Literary Mixers - Alicia Tuckerman and Holden Sheppard

Literary Mixers is an event pairing emerging authors with established authors as they talk candidly about their journeys to publication: their highs and lows, friends lost, and amount of wine and chocolate consumed during the writing process. Authors confess their innermost fears, share their vulnerabilities, and reflect on the joys of being a writer.

On the evening of 9 August 2018, YA Authors Alicia Tuckerman and Holden Sheppard shared their individual journeys to publication at our monthly installation of Literary Mixers. 



Alicia: And so Holden and I were talking about the pressure to write the fairytale. Because growing up, growing up gay there were no books, and certainly weren’t any happy ending books about gay people. I am showing my age here, you know, but when I was a teenager the only popular culture references are movies like Boys Don’t Cry and the Crying Game which is a terribly traumatic film is when you from a queer perspective. And that’s what motivated me to write this book just not to write a fairytale but just to write a book that was commercial where you could go down to Dymocks or Big W, pick it up from the shelves and it’s about two girls who fall in love. I wanted that. That’s what I wanted. But since I’ve jumped into this publishing world, I’m realizing that people will tell you that you’ve written a story that they didn’t want or that there are things in it, and, thats not what young queer people want or need. I think both Holden and I have struggled a little bit because we write real-world stuff and the real world is cruel and it is hard and it is horrible and people are mean and yes of course, there’s room for happy endings but there’s also room for reality. And I didn’t go about writing to only please a certain audience. And then, didn’t want I mean, I think I think the book has some great, great messages of hope and hopefulness and thing and being able to come through that adversity. But now that I am, you know, staring down the barrel of miserably failing and writing another book. Oh, let’s not go there!

Holden: I will be going there!

Alicia: I find myself questioning my motives, not my motives, but how is this book gonna be received. Is it is it happy enough? Is it, is it the fairy tale is that the story that queer kids need right now?

Holden: Because you actually had someone come to you, like, who’d read the book and basically gave you a one star and was like, ‘It should be happy blah, blah, blah.’

Alicia: Another lesson is that I’ve had to ban myself from Goodreads. That’s a terrible vortex to fall into. Yeah, but I make myself feel better by finding my favourite books and reading their bad reviews. Right, it makes me feel great! Because I love these books, five stars all the away, but there’s like hundreds of people that say they are shit, so yeah.

Holden: So it’s like a baptism of fire. Yeah.

Alicia: Yeah, you’re right. And now people hate my stuff. I mean, I’ve had people be upset with me, not people I know, but I’ve had some readers be upset with me for not writing a particular type of book, which people think the world needs right now. And I’m not saying that the world doesn’t need that right now, I think queer kids need these happy stories, they need to know that it’s not all about self-loathing and homophobia and adversity. But I think there needs to be room, to be able to tell those stories without coming under fire, because that is the real world and that’s—but the things that I like to write are the really hurtful painful stuff.

Yeah, I mean Stephen King once said, ‘write what hurts’. And that’s kind of, I’ve tried to write fluffy happy things and they all end up dying in the end. It’s just not, it’s just not in me. But I think as I said I don’t think my book is a terrible book, it’s not a hopeful book, there’s some funny moments but I think it does what I wanted it to do. But I think Holden’s experienced some difficulties with getting Invisible Boys off the ground you know in relation to the subject matter.

Holden: Just a couple of people who had read it were saying stuff like effectively it was like, ‘oh  we’re done with, like, it’s really easy to be gay now so we’re done with that kind of the hard stuff but that’s finished now.’ And I was like, ‘No, have you lived it?’

Like, but it was really it was, I was really surprised because I think we see a lot of, especially on Twitter and stuff like that, like we’re looking for diverse voices and own voices, cool it’s going to be  a good climate to sell this story. And a couple of people are like, ‘No, I really want happy endings,’ like not even just happy endings but like happy stories that show everything is healthy and everything’s happy if you’re gay. That pissed me off so much, because it’s not. It’s like being human, like every other human there’s shitty parts of life and good parts of life. And what kind of story is it if it’s ‘everything’s roses’ you know? Then there’s no intentions or plot repercussions. Is there any character development? So yeah, that’s been, it’s been a weird thing to encounter.

Alicia: Yeah it is and I find being an Own Voices writer people within the community, within the lets use the term queer to save me from remembering all the letters, and let us know if I should know them but I struggle, but within the queer community, I think that we are perhaps because it’s our own voices, people will hold you to a bit of a higher standard. And if it were if you were just, you know, if I write a story about heterosexual romance no one will even bat an eyelid about me not knowing much about that. But I think it’s just writing YA and within the climate that we’ve just been through is just interesting and interesting YA just by itself.

