I was delighted to interview Alice Oseman, author of Solitaire and Radio Silence. Her two YA novels have been praised for their authentic teenage characters, she was a teenager herself when Solitaire was published. I loved Radio Silence (review here) and was particularly impressed by the diversity of the cast, the focus on friendship, and the way the podcast was integrated into the novel.
We chatted about fandoms, the internet, Alice’s writing process and more…
When writing, do you begin with a character, a scene or a plot idea?
Definitely with character! My plots change all the time but as soon as I have an idea for a character, they stay with me the whole way through.
Do you plan a lot, or dive straight into the story?
I plan in extreme detail! I need to know precisely what I’m doing and where I’m going before I start to write.
What was the main thing you learned from writing Solitaire?
That’s such a difficult question – I learnt so much! One of the main things was probably how to use subtext.
You have written a couple of Solitaire novellas. Who would you revisit from Radio Silence?
I would LOVE to write some Radio Silence novellas. I’d most like to write one about Daniel.
The internet plays a big role in both of your books and you also use a lot of pop culture references. Often writers are warned off putting in too many contemporary references as it ages the book, however it can make a book very much of its time. Where do you stand on this?
I don’t try to hide from the idea that my books are very much ‘of their time’. I aim for as much realism as I can in my writing – I love trying to completely represent the world that I live in right now. And I very much enjoy reading books that are ‘of their time’ – books written in the eighties and nineties and early 2000s. Hopefully, in the future, people will enjoy reading what the world was like in 2016!
There is a huge YA community on the internet now. Was has been your experience of this?
I’ve been a big part of the YA community on Twitter for quite a while! I find it a little stressful and intense, but ultimately, it’s amazing to see such a huge community of people all coming together in their love of books. That can only be a good thing.
Radio Silence has a really diverse cast of characters. When did you become aware of a need for diversity in YA at the moment?
Some time between Solitaire’s publication and starting to write Radio Silence. I read loads about it online and started to understand how important it was that I use my privileged position to do some good for others. Nowadays, it’s very very important to me, and although I’m nowhere near perfect and still learning so much more, I will always want to have diverse casts in my books.
You’ve spoken about the We Need Diverse Books campaign in interviews, and I was wondering which diverse YA books you would recommend?
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz is one of my personal all-time favourites.
Fan culture is also important in your work. What fandoms are you part of? What has it been like seeing fanart/fanfiction for Solitaire and Radio Silence?
I’m very aware of fandoms, though I’m not sure how many I can really say I’m a part of! I know a huge amount about fandom simply from being on the internet for so long and being immersed in fandom spaces, but despite being a huge lurker online, I’m not a very active participant in many fandom spaces. I will say that I’m very knowledgable about the YouTube fandom, and lived through the huge uprising of the Glee fandom and the Sherlock fandom. And seeing fanart/fanfic for my books is one of the most exciting things I see as an author! It’s an honour that someone enjoyed my works so much that they were inspired to create something of their own.
You’re an artist, and I was wondering if you draw/use a lot of visuals when you write?
I do! I draw my characters a lot – it really helps me to visualise them and understand them better.
One of my favourite things about Radio Silence was that it had friendship at its core. Do you feel there is too much ‘insta love’ in YA at the moment (particularly heterosexual insta love)?
Absolutely, and I find it very frustrating, undoubtedly because it’s quite unrealistic. I understand why people enjoy reading insta-love – people want to believe in true love, after all! – but I’m tired of it, and I enjoy writing something different. I think friendships and other types of relationships are just as important as romances.
The characters in Radio Silence are about to go to university. I feel that characters approaching/in university are underrepresented in YA (Fangirl is a brilliant book and an exception to this). Why did you choose to have older protagonists in this Radio Silence?
I specifically wanted to write about the process of leaving school and going to university in Radio Silence, and I felt the best way to do this would be through characters about to make that change. It’s a time of great emotional upheaval, and I wish it was written about more!
Can you tell us anything about your next book?
My next book is about boyband fandoms, fame, obsession, and, as usual, the existential pain of being alive.
A big thank you to Alice Oseman for her wonderful answers, and I am looking forward to her next book!