Q&A for Readers, Teachers, Writers

#LoveOzYA Q&A with Poppy Nwosu about ROADTRIPPING WITH PEARL NASH

  • · 1 month ago
#LoveOzYA Q&A with Poppy Nwosu about ROADTRIPPING WITH PEARL NASH

Poppy chats to #LoveOzYA's A.B Endacott about her latest release ROADTRIPPING WITH PEARL NASH.


Thank you so much, Poppy for talking with #LoveOzYA about your latest release ROADTRIPPING WITH PEARL NASH. This is your third book, which means that you're an absolute veteran by now! What have you found different between releasing your first, second, and third books?

For me, the biggest difference is realistically, when I first started, before my debut came out, I really just wrote that for myself. You always have hopes that something might happen in the future, maybe you'll get in the door, and you'll get published. But (that) wasn't really on my mind when I was writing the actual story. It was very much just writing a book for myself.

When I sat down to write my second book, it was interesting how much, suddenly, I started thinking about audience and readers, and how it sort of froze me? I couldn't really write exactly what I wanted, because I kept thinking, 'oh, someone might not like this', or 'what if they think it's cheesy or silly.' I think that was this huge thing I really had to get over in remembering that I do have to write for myself first. I've got to love the book for myself to enjoy writing it for a start, but I think that readers are going to know if you're writing something that isn't really what you're wanting to explore, or is coming out of your heart in that way.

I think that was probably a huge lesson for me. And it's something that I probably still struggle with a little bit, even when it came to writing my third book, ROADTRIPPING WITH PEARL NASH, just that kind of push and pull between what you think people might want and what you want to do, which I think is kind of really silly anyway, because obviously, you're never going to know what people actually want. And you're never going to be able to please everyone anyway. So that's why I think it is so important to write for yourself, because you're never gonna please everyone anyway. So you may as well please yourself and have a really good experience writing the book!

That's a really interesting journey to actually go on. I came across this quote by Isobel Carmody a few years ago, and I'm gonna butcher it, so forgive me, Isobel. But she was saying, if you're not enjoying what's going on on the page, how can you possibly expect the reader to? And it's one of those things where, whenever I'm writing a scene, and I'm kind of like, 'Oh, I'm plodding through it,' I'm like, okay, we'll just skip it, make a time jump, move to another scene.

I actually heard very similar advice. It really changed the way I was engaging with my fiction, but I can't remember who said it, which is terrible, but I heard it on a podcast. And she was talking about the idea that, you know, there's a lot of elements in stories that are popular for everyone. These are the kinds of stories that have this mass appeal, ingredients that people love. I think some of the stuff she was saying is danger environments, and glitz and glamour, or gossip; these kind of things that humans like.

But then there's the idea that each person is going to have their own personal list of things that you personally love in stories and her advice was to figure out what they are, write them down, and when you are working on a scene or a manuscript isn't working for you, and you've got that kind of block where you're not enjoying what you do, think about how you can twist it by maybe adding one of those things in. I think her example was really cool. It was just the idea of, if you've got to write some characters to get from A to B, and it's a boring scene for you, but the conversation needs to happen to further the plot, she was saying she really loves you know, atmosphere and rainstorms and things like that, so she was like, 'Well, why don't you just write it with a different background to then make it more interesting for you, or challenging or fun.' I thought it was great advice.

I think that was actually something I heard when I was working on my second book, Taking Down Evelyn Tait. I really hit a wall with that book, kind of around what I was talking about before with this idea of reader expectations, even though I didn't have any readers at that point, because my first book hadn't come out yet. I remember that advice. Just really changed how I kind of approached the whole manuscript and it got me over a major hump.

It is really hard, because the second that you have a readership, you also acknowledge that you owe those readers something. It's a hard balance, because you're fundamentally the author. It's your story. And you also you, by virtue of being the author, you're God. You know more about the story. And you know more about the characters than the readers. And especially if you want to revisit that material, you might be doing something for a very valid reason. But your readers enable you to keep writing. It's a balancing act. And it's about respecting the fact that your readership have an investment in the characters and the world that you build once it's out there in the world.