Holden: So actually, YA just by itself without, without any kind of own voices and stuff. So I had something happen with the first novel that’s in the drawer so I wrote a fantasy initially before Invisible Boys and it was not good. So we don’t talk about it, I don’t give it a name. It’s just in the drawer. I still acknowledge that it is there though. But I had a mentor reading it, who was an editor through the ASA, and she kind of said like you can’t do this. There were a number of things that she said ‘you can’t do this in a YA manuscript.’ And I was like, ‘Well, yeah, I can it’s my book because I was an idiot.’ And so we did one round of edits and she said, ‘You can’t do this,’ and I can obviously ignore that but I’ll take on every other piece of advice because it’s all sound and she’s a really great editor. That one particular thing, I thought, ‘I’m gonna fight for this.’ And then she came back with the second round of edits, and she just went, ‘take this out.’ And there was like no argument. In hindsight it was, like, there was a killing in cold blood and I thought that was evidence for something but that she was like, ‘Actually no, get rid of it. You can’t put that in YA.’ Have you ever come across like, ‘You can’t do that in YA’? Because I thought YA was pretty, you know?

Alicia: I mean, I like to kinda use benchmarks. Like, I mean, I don’t write fantasy, but like, if Edward can give Bella a caesarean with his teeth…

Holden: Oh my god! Did that happen?

Alicia: Yes, if Hunger Games kids can go and kill each other for reality TV, but I can’t put in too much lesbian sex. And I was like, okay, I mean it wasn’t graphic but you know, all the sex scenes they fade to black because I can’t go into that; try reading those on the bus with someone reading. It would be a really interesting bus trip. Yeah, I mean I’ve been told the stuff that you have to have, in a way, and there has to be a love interest. Whereas the novel that I’m working on now is more of a friendship type novel, which is great. And I’m enjoying it again for about two months of hating it and wanting to throw myself and. But I’ve been told that there needs to be a love interest, even if it’s not the plot driving that. But there needs to be that and then the other thing, there certainly needs to be some conflict.

Pantera Press are really good. They’re very, very supportive. I’ve researched them really well and then, you guys are my tribe here in Perth and they are my other tribe there.

Holden: Actually, the way you found writing, the way you started writing was actually very interesting. Do you want to talk about that or?

Alicia: The abridged version?

Holden: Yeah, the short version but it’s interesting how you got there.

Alicia: It came about because 11 years ago I fell down some steps and broke my neck and I had to be in bed for a while. And so I was bored. I’ve written, I’ve always been a writer, ever since I was a kid I was always writing

Holden: She is like glossing over this neck injury…

Alicia: It’s fine its fine my neck can move and it’s all good. I have always written, wrote as a child in competitions and writing camps and my mum was a Speech and Drama teacher. It was a very, kind of, creative environment for me to grow up on a sheep and cattle farm. It was fine, so, I mean, I’d always been interested in writing and when I was a teenager I went looking for these queer books and they weren’t there. Then when I was 25, when I fell down the stairs at work, I went down to the library in my neck braces and was like, ‘Let’s get some books out to read.’ I was living in the UK at the time so I was like, ‘Okay maybe this will be different. Let’s have a look in the YA section,’ because I mean I love YA books. I think YA is more of readership because anyone can read YA books and enjoy it. So I went to the YA section I was like, ‘Are there any gay books here?’. No. So I went on the internet and I was like, ‘Ten years later and there are still no gay books, I’m just gonna write one.’ I was like, ‘I got some time on my hands’ and so I sat down and I wrote the first draft in about three weeks, and it was a 256,000 words. Terrifying. Yes. And so, okay I’ve done that and then I went back to work and kept traveling around Europe and did my thing. And I just kept going back to it and so it took, like, years. Yeah, so when I say I’ve been writing it for 10 years—I didn’t mean I wrote it for 10 years—it was probably seven where I didn’t really touch it at all. I kept going back to it and reading it and honing it, I’d read other books I feel really egotistical but I’ll be like, my books better than this one. So kind of. Sorry.

Holden: We all have egos. All writers have egos.

Alicia: So I went in, so I kept just tinkering away at it, and then kind of forgot about it. I then came back to Australia and I was living my life and then one day I was at my job and had a few too many after work drinks on a Friday and I quit. I said I’m going to quit my job and write a book. This is where I was around about 27 years old. By this point, I quit my job. And then I sat around for about six months watching TV with my family. And I didn’t write my book.

