From The Hunger Games’ Katniss to Divergent’s Tris, the recent boom in feisty, headstrong females in popular fiction has never been stronger — a trend young adult fiction writer Edy Graziani couldn’t be happier about. Edy spoke to t! about her new book Alice: Angel of Time, the importance of strong female role models and her top tips for budding authors
I felt it important to continue the story as the first book ended with a cliffhanger. It tells the story of a couple whose love spans 500 years, all due to an ‘experiment’ gone wrong by Leonardo da Vinci. Alice of the Rocks is about a young lady, Alice, who lives in the year 2029, the near future, and eventually travels back to Florence, where she was born. She meets a young man to whom she is mysteriously drawn. In 1512, where our story starts, we follow the love story of Elisa and the main male character, Claudio, who is a high-born member of the Medici court in Renaissance Florence. He falls in love with Elisa, a scullery maid. This goes against social norms, but he doesn’t care about her station. The two stories, one playing out in 2029, the other in 1512, intertwine, all set against lush Tuscan scenery – with a lot of Medici treachery and meddling for good measure!
Your books all feature independent, strong-willed female characters. Why is this important to you as an author?
Having a role model to inspire young women and girls to overcome obstacles and achieve their goals is something I always try to encourage in my students. Alice is a strong female protagonist who goes back in time to save her young man, which is quite against the grain as we’re so used to it being the other way around.
You hold a university degree in History – something which sparked your interest in Renaissance literature, and inspired you to set part of the book during the 16th Century.
In what ways have fictional representations of women evolved from previous centuries to the present day?
The reason I wanted to set the book in 1512 is because I wanted the reader to know what would it feel like to be a woman in that era, in order to give young women an appreciation for the way things were and how we have come a long way throughout history to achieve parity with males.
Interestingly, I started writing ‘the book’ when my daughters began watching Keeping up with the Kardashians. In my opinion, I felt that those influences weren’t really ideal for girls. This is a very different experience to, say, the 1970s when women had influences like Gloria Steinem and Women’s Liberation movement. In those days, women and girls tried to make themselves be respected, but now I almost feel we have gone backwards on this with the proliferation of certain celebrity culture.
The book contains a time travel element. What inspired you to set it across five different centuries?
Part of the reason I did this was for entertainment value, everyone loves a good imaginative story – one that takes you away from the everyday! I also felt that in order for the book to deliver its message, it had to be fun. Another element I incorporated was the tender love story; and one that focused on the story of young woman.
Did you find it challenging to write the narrative of Alice from a teenage perspective?
It was challenging at first, but then I really came to enjoy writing for the Young Adult genre. Young readers don’t want to have adults’ opinions forced upon them, but at the same time, as an author, you are trying to deliver an overall message. I like to entertain as I write, but I also write with a purpose.
When I write, I don’t “feel” a certain age – I think the important thing with any story is to write it from your heart. Readers can see right through you if you’re not being honest in your craft. Plus, my daughters keep me “young”! When I hear them speak to their friends, I tap into what they are saying, which definitely makes the task of writing for the teenage audience much easier.
My mother has Alzheimer’s disease and growing up, I heard a lot of stories about her experience during her childhood. I felt it was important not to let these stories fade away, as there are important lessons to be learned from them. My mother’s experience is only a small window into an extremely difficult time for millions of Europeans who had very similar experiences. I could not let them fade away and not pass them on. This way, other generations will be able to learn lessons from the mistakes of the past and hopefully not let them be repeated in the future.
The book received great reviews for its use of imagery and depth of historical research. How do you go about researching your stories?
In the case of War in My Town and Alice, I know the places and settings intimately. War in My Town is set in Tuscany, where my mother grew up, so I have been in her world and met her siblings, and heard about some of the hardships they experienced during the Second World War. For Alice, I had to do a lot of research in terms of the scientific aspects of the novel. Even though it is science fiction, it still needs to have a basis in science fact.
In terms of the writing process, I find it quite easy to recount stories – when I visualise them, it feels like a movie running through my head. Alice is set in Florence, which I’ve visited so many times with my family. When I wrote it, I used to close my eyes and think about how I wanted the story to play out, and then just write.
Recently, there has been a huge trend for young adult fiction novels featuring assertive, headstrong female protagonists (e.g. The Hunger Games). Why do you think this is?
I think that authors are tapping into a market that probably hasn’t been tapped into before; they are focusing on young women in a different light – as strong-minded and independent, rather than the femme fatale figure. A good example of this is the new Divergent series, which is hugely popular at the moment and features a strong female protagonist, Tris. It’s also fantastic to see the same thing happening in Hollywood at the moment with films like the new Ghostbusters, which has an all-female cast. We’re seeing more and more roles for women, and people are liking it and becoming more interested in women as leading characters, especially in action films.
When you’re not busy writing, what is an average day like for you?
I work full-time time in an elementary school as a grade four teacher, but in my spare time I visit high schools to speak to literary classes, where I talk to students about the writing process, including how to create storylines and characters, where I find inspiration and where I draw stories from, as well as other aspects, including the editing and publishing process.
And finally, what advice would you give to any aspiring writers?
My main piece of advice is that every story starts with a blank page. I would say, just write; if you don’t have something on the page, you don’t have anything to edit! A good place to start is by getting everything you can think of down on paper, and fix it up later.
It’s also good to do plenty of background research. While writing Breaking Faith, I had input from a psychiatrist, as I wanted to make sure it was as authentic as possible. The book is about a young girl with mental health issues, and she told me that one of the protagonists reminded her of a girl she had been treating.
I would also recommend doing lots of reading, and if you run out of ideas or inspiration, to set it aside, carry on with something else, and come back to it later and carry on. That way you’ll come back to it with a fresh perspective.
Alice – Angel of Time: Part Two is now available to purchase via Amazon in ebook format.