I think that's so true. It's a topic that I think about a lot and something that I keep coming back to as I work through writing more manuscripts and more books, and trying to think of what I want to do long term and what I'm interested in long term. It's such a hard thing, because over the years when you're reading books, the way that you engage with them changes, your taste changes, the things that you want to explore changes. But you're so right; once you have a few books out, if you're lucky, you end up gaining a readership, which is the most incredible thing in the world. And to then change tack is a scary thing to do. It's like starting all over from scratch. It's really something that I've been thinking a lot about, and I think kind of always have, because when I first started writing, I always wrote YA, that was what I really love.

But realistically, even though Making Friends with Alice Dyson was my debut published book, it was not the first manuscript I'd written. By the time it got published, I think it was my fifth that I'd written, but I'd already written two more after that, so I'd written a lot. And they were all completely different genres. It's just that Making Friends with Alice Dyson happen to get me through the door. And after it was published, I was like, I'm gaining a readership for this type of story. So I want to write more that's similar to hopefully appeal to the same readers. It's obviously to it's a genre within YA, that kind of rom com genre that I really love. So it's not like it's a chore for me to write it, it's really fun. But there is that push and pull of, what is a smart decision for your future career, if you want to do this for a long time. And if you love it, of course, you want to do it, you want that opportunity. So you're trying to be smart around your decisions, but also very much what you said about needing to put boundaries up there and follow what it is that you really care about as well. And I think it's such a push and pull and I don't think I've fully figured it out yet.

What I will say is that and it's not universally true, but I think the advent of social media is really interesting because it gives us as authors an unprecedented relationship with our readers. And in some ways, I think that could be really advantageous in saying what I'm moving into this: here's my logic, here's my reasoning. It's a double-edged sword because on the one hand to be relevant to be selling your books to maintain a presence, you have to give up pieces of your life in your daily life that can feel a little bit intrusive at times. 

I think the whole kind of social media as an author is such a fascinating topic, but also, it's one I feel very complicated about, and I think you kind of touched on pretty much all the reasons why. And I think I feel about it the same way as you've said. I guess when you're kind of reading about how to be an author, and how to successfully present yourself, and there is a lot of talk about author brains and other platforms, and they're not particularly fun, exciting, creative kind of words. I guess there is that push and pull of you obviously want to do it, because like you said, it's part of the job, realistically, it's a really good thing to do. And it's a great way to engage with your readers. But there is that pressure then to present yourself and think about how you want to present yourself. But there's so many different things that I'm really passionate about in life as well as books, but you might choose not to kind of focus on those, and drill down to have a more focused social media kind of presence. And so there is a lot of thought, and I think kind of pressure around it. Personally, before I kind of started the whole author journey, I didn't actually have any social media at all, I kind of just gone really off it. It wasn't something that I particularly had or enjoyed. So it was an idea that I was like, 'Oh, I really do need to do this, I need to learn how to do this.' And it's been amazing.The community particularly in young adult fiction online is amazing. I wouldn't have had access to the wonderful people I've met, opportunities, and friends that I've made through meeting them online; it's been incredible. But like you say, there are days where you're like, wow, I just really don't want to go on and post. And there's a lot of thought and pressure involved as well.

I think also, you made a really good point in saying there's so much that you could feasibly post about. And realistically, your audience and your followers want something specific; you're an author who cooks or you're an author who goes on hikes. And you really can only bring so many extra elements in before your audience goes, 'Well, I don't know who this person is, that doesn't tell me about what they're doing, what their books are, this isn't helpful to me, or content with which I can engage,' and they switch off. So it's a really, really interesting one. I introduced this rule at the start of this year about posting, and it has been such a lifesaver. If a post takes me more than five minutes to set up and take a picture of it, it's not going to happen. It has been such a boon to my mental health. But you also need to write longer posts to give people insight into what's going on, you need to be willing to engage. And that's fine. That's part of the job. But I think it's about balancing all that kind of stuff.

Yeah. And like you said, I think that's very, very smart to kind of set up a framework around it. Social media for so many people using it in this wayis a fun thing, but I think realistically, you do kind of need to set boundaries and a framework and actually take the time to think about maybe how you're trying to present yourself and what you're trying to do with it. It's a funny thing that I never really I guess thought about before I was in this position and being forced to for, the same as you, mental health. I do have such a weird, complicated relationship with promotion in general. I always have a really good time. I love being able to meet different people through interviews like this. But I get very, very nervous all the time. And it is quite scary to do panels and get up on stage or even book launches, and social media kind of feels like that as well; attention on you that. It's something that I'm still working out how to do it.

That's also it, right? It's not like your followers are going to drop off overnight. Okay, you might not have the growth that you want. But equally, if you're posting every single day, you might not have the growth that you can like, either.

Particularly if you're doing it because you want to or you feel like you want to. And if you're thinking of it as a chore, the same thing as writing a manuscript that you don't care about. I guess people can see through that sort of thing. So it's probably better to back off and not do anything if you need to recharge for a while.

People are so good at sniffing out dis-ingenuity. They're so good at knowing when you're writing something that you don't want to do, or when it's out of a sense of obligation. No one wants to engage with that. So I think you're absolutely right. What you've hit on is that selling yourself is very strange, especially with a book, which is quite personal in many ways.

Gosh, I totally agree. What made me gravitate towards wanting to write was that I'm the kind of person who can write a book, meaning I can sit by myself for hours and hours every day forever, not talk to another human being and feel quite fine about this. It's very comfortable for me to be quite alone and I'm the kind of person who needs time alone to recharge. And yeah, so being an author is so great. It was a bit of a surprise to me when I started kind of delving into it once I started getting serious about really want, and I started really researching. I started learning about author brand, and author platform and all these kind of things that are suggested to do. It was a real surprise. I was like, what I thought I just sat by myself and wrote a book and that was it.

The irony of being an author as a job is that you don't spend as much time writing as you would think you would do.

That so true! It never feels like the priority. It always feels like the rest of it's the priority because that's the thing that has to happen right now. I find that it's actually a really difficult thing to force yourself to push back those things and carve out time for writing even though, obviously, writing more fiction is the absolute core of what I want to do and what I should be doing. It is really strange the way the most important thing that you're meant to do does just slide into the background.

What it comes back to, at a certain point, being an author as a job, and it's not something that is conceptualized as being a job. It's like it's a passion that you happen to earn money for, or as a creative, you have like this magic time that you kind of wander away up a staircase of clouds into a sundrenched attelier and the Muses come down to you and gift unto you this bubble outside of time in which you create. No, it's a job. It's a wonderful job. And it's a magnificent job. But part of that job is time management and being like, no, this is my block of time for writing. This is my block of time for social mediaing. But social media and especially in an age of connectivity, or at an age of lockdown, as we are in Melbourne, you can get the email pinging and think, 'Oh, well, I may as well check.' Let's talk about Road Tripping with Pearl Nash, which you did find the time to write. I loved it, I read it really, really quickly to the point where I was reading it at like 1130 at night. It's such a delightful book. It's funny that you say rom com because, well, there's a romance component to it. But it's about more than that. It's about your relationship with family and your past and moving forward and moving backward. And in some ways I'm reminded of that, like that Fitzgerald quote about in Gatsby 'so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past' and I think in some ways that that was something that you explore as a central theme so delicately but so consistently. Could you speak to that, the kernel of inspiration, and the process of writing it?