So I had to go back and get a job. So I kept thinking about it but I did it more sensibly like a grown up in my spare time. So, in Okay, and then I got to the point I was like okay. So it was October 2015. By this point, and I was like okay I’m gonna submit this and I was like, who am I gonna submit it to? And I was like I’m gonna be smart about this because I was of the opinion that you didn’t need to submit it to one publisher, and you waited to hear back, and then you had to wait for them to make a decision before you send it to somebody else. So it’s like we have got to be smart about this so who am I gonna sent it to. And so, I am a bit of a researcher, so I ordered all the five quarters, the last five financial reports from Penguin, Pan Macmillan and Allen and Unwin, and when I looked into who their investors were found that a lot of them were heavily invested in by the churches, and I thought that perhaps it wouldn’t be wise, for a lesbian romance novel for a publisher that is funded by a church. So I was smart. And then I came across Pantera Press and I knew that they’d started in 2013 and they’ve been doing some really interesting things with, you know, Bondi Books, and lots of philanthropic stuff with literacy and indigenous communities and I thought okay these people are doing some good things maybe I can, you know, find my place with them. And then I wrote about their 50/50 profit split model I was like, ‘Yep, they’re my people,’ because that’s a really good deal. And so, I submitted to Pantora Press in the October of 15 and then I waited to January, February of 16. I haven’t heard anything and I was getting a bit antsy. So I emailed them and they were like okay, we’re really sorry, you’re getting close to the top of the list but we haven’t read it yet.

And so I waited until June and I was like fuck it. The idea of getting my book published is I’m like, I’ve got something to say with this book, so I was like I’m gonna do it myself and then I realized how expensive books are to print. And I was like okay hey, I’m not gonna do it. So I got myself an iBooks contract because anyone can get an iBooks contract so I registered for GST and I got my ABN and I bought the stupid ePUB software conversion thing, which is hard. And so I got my cover art and did the blurb and did it all myself and I was tinkering away. I was like, ‘Hey, I started a Facebook page’ and I shared the first chapter and I was like what do people think of this with my friends or family and then I share that with their friends and kind of gathered some blog posts and got some people interested in what I was saying. And so I submitted it into iBooks like put the button, put it in said how much it was going to cost. And then I got a thing back saying that the file was corrupted and has all these formatting problems. I was like, ‘Oh my god this is just never gonna happen.’ And then the very next day I got an email from Lucy, whose now my editor from Pantera Press, saying, ‘Sorry we took a year to get back to you, but we’re interested in, your book. Make all these changes.’ They were really good suggestions. I was saying to Holden the other day, I mean, in the final edit when Lucy had her turn and it lost about 15,000 words and I can’t tell you where they went. I read it. I don’t even know where they were cut from so they obviously didn’t need to be there. But I’m like, would I able to have them back like I might be able to use those.

Holden: The little off-cuts!

Alicia: Give me the scrap pile. There’s gotta be a good metaphor in there somewhere surely.

Holden: If the iTunes upload had actually worked out, you wouldn’t have actually been published.

Alicia: Yeah, iTunes would have owned it, so it’s very serendipitous that I suck at HTML coding. But yeah so that was the journey for you if I tell you, and now as I said I’ve missed my deadline for my next book was supposed to be submitted by the end of July and it was not so now I have until the end of August. And let’s, let’s see.

Holden: Living on the edge.

Alicia: Yes I have been living in a vortex of self-loathing and everything I write is terrible. Why would anyone want to read what I’m writing right now but although I just said to Holden, I open it up again today and it’s not as terrible as I remember. So I think we’ll be all right.

Holden: I am looking forward to it.

Alicia: Yes

Holden: Brilliant.

Alicia: Yes. What else do we need to talk about.

Holden: Okay, so I guess my journey, abridged abridge version, I swear. Started when I was seven years old. I decided I wanted to be a writer when I was like seven and I was reading like those Edith Blyton books—I wanted to write those. So yes, it started while I was very young, I used to write Pokemon fanfiction when I was a teenager. So, I used to be very, I’m still very, very geeky, but I decided I want to be a writer when I was really young. I grew up in Geraldton in like a working class background, just, you know, my dad does earthmoving. It was just like a really blue collar kind of upbringing so like writing was not really an option. And I, in fact, when I did my uni choices I was like, I’m gonna do science as a bookish kid I’ll do science at uni, because that will get me a job. Which, I don’t think even that would to be honest, because I don’t think it’s really that easy for scientists. So I didn’t, I didn’t choose writing initially. Then my folks said, ‘Don’t you want to be a writer? Like, shouldn’t you do something with that?’ They’re very supportive, even though they don’t fully get it. They’re very supportive parents. So that shouldn’t be around as I recall, I switched to a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in writing at ECU. And two of my lecturers are here to thank you guys for coming.

