Today I would like to welcome author Poppy Nwosu, who has kindly agreed to be interviewed for the Great Raven. Poppy’s second novel, Taking Down Evelyn Tait, has just arrived in the world, but the planned launch is not going ahead, so I am giving it a virtual launch here.
In her first book, Making Friends With Alice Dyson, the nerdy Alice has become the subject of gossip among her schoolmates, starting with an online video of her doing a silly dance in the street with Teddy Taualai, who had himself been avoided and gossiped about since his arrival from another school, where he was supposed to have...well, read it.
GR: Starting with an obvious and basic question - where did you get the ideas for both your books?
PN: I was really inspired by the fun and positive vibes of a favourite teenage book of mine, the gorgeous Finding Cassie Crazy by Jaclyn Moriarty. I had this idea that I really wanted to write a book with a similar feeling, light and romantic and easy to read, but with some emotional depth too.
Making Friends with Alice Dyson was then directly inspired by a viral video I saw of two south Korean teenagers caught on camera doing a very goofy dance-off on the street on their way home from school. It was really the seed that then extended out into a whole story!
When I later began writing Taking Down Evelyn Tait, I knew I wanted it to have a similar feeling to my debut, but also in a lot of ways I think the new book was written as a bit of a reaction to my first. I wanted the main character to be really different, so I made her very outgoing and confident, and I also wanted a stronger focus on family, as in my first book the protagonist’s parents are mostly absent from the story. So it was fun to do something a little different.
GR: I see that Evelyn Tait, heroine of your new book, gets a mention - just one! - in Making Friends With Alice Dyson. Was this deliberate? I mean, were you already planning your second book? Or did you decide to use this character because she was only mentioned once?
PN: Haha, I love this question and I am so glad you noticed!
Firstly, although the title of my second book is a bit misleading, Evelyn Tait is actually the villain (not the heroine!) but yes, she definitely gets a mention in my first book. I really love the idea of writing stand-alone stories, but also wanted to connect them through the place and setting of my novels. But I have to admit, I didn’t plan it out that way!
Yet luckily for me, when I was writing the first draft of Taking Down Evelyn Tait, my first novel was still in the final production stages before publication, so I was able to go back and change a name or two within the book to place some little Easter eggs in there for eagle-eyed readers!
GR: Tell us about Alice Dyson. Is she a true nerd or is it more about what her parents expect of her?
PN: Oh, this is a very good question! I actually had to stop and think.
No, actually, I don’t think that Alice really is a dedicated lover of schoolwork. I think there are elements of it that she likes, because they make sense to her in a complex world, but I don’t think she feels passionate about academics. She does strive very hard to be good at school, though, and that is because she has big dreams, and she feels she’ll never achieve them if she doesn’t get top marks.
I think also that her parent’s high expectations play an enormous part in the person that Alice has crafted herself to be, and I think that by following her parents’ wants and needs more than her own, Alice is not especially being true to herself.
GR: Tell us about Evelyn Tait. In her only mention, Alice considers her a rival in maths. What else can you tell us about her without spoilers? How different is she from Alice?
PN: Well, this is the fun part! Evelyn Tait is not a heroine at all, but in fact, the villain of my second book! The heroine is called Lottie, and she is a wild troublemaker and music-lover, and the person she hates most in the world is good-girl Evelyn Tait. My second book is very much about the journey that Lottie takes as she attempts to destroy her enemy by beating Evelyn Tait at her own game … being good.
My new heroine, Lottie, couldn’t be more different from Alice, and I think for me as a writer, that is her appeal. It was really fun to write about a very different type of person, someone who wears her passions and emotions on her sleeve and throws herself into any situation without ever thinking of the consequences!
GR: Tell us about Teddy Taualai. Clearly, he is not the school bad boy, as we might assume at the start of the book.
Yes, that was something I really wanted to play with in Making Friends with Alice Dyson, the idea of stereotypes. I really wanted to set Teddy up at the start of the novel as your typical ‘bad boy’ love interest, but slowly through the story reveal that he was not that way at all. But I didn’t want him to just be a misunderstood ‘bad boy’ with a heart of gold, I wanted the reader to realise that, in fact, Teddy isn’t a bad boy at all. He is a really nice, sweet, thoughtful boy, but the people around him have built up a persona and false impression of who he is that he can’t get away from, no matter what he does.
GR: Is the part of Adelaide where these books are set a place where you have lived, or just somewhere you like? In fact - is there a school with that wonderful view of the sea?
PN: Yes, I was very inspired by the neighbourhood I live in when writing both of my books. I moved here about eight years ago and really love it, there is such a beautiful mix of industrial desolation and seaside tranquillity that I really find fascinating.
And yes, I didn’t attend it, but there is a school (where I go to vote!) that has grounds leading right down to the dunes near the sea! I definitely fictionalised the setting, so I didn’t have to adhere to particular buildings or distances, but it was heavily inspired by that school and my surrounding areas.
GR: Are any of the characters in Alice Dyson inspired by people you know? Even the art teacher, who is Alice’s favourite teacher?
PN: No, I definitely add in tiny fragments of real life into my stories, but none of my characters are fully inspired by anyone I know. But I do have a lot of fun making them up though!
GR: What are you working on now?
PN: I have just finished working on a special new manuscript, which I am very excited about. I can’t say too much about it yet, as it is still early days, but it is a bit of a road trip novel, and I had a lot of fun writing it!
GR: Finally, tell us about Poppy Nwosu! (Including how you reacted to your first sale.) What do you enjoy when you are not writing? Does your day job help you with ideas for writing or is it very different?
PN: Haha, this is a fun question too!
Alright, about me! I grew up in a tiny village in central North Queensland, in a cane farming community. I studied music and was very passionate about it for most of my teen years, but when I left home, I realised I didn’t love music as much as I thought I did, because I didn’t work very hard to keep it going after I finished university.
I discovered writing a few years after that. And with writing, I was definitely willing to work hard!
I’d always loved reading and stories, but I’d never imagined being a writer. But as the years went by, I became more and more passionate about it, until I was utterly obsessed (and I still am utterly obsessed!).
I had been writing for many years very seriously before I finally sold a manuscript to be published. It was the most wonderful feeling. I was so excited and happy I could barely communicate properly.
These days I am very lucky with my day job. I only work part-time and I actually began work recently for my publishers, in a marketing and publicity role. I really love working within publishing, it is so interesting to learn more about how the industry works and, I think, really helpful as an author to also understand the behind-the-scenes stuff in terms of book production.
Thanks, Poppy, for your enjoyable answers to my questions!
Wishing you lots and lots of sales, I declare this book launched!
If you live in Australia, you should be able to order both books from all good bookshops, including Dymock’s, which delivers, or through the publisher website.
Online there is Booktopia(Australia) or the Book Depository, which delivers free to most countries. Amazon is not currently adding stock, due to the coronavirus situation, so may be a while.
Wakefield is a small press, so is still arranging ebooks for Evelyn Tait, but Poppy assures me those will be available soon.
Meanwhile, you can get Alice Dyson in ebook, if you haven’t read it yet.