Poppy Nwosu’s YA novel, Making Friends with Alice Dyson was shortlisted for the prestigious (and snappily titled!) Arts South Australia Wakefield Press Unpublished Manuscript Award, 2018. Subsequently, Poppy was offered a contract for the book with Wakefield Press and her novel is due for publication in March 2019.
With just a few weeks to go before it emerges into the world, I thought I’d ask Poppy some questions about how she got to this point and what she’s expecting over the coming period of time.
Poppy, this must be a very exciting (and perhaps bewildering!) time for you. Can you tell me how you went from being shortlisted for a prize, to then being offered a publishing contract?
I think I was very lucky!
To be honest I wasn’t expecting much when I entered the unpublished manuscript prize, though of course I had my fingers crossed. It was a looong time between entering and finding out I’d been shortlisted, and I can’t quite describe how excited I was to get that shortlist. I’d been writing for a long while with no real traction, and although I didn’t end up winning the award, I kind of felt like I had.
I went along to the awards ceremony, and was approached by a publisher from Wakefield Press who had been keeping an eye out for me there. She had been one of the judges and really liked my story, and invited me to come in to speak with her about it.
I twisted myself up into knots over the next few weeks wondering what she meant by the invitation (did they want to publish my story? did they want me to make changes to it? what did they want?) But when I finally went in for the meeting it was really straightforward and immediately they just handed me a contract! I was pretty overwhelmed and excited, and not a lot of coherent conversation happened after that!
Can you tell me a little bit about the upcoming book and where the idea came from?
Sure, the book is a Young Adult contemporary novel about friendship, love and growing up, which follows a rather serious girl called Alice Dyson through her final year of high-school. Basically all she wants to do is study, but her newest friend keeps getting in the way!
My publisher is describing it as: ‘A witty, heartfelt romance between two smart, awkward teenagers who find kindred spirits in each other, it dips into themes of bullying and judging differences, and focuses on the way our friendships change as we leave childhood behind.’
It’s a ‘feel-good’ story at heart, and I very purposely wanted to write something positive and fun. I was particularly influenced by a book I’ve loved for a long time, Finding Cassie Crazy by Australian author Jaclyn Moriarty. Although that novel is completely different in format, characters and plot, I always remember how that story made me feel, and I really wanted to create that same feeling with my own book. Basically something ultimately positive, funny and romantic, but with emotional depth too. I really hope readers like this story.
What has been your writing journey so far? How and when did you start? Did you study a related subject?
No, I’ve never studied and I definitely didn’t always want to be a writer! However, when I look back I realise I was always very focused on making up stories in imaginative ways when I was a kid, and I think that love of stories morphed into my current love of writing.
I only started writing seriously in the last 5 or 6 years, basically getting more and more serious about the craft, and what my end goal was in terms of getting my stories out there, as the years went by. I feel like it’s been a long hard slog to get this far, which is why I do feel so lucky to have been shortlisted in that unpublished manuscript competition, which enabled my story to be picked up by Wakefield Press. It’s been a bit of a dream come true really.
Has anything surprised you about the process so far?
That is an interesting question, and I had to stop and think!
Yes, the thing that has surprised me the most about the publication process, is that, after spending so many years doing everything I could to get a book contract, now I have one I didn’t immediately give a great big sigh of relief and feel like I’d accomplished my goal, ready to kick back and relax in the knowledge I achieved my dream.
Instead, I immediately started dreaming of having another book published, and then another, and another! I think now I am dreaming in terms of a career as a writer, and I’ve realised I feel quite greedy about it, really wanting to be able to write and publish books for a very long time.
I think that feeling was a big surprise for me, and not something I expected to feel so strongly about.
What’s your writing routine – do you go over the previous day’s work or do you climb straight onto a new page? Are you a meticulous planner or do you prefer to be as surprised by events as your readers?
I prefer to just get everything on the page and worry about the details later. My first drafts are absolutely atrocious and I will never show them to anybody (ever!), but that works for me, as it gives me permission to write absolute silly rubbish, and not worry about what anyone will think of it, knowing I will always have the opportunity to clean it up later.
I am not a huge planner, but I definitely do write notes to keep myself on track as I go. Mostly though, I have the general concept of a story figured out prior to starting, but all the details work themselves out as I travel along. Sometimes the endings even do too!
Do you write with music on or in silence? Can you write in public spaces, on buses etc?
I wrote a lot in public spaces when I first began writing seriously about 6 years ago. Back then I wrote on my phone any spare second I could. On the train, at the shops if I had a free moment, during my lunchbreak at work. And yes, music to drown out the noise was definitely good!
These days though I have a desk at home and I write in the mornings before work, not so much out in public anymore. If the house is quiet I don’t need music, but sometimes I find it really helps to focus me, or even give me the right vibes for a certain scene I’m working on.
Finally, I’d really like to post ‘before publication’ and ‘after publication’ pieces about you. When you think about your book coming out, what things are you most looking forward to and which aspects are you most worried about?
Another interesting question! Again, I have to have a think about this!
Okay, probably the thing I am most looking forward to is taking the very first step in a direction I’ve been wanting to travel in for such a long time. It is a wonderful feeling to work hard at something for a long time and then begin to see the pieces finally fall into place. Sometimes it has felt impossible that I would ever see one of my novels in print, yet here I am. For that reason, knowing my book is out in the world is something I am really looking forward to. To me, that feels like my first tangible step as an author, and that is very exciting indeed.
On the flipside, there are many things I am worried about, but I suspect that they may be a little irrational! Ha!
Of course, as much as I can’t wait for my book to be out there, it is frightening too. Once a book is published, it is no longer a story of your heart and instead becomes something public that belongs to everybody who is nice enough to read it. I truly hope people like this book, but of course that is something I have no control over. Which is the way it is meant to be, though it can indeed a little overwhelming at times.
I think there will be a lot of new challenges coming my way soon enough, even just talking openly about my writing in an interview is quite new for me, so I just want to concentrate on trying my best while remembering to enjoy myself. After all, you don’t get the opportunity to release a debut novel every day!
Thank you so much, Poppy for your honest and interesting answers. Good luck with everything. I'm really looking forward to meeting Alice Dyson when she ventures out into the world.
Thanks so much for the questions, Sue! It’s been a pleasure to answer them! :)
Making Friends with Alice Dyson is being published on 1st March 2019 (Wakefield Press). Keep an eye on Poppy's website www.talltaleswithpoppynwosu.com for further details. You can also find her on Twitter and Instagram:
Poppy Nwosu was shortlisted for the 2018 Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature for an unpublished manuscript and is represented by Jane Novak of the Jane Novak Literary Agency.
Growing up in central North Queensland, Poppy enjoyed a thoroughly wild childhood surrounded by rainforest and cane fields. After studying music at university, she moved overseas to Ireland, where she spent two years visiting stunning Europe.
These days Poppy and her husband still love to travel, but they also like to come home again to their house in Adelaide near the sea.
Poppy’s quite obsessed with stories, books, movies, writing and music.
Making Friends with Alice Dyson is her first novel.