Today I have the pleasure of interviewing YA author Tonya Alexandra. Tonya is a very generous committee member of my CBCA subranch, where I have the privilege of catching up with her from time to time. The Incredible Story of Olive In Love is the first of a YA series picked up by Harlequin Publishers. The book launch for Olive In Love was at a brewery – a far cry from the kid’s book shop or library story-time sessions for picture book launches! What a hoot! Tonya doesn’t like talking about herself very much, but she is passionate about her writing: there is nothing she enjoys doing more, even passing up friends’ suggestions of going to the beach or out to cafes to stay at home and spend time doing what she really loves – writing.
Let’s start at the beginning, Tonya: where did your interest in writing for children come from?
I’ve written since I was a child – I guess I never grew up! Having three sons has kept me well grounded in children’s literature. I read to them every morning before they go to school (we’re currently reading the Harry Potter series). It’s my favourite part of the day and it helps with my writing too. JK Rowling is such a master. She so deserves her success.
Why YA? That is, what interests you particularly in this genre?
I love how fast paced YA is. It’s not bogged down in description like adult novels can be. It’s an exciting part of a person’s life too. Kids are testing the boundaries, taking risks, learning who they are. They are emotional and vulnerable and looking for adventure. How could you ask for better characters?
Olive is invisible. Her grandmother was cursed by a gypsy in Ireland to make her invisible to all but her true love and it passed down the generations. Now Olive lives in Sydney writing a gossip column and hanging out with her best friend Felix, who is blind and doesn’t believe she is invisible. She had to stop seeing her other friend, Jordan, because Jordan’s parents were worried their daughter still had an ‘imaginary friend’ at thirteen. Jordan is bitter and lonely. And then she meets Tom – the only person who has ever seen her. He has to Mr Right? Right? Or maybe not…
What a fantastic idea – and so much to explore and play with!
Your books have a strong references to ancient mythology. Where does that interest come from what do these references add to your story?
Magic. I love magic. Anything unreal actually. I don’t know where it came from but I was obsessed by fairies and Enid Blyton when I was a kid. So maybe that? But any good story has magic. Always.
How did you learn about and practice the craft of writing to get it to a publishable state? Did/do you belong to any critique groups, attend courses and association events? If so, how did they help?
I think you pick up the craft of writing through loads of reading and loads of writing. That means editing over and over and over again. I’ve only recently joined a critique group – which I find very helpful. (Shout out to the Down the Rabbit Hole girls!) If you can find someone to give you honest feedback on your work it’s invaluable. Books have been helpful. I love Stephen King’s On Writing. Courses have been good for making contacts.
How did you know when your stories were ready to submit to a publisher? What feedback did you get and from whom?
I sent the manuscript of my first book Nymph to a competition. It was read by a writer (who hated it) and a reader (who loved it). This was brilliant because I knew if I changed everything the writer hated about it, I could improve it for the reader, who already liked it. The key is to listen to feedback – you’re never going to get it perfect first time. Be humble. Re-work it and re-work it again. If you are writing for children – give it to a child to read. But yes, it is very hard knowing when it’s ready. There’s no secret equation.
How were your books picked up for publication?
I met a publisher at a NSW Writers Centre event – who doesn’t take unsolicited manuscripts – and put on my bravest face and asked if I could send her something. She said yes and I truly didn’t think I’d hear from her. But I did. It was a phone call I’ll never forget. Just like in the movies. I swear publishers become publishers just to make that call.
Ha! And I love how attending events and being brave really paid off for you!
Next month we’ll look at the encouragements and challenges that Tonya has faced in writing for kids.
In the mean time you can visit Tonya’s website here
and mine here.