And I decided to you know pursue writing, I did that for a year, was a very angry kid. I remember myself actually telling me that I needed to reflect because I was always kind of raging about stuff. And so, but that was actually one of the best things that happened to me in terms of learning to write because I was always just like really arrogantly raging against everything where I can this literary theories crap I don’t need to read that, which was really juvenile. And, but also I think something that was said to me was like, okay, cool, that’s okay if you’re angry about it you can be angry because I am allowed to be like I’m actually allowed to express that I’m angry about something and that kind of blew my mind, and then from then on I was like, and then I think I was told to reflect on the anger Why are you angry. And so that actually started to make me reflect more and write more reflectively like about what I was feeling. So, at the end of the year I went back home to Geraldton, I decided I was going to give up uni, because it wasn’t quite working I was really angry kid, and I told I was working at the library with my dad so we’re digging trenches, to put in CCTV in Geraldton’s mall. And I was like cool this is an alright life like wake up at five you finish at three thirty. I’ll just do this and write a novel in my spare time. Anyone who’s worked manual labour knows that’s not really an option because by the time you hit three thirty you’re wiped. So I just decided that I can’t stand being around all these city kids and it’s just really daunting. I don’t know why. And then at some point during that holiday, the holiday it was a summer break I was like I’m gonna give this another go and I’m gonna give one more semester and see if something really clicks.

And then I wrote a story about the first time I wrote a story about like how I felt. And it was like me on the page. And it’s, it was called a man and about a man, it was not particularly inventive, but it was about the labourer, and it’s about how he was feeling about its kind of day to day trials and stuff. And my lecturer said something to the effect of, this is really good, you should submit it to journals. So I did so when I got published in Indigo journal if any of you guys will probably heard of Indigo journal. So I got published I was like, How the hell did that happen. And I was very confused like 19 or 20. That was the first step. So I got a little bit of confidence, finished the degree, lost all the confidence once you finish the degree. You know when you’re at uni and you’ve got a degree around you, you kind of feel like I don’t know it feels like you’re supported by something and you’re not falling into a hole. And then when you leave, it’s like well you got to do it yourself now, and I just fell into an abyss, and just worked full time in the bank. So I became a banker for a couple years hated it got super depressed. Went back to ECU and did honours. And that’s, that’s when I start to kind of kick things off, and actually take myself seriously as a writer, did my honours degree, wrote a piece that’s basically Invisible Boys. So it was, it was about being gay. It was about, you know, trying to explore the meaning of masculinity and homosexuality and I was really, really interested in that space, because I just, I find it really fascinating for myself and to find it represented very well in the literature. So I wrote about that but it was way too early, like something I’ve learned, doing the bright lights city thing that you that you came to see, and that you guys were a part of. Sisonke taught us about you ‘write from your scars and not your wounds’. And I was like writing from wounds at the time and it was just really traumatic. And so it just didn’t work, and it just like just made me absolutely nuts like I really couldn’t handle anything. Whereas when I went back last year and wrote Invisible Boys, it was a scar. And it was like it was, it was okay to start talking about it again.

I think I promised a short version I really did not mean to do that. Sorry, too bad. So about getting an agent. Yes, yes.

Alicia: How did you get the agent?

Holden: I feel really fraudulent actually because I didn’t, so I submitted the I wrote a manuscript fantasy novel submitted that out to… I spent two years on that and had a mentor and I was like, this is the novel and this is gonna, I’ve finally written a book and it’s gonna be the one and I pitched it to a few agents. You know, like Curtis Brown, and like a few others, and kind of came back one by one. No, no, no form rejections. I curled up into a ball and cried. And then I think next day I got a full request from one agent who said your writing is good and I want to read it. So I thought, yeah. That’s it. Which is not. So, the agent actually called me back a few weeks later I was running around the block and it was middle of summer and I had saved the agent’s number so I was like, ‘This is the agent’s number’ and I was like, ‘When they call I can be like, ready to go.’ So I was like, “Hi, it’s so good to hear from you”.

Sorry, I was like it’s so good to hear from you and He was like you might want to hear what I have to say first before we say that it was like a 30 minute phone call rejecting me. So I just got slammed in a really nice way, it was actually a gift because, because I would have expected if you were rejecting you would just get an email. But actually, he was willing to kind of talk me through what sucked. Essentially, and the one that stung me was that, and I think someone else was saying that but he referred to my writing is competent like it’s a competent novel, and I was like ‘Ow’, like you want your accountant to be competent. You want your writing to move you and I thought like, wow I suck.

And I’m competent I’m competent as a novelist but not like you know, I don’t make anyone feel anything. So that was really awful. And so he said, ‘Look, I’m gonna delete your manuscript, and it’s deleting your emails and it’s gone’. And I was like, ‘Okay Thank you Goodbye’. So I kind of that was like actually a low point, like there was a restructure at work  and I just lost my job. And then the novel that I spent two and half years working on failed. So I was like, this is the end, and I just was really really disheartened for about a month and I was just like, lurching around the house really unhappy. And then eventually I, you know, had my. ‘I’m gonna make it moment’, there was some gym involved a lot of running on the treadmill and a lot of Lady Gaga.

There was there was there was Marry the Night all the way and I was like okay well that failed, I’m just gonna, like, essentially was like fuck everything else. I’m just gonna write something much, because I was trying to make like a fantasy novel that would sell and that people want to buy and like, and you want a movie and I want to try to sell the film that would want merchandising, you know I was trying to make something work and it just didn’t. So I was like, ‘Fuck I’m just gonna write a story from the heart,’ and it was always just kind of, like, that was the one that worked, and I sent it off for the Varuna residency in July, and then totally forgot about it which is really awful. But then I submitted for the ASA emerging writers mentorship in November. A couple of days later an email came back saying, ‘Congratulations something, something’ and I thought, well, that’s weird because you can’t have possibly have assessed that in two days. And then actually looked at it and I was like, ‘Oh that thing that I forgot about.’ So I actually had won. So, that was awesome, because I was like Varuna, that’s cool, because Varuna was like a big deal.

Yeah I didn’t really know. So that was really cool and then based on that, Haley Nash got in touch, so she was one of the agents who rejected the first manuscript. And she got in touch with me. After the award and said, ‘Hello, are you interested in representation?’ or ‘Do you have an agent already and are you interested in representation,’ like, what am I gonna say to that? No thanks, I saw myself out there. So I said Yes, and she read, and I was at the gym again, literally doing like shoulder dumbbells or something with my personal trainer, and I was like this is an agent I’ve got her number saved and so I’m gonna run out the door and I stood at the door of the gym. There was like the guy doing like the Windexing and I was literally standing there, like the wind blowing the guy doing the Windex thing around me and it’s like 90s house music pumping out. And I’m like, ‘Yes ,yes I’ll send the manuscript off.’ And, yeah, she read it in like three days, loved it and said, ‘You’ve got a good voice and I’d like to represent you.’ So, and then, actually, this is something if anyone’s got a pitch for an agent and hasn’t before the first thing she asked me after I think before she saw me was like What else do you have? And I was not prepared for that. So quickly had to like race around and like find some documents of notes and stuff and just like find some projects that sounded good enough.

Alicia: Like make some shit up.

Holden: Like would you like a story about this set against the backdrop of that. And yeah, so, like I had to prepare that and she liked all three ideas. So I have four novels to write now. No pressure at all.

Alicia: None.

Holden: I was saying to you guys the other day, we were on the five am writers club.

Alicia: we were the five am writer’s club. Represent.

Holden: We’ve got a few of them here. But as I was saying the other day, some of us at the five am writer’s club, we get, we get on to like Twitter…

Alicia: We check in at five am, which we’re not and sometimes we pretend we’re writing, we tweet at five am. And pretend we’re writing. Some days we actually write it’s good to find a tribe to support you to help you to vent when you’re feeling like you want to jump out of a window.

Holden: Yes, in fact that’s been mostly what we do.

Alicia: We’re a support group. Well like writers anonymous.

Holden: Yeah. At least you guys have your novel out, like I’ve like got all the expectations of what we need to draft by this time, but I have none of the fun stuff like you’ve got a novel published. So that’s fun so I’ve been winging about that lately.

Alicia: I’ve been one of the lucky ones to read poster boy, which is coming into Griffith and it is kickass so don’t worry about.

Holden: Thank you. Thanks, I’ll pay you later. Thanks for the sponsored message.

Alicia: Messages coming in from…I was gonna say something but it’s gone.

Holden: That’s cool, no one’s watching.

Alicia: No, I was gonna ask you what you were working on now.

Holden: Yeah okay yeah okay cool yeah we should talk about, yes. So this is kind of a mystery thriller YA something or rather, so I just read One of us is lying by Karen McManus.