This one was interesting. I applied for a fellowship through the SA Writers Centre. I was awarded a fellowship to go for one week to Varuna, the writers house. I'd never been on a writing retreat, I had no idea what to expect, and like we were talking about, it is so hard to carve out time to just sit and write. I think I'm quite disciplined in terms of how many hours I put in and how hard I work, and I did put a lot of pressure on myself to try and do a lot of work that week. So I got up very, very early and worked all day. But I ended up after a week in Varuna, I had the first draft of this work. It was very lean, it was only 50,000 words. It was an interesting thing because my kernel of what I wanted to write was 'a romance, bickering, enemies to romance road trip,' and that's basically all I had and I just went in there -I call myself a discovery writer, so I just bash away at my keyboard. It's why I always call them rom coms because that's always what comes to my mind first. But the interesting thing about this book was that I ended up needing so much more help to turn it into an actual book than I have ever had to have. With my first two books, I wrote them and obviously there was editing, but it wasn't enormous. And this book I fixed it up, I sent it to my agent, and she came back and was like, it doesn't have that deeper level, I suppose, it's like a surface thing and there needs to be more fleshed out. And one of the things that she particularly grasped onto was this idea of, the main character is from the country but she's moved to the city and now she's going back to the country for the first time in a long time and how she's engaging with looking back on her childhood and thinking about that disconnect between growing up so wild and this different life she's now found herself in. It's very interesting because it is a main theme of the book but it wasn't something that I ever set out to do and it was more that there was some threads in there around it and then my agent said, 'you need to do something with this you need to pull it out more.' I grew up really rural in the country, a very different environment to in this book, I was in lush rainforest territory, not desert. But I did start thinking about all of that and what it's like to go back to your hometown after being away for years and kind of growing up, and looking back. Then when my agent was happy with it, she sent it to my publisher and it went through just so many more edits with other people. Margaret Lloyd, who was YA Publisher at Wakefield, she since left but it went through a huge round of structural edits with her which was amazing. And she focused on different things in the book and then went to Joe Case, who's Ya Fiction now, and she helped me draw out the friendship. So in the end, I do feel like there's a lot of different themes going on in the book and a lot of like, coming of age age stuff and growth. But yeah, I really needed a lot of help with this one in a way that I hadn't experienced before. People would point out, 'well, this feels like a bit thin,' And I was like, 'Yes, you are so right.' But sometimes I think you just can't see your own work and really need someone else to just point out the kind of things that you've missed and then once I know they're there, I can fix them. But I just can't seem to see them unless someone says it to me some. Yeah, it was a big process.

I hate editing. And there are these weirdos that are like, 'I love it polishing my work.' It's fascinating, because it's the only time you ever get feedback that's not evaluative. And it's so strange because you don't realise how much feedback we associate with some kind of praise or disparagement.

It's very interesting process because obviously when you're sending the manuscript to editors or publishers, you're at a stage where you've done what you can do with it. You really feel like you've done it to the best of your abilities. It's such an interesting experience because then it comes back and things get pointed out to you and you're like 'oh yeah, you are completely right, I don't know why I didn't see this glaringly obvious thing in the middle of the book.' I don't like self editing, I find it unbelievably boring but I think editing with the help of someon, I wouldn't say like it's super fun, because for me the creativity of writing something and figuring it out is what I find the most fun but I've had really good editing experiences with editors so far it's been amazing. I've always approach it with that mindset of, they're there to make your work better than what it can be if they don't help you. So I always enjoy the process of improving things, particularly when something is pointed out to you that's no good, it's really good to have that opportunity to fix it before it goes out into the world.

It's very satisfying when someone points something out to you, that doesn't work, and then you feel really terrible and wonder how can I fix this, and then you fix it. It's like solving a math problem level of satisfying. What really bugs me is that you become a better writer, editing and being edited by other people; that is the most offensive thing to me about editing as a process. So with Pearl Nash [laughter], I was really interested in is the landscape. It's so grounded in a sense of place. And I think a lot of Australian YA novels really draw upon their environment. But I felt very much like this was a very specific sense of place. And I was initially going to ask you what in particular drove that, but I'm going to add on an extra question, because I read your story in Hometown Haunts. And again, the setting of the beach and the cane fields behind in the rainforest was such a big sense of story. So I guess my question is, first, how important was the setting for Paul Nash? And then my second question is, how important is setting for you, and that natural description of the world which you do with such beautiful, evocative efficiency.

