#LoveOzYA Author Q&A With Poppy Nwosu
Poppy Nwosu is an Australian YA author. Her debut novel, Making Friends with Alice Dyson, was shortlisted for the 2018 Adelaide Festival Unpublished Manuscript Award, and for the 2019 Readings Young Adult Book Prize. It will be published by Walker US in 2020.
Poppy’s latest novel Taking Down Evelyn Tait is out this month.
Welcome to the LoveOzYA blog, we’re so happy to have you here!
Thank you! I am so excited to be here. J
Let’s go back to the beginning...have you been telling stories since you were a kid or was writing something you fell in love with as an adult?
I’ve loved books and reading since I was young, but to be honest I was never one of those kids who always knew I wanted to be a writer. It is strange though, that it never occurred to me, because I do have multiple notebooks from my childhood all filled with story ideas or half-written chapters. And I was constantly making up scenes and adventures in my head.
Yet the idea of writing books was something I discovered in my early twenties, and even then, I think the passion for writing stories only really took hold of me in an irreversible way when I reached my later twenties.
By then there was no turning back.
Tell us about your new book.
In many ways, my newest novel Taking Down Evelyn Tait was written as a direct reaction to my debut, Making Friends with Alice Dyson. I really wanted both novels to feel the same, and appeal to the same readers, but I also wanted to explore different themes and character types in my second book.
Particularly, I wanted to write about a very different type of protagonist.
Taking Down Evelyn Tait is about an impulsive girl called Lottie, who is unable to spend two minutes at school or home without getting into trouble. I had a lot of fun writing her character, as she truly has no filter, and immediately says the first thing that pops into her head. Yet Lottie has become a bit tired of always being in trouble, and of her mortal enemy, the awful good-girl Evelyn Tait, always showing her up.
So Lottie decides to turn her life around and get back at Evelyn Tait, by beating her enemy at her own game — being good.
Which of course has unexpected results.
Taking Down Evelyn Tait is a story about family, friends and embracing who you are. Even if that person is kind of weird.
Did you have a favourite OzYA book when you were growing up?
Oh, so many! I was devasted, challenged and absolutely riveted the first time I read the Tomorrow series by James Marsden, and I was a huge fan of Melina Marchetta (particularly On The Jellicoe Road).
I also loved Jaclyn Moriarty. A lot. Her book Finding Cassie Crazy had such a deep influence on my own writing, and one of the most surreal moments was having my debut likened to Jaclyn Moriarty’s work in a review by the Age. That felt amazing!
Did you have anyone that encouraged your love of books, reading and writing when you were younger?
Both my parents were big readers, but I guess my mum was always the one who encouraged our whole household to read. She was interested in very different books to me (she loved true stories and biographies, while I must admit my heart lies with fiction) yet it was her who encouraged the idea of constant education through wide reading.
In saying that though, I never felt like I was pressured to read anything in particular. My mum, though her tastes ran very different to me, was always happy for me to pursue my own reading interests, and she never minded if I was reading comics or space books or joke books or whatever I wanted. It was totally up to me, which in hindsight, I think was pretty cool of her.
What do you think sets Australian YA stories apart from those set internationally?
I almost feel like there are two answers to this question.
The first answer is that nothing sets Australian YA fiction apart from those set internationally. Our fiction is just as wonderful, exciting and unique, and I think that whether set in a typical Australian location or in outer space, our stories are universal.
Yet the other answer to that question, if I dig a little deeper, is probably that Australian YA does have a little bit of grit to it. I think our stories don’t really feed into the sheen of Hollywood, and there is a realness to them that I really like.
Do you have a favourite bookshop or library?
Yes! I am just the biggest fan of Dymocks Adelaide in Rundle Mall. I am part of a bookclub there called the YA Circle and when I announced my debut book everyone in my bookclub, and all the absolutely amazing Dymocks staff members (especially Amelia, Mhairi and Mandy) really welcomed me as a new author who had no idea what I was doing. I have just appreciated the YA Circle’s support so hugely, as it has really made a difference to me during my (sometimes quite scary) debut year. The YA Circle have built such a wonderful community of YA enthusiasts in Adelaide and I feel so lucky to be part of it.
What was the last book you read and enjoyed?
I just finished reading Lili Wilkinson’s The Boundless Sublime, which is a very dark contemporary about a young girl in Melbourne who gets caught up in a cult. It is super creepy and intriguing, and I really enjoyed it (if enjoy is the correct word for a book like this, haha!). I guess everyone is a bit fascinated by cults …
Aside from writing, what else do you like to do to explore your creativity?
Okay, so I feel like there is a cool way to answer this question and a bad way. The cool way is that I definitely do things like visit my local Art Gallery (all the time!) and go walking and take in the world around me … but also … badly … I admit I do also watch a lot of television.
Haha! I feel like I shouldn’t admit that as a reader and writer, but there you go, it is true. I am endlessly inspired by the stories I watch as films or television shows, and I often get hooked on a side character or plot in a movie only to find it turning up unbidden in my latest manuscript as the main focus. I collect a lot of small ideas from multiple places and then weave them together into one manuscript. It is a fun way to explore creativity.
What are the best and worst pieces of writing advice you’ve received?
Mmmh. I think one of the worst pieces of advice I’ve heard is that you should write every day. I feel like that is a piece of advice that is not universal. Some writers will thrive from writing every day. Others will struggle.
The best piece of advice is probably the realisation that most of the advice floating around out there is simply another writer talking about what works for them. For them specifically. Most of the time what they are talking about is not a rule, but a suggestion. I think it can be really difficult to see clearly through that when you first start writing. You believe every piece of advice you hear and get pulled in every direction, yet I think the most important thing is to experiment and try things out for yourself and eventually you will figure out what works best for you. Maybe writing every single day is perfect for you. But maybe it is not. That is fine too.
You just have to listen to yourself, work very hard, not give up, and discover your own writing process that encourages you to be as productive as possible.
What do you love about OzYA?
I was so surprised when I was first published, just by the sheer enthusiasm and support of our LoveOzYA (and NZ!) community, both online and in real life. Established authors are so generous in giving their time and advice to newbies like me. Bloggers, advocates, librarians, reviewers and readers have been so utterly supportive and excited. It all weaves together into such a positive and passionate community where everyone tries their best to lift others up, promote reading and local books, and just be generally nice. I have met so many cool people over the past year who volunteer so much of their personal time to promoting youth literature and reading, and I think that is such an incredible and wonderful thing!
Our community, and being welcomed into it, is definitely my favourite part of OzYA.
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*Photo Credit: Joe Tanham