I was recently lucky enough to work with the lovely Alexandra Sheppard. She was one of the wonderful writers who worked with the young people on my community writing project, Write By You. She talked about how she combined her love of myths with all those things that make her unique in order to write the engaging YA novel Oh My Gods! I wanted to share some of her thoughts with all of you, so read on to find out how you write a book about Zeus and Aphrodite living in North London:
Your book combines the mythical world with modern-day London. What is it about myths and mythical characters that drew you to write about them?
I’ve been fascinated by mythology (especially Greek mythology) since I was a child. Disney’s Hercules played a big part in this, as did the picture books I was surrounded by. Illustrated books outlining myths and legends from around the world were my favourite stories – it blew my mind that every culture had different ways to explain the world.
With Greek mythology, it was the gods and goddesses themselves that had me hooked. They were such awful people – vain, capricious and quick to anger. But that made them so interesting! When I wrote OMGs, I particularly relished writing the gods because they had these qualities.
Your central character has a strong sense of identity and culture. How did you create that and why is she such an important character for you?
Identity is a big theme in the book; the question Helen asks herself throughout is ‘Where do I belong?’ She’s the odd one out in her family and her friendship group, but by the end of the book, she’s bridged the gap between herself and both groups.
Although I think we’re very different, I put a lot of my younger self into Helen. The question of belonging is universal – who hasn’t felt like they don’t belong, especially as a teenager? I think that’s why the story has such a broad appeal.
I loved the way you combined things like social media and Olympus. Were there any particular challenges in writing a modern-day myth story?
Modernising ancient mythological elements was the most fun! That’s the bit I enjoyed the most, in terms of world-building. The biggest challenge was ensuring my story felt fresh and original. I’m not the first author to modernise Greek myths, so I had to make sure I wasn’t leaning on existing texts.
The YA market can be a challenging place. What was it like to publish in such a competitive climate?
Publishing, in general, is competitive. It’s tempting to do everything you can to make sure your book is noticed, but that ends up getting exhausting and takes away from your writing time.
In my debut year, I learned to accept that the commercial success of my books is largely outside of my control. So I leave the marketing and PR to the experