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In conversation with Alicia Jasinska

An interview with Alicia Jasinska in the lead-up to her Sydney Writers’ Festival appearance.

This article is part of Honi’s coverage of the Sydney Writers’ Festival.

Alicia Jasinska is a fantasy writer from Sydney. Her debut novel, The Dark Tide, was released in 2020 and follows Lina Kirk and Queen Eva as they grapple with ancient magic threatening to disrupt their city and their growing feelings for each other. I spoke with Alicia ahead of her appearance on the panel ‘Better Living Through Fantasy’ at the Sydney Writers’ Festival on 1 May. 

SO: In regards to your debut novel, The Dark Tide, how was your experience writing it and finding a publisher? Were there any roadblocks?

AJ: It was a long journey. I started writing it a few years ago, and it went through so many different drafts, rewrites, and changes. It wasn’t the first book I’ve ever written but I did try to get an agent and get published before then. It took me a while … at least a year, and then we reworked the book together to make it better. After that, when it went through to the editors — it took months. I remember lots of worrying and crossing fingers. But then we found an editor in the United States, and one in Australia, as well. It was a dream come true. 

SO: You spoke briefly about the changes the book went through. Can you tell me more about them and what inspired the new ideas? 

AJ: I got the first idea for the book when I was watching Wicked the musical. It is one of my favourite musicals, and I always really liked the two main girls and I wanted them to end up together at the end of the story which, of course, never happened. And sitting in the audience and watching that story play out several times made me realise that growing up, I never saw a lot of fantasy stories about bisexual women; about girls falling in love with girls. I knew if I wanted to see that story, I would have to write it myself. 

SO: Was worldbuilding difficult for you? Did growing up in Sydney inform your sense of place in any way?

AJ: Definitely. In The Dark Tide, when I was thinking of building this island and how all these different people came to live there, I ended up drawing on experiences of my own family and how we came to live in Australia. Lina’s family represents my mum’s, and Eva’s my dad’s who came here as refugees. Everyone has different stories about how they ended up in Australia, and I used that to inspire my worldbuilding. 

SO: What do you like the most about your characters?

AJ: Ah, I don’t know. They’re both very interesting characters. I have given them parts of myself so that I can relate to them and get into their heads. I like Eva’s antisocial personality and her goth clothing. And Lina is a bit of a romantic, and sometimes that annoys me, but I also think it’s really endearing. I love them both, they’ve been with me for a very long time.

SO: The book is an enemies-to-lovers slow-burn plot. I have often found it is difficult to write real ‘enemies’ without the characters doing unforgivable things. How did you balance your storyline? Were there any other tropes you enjoyed using?

AJ: You definitely need the buildup and the tension. With enemies-to-lovers, you need to get the balance right. It can’t be too slow because then readers get bored; but if it happens too fast, it doesn’t have that payoff. You have to make it so that the ‘bad’ character doesn’t do anything too unforgivable; but even if they do, the reader needs to understand why they acted in that way so that they can, at the very least, empathise with them. As for using other tropes, I really loved having the sunshine character with the grumpy character. I love fairytale tropes, with repetition and dark magic. 

SO: A lot of your writing seems to be inspired by folklore. 

AJ: Yes! The Dark Tide is a very, very loose retelling of The Ballad of Tam Lin, which is an old Scottish folktale about a girl who goes to rescue the boy she loves from a wicked fairy queen. I took that as a base, and capture that fairytale fantasy feeling with a queer twist. 

SO: Are you excited for your panel at the Sydney Writers’ Festival?

AJ: Yes! I’m super excited. And super, super nervous. I’m not a great public speaker. I was approached by the head of the YA program and asked me to be involved because she read The Dark Tide and really enjoyed it. I was super surprised, but extremely flattered to be invited. Being on a panel with Garth Nix is amazing — I read his books growing up as a teenager, and now I feel like I have to pinch myself.