Alicia: Oh my god! Do you love it?

Holden: Yes. I’m writing something, not necessarily in that vein but I read that. This is where I’m ready to go. So it’s a bit of a mystery thriller element to it. I know you’re like smashing head against the wall about another way a contemporary.

Alicia: Yes. Yeah, I mean well that’s my pocket. That’s what I like to write about. It’s, it’s, it will hopefully be out next year if I can get it finished. It’s God. It’s a story about girls playing soccer is what it’s about. But it’s not actually about that. It’s about a girl who, who was a very successful soccer player who is in a car accident. And then, feels, and her best friend dies in the car accident. It’s. The Ballad of Tom Brennan meets Bend It Like Beckham.

Holden: When you actually said two girls playing soccer I was like was like, Bend it like Beckham.

Alicia: Yeah, it’s not actually like this is more about her. Like she had dreams of being professional soccer star that’s not going to happen in her life because of the injury so as more come to terms with that, to discovering that you can still enjoy something if it’s not going to be your career and you can do different things and it’s also you know a bit of rivalry between you know people who still can do all the things that she wanted to be able to, and she means it’s a friendship novel, and she meets this boy called Jasper, her dad is a soccer coach and she meets this PA teacher and they then move away to a new town after the accident to give everyone a bit of a fresh start so it has got all these YA things, new start, new school, new love interest kind of bit more like rivals to friends more than rivals to lovers.

Holden: People are gonna be shipping them.

Yeah, that’s what I want, I wonder. Yeah, I wonder and and Jasper the boy who plays soccer he is this gay jock. And he’s just living his best life and no one gives you know and can be happy. I think that’s the way I think I was struggling with this novel when writing this one because I thought I was the first one I wrote it and I’ve never been published before and I didn’t really let myself ever believe that that would happen now I feel like I’m writing for an audience and it’s got a tick all these boxes and it’s gonna make everybody happy. Everybody who picks up this book is gonna love it. And I was talking to Holden about it the other day and I think um I think I’ve got this thing in my head that is going to be better than the first one. And maybe it doesn’t. Maybe it won’t ever be maybe I’ll never write anything as good as what I’ve already written, but maybe, maybe I’ve got maybe there’s like five of those in our lifetime and the ones in between, and it’s going to be good books. And it doesn’t doesn’t have to be. I think I just keep feeling I’m just going you know what one of those people who read the first one gave it three stars on Goodreads and maybe they’d give my next one four stars. I’m super egotistical but that’s what goes on in my brain.

Holden: I think we all want to live up to that.

Alicia: I feel like you know I’ve got my, okay we’ll put you in the print schedule for next July, and I’m like, I haven’t even finished it. How do I do that and I have a full time job and a four year old and a six year old and a cat who has just gotten a kitten.

Holden: And Coles plastic collectibles.

Alicia: Oh my god! The Coles plastic collectible things, I feel like I was jumped here.

Holden: She is like selling them around the city.

Alicia: like I needed potato chips, not for me for my kids. So today, I left for work and left the plastic Nutella in my mailbox and a stranger came and left me a plastic potato chip.

Holden: There’s like a whole economy around this.

Alicia: It’s a thing. My children are killing me. I’m spending like $90 at the shops when all I need is bread for three pieces of plastic. Anyway, I digress. I’m also trying to write a book.

Holden: Just fit that right in there somewhere.

Alicia: But we’ll get there. That’s what five am writers is all about because when else can we write
other than five o’clock in the morning.

Holden: For me, it’s been like a game changer because I’ve spent most of everything I’ve done like a lot of short stories the novella you wake up at 5am you tweet a bit, but you actually do get like 1500 words or so done before work, and for you know there’s, you know, there’s an novella or there’s half a novel or whatever.

Alicia: That’s a cheaper way.

Holden: I don’t think it was our idea.
Alicia: I don’t know I don’t think we invented it. I think we got a Perth sect.

Holden: Sect is too strong.

Alicia: Fine. Perth..

Holden: We have some literature that we’d like you to read after this.

Alicia: Don’t drink the Kool Aid. Sorry. Does anyone have any questions.

Holden: Yeah. Cool.

Audience: How long do your creativity go like at five like how do you harness that when most people have their creativity at night, usually, how do you harness?

