Interview with Debut Author Poppy Nwosu
I don’t know about you, but with the state of the world the way it is at the moment, my desire to read hopeful stories about friendship and love is at an all-time high. If I wasn’t able to escape to another world via the magic of books, TV and cinema, reality could easily send me into a downward spiral of despair. Luckily for us sensitive souls, there are heroes who put pen to paper (and fingers to keys) and write stories that give us solace during dark times, and a sense of escape when our energy needs recharging.
One such saviour is the talented Poppy Nwosu, who I had the pleasure of meeting recently, to talk about her debut release, the sweet-as-pie, young adult rom-com Making Friends with Alice Dyson. If the world is feeling a little dark to you right now, this book might be all you need to help flick on the light switch.
Poppy Nwosu grew up in central North Queensland with the dream of becoming a musician. After studying at the Central Queensland Conservatorium of Music she decided to seek adventure overseas and set sail for Dublin, Ireland, where she met her husband before returning to Australia and setting up home in Adelaide. Sadly, the dream of finding fame and fortune as a singer, like many childhood dreams, seemed to fade into obscurity as the demands of real-life kicked in. Poppy now works as a tender writer, which pays the bills yet doesn’t quite allow the same creative outlet that she desired from being a musician.
Needing another way to express herself and find escapism from the daily grind, Poppy started writing short stories as a hobby. ‘I’ve always loved stories, whether it be novels, comics or movies. I just wanted to write the stories that I wanted to read,’ she says. But as her short stories started turning into novel length manuscripts, the passion that she had once felt for music returned, only this time her obsession was all about becoming a writer and a published author.
Time is always a premium for creatives who work full-time and Poppy certainly made use of any free time she had, originally writing on her phone during her commute, using unpublished blog posts as a way to organise her drafts. As the completed stories and manuscripts started piling up, Poppy realised she needed to curb her enthusiasm for shiny new ideas, and start devoting time to self-editing and polishing her projects. She spent a year researching editing techniques and working on her manuscripts, in order to get them ready to submit to agents and publishers.
As any writer knows, the road to publication is paved with rejection, and Poppy’s experience has followed the well-worn path of those before her. ‘Rejection leaves me heartbroken for a few days,’ she says, ‘but in the end it only made me want to work harder. It made me want to get published even more.’ After 3 years of tinkering with her fourth manuscript, a young adult contemporary romance, Poppy knew it was time to accept the story was as good as it was going to get and it was time to let it go. After a string of rejections she was ready to accept that nobody wanted it and considered publishing the story to Wattpad just to put an end to her endless editing. But something amazing was just around the corner. Poppy’s life was about to change, and her dream of becoming a writer was about to feel a lot closer.
In early 2017 Poppy decided to submit the manuscript for Making Friends with Alice Dyson to the Arts South Australia Wakefield Press Unpublished Manuscript Award, and in December of 2017 discovered that Alice had been shortlisted. Although Alice didn’t go on to win, Poppy still felt like a winner, and after being told by Wakefield Press’ editor Margot Lloyd that she ‘really fucking loved it’ Poppy was offered a contract in March of 2018. All her hard work had and persistence had finally paid off. Alice was going to be a real book, and Poppy Nwosu was going to be able to call herself a published author.
Set in South Australia and designed to resonate with the locals of her adopted home, Making Friends with Alice Dyson started life as a short story, the idea sparked from a viral video featuring two friends dancing in the street on their way home from school. Poppy wondered what their friendship was like and used the sweet moment as inspiration to form a longer narrative around a love story with friendship at its heart.
When she found out that Wakefield Press were offering her a contract to turn her manuscript into a book, Poppy was so excited and overwhelmed that she burst into tears. She’d kept her expectations about the competition low and although all the disappointments that had come before had hurt, she feels grateful for every ‘no’ that eventually led her to that elusive ‘yes’. The pinch-me moment came when she was asked to write her author biography; finally she felt like she was tasting success.
After signing the contract, the next step before Alice became a book was the editing process. Poppy hadn’t engaged a professional editor in her writing journey, and although she had grown so much as a writer, and learnt so much about self-editing, there was still a lot of work to be done. Beginning life as a short story meant that the first few chapters of Alice needed to be pulled in line with the rest of the manuscript. Despite the fear of having a professional pick apart her blood, sweat and tears, Poppy found the editing process fascinating and could see the story becoming more streamlined before her eyes. She had written the first draft for Alice over 3 months, spent the next 3 years self-editing, refining and pitching to the point of giving up, and now her book-baby was growing up.
Although Poppy is officially a published author, now represented by an agent, she still suffers imposter syndrome like most writers. There have been so many highs: seeing her cover for the first time, holding a physical copy of her book, and receiving glowing endorsements from well-known authors and agents. But there have also been lows. She’s had to develop a thick skin over the years, dealing with rejections, and the rollercoaster of emotions that come with putting your work out there to be judged by armchair critics.
Perhaps the constant in Poppy’s life that has helped her through the tough times, as well as been there to celebrate the wins with her, is Poppy’s family and friends, most notably her husband and her dad who founded her fan club long ago. Interestingly, Alice is both her husband and dad’s favourite manuscript of the ones she has written to date. Another support to Poppy through her journey has been her publisher, Wakefield Press. Although a small publishing house from Adelaide, Poppy says that she is so grateful for the special attention from the staff at Wakefield, and hasn’t felt under any pressure which is important for a debut author. Her agent currently has 3 of her other manuscripts on submission, so Poppy’s dream of becoming a writer is well and truly her reality now.
So, now that she’s officially a published author, what advice does Poppy Nwosu have for all of us who have similar goals? ‘Don’t get overwhelmed,’ is her biggest piece of advice, ‘just sit down and write, write for yourself, and be passionate about your story. Although you may have an end goal of getting published, don’t write with a publisher in mind, write the story that you as a reader would want to read. Most importantly of course: don’t give up.’
Poppy has refined her writing style over the years, going from writing whatever scenes she dreamed about and making it up as she went along, to doing a bit more plotting and thinking about the story as a whole. The writing process has started to get a bit easier as she’s learnt so much about how to write and what works for her during the process of drafting a story. She says that she loves every one of the stories she’s written, and even if she hadn’t signed a contract with a publisher or an agent, she’d still be writing, if only for herself.
Not only is Poppy a dedicated, talented writer, she’s also a sweetheart and I feel honoured to have been able to meet her and help spread the word about her debut novel.
Making Friends with Alice Dyson by Poppy Nwosu
Alice Dyson knows exactly how she’ll be spending her final year of high school. With her head down, quietly concentrating on her textbooks and homework. She’s focused on the future, and nothing and no one is going to get in her way. Until a bizarre encounter with the school’s most notorious troublemaker derails all her plans, turning Alice into the unwilling centre of attention and her life into one enormous complication.
And even worse? Now Teddy Taualai won’t leave her alone.
A story about rumours, friendship, and discovering who you really are.
Making Friends with Alice Dyson is out on March 1st via Wakefield Press and launching exclusively at Dymocks Adelaide on March 12.
Get your copy from Dymocks, Readings, Booktopia, Book Depository, or ask your local bookshop to order it in if they don’t have it in stock.
Check out Poppy’s website for info about writing, publishing, and everything in-between.
Good luck with your debut Poppy, Isabel and I can’t wait to read Making Friends with Alice Dyson!