One of the hardest parts of being a writer is playing the waiting game. As writers, whether emerging or established, we spend a lot of time waiting. We wait for inspiration. We wait to hear back from publishers. We wait for edits. We wait for feedback. We wait to be published. We wait to be rejected. We wait to be successful. With all this waiting, it can be hard to stay motivated. Self-doubt can creep in, making you question whether you’re cut out to be a writer at all. One author who has ridden that wave of self-doubt and come out the other side is Alicia Tuckerman. We sat down with her to find out about her writing journey, career path and how maybe all things happen for a reason.
GYWO: Hi Alicia, thank you so much for talking to us today. Can you give us a quick introduction about who you are and what you do?
AT: I grew up on a farm in rural NSW and I moved out of home when I was sixteen to attend a performing arts high school in Newcastle, where I also went to university. After that I moved to Sydney, then Brighton in the UK where I lived for four years before returning to Australia.
I now live in the Swan Valley with my partner and our two kids, our axolotl Clarence and hermit crab Shiny. I work in a law firm representing Plaintiffs who’ve been catastrophically injured in accidents and my office has no windows. But there are two coffee machines which is amazing because I am a self-confessed coffee addict.
I’ve been writing stories for as long as I can remember, but other than a love of words, I’m a proud country music fan and my favourite movies feature singing competitions, underdog sports teams and highly choreographed dance battles! Despite doing ballet for ten years, I can’t dance to save my life.
GYWO: Your debut YA novel is being released by Pantera Press in 2018. What’s your book about?
AT: My book’s about being seventeen and growing up in rural Australia. Falling in love for the first time, following your dreams and disappointing your parents. It’s about figuring out who you are on your own terms and learning to wear your skin like it belongs to you.
Being brave enough to live your life, even when your life is terrifying.
Oh, and the main characters just happen to be Queer.
GYWO: The journey you’ve taken from aspiring author to getting a publishing contract is incredible. Can you share that with us?
AT: In a word, it’s been long! I started the first draft of this book in 2006 and I did what a lot of people do, got half way and lost steam. Lost confidence and got distracted and I didn’t write much of anything for years. But the simple fact was I wasn’t ready to write this book. Either my craft hadn’t evolved or my mind wasn’t prepared. I simply wasn’t in the right space do the story – any story – justice.
And it’ll sound trite, but I literally woke up one day and was like, ‘Ok, I can write this book now’.
I started again, all I kept from the first draft was the general idea and two of the character’s names. I submitted it to Pantera Press in October of 2015 and I waited. And I waited some more, and in February 2016 I sent them an email asking if they’d read my book and I got a reply to say it was getting close to the top of the stack and to hang in there. By June 2016 I was convinced they weren’t interested so I decided I was going to publish it myself.
I started a Facebook page and became that really annoying friend we all have! I designed a cover, brought the software to convert the files into ePub files, brought an IBAN (book barcode number) and rented space on a virtual Mac – because you can’t upload anything to iBooks from a PC – and in August 2016 I hit submit. And iBooks promptly rejected my file because the html code was corrupted.
And the very next day I got an email from the editor of Pantera Press apologising for the delay and saying that they were interested in my book. They said that if I was willing to make some changes I should and then resubmit. There was some more back and forth but on 21 March 2017 I received two emails, one from my editor and one from Alison Green, the CEO of Pantera Press, with my contract.
I went over to Sydney in April 2017 and spent the day at the Pantera Press HQ and left with a signed contract and a bottle of Moet… and another lot of editorial notes!
There are a few more steps but if all goes to plan it’ll be out in 2018.
GYWO: Probably the first time in history anyone was glad to have a catastrophic coding error (maybe, I didn’t do any research into that comment). What made you go with Pantera Press and how have you found the experience so far?
AT: I’ve been dreaming of getting published since I was seven so I’ve had a lot of time to think about publishers! But in 2011 I started properly researching publishers in Australia. Who was accepting unsolicited manuscripts, who was publishing Australian YA, who was presenting fresh, Australian voices and taking risks on unpublished authors. And I looked at the usual suspects; Penguin, Fremantle Press, Allen and Unwin – and I did actually submit a story unsuccessfully to Pan MacMillan in 2012.
In 2013 I started reading more about Pantera Press, not only were they committed to publishing new Australian authors but they were doing interesting things within the community with their partnership with Misfit Aid and their Good Books Doing Good Things mantra. I respected their altruistic approach and felt they had a real sense of authenticity and social conscience that resonated with me. So, from that point I made it my goal to get my book published by them.
And since working with them I haven’t questioned my choice for a second. They’re well known in the industry for their ‘Nice Guy Policy’ and I couldn’t have asked for a more talented or supportive team to work with.
GYWO: What is your writing process like? Are you a seat of your pants type or a plotter?
AT: My writing process is probably best described by saying there is no process! I start with an idea or a point of view or theme I want to express and then I see where the idea takes me. Sometimes an idea for a character or plot line or even a line of dialogue will present itself like a shadow passing a window and I have to stop whatever I’m doing and write it down before it disappears again! I write everything down because you never know when you might need it. And I have a five minute rule, if I’m working and I find myself staring at the screen for five minutes, I leave a bookmark and move on. Because if the words take longer than 5 minutes to come, they’re not coming – at least not then.
I work full time and have a young family so my day starts at 4:00am. I get one and a half hours of writing time in before I get ready for work. And then I have a long commute to the office so I write a lot on the bus and the train.
I make it a point to write something new every day – even if it’s only five minutes in my lunch break at work. I get one of my many notebooks and write the first thing that comes into my head. And at the end of five minutes sometimes I have nothing more than a poorly constructed sentence and other times it’s not bad. I have notebooks full of these paragraphs and if I could turn them all into books I could stock a library!
GYWO: You spoke earlier about working full time. It’s no secret that writing today is not a very lucrative career move for the majority of people. We still have bills to pay though. Respecting the confidentiality of your contract of course, is your book helping to pay the bills? What kind of financial deal can first time authors expect in this industry?
AT: I might not be in the best position to answer this question seeing as my book hasn’t been released yet! Of course I dream about quitting my day job and doing what I love and only that and making enough money to pay the bills and have a life. But my motivation behind writing has never been to get my name on the Forbes List – and if it is, then perhaps you should rethink it!
Pantera Press operate a rather unique financial model within the publishing arena in that they offer their authors a 50/50 profit split rather than the traditional 7-10% royalty arrangement. I discovered this when I was researching publishers and it was something that really attracted me to them. For want of a better adjective, it just seems very… fair – and in fitting with their Nice Guy Policy!
GYWO: You are holding the Write Out workshop at the Centre for Stories in Perth this September. Tell us about the project and your motivation behind this.
AT: At the risk of sounding dramatic, words – reading and writing – have saved me on more occasions than I can count. In the darkest alleys of my life the one thing that never let me down were words. I owe my life to them and I feel it’s only fair for me to pay it forward. To introduce the power of words to others.
Write Out is an initiative which aims to encourage young people between the ages of 12-22 to explore creative writing, poetry, journaling, letter writing, song writing or any other form of written word expression not only as an outlet for their emotions but as an escape from their realities.
Write Out seeks to provide an opportunity and platform for young people to develop confidence, friendships and to hone their tools for critical thinking whilst nurturing writing skills within a safe and accepting space.
The first workshop I’m running with The City of Swan is happening in Ellenbrook on 2 September 2017 followed by the workshop at The Centre for Stories in Northbridge on 7 September 2017. Write Out will be a regular part of the council’s workshop programming going forward and once I see what the response and feedback is from the workshop at The Centre for Stories, they’ll hopefully continue on a monthly basis.
The response and enthusiasm for the program has been amazing. I wasn’t sure if anyone would get what I was trying to do! I’ve wanted to launch a program like Write Out for years but no one ever emailed me back before! Not even a thanks but no thanks! But everyone I’ve spoken with has been really excited to get involved with the program and I’ve had contact from the WA Aids Council and Headspace and some other organisations asking for me to present workshops tailored to their clients so it’s all happening.
GYWO: Who are some Queer artists that inspire you?
AT: I’m inspired by the pioneers and the underdogs. In relation to positive Queer visibility in the arts there are so many people who have been tirelessly turning up for years. Lily Tomlinson, Jane Lynch, Jodie Foster and let’s not forget Virginia Woolf!
More recently I admire the tenacity of Ruby Rose, Troye Sivan and Michelle Heyman.
I’m inspired by lots of people – Queer or not – who are prepared to be outspoken. People who have the guts to say what needs to be said and those who can use their elevated platform to do good things.
GYWO: What is your favourite YA book and why?
AT: This is a tricky one because there are so many! So if I absolutely must pick, I’m going to cheat and give you two answers.
My favourite YA book from my adolescence is Letters from The Inside by John Marsden. It’s exquisitely written, the characters are well defined and the friendship between Tracey and Mandy is unquestionable despite the girls never meeting. It’s sensitive and engaging and I can still recall the first time I read it!
My favourite YA novel that I’ve read in the last five years is The Story of Tom Brennan by another great Aussie author JC Burke. I love Burke’s writing style, the honesty and the raw emotion in the narrative, the story of Tom who has to live with the consequences of his brother’s actions. Love and loss and reinvention and the twisted dynamics of a family torn apart by tragedy. I cried reading this book. On the bus.
GYWO: Do you have any plans for the future? Book 2? More workshops? Dipping a toe into Fantasy fiction?
AT: The plan is to write as many books as humanly possible! Tell the stories that need to be told and give voices to the characters that roam within those stories!
I’m passionate about writing, my own and that of others. I’d love to have even a small part in encouraging the next generation of writers. Through my workshops I hope to be able to introduce teenagers and young adults to writing during what for most is a pretty tumultuous time.
As for fantasy? I think I’ll leave that to the experts! There’s no world I could create more beautifully terrifying than the one we’re expected to live in!
GYWO: Are there unique challenges in the publishing world for Queer writers? Have you experienced any hurdles in your career because of your identity?
AT: I can’t really think of any specific hurdles, other than to say I think it’s important to find a publisher where you feel that you and your stories will have a home. Where you’ll be respected and supported.
When I submitted my story I was concerned that my book wouldn’t be seen as being commercial enough. I was worried that in writing a story where the central characters were Queer, I was essentially pigeonholing myself and that mainstream publishers would shy away from the subject matter.
But I’m pleased to say there have been no hurdles to overcome as yet. I’m not as naive to think that there won’t be any challenges in the future but I’ll deal with them if and when they come up.
GYWO: If you could go back in time and give your younger self some writing advice, what would it be?
AT: As corny as it sounds I think I’d tell myself to never quit. That dreams do come true. To stop believing that things will never happen because sometimes, if you work really damn hard, against the odds, they do.
Get YA Words Out is proud to be helping out Alicia with her Write Out workshop on September 7 at the Centre for Stories. You can find more details here.