is always so hard, but I will throw some random favourites at you.

Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier, Persuasion by Jane Austen, Finding Cassie Crazy by Jaclyn Moriarty, Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer, Only Ever Always by Penni Russon, The Wolf by Wolf duology by Ryan Graudin, Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse. And so many more but I think that is probably enough for now! Ha!

Making Friends with Alice Dyson is available for purchase here.

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