“I’d assumed that because I was young, no one would want to publish me”

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‘Solitaire’, the debut novel of St John’s English Literature fresher Alice Oseman, sparked a bidding war among the UK’s major publishing houses. Alice wrote the novel aged only seventeen, and it follows its cynical protagonist Victoria Spring through her tumultuous first year of A-levels.

talks to Alice about online blogging, Young Adult fiction, and  how it feels to be a published novelist (as of July!).

What made you want to write?

I’ve been a writer since I learnt to read! Slowly my portfolio expanded from copying out my favourite books into writing stories of my own. I don’t know what originally made me want to write – all I know is that characters and stories appear in my head and the only way I’m able to get them out is to write them down. Nowadays, now that I’m aware of the influence a book can have on a person’s life, I’m trying always to express things in my writing that might help someone and/or make people’s lives better.

How much does your own experience influence the content of your novel?

Unsurprisingly, Solitaire is hugely influenced by my experiences, as it’s a novel set in a school, and I wrote it while at school. While there was never an onslaught of pranks at my school, I was strongly aware of the isolation and loneliness felt by my peers. Sixth Form was a strange time where friendship groups drifted apart, nobody really cared about anything and people were starting to form serious relationships. Everyone I knew had a sort of self-deprecating cynicism about everything, and everyone was waiting to get out of school and begin their lives.

At the same time, the internet showed me another side to my peers’ behaviour, particularly when I joined Tumblr. On the internet, usually on Tumblr, people who I thought I knew were unafraid to talk about their deepest fears and their darkest thoughts. Tumblr users who I didn’t know in real life introduced me to other things – experiences with mental illness, homophobia and transphobia, feminism, politics and war. These were things that I’d never heard discussed in school. The internet opened my mind to a world that was darker than I’d ever thought, with people who were consistently afraid to express their feelings in real life.

“The internet opened my mind to a world that was darker than I’d ever thought, with people who were consistently afraid to express their feelings in real life”

Which genre does it fit best? How does it relate to the Young Adult fiction genre?

I’ll always argue that Young Adult fiction isn’t a ‘genre’. Young Adult fiction simply covers books with teenage characters that supposedly appeal to teenagers. But people of all ages read YA fiction, and there are vastly different books within this category – romance, dystopian, paranormal, contemporary, literary, historical, etc. – just as there is in adult fiction. The Hunger Games, for example, is nothing like YA classic The Catcher in the Rye.

If I had to put my book in a genre, I suppose it would be ‘contemporary realistic fiction’ or a ‘coming-of-age’ novel, as it’s set in the modern day, there isn’t any magic or monsters or dystopian worlds, and it deals with some tough issues faced by many people worldwide. I’ve been undeservedly compared to John Green and Rainbow Rowell, two ‘contemporary realistic’ YA giants, and if I received even ten percent of the attention they’ve had in recent years, I would be overwhelmingly happy!

How did you go about getting your novel published?

The classic way! In the February of my Year 13 (2013), I submitted my first three chapters, a synopsis and a query letter to several literary agents after having researched their interests and found agents who would be interested. I’d spent several months before that researching how people get published by traditional publishers (i.e. HarperCollins, Penguin, Random House, Bloomsbury, etc.), and finding an agent was the first step. Luckily for me, my wonderful agent Claire got back to me within only a few weeks and wanted to read the full novel, and a few days after that, she offered to represent me. I literally cried from happiness.

Over the next few months, Claire helped me to make Solitaire into a much stronger novel, and then she submitted the manuscript to a range of publishers in August. By the end of August, I had a two-book deal with HarperCollins. It all happened much faster than I’d expected it to – during my research, I’d read that it often takes years for authors to find a publisher, even after they’ve found an agent. I’ve been outrageously lucky!

How did you feel getting so much interest?

Honoured and so grateful. When I wrote Solitaire, I honestly didn’t think it stood much chance against all the other incredible novels being published today. But when publishers started sending in positive responses to the manuscript, I was just amazed that so many people enjoyed reading my words and that my age hadn’t given me any sort of disadvantage. I’d assumed that because I was young, no one would want to publish me. Now I hope I can spread the word to other young people – age should never be something to hold you back.

Which writers do you admire?

I greatly admire writers who use their large audience to spread good ideas and talk openly about important issues, such as Matt Haig and Lauren DeStefano, who both often discuss their experiences with mental illness. Lauren DeStefano is also a role model in the field of feminism, and frequently comments on the gender-related issues in the publishing world. I also admire advocates for LGBT+ and racial diversity in literature, such as David Levithan, Patrick Ness and Malorie Blackman. They all inspire me to use my writing to make the world a better place, and I hope if I ever acquire a large audience I’ll be able to fight for things such as equality and awareness.

Solitaire high-res coverHow have you found being at Durham and do you see yourself more as a novelist or a student?

Balancing writing and university work has been a little tough, as there’s no real ‘end of the day’, like there is at school. When I was at school, I could come home, forget about school work, and spend all my free time writing. But there’s no ‘going home’ at uni, and there’s much more work to do! Despite that, writing is something I love to do and has never felt like work or a chore, so finding time hasn’t been too difficult.

I’d have to say that I still feel more like a student than a novelist. Perhaps once my book’s been released and people start reading it I’ll feel differently, but for now, at least, I’m just another student trying to get through essays and exams!

Photographs courtesy of

‘Solitaire’ will be published 31st July 2014 by HarperCollins 

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