Drafting, Durham & Diet Coke: Being An Author At 20
What were you doing when you were 17? Going to school? Doing exams? Watching TV? Living on the internet? Being grumpy and generally pretty antisocial? Alice Oseman was doing all of these things. Oh, and also just casually signing a book deal for her first novel, Solitaire. Our Books Editor, Harriet, catches up with Alice (now 20) to find out what it’s all been like:
Hey Alice! Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions around exam season! So, how does it feel to have written a successful YA novel at the age of 17?
Very exciting! I’m so lucky to have made a start on my career this young- I won’t be facing graduation panic when I finish my degree!
Talking of your degree, you’re at Durham so your A Levels obviously went pretty well. How on earth did you manage to write a book at the same time as studying for school exams?
It wasn’t too hard, to be honest. I always did most of my coursework and homework at school, so I had all my time at home to do what I wanted. Plus I wrote most of Solitaire over the summer holiday.
How did you get inspiration for your book and its characters?
Everywhere! People I’ve met, TV, films, books, music, etc.
So your main character is a girl called Tori. Does it feel strange that so many readers have instantly connected with her?
I’m actually not hugely surprised. I wrote the book because I believed that the feelings that Tori experiences are easy to relate to and lots of people feel them, but for some reason, they’re hardly ever written about.
I agree; I remember reading Solitaire and feeling as though you’d some how been in my head and had seen all my weird thoughts and feelings! It was comforting to know that other people have them too! In your book you also bring in mental health issues, such as anorexia. Is that something that’s important to you as an author?
Definitely! All the while mental illnesses aren’t given the same weight as physical illnesses, I’ll consider them an important topic for my writing.
Do you feel that the internet and social media can be damaging to young people?
Sometimes. Mostly I think that the internet and social media are extremely good- they allow people to express themselves and be engaged in world issues in a moderately safe environment. There are lots of ways that the internet can harm a person, but I think the positives hugely outweigh the negatives.
Some people have said that Solitaire is autobiographical. What do you say to that?
It’s not true. People believe that it’s autobiographical for two reasons: firstly, because Tori has a very convincing narrative voice, and secondly, because Tori is a teenage girl, like I was when I wrote it. Amazingly, I actually used my imagination.
That is definitely good to know! So you’re currently writing your second novel, Radio Silence. How is that going? And how are you managing to juggle it with studying for the best English degree in the UK?!
Yes I am! I finished the first draft a few weeks ago and I’m very excited to start working on it again this summer! This year I’ve found it extremely hard trying to juggle writing with studying- writing at school is nothing compared to writing at university. I’ve been spending lots of time at home and haven’t gone to many lectures- I think I’m going to have to focus on my degree next year so I can pull up my grades…
Do you see writing your book as working, or is it something you do in between studying almost as a reward?
A bit of both now. It’s impossible to ignore that writing is my job now. But writing is still my favourite hobby- I don’t see myself ever getting tired of it!
What about the future? Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?
Hopefully with a few more books out, still writing, being able to support myself through my books!
What’s your favourite food and drink to have while writing and studying?
I’m a severe Diet Coke addict. And crisps are a necessity.
I definitely agree. And how do you deal with the stresses that naturally come hand in hand with uni and relationships?
I genuinely just go home a lot more than other people. I’m not a huge fan of university- I’m only really doing it to get a degree and have that extra bit of security in my future. And I think that’s fine. I used to feel bad for not getting on with the typical ‘university experience’, but now I think it’s completely fine to just do my own thing!
Definitely, everyone’s different and we don’t all conform to the university student stereotype. Let’s face it, I don’t think many students spend second year writing their second novel either! Just one final question: what 3 things would you say to any budding writers out there?
1) Write what you would want to read
2) Do the research on how to get published
3) Don’t give up!
Thanks again Alice, and good luck with Radio Silence- I’m looking forward to reading it!
Follow @aliceoseman on Twitter to keep up to date with how she’s getting on!
Have you read Solitaire? What do you think about Alice’s answers? Let us know in the comments section below.