Patti Smith, Caffeine, Assertive Wit - Alyssa Osiecki goes large
Please enjoy this completely staged photo a friend took of me at my favourite writing spot in Edinburgh reading the complete lyrics of Patti Smith!
When did you first hear about the CWIP Prize?
I attended the panel at this year’s Stay At Home Literary Festival. I thought, “witty women in writing? Sounds like me! Helen and the other panellists were so warm and encouraged us all to enter. So I made a mad dash to brush up my manuscript and here we are.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you’ve been writing?
I like to say I’ve been a storyteller since I could talk which is a nice way of saying I never shut up as a kid. I dictated my first “books” to my mom (you could say she was my first editor) and I’ve been writing in some form, whether it’s plays, short stories, a travel blog or novels ever since.
Talk to me about teenage angst: Was it manifested in poetry or diary form?
I was a prolific diary writer as a teen so now there is proof in writing of what a hot mess I was. Most of my writing was about how dreamy my first boyfriend was and how I couldn’t wait to get away from my hometown. I’ve definitely mined my high school journals for material about first love and heartbreak. That’s coming in my next book.
Can you describe what your novel, WHAT WOULD JOAN JETT DO?, is about in two sentences?
Rookie teacher Annie channels her inner punk rocker to conquer her anxiety, stand up for her students, battle #metoo moments and maybe even get the guy. A novel about all the stuff they don’t teach you how to handle in school…with Duran Duran dance parties.
Did you set out to write a funny book?
It definitely felt like a risk to write a funny book about serious stuff like mental health and social justice but in the end the story didn’t want to come out any other way. I’ve always felt like humour is a really powerful way to cut straight to the truth and I hope other people will connect with Annie’s struggles and feel more seen.
What inspired you to explore classroom politics and antics?
I have a saying that all the best teachers are punk rockers at heart. You have to be a bit of a rebel to get things done. I was tired of reading books about teachers who just fall into the profession and are magically good at their jobs, not to mention I was tired of reading books that had one dimensional kid-characters in them. I wanted to tell the truth about what it’s really like in an inner-city school and I wanted it to be a damn fun read.
Your protagonist Annie channels punk goddesses to tackle difficult situations — who’s your go-to to invoke in times of need?
My go-to is always Patti Smith. She’s so courageous with everything she does and she’s always 100% genuine.
Who do you enjoy reading?
This year I absolutely devoured Queenie by Candice Carty Williams, Duck Feet by Ely Percy and My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithweaite. I adore contemporary novels and to me the most exciting writing coming out of the UK right now is by young women and non-binary folks!
What’s your most cringe moment in the last five years if you’d care to share for our delight?
Oof. I lived in Zürich for four years and trying to date and be witty and charming in a language I only had a first grader’s mastery of was one long cringe moment!
Where does your writing magic happen, and can you tell us about your writing routine?
I wrote the lion’s share of the manuscript for What Would Joan Jett Do? at my favourite café in Edinburgh. I love a writing space with a bit of hustle and bustle and an unlimited supply of coffee. Lockdown definitely threw a monkey wrench in my routine and I had to learn to be less precious about it and just write whenever I had the time. I don’t wait around for inspiration. Even if I have no idea where I want the story to go I make a deal with myself that I’ll sit down and write say, 500 words and if I hate it I can delete it later. Most of the time I end up writing much more than that and some of my best ideas have come this way.
Helen Lederer – have now googled Patti’s lyrics as currently have major vacancy for role model with bite - thank you Alyssa for rousing us with assertive wit #becausethenight
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