Holden: I would have thought that I had my creative time at night because that’s when I used to write because I’d come home from work and go to the gym then I come home exhausted. And that’s when I write. But actually, when you wake up, you’re really fresh. And, and I don’t get out of bed, actually. So I like everyone else gets out of bed, but yeah, just laptop, dark like no, no noise no light, and it’s kinda creepy actually. That’s how I work and it’s just everything flows really well because you haven’t done anything else within a day. So, your brains actually like 100%, whereas when you write at night, you’re actually pretty depleted.

Audience: So you’re sort of writing like straight out of dream state as well. When you wake up…

Holden: I think I’m lucid. I think I am, I don’t know. Is it the same for you? Do you write from dream state?

Alicia: By the time I get home from work and I’ve been sitting I have a desk job in the legal field. And so I’ve been on my computer all day. And I leave that in the Swan Valley so by the time I get home its like, tomorrow. And I just want to sit down and watch survivor.

Some nights are all right but in the morning. I don’t get it. I don’t get a chance so I start at five, but most, a lot of the mornings my alarm goes off about when I’m on deadline, as I am in the morning my alarm goes off at 3:30am and I’d have my coffee and I start at about four o’clock.

Audience: So what time do you have to sleep well at night?

Alicia: I’m not wearing one of those stupid watches that tells you how much you’re sleeping so I wouldn’t average up my last six months worth of sleep I get about four hours. And that’s I don’t recommend this to anybody because a complete breakdown and I had been awake in a fetal position because I’m tired. But I went out and I bought all these really cool different soluble supplements and I thought I could substitute good nutrition and sleep with using these German, Rauner and all these stuff in it like, Surely I don’t need sleep or food. I can live on this, and sugar free mother’s in the bin cans, like rotten my insides and so it didn’t work so I am now waking up at 3.30 and I missed my deadline and I told them that I can’t do it. I gotta have till the end of August.

Audience: How much sleep are you averaging now?

Alicia: At the moment I’m sleeping way more than average but I feel way more tired because my body is totally screwed up, because now I feel like I need my my my body broken. You will enjoy the next book.

Holden: Look what she is going through to make this happen. On the dream state thing are well thought but while I don’t feel like I’m just awake and fresh but while I am on that dream state, just before sleep, I often have like some of the best ideas, and I wake up all mornings and I’ve written half like half a lucid sentence and then the rest is like. Literally that and I’m like, Oh, this would have been so good but I don’t know what it was. So, I know there’s something to that little white that liminal space between awake and asleep.

Alicia: The notes in my phone and the other morning I woke up I had one that said pony violin bubble-gum.

Audience: I have a question for both you. Do you remember the point at which stopped thinking of yourself as a person who likes to write and thought of yourself as a writer? But you remember that not just in terms of external affirmation of someone giving a praise for the story. Someone’s publishing this, but was there a psychological shift for either of you in terms of identity. That’s a negative question.

Holden: No, no, I like it.

Alicia: Do you wanna go?

Holden: But I still feel like an imposter, I think, by having spoken to some of the five am writers club but like some of the stuff on everyone’s like me too and I’ve had like two books. I still feel that, but no there was a point where I probably would have had like a regular writing practice, like when I was probably in 2014, I would say. So when I started that fantasy novel, because that’s how I’ve taken myself seriously. I think that was the shift from being like, I like to write like I’ve done honors and I’ve done projects and I had a couple of short stories published but I wasn’t, I didn’t think of myself as like a real. I couldn’t get in front of room and say, ‘hello I am an author’. Like, I didn’t feel confident to do that. But once I was writing regularly. I felt like well I’m really doing it now. Every day and actually I’m not just talking about writing a novel I’m not just making notes like I was always making notes. But I was actually like I’m sitting down every day I’m writing a novel, and it might have been crap and it might have ended up in a drawer. But I took myself seriously, so I think it’s been when I started saying that I am a writer. And now definitely when I meet other people who say they’re an aspiring writer I’m kind of like, just call yourself a writer, like, like if you’re doing it, then you are it, and nothing aspiring part helps anyone, I don’t know, maybe it’s just for me but I like to just tell people be a writer, like, yeah, when you’re doing it. I think so. Do you find that?