Setting for me, I usually come up with the seed of an idea of what the story is going to be and then the setting. I would never start writing a book until I know, is it hot or cold? What is it like? What time of year is it? What's the weather? What's the environment? And I think for me, it comes down to atmosphere. Atmosphere is something that I'm kind of obsessed with. When I watch movies, or TV shows or read books, atmosphere is something that is the thing I suppose that creeps under my skin. For me, it's that setting that environment whether it's natural or city, or whatever that is, I don't know about other writers but that's what I focus on to create an atmosphere that I want in a story and I just don't know why it's something that feels really really important to me. So definitely with Road Tripping with Pearl Nash, I said one of the first things that came to mind was, oh, road tripping and romance and bickering. And then the next thing was where is it? And so, it's definitely set in an area that I go on weekends away; the York Peninsula, which is kind of near Adelaide where I live. But I am someone who really loves to kind of pick and choose from real life. I love taking elements of places I've visited, but more like how those places made me feel, and then kind of making up some of the rest. I think that people who live in New York Peninsula are not necessarily gonna recognise everything from the book because I'm like, oh, there's a town and you know, there's a wind farm and then there's a petrol station, but realistically, the petrol station was one that I visited up near like Coober Pedy many years ago, and it's nowhere near where the book is set. And so I just add in things; I don't care if I add in too much distance between locations, I kind of make up a lot of elements but I just take more of than feeling that I got from visiting real places. It's the same with my story in Hometown Haunts, it's very interesting because I grew up in central North Queensland, but all three of my published books, including Roadtripping with Pearl Nash, are very squarely set in South Australia, are very hugely inspired by the neighbourhood that I live in, which is this kind of mishmash of old industrial and beach side, and then all the surrounding areas around Adelaide, which is very dry and deserty. But it's not where I grew up at all. So it was really interesting for me and my Hometown Haunts story to delve back into a lot of places that I visited in my childhood; I grew up in a cane farming community; cane farmers, they don't do that anymore, but they used to set the whole field alight at night before they harvested it, and the beach in my story is a beach that I went camping on a lot as a child, it really does have lava caves all over it. I love that idea of taking elements of real life but certainly setting feels extremely important to me in terms of atmosphere.

Two final questions: What's your favourite part of the book actually?

I had a lot of fun in this one with the dialogue actually, when I kind of stopped to think about what I enjoyed a lot. It was really fun. I think I've always wanted to try the enemies to lovers romance and it's a challenge to bring two characters that are at each other's throats and have all these misunderstandings and try and bring them through to create a solid friendship and a romance that I hope readers will feel like could authentically happen. I found I liked that challenge a lot. I suppose I find it really fun to try and write authentic feelings to a slow burn romance which does feel like there's something solid underneath it, where I hope you feel like the characters would stay together after the book ends.

I actually really liked that at the end of chapter one two, something happens between the two main characters. There's nothing that I hate more than going halfway through a book, and it's obvious that they have attraction. It's a very frustrating thing to wait, because that's what pulls you along. And so it's in some ways, to me, almost cheap writing, to kind of have the thing you keep reading to see happen. So having that happen quite early on I really liked because it almost deflated that tension, and then brought out more interesting tensions to play with.

Oh, thank you. I kind of knew I wanted to try and do that early on. I think that was an interesting challenge that I wanted to try and do. Because I think one thing that happens in books with a romantic thread is that once you get the characters, you don't have any kind of form of intimacy, a lot of times the tension goes and then, why do you read the book anymore? If you're reading for that will they won't they, then who cares? And I think the challenge was then to hopefully make readers invested in them even beyond do they get together or not, invested in their separate journeys, emotional growth, and also them coming together and getting to know each other as well.

It was really lovely. Finally, what's your favourite thing about LoveOzYA?

It's been incredible actually. Before I got involved, I didn't really know any other authors. I didn't know anything. I didn't know anyone. And the fact that I'm now really embedded in this community of people who love books and love stories in the same way that I do and feel passionate about them and want to kind of shout about them in the same way that I do is incredible. I find it so exciting, that I can bring out a book and that there are people that care, it's incredible. And that is what I found with LoveOzYA, the community. People are so supportive. And other authors as well as readers and bookstagrammers, it's just amazing how much passion and effort everyone puts into their love of books and stories and I find that just ridiculously cool. It's been an amazing experience getting to know so many people within the community. Other authors as well have just been so welcoming and just go out of their way to help you and teach you and give you advice. And that's pretty incredible.