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Durham University student Alice Oseman secures book deal age 19

North East student Alice Oseman has become the talk of the literary world with a book deal at the age of 19

Alice Oseman
Alice Oseman

Alice Oseman is currently back home from Durham University and, like students across the country beginning their summer break, she’s planning to have a holiday.

Unlike most students, however, Alice has taken on a hefty new workload along with a role which sees her very much in the public eye this week.

The 19-year-old from Kent has just published her first novel, Solitaire - written when just 17 - which will be launched at a special party in Birmingham today: the first in a two-book deal she’s secured with publishing giant HarperCollins.

Naturally she’s hugely excited: “I haven’t seen it in a bookshop yet,” she says. “But some people have and they’ve been sending me photographs from the shops!”

You get the impression that English student Alice, who has just completed her first year at Durham University, can’t quite believe her luck.

She’s been the subject of a flurry of newspaper interest and last week appeared perfectly comfortable on TV in a BBC Breakfast interview about her coming-of-age school-set story featuring a 16-year-old girl called Tori Spring.

She wrote it when she was just 17 and yes, confesses Alice, it does feel a bit scary letting her beloved characters out into the big, wide world.

But it’s “a good feeling”, she says.

“I feel really happy to be sharing something so important to me and hopefully other people will enjoy them as I did.”

Central character Tori has a complex home life, pessimistic outlook and a general feeling of being out of step with her school pals. Then geeky new boy Michael Holden enters her life.

But, as stated very clearly on the book’s cover, “this is not a love story”.

So don’t expect mush; instead it promises a quirky look at contemporary life as the school is targeted by pranksters.

“It’s something I started writing just for me and I really felt for the characters,” says Alice.

“I hadn’t shown them to anyone, except one friend who read a few chapters before I sent them off to an agent, but my other friends didn’t know I wrote!”

It’s something she’s always enjoyed. As a young child she’d copy out her favourite books. “That slowly evolved into writing my own short stories, then my first long one which turned into this.”

Now those friends are “really happy for me”.

And no doubt a little surprised. Whereas first-time writers notoriously struggle for years to generate even a tiny glimmer of interest in their work, Alice’s first chapters, tentatively sent out, were snapped up.

She did her research before pitching them to agents in early 2013 and says: “I was lucky enough to get a reply from one of the first - so lucky, as that’s quite unusual.

“I must have found the right person at the right time.”

With her agent on board, the two-book deal quickly followed.

But forget good luck, it was raw talent that brought Alice to the attention of publishers and reportedly triggered a bidding war among them.

She’s now at work on book number two which, other than an upcoming trip to Scotland with her proud family, is set to occupy her free time.

It’s a contemporary tale about young adults this time and, with expectations high, it’s a challenge.

But Alice finds her writing is developing as she goes along.

“I try to write with a unique voice and with my second book it’s interesting to see the difference.

“I can definitely see the change which is a good thing. I’d rather have a different book than just write the same kind over and over.

“This time I’m thinking about the last year at school, the transition between school and university and the feelings and changes that come with that.”

Drawing from life is what gives a kick of truth.

Alice has been enjoying her own taste of student life in the North East, saying: “I’d been looking at courses, trying to see where had the best English courses, and Durham had one of the best so I ended up applying there.

“And it’s really good - it’s been fun!”

With Solitaire set in the kind of school she went to and featuring characters her own age, Alice faced the obvious questions but, no, they aren’t based on real people.

“Lots of people ask if it is at all autobiographical,” she says, “but not at all.

“I just used what I know, all writers do, and school is something I knew best so I’ve ended up writing a contemporary story.”

She has no plans to take Tori and co. further.

“I’m not saying there’ll never be a sequel - I think that would be possible as there are lots of characters in Solitaire who could have their own spin-off - but I’m not planning that in the immediate future.”

The big plan is to develop writing into a career. “That’s the dream. Hopefully, it will happen.”

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