Road Tripping with Pearl Nash by Poppy Nwosu
Poppy Nwosu’s new novel is Road Tripping with Pearl Nash (Wakefield Press).
Pearl Nash is a slightly awkward, loveable character with an authentic voice. Her road trip doesn’t go exactly where she planned, but along the way we meet her family and friends, particularly Obi – and his fear of axe-murderers. The story is full of humour, and plants (which form the appealing chapter headings), places and parties. Issues that include racism and aging are explored well, and with a light touch.
I’ve interviewed Poppy on the blog about her previous YA novel Taking Down Evelyn Tait.
Here Poppy talks about Road Tripping with Pearl Nash:
As soon as I started writing fiction for young adults, I was asked the question, ‘Is this character based on you?‘
It happened in every interview, and during most conversations, people wanted to know the same thing: was the protagonist of my YA novel teenage me?
It was one of the (many!) surprises of my first year as a published author back in 2019.
Each time I would scoff in disbelief. ‘Of course not,’ I would say. And secretly I would think, ‘I write fiction! If I wanted to write about myself, I’d write memoir!’
It fascinated me, the way readers sought to find me in my work. I felt like I was constantly disappointing them when I said I truly just made everything up.
Fast forward a couple years and one extra YA book release, and I found myself on a week’s residency in the Blue Mountains as the lucky recipient of the SA Writers Fellowship residency at Varuna Writers House. I’d never been on a writing retreat before, and was determined to make the most out of my time spent in such a beautiful environment. I began work on a new YA novel and within my week at Varuna I finished the (very rough) first draft of what would eventually become Road Tripping with Pearl Nash, my third published book. As I worked, I looked out of my Varuna cottage window at a misty mountain landscape, cosy at my desk as rain lashed the surrounding trees. On the page, I was writing a story about a road trip through a flat endless desert, about heat-drenched wild seascapes and dry summer fields on isolated farms. It is my favourite thing about being a writer. Drawing on my imagination and revelling in the absolute freedom of making things up.
I was certain that I didn’t need to base my stories on real life to make them feel real.
Except when I brought my manuscript home for my husband to read, he immediately said to me, ‘The main character is you, and the love interest is me!‘
I think I was more surprised about it than he was.
Had I really written a book about myself?
Well no, not exactly. The story itself was certainly a work of my imagination and the interactions between the characters were all made up. But after some examination, I realised that many character elements were indeed drawn from my real life. The main character in the novel, Pearl, grew up rural in the country, wears braces, and has a painful brand of awkwardness that makes her worry a lot more than she should about what other people think of her. The love interest, Obi, shares his heritage with my husband (Nigerian / Tamil), makes a lot of the same jokes my husband does, and is obsessed by the novel Dune. My husband was also quick to point out that Obi is described in the book as being very handsome and popular, which my husband was very pleased to claim as being inspired by him.
This unexpected revelation made me think more deeply about writing truth into fiction, and made me realise that really, I’d been doing it all along. I think maybe that is part of what makes fiction feel authentic and real. I don’t mean writing about real places or real people exactly, but more the idea of true emotions being plucked from life and used to populate a fictional world.
For instance, although Road Tripping with Pearl Nash is a coming-of-age novel that focuses closely on romance, friendship and road tripping, I realise now that I was also exploring my feelings around grief – in that less-talked-about stage of being quite a few years on from the initial loss. I also wrote about the casual racism that people like my husband endure, as well as delving deep into my feelings around messy, complicated families, and the idea that you can love your family members deeply but still not always have positive interactions with them. I also wrote about the fact that sometimes problems can’t be completely solved and instead must be lived with and managed, with no satisfying resolutions or endings. All those elements feel like true life to me.
Writing Road Tripping with Pearl Nash has been an interesting experience. It made me realise how much I love to use fun, positive and romantic fiction to explore real truths that feel important to me. I see it now as a way to sort out my own experiences and thoughts around certain topics, rather than trying to impart wisdom. I still whole-heartedly believe in the power of imagination, but now I also think that, in a strange way, fiction is imagination mixed with a collection of an author’s own thoughts and experiences rolled up and disguised within a fictional story.
Maybe it’s that combination between imagination and truth that makes fiction so special.
Author InterviewTaking Down Evelyn Tait by Poppy Nwosu at PaperbarkWords