#LoveOzYA Q&A with Alicia Tuckerman
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 can’t remember a time when I didn’t love writing. It’s just one of those things I’ve always done, but I guess my relationship with words intensified when I was in my teens. I moved out of home when I was sixteen and there was a point where the only possessions I had of value were a notepad and a pen. It felt as though writing was the only thing I hadn’t lost or squandered and there was a real comfort in knowing it belonged to me and it couldn’t ever be taken away. Writing stories allowed me to express how I was feeling while at the same time, helped me escape those feelings. It probably sounds very dramatic, but writing saved my life!
Tell us about your new book.
If I Tell You is a book about lots of things: bravery, fear, love and loss; big dreams, small towns, growing into your skin and learning the price of keeping secrets. It just so happens the two main characters are lesbians.
I wrote If I Tell You because I want young people to feel brave, to accept themselves for who they are, and to know that even when life is terrifying, and perhaps especially then, it’s the only one you get, so you should live it.
Did you have a favourite OzYA book when you were growing up?
I’m a 90s kid and I grew up reading John Marsden, Robin Klein, Melina Marchetta and the likes. There are so many great books that I’m often reluctant to give ‘favourites’, but Marsden’s Tomorrow When the War Began series is right up there. What I love about those books is that they came well before dystopian YA fiction gained its momentum, but it was perhaps for me the introduction to the idea that we’re not as safe as we think we are.
Did you have anyone that encouraged your love of books, reading and writing when you were younger?
My mum and uncle for sure! My mum was a dance and drama teacher and there was always a theatrical vibe at home, a weird juxtaposition with life growing up on a farm in rural New South Wales! My uncle was a university English lecturer and playwright, and growing up I was quite close to him. Between the two of them, there was no shortage of books and they both encouraged my writing from a very early age.
What do you think sets Australian YA stories apart from those set internationally?
I love the Australian voice. The slang, colloquialisms and the fierce extremes of climate are often laced into so many aspects of a story, from the hobbies to the clothing of the characters, to create a very distinct impression of place.
But in many ways, Australian YA stories are no different to their international counterparts. The authors are accomplished and the stories chronicle universal themes, and the triumphs and struggles of young people masterfully. They hold their ground and I love seeing more and more OzYA authors represented in the international market.
Do you have a favourite bookshop or library?
I’m originally from New South Wales and lived in the heart of Sydney for a while so when I think of my favourite bookshop, my mind always wanders back to Gould’s Book Arcade in Newtown. In my early twenties, I’d lose entire days hanging out between the stacks and breathing in that scent of history and books.
In Perth, I love Northside Books in Northbridge and I work across the road from the City of Perth Library where I like to squeeze in a quick lunchbreak writing session whenever I can!
What was the last book you read and enjoyed?
The Plague by Albert Camus, which is pretty much as far removed from contemporary Australian YA as you can get!
I also read The Sidekicks by Will Kostakis over the Christmas break, which was a fantastic punch in the guts and great exploration of male grief in YA fiction.
Aside from writing, what else do you like to do to explore your creativity?
I like to build things. I’ve recently started making furniture from old pallets I salvaged from the Bunnings car park! There’s something quite honest in the manual work to create something tangible with my hands that I really enjoy. Plus, if I’m ever stuck in my head I find a bit of grunt work is a great way to snap me out of any creative funk I might be in.
What are the best and worst pieces of writing advice you’ve received?
The worst advice came from a primary school substitute teacher I had when I was in Year Four. We’d been given a creative writing task and when the teacher handed mine back they said it was so bad I shouldn’t write another story again!
The best advice—or perhaps the advice that resonates with me most—is something Stephen King said. Write what hurts. For me, that means exploring the stories that are a little bit painful—both to write and read. Although that’s not saying there isn’t room for joy and humour and love within those stories too!
What do you love about OzYA?
Coming into this, I felt a bit like the new kid at the school of OzYA. A bit nervous and eager to make friends without being too eager. But it’s such a wonderful and supportive space. I think the main thing to love is the sense of community and almost collegiate camaraderie among the other OzYA authors. I’m so thankful to be a part of it!
If I Tell You is out on 1st March, published by Pantera Press. For more information go to www.panterapress.com.au/ifitellyou