In this latest author interview series, work experience student Sian Beatton interviews Poppy Nwosu, author of Making Friends with Alice Dyson. Poppy’s story came runner up for the 2018 Adelaide Festival Unpublished Manuscript Award, but here at Wakefield press we thought her story too good to go unnoticed. Poppy’s book is a romantic story about rumours, friendship, and discovering who you really are.
How do you keep a book interesting?
This is a great question!
For me, I think the biggest key to writing a book that is interesting the whole way through is to keep assessing whether I myself actually find what I’m writing interesting. I am a bit of a selfish writer, so I definitely write the kind of stories that appeal to me and that I find interesting personally, and I think that does make it easier to ensure my story is satisfying (for me at least! Ha!).
The flipside of this is that of course through the process of writing and editing a book, a writer is forced to read it through a MILLION times, so definitely don’t get worried if you end up finding your manuscript less interesting as time goes on. That doesn’t mean your work is no good, it just means you have read it a MILLION times, and that is totally okay.
Did you base any characters on yourself or people you know?
Although I do take tiny snippets from everyday life, I don’t think I have ever based a character entirely off myself or someone I know.
One of the main joys of writing for me is the opportunity to explore the things that make people tick, and often when I begin writing a story I don’t even know a huge amount about the characters myself! It then becomes part of that process of writing just to explore who they are and figure them out.
Actually, one of the most interesting things that has come out of the release of my debut novel, is that I have realised a LOT of people have presumed that the protagonist in my novel is based on me and my high school experience. Funnily enough, this is definitely not the case, and I actually had a lot of fun writing a character like Alice who is quite different to me in almost every way.
Did you base the story on something?
The original idea was sparked by a cute viral video I watched on the net a few years ago, which featured a caught on camera goofy impromptu dance on the street by two teens walking home from school. I saw the video and just couldn’t stop thinking about who they were and what their friendship might be like, and that really morphed into this love story.
From there I was also influenced greatly by the cute romantic animes (Japanese animation shows) I was watching at the time and also by a book I adore, which is fun and light and moving all rolled into one (Jaclyn Moriarty’s fantastic #LoveOzYA novel Finding Cassie Crazy).
What did you learn from writing this novel?
This is another excellent question, and it made me sit down and think, because actually I’ve never stopped to wonder what I learned!
Probably the biggest challenge for me with writing ALICE was in figuring out how to ensure that the romantic tension between Alice and her new friend Teddy lasted the whole book. I think one of the most difficult parts of writing a love story is in keeping readers invested in that romance until the end of the book. That was a major challenge for me, and I hope that I learned how to accomplish it with this novel.
What do you want your readers to learn form this novel?
To be completely honest, although in hindsight I can see there are themes in ALICE about standing up for others and not buying into stereotypes etc. when I was actually writing it I never thought much about trying to teach anyone anything. There are ideas in it that I definitely wanted to explore myself, but none that I felt like I wanted to teach.
In a lot of ways, and this may sound bad or weird, but I don’t know if it matters to me if readers can learn anything or not from what I write. I have always been of the mindset that fiction should make you feel something, and that is what I mostly set out to do. By writing the kind of story that I find realistic and romantic, that makes me feel happy, I think I hoped to make readers feel happy too.
How do you put emotion into your characters?
Right here you have hit on my absolute most favourite element of any story! Actually, I am obsessed with getting emotion across within my work, and one of the hugest parts of writing ALICE for me was to develop a love story that felt ultra possible and realistic, and create characters whose emotions readers could recognise and identify with.
I think every writer probably has different story elements that they most identify with and that they most want to bring out in their work (for instance, twisty plots or interesting fresh ideas etc.) but for me, embedding emotion into my characters and stories is always highest on my list. The easiest way I have found to do that is to really think deeply about a character’s reactions and actions, and think about how everything that occurs within the story might truly impact them and make them feel if they were real.
I think a great way to almost ‘learn’ emotions is also to read other books and watch movies and tv, and start analysing the character’s reactions within their stories. I often think, if that person was real, as in truly alive and real within that world, would they truly react that same way or would their emotional reaction be different? This is actually the thing that can make or break a story for me. For instance, a story could have the most interesting satisfying plot in the world, but if the emotions and emotional arcs of the characters don’t ring true, if it doesn’t make me feel anything, then I won’t be able to love it.
Sometimes I think the stories we read or watch can almost occur in heightened realities, and therefore emotions in those stories can sometimes lose their grounding and depth, and end up feeling less impactful because they don’t feel true. I think that is okay to have stories like that, but personally I am always more moved by, for instance, a love story that feels grounded in true emotion, where the characters feel like they might actually continue to love each other long after the credits roll or the final page.
Gosh what a huge answer! Sorry! But you got me started on a very special topic! 🙂
How do you come up with an interesting ending to your stories?
Oh, this is a fun one to answer! Endings for me are very difficult, because I usually have only a very vague idea of where the story is going to end up when I begin writing it, and definitely no end scene or final plot point in mind. Which means I am usually left in a state of indecision by the time I make it to the end, wondering how to make it work and how to keep it interesting.
With ALICE, I really didn’t know how I was going to end the story, but I guess for me, as we discussed above, it does always come back to the emotion in the narrative. Most of all I wanted to write an ending that had a good emotional resolution for the characters, and when figuring out how to finish the story, I focused mostly on what felt right in terms of the character’s journeys, their emotional arcs and the love story itself. In some ways, I suppose the plot came second, and I figured it out later as a framework to prop up how I wanted the emotional side of the story to end.
Now that I think about it, I suppose that is the way I usually approach the ending of all the stories I write!
Want to experience the journey of Making Friends with Alice Dyson? Visit Wakefield Press at 16 Rose Street, Mile End SA 5031 or shop for the book online.
Keep an eye out for an interview with Sian, coming to the blog soon! In the meantime, follow Poppy’s writing journey over on her blog.