On 3 February, I was lucky enough to attend An Afternoon with Alice Oseman at Conway Hall in London. The Waterstones exclusive event was held to celebrate the 10th anniversary edition of Oseman’s debut novel Solitaire. Oseman was joined by actor Jenny Walser who plays Tori Spring in the Netflix adaptation of Heartstopper.

First published in 2014, when Oseman was just nineteen years old, Solitaire is a searingly honest and authentic YA novel which follows sullen, self-deprecating teenager Tori Spring. Her life becomes a lot more complicated, however, once she meets Michael Holden, her polar opposite and devout optimist. It’s a classic black cat and golden retriever relationship, with a whodunnit mystery thrown in the mix. Solitaire also introduces readers to a beloved cast of characters who would go on to appear in Oseman’s other interconnected books, aptly titled the Osemanverse, including Heartstopper fan favourites Nick and Charlie.

The conversation began with Oseman discussing the process of writing and publishing Solitaire. Oseman started writing the novel when they were only seventeen years old before it was picked up by HarperCollins two years later. Rather than arriving as a fully formed and fleshed-out character, Tori grew out of a short story exploring the internal life of a pessimistic teenager riding the bus to school. At the time, Oseman was experiencing “an obsessive Catcher in the Rye phase” which makes sense given Tori’s characterisation. She is incredibly Holden Caulfield coded.

When discussing the intention and inspiration behind Solitaire, Oseman revealed that they were simply “trying to write about the world that [they] knew and about people like [them].” Literature can be a wonderful form of escapism and imagination. However, it is often the stories that are a little closer to home which tend to resonate more, especially when it comes to representation. All of Oseman’s books explore LGBTQIA+ storylines and characters. While Tori’s asexuality is not explicit in Solitaire (since Oseman themself had not yet come to terms with their own identity), her journey is explored in the Heartstopper webcomic, coming out to her younger brother Charlie in Volume 5. Oseman even hinted that this storyline would be expanded in future seasons of the Heartstopper adaptation.

Reflecting on the early stages of their career, Oseman stated that Solitaire “was written by someone who really had no kind of inhibitions about what she was writing. She was just writing about anything that she wanted.” Oseman hopes to “get back to that one day.” For many, this is the appeal of Solitaire; it is incredibly honest and unflinching in its portrayal of adolescence. You can tell it was written by a teenager for teenagers.

Solitaire, and the wider Osemanverse, explore complex issues such as mental health and eating disorders. When asked about their decision to tackle difficult themes, especially in the YA genre, Oseman replied, “I think it’s because they’re real […] It’s what real people are going through every day. And what teenagers are going through every day.” They insisted that “it’s just real life.” For readers who discover Solitaire after Heartstopper, they may be surprised at the difference in tone and maturity level. While both explore the aforementioned themes, Heartstopper remains reasonably light-hearted while Solitaire is much darker. Nevertheless, both are undeniably authentic and real.

Since the Netflix adaption of Heartstopper premiered back in April 2022, Oseman has gained a wide audience of not only young adults, but older fans too. In an article for The New Statesman, TV critic Scott Bryan discussed the strange sense of melancholy that queer adults may experience in response to Oseman’s work. There is simultaneously a sense of joy and grief – joy for the younger generations who get to grow up with Heartstopper, but grief for the older generations who were robbed of such representations. When asked about this phenomenon, Oseman earnestly articulated that “it’s […] really special to know that people of all ages can find something in my work that they can relate to […] I’m very grateful.”

So, what’s next for the Osemanverse? Well, Oseman is currently in post-production for season 3 of Heartstopper so fans can look forward to that later this year. They are also plotting the sixth and final volume of the Heartstopper webcomic. However, never fear, Heartstopper fans! Oseman revealed that they “will not stop drawing Nick and Charlie until [they] die.” Hopefully this means we can expect more mini-comics even after the series comes to an end. Looking beyond Heartstopper, Oseman hopes to create new characters and storylines, expanding the Osemanverse even further.Both the 10th anniversary edition of Solitaire, featuring new cover artwork and sprayed edges, and Heartstopper Volume 5 are on sale at Waterstones now. The new editions of Nick and Charlie, This Winter, Radio Silence, Loveless and I Was Born For This are available for preorder.

Categories: Arts Books

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