Perth based Alicia Tuckerman only released her first novel ‘If I Tell You” this year, but is quickly becoming a driving force for young LGBT voices. In the novel she has drawn on her own life experiences growing up in rural NSW to explore both the triumphs and cruelties of modern day adolescence. “It is the most troubled parts of my life that have led me to want to write young adult (YA) fiction. Embracing and really owning your life – all the grisly bits too – can make for great story telling.”
Alicia was drawn to writing ‘If I Tell You‘ because of the paucity of novels featuring two lesbian characters. As a gay woman, she is keenly aware of the significance of such a novel for young gay adults. “If a novel with similar themes had existed when I was growing up, it would have given me a character and a situation that I could relate to and it would have helped me make sense of my feelings. The key themes in ‘If I Tell You’ are of bravery and self-acceptance and, despite the homophobia, which is an important part of the story, there’s a strong message of hope,” says Alicia.
Alicia is presenting at two sessions at this weekend’s Bellingen Readers & Writers Festival. We wanted a bit of an inside scoop before she arrives.
Alicia, have you been to Bellingen before?
No I haven’t! It looks so beautiful and I can’t wait to come and check it out. I’m hoping to get time to explore some of the region if I can.
Have you been flat out on the Writers’ Festival Circuit since the release of your first novel ‘If I Tell You’ this year?
It’s been a busy few months. I attended Sydney Writers’ Festival in May which was wonderful and such an unexpected surprise to be invited. I’ve been doing a lot of creative writing workshops and events locally in Perth too. It has been flat out, but I love it!
The novel’s protagonist is a 17-year old gay female, living in a rural town in Australia. Would you say this character is autobiographical or at least in part based on your own experiences?
I think that certainly some of Alex’s fear, hesitation and struggles with self-acceptance come from a place I know well.
I grew up around people who had the opinions and perceptions expressed by characters in the book and I’ve also experienced my share of homophobia in the past (and present). That said, Alex’s story is her own, she is a character independent from me and her experiences in the book aren’t specifically my own.
If the main themes in the novel are something that you know so personally, have you been working on this novel for a long time?
I started writing ‘If I Tell You’ more than ten years ago. The first draft was over 200,000 words long and it sat untouched on my computer for about five years before I went back to it. The finished product is quite different from where it started but I always knew this was the story I wanted to tell first.
Was it difficult to write? The sense of hurt and isolation in the book is so tangible.
There were certainly some parts that were hard to write, but I never want to shy away from that hurt or dilute those feelings. Because life can be painful and teenage pain is real and can be so overwhelming – I think it’s important to acknowledge that. Some things are difficult to write and read about, but they’re real and they have a place in YA fiction.
Recent changes to the Marriage Equality Legislation, changes in the public mood and the very fact that this novel has been published in 2018- must give you hope for future LGBT youths?
Marriage Equality is, of course, wonderful. And I absolutely love that the prevalence of queer characters driving narratives in books and film and TV is increasing. But I think it’s a common misconception within the wider community that simply because Australia achieved Marriage Equality that means homophobia and discrimination and fear and self-loathing are things of the past. There is a great sense of hopefulness for a future free of those things. We’re not there yet, but we’re getting there, and I’m so humbled to be a small part of the fight for equality and hope.
Where to from here? Have you got a second novel in the pipeline?
I have a couple of things on the go. Right now I’m concentrating on one book and will hopefully be finished writing it by the end of July. It’s Bend it Like Beckham meets The Story of Tom Brennan with a little bit of Riverdale thrown in to keep things interesting!
At this year’s Bellingen Readers & Writers Festival you are part of a panel discussion- ‘Writing for Youth’- A New Generation of Readers and Writers. What are the main themes you are hoping will be explored in this session?
With no offence to previous generations, I think young readers are smarter now. They’re switched on and they want stories they can relate to, that reflect their experiences and feelings and what it’s like in their world on the cusp of adulthood, living at lightning pace.
Being a teenager has changed a lot since I lived it myself and you have to work to keep current, particularly when writing contemporary fiction as I do. I hope we can explore the challenges of writing for an ever-changing young audience and how to write authentic and engaging stories that will appeal in a world that’s so saturated with content.
You will also be part of a panel discussion- ‘Challenging Women. Perspectives on Life and Writing’. The women on the panel are all from very different backgrounds. What themes do you hope will be explored during this session?
There is fantastic diversity in fiction written by and about women that should be celebrated. I’m so proud to be able to share the stage with the other women on this panel. I hope we can discuss how our own histories have influenced our writing and the audience we like to write for. I think to some extent most people have a tendency to want to disassociate from their past – or from certain aspects of their past – but for me, it’s the most troubled parts of my life that have led me to want to write YA fiction.
‘Writing for Youth- A New Generation of Readers and Writers’.
Saturday June 9th, 10.30 am-11.30 am. Bellingen Youth Hub.
Single Session $20. Under 20 years- free.
‘Challenging Women. Perspectives on Life and Writing.’
Sunday June 10th, 9 am- 10 am. Bellingen Memorial Hall.
Single Session $20.