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Q&A with Annie Wilson

Annie Wilson is a warm and wonderful member of WA's YA community. Her YA manuscript, TREEHEARTS, was longlisted in Fremantle Press' Hungerford Award! Bianca chatted to Annie all about her novel and her experience entering the prize.


Congratulations on being longlisted for the Hungerford Award with your YA novel, Treehearts! Can you tell us what it’s about?

Thank you so much! Treehearts is essentially a coming-of-age novel about working out what we want our world to be like and how to do something about it. Seventeen-year-old Emma learns this when the remnant banksia woodland next to her family’s dog shelter is slated for development at the same time as she falls for a Deaf boy who doesn’t date hearing girls.

What was the inspiration for the story?

Firstly, I have extraordinarily fond memories of reading Maureen Daly’s novel Seventeenth Summer. Daly captures the slow dreaminess of a gentle romance that occurs over a long, hot summer so beautifully. Treehearts is quite a different story, but I tried to get a similar sense of pervading heat and the living of small, important events in our lives that become our history. Growing up in Perth, most of my teen memories are of long, hot summers where the weather affected every choice we made, so perhaps that is why I related so strongly to Daly’s book.

Secondly, I am heartbroken about the incremental destruction of the small patches of bushland in our suburbs. We all know that these remnants help many of our endangered species cling to existence, hold importance for our First Peoples and benefit everyone’s mental and physical health. And yet, we keep building on them. I wanted Emma to become confident standing against habitat destruction because we can all ‘act local.’

I can’t tell you why Elliott, the love interest, is Deaf. He arrived fully formed on the page 😊 I’d always been interested in learning Auslan, so his existence made me do some basic courses, at last. Although he’s not the main character, I wanted him to be a true representation for the community. I cold emailed Perth-raised, Young Australian of the Year 2015, Drisana Levitzke-Gray, and she kindly agreed to be the professional Auslan Consultant for the story.

Can you tell us about your writing journey so far?

I started writing seriously about four years ago. Prior to that I’d started, but never finished, a few novels. I decided it was then or never, and had some time. I was lucky enough to win a Highly Commended in the Australian Society of Authors Mentorship Program 2020 for the third manuscript I completed - this manuscript actually! That was a huge boost to my confidence plus introduced me to Kristina Schulz who is a terrific YA and Children’s mentor. When I won a place in the FAWWA Four Centres Emerging Writers Program, I was able to continue having Kristina as my mentor plus attend lots of fantastic workshops with Fremantle Press and published authors. In between all that I attended Marlish Glorie’s Nuts and Bolts of Writing a Novel at Fremantle Arts Centre and met my great writing group. I need solitude and silence to write, but also a team of cheerleaders who get what it’s like. If you’re a beginner writer and all of this seems like a lot of connection into the writing community, please understand that I started out literally knowing no other writers. Felt embarrassed to state publicly that I wanted to write books! I had to try to believe and lean in. I took a breath and spoke with a random classmate at a Perth Writer’s Festival workshop and it all basically started from there.

What made you enter the Hungerford, and what was your experience with entering?

I’ve heard nothing but good things about Fremantle Press, particularly the care taken with editing and the support of their writers. These are things that are important to me. In addition, Treehearts has such a West Australian setting that it just felt right!

The manuscript had been drafted many times before submission, although with no structural changes, thank goodness, because they are my least favourite part of writing! I actually added two extra scenes in the weeks before submitting. One was the first scene, because I saw that a more meaningful meet-cute was needed. I think I was able to write it then because I knew the characters inside out by that point. From what I remember, the actual submission went smoothly enough back in March; I try to submit at least a day before because I’m terrified of computer glitches!

What was your reaction when you found out you made the longlist?

Well, I’ve written a long, emotional version of events on my blog if anyone really wants details! In summary, complete shock. I know how many brilliant writers there are and so much luck is involved with making a longlist. Then, just immense gratitude. The path of my life has been as windy as many others and there was no guarantee that I would ever believe in myself enough to get the work down and put it out there. Basically, now, there is Annie pre-Hungerford longlistee 2022 and Annie post! Very, very grateful. I truly believe this will help me write more freely and with trust in myself.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

I’m definitely still an aspiring writer myself, but because I’m also a teacher, I have a need to share what I’ve learnt so far! Firstly, and most importantly, read. Then: Listen to writers talking about their work on podcasts and in all the free interviews available online. Go to workshops you can afford. Learn about publishing – all the names and genres may seem overwhelming at first, but they will become familiar with continued exposure. At the same time, do what works for you. Stop listening for a bit if you need space. Lean into your writing. The more you write, the more you’ll write. Understand that there will always be a time for self-discipline and a time for kindness to self and learning the balance can be hard and is ongoing work. Walk, if it works for you like it works for me and many other writers. When you have a plot problem – write out all the thoughts about it with paper and pen. The questions you have. Everything. This works almost without fail for me. Almost lastly, find your people. Other writers who know how to give kind, useful feedback. Do the same for them. And, absolutely lastly: trust the process. It will be up and down - and sometimes part of the process will be majorly freaking out - but ultimately, manuscript after manuscript, you will see the process always gets you to the end if you keep getting up. That’s been my experience anyway.

The Hungerford Award Ceremony takes place on Thursday 20th October. Follow Annie on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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