Alicia: I think it wasn’t, I’ve always been a writer, I’ve never as far as professionally, I’ve never said Oh, that someone said what do you do, I would probably would now, because there was a moment but before this, even after the book after got published and it wasn’t until the book came out and I managed to get myself onto a panel at Sydney Writers Festival this year, which I was pretty floored by because no one knows who I am. Like I was one book that was out in March and the festival was in May. And, and I’ve said this to Holden before I mean I’d like to think it’s because of my stellar writing and not the diversity card. But if this diversity seat needs to be filled, I will fill it and I will, I am digressing a bit, because I am doing like this meetings where I had to meet this high school in Newcastle and they had a queer group and everyone came to meet me like, “Don’t you feel offended, don’t feel like they’re exploiting you for your sexuality”, and I am like mate, it has been working against me so long and they can exploit me for all they want. If they want me to fill in their rainbow ticks on their form, great! If it gets me in the seat and then I can talk about what I want to talk about all I need is to get in the door. Anyway, getting back to when I thought I can or that I think it was. I was in the author Green Room, it looks like a proper green rooms and even there’s like mics and the Madonna headset and everyone was rushing around and asking me if I needed a drink and it was like, give me water they bought me like a bottle of wine and water. And I am there and there is Patrick Ness, and I’m in this room and these people who were my idols are now my peers. And it was very kind of humbling, it was just kind of like, I’m hearing we’re all sharing this room, because we’re all authors and I’m about to go onto a stage with other authors and talk about our books and you know YA day and it’s that whole, that, that, you know, the YA day in the Sydney’s writers’ festivals, these festivals are over two days each year, there was a whole lead up to it and that was this big festival and that was where I was like, I think that was when I first of all, okay. You know, I, I’m now an author, like I can I’m in this room with all these other people and they call themselves authors. I can, you know, and then I was filling out a form for my kids school, and they asked me for my occupation and I wrote author down. And that was only this year but every day I still catch myself and I’m like, ‘What am I doing here, who am I?’

Holden: I think you have to get over like a fear of them. But when I started feeling like a writer. I was like just writing my first novel is that there is like a feeling of like, I am willing to accept being a total loser. But, no I mean that like I really meant that like I’m willing to accept into being a total nobody starting out writing his first novel, and like once I get over that I didn’t feel so much pressure to like have achieved stuff as a writer, I’m just starting out rather, but I had to be okay with like, okay, maybe I’m a failed writer or maybe I’m starting out right oh you know I’m not recognized but that’s fine I’m still a writer. And that helped me to start. Yeah, because before I was conscious paralyzed with the fear of starting.

Alicia: I started well yeah see I think if it’s something that’s regulated regular practice something you do every day, you’re a writer, I mean, that’s just it, you know, you sing every day, or paint every day or play soccer every day, or not even every day but regularly.

Holden: Good call.

Alicia: Anyone else?

Audience: In that Facebook thing that you sent out at first when you did your own when you’re going to do the release yourself. Do you think it got sent out to your public, do you think your publicist saw that and that’s partly what happened there?

Alicia: I asked them and they said they hadn’t, but maybe they had. I mean I didn’t, I didn’t name them by name, until when I actually signed the contract which was until the following March. So, that was. So, I mean, they might have seen that because I mean, I’m assuming publishers probably monitor that sort of stuff to see what’s going on. And to see you know if anyone’s got a platform, I guess, or a following already. I mean, It’s not like I’m following 700 people.

Audience: But you had good faith.

Alicia: Yeah, but don’t if they don’t know they’re just my friends. So, um, I don’t know, I’ve never actually, I mean I told them about it and they never seem to know what I was talking about. But maybe they did. I don’t really care that’d be, if that was the, whatever their motivation, I’m glad they got in touch because they’re wicked.

Holden: Can I drop in on this one because I put some stuff out independently and that actually did have a part. So I published my short stories that had already been published in journals that reverts back to you. After some certain amount of time. so I was like cool I’ll just put them out there because what’s stopping me, I can put up an ebook, as an independent publisher. Um, so I put those out. My paperbacks. Don’t tell them. So I put them out there just okay there you go like I just have something to talk about and it’s like there’s a sample of my writing kind of thing and a lot of authors do have either put something on the website or do ebooks or whatever. But when Haley called me so that’s my agent but before she was my agent. She said I’ll send you one this. I’ve got them on a demo with your stories, and I’ve read them out of your voice. And she said they’re really well done for independent stuff, but she was really keen on the voice. So, like I was actually a bit horrified and shit like I just put it out there not really thinking about who would see it. And actually, publishers will look at that and agents will look at that so I guess make it like the best stuff you can, but then look at that and go yeah there’s a voice there or No, there’s nothing! I think it’s a risky game though.

Alicia: I mean, it’s like, you know, wattpad and, yeah. Lots of people have got it on like Twitter. I am kind of new to Twitter, but there’s so many like call outs. The publicists are telling you, managing your wish lists. ‘This is what we want you to submit to us.’ Yes. Now go on the scroll on to the, wattpads and different people’s platforms to find this.

Both: Okay. Thank you very much.


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