Reading Matters 2017: Author Talks: Alison Evans (#YAmatters @_budgie @CentreYouthLit)

 

Melbourne-based Alison Evans’ short stories, essays and comics have been published in various Australian and international journals, magazines and zines. They are the co-editor of Concrete Queers (@concretequeers), “a zine about fun queer stuff”, and have published three books – Long Macchiatos and Monsters (2015), We Go Forward (2016), and Ida (2017).

At the 2017 Reading Matters Conference, Evans participated in two panels: “Invented Worlds, Real Feelings: Writing authentic Teen characters” (hosted by Jessica Walton [@JessHealyWalton]), and “Fresh Meet: The household names you don’t know yet” (hosted by Samantha Forge [@samanthaleesays], Programming Officer at the Centre for Youth Literature). When asked how they reach back to their own YA years in order to write books, Evans said they still remember those years clearly. They are only 26 “and the world is still new and scary”.

Walton suggested there is real magic in our world and strange things do happen. Teenagers have always known freedom, going where they want to go and doing what they want to do with life. Yet suddenly everyone expects them to be an adult and do something. In this sense, how can authors best equip their teen characters?

In their response, Evans talked about researching the real world while writing science fiction and fantasy. Their book Ida is set in specific locations across Melbourne because the protagonist Ida is unable to differentiate what is real and what is not. In the process of helping their characters figure out a way to live and survive, authors need to “chill out” and take as much time as necessary to develop the story. “It doesn’t matter what others think.”

According to Evans, we need to read gender-fluid and transgender characters because our understanding of this issue is still evolving. Especially for transgender teens, they need to see this evolution and know that they are not alone. Most people do not have such experience; nor do they have the energy and/or time to discover more. Hence they have no idea what these teens are going through.

When asked to introduce Ida, Evans perhaps could have done more than reciting the synopsis printed on the book’s back cover. Their choice of reading revealed a terrifying moment of realisation that Ida experiences in her story:

The floor tiles freeze the soles of my feet as I walk back through the kitchen. In the living-room window, I’m reflected. My hair is sticking up at the back, so I reach up and smooth it down.

It’s when my reflection doesn’t do the same that I startle back and don’t know what I’m seeing, because there’s only one of me. My heart is beating too fast and my windpipe is clogged. Asthma was a fiend from my childhood, the pain is familiar but I haven’t felt it in so long.

I put a hand on my chest and close my eyes, feel the blood course through my body. The thing in the other room is not real because it can’t be real. It’s impossible, there’s only one of me. If I don’t look it’s not there.

My heart starts to slow, but my breathing is still not working properly. I open an eye a sliver, and the other me is gone. (p.73)

Evans admitted they nearly lost Frank, Ida’s cousin, in the book’s editing process. If it were possible, they would definitely sit down to have a cuppa with Frank. “He has a future.”

You can see Inside a Dog’s interview with Alison Evans for the 2017 Reading Matters Conference here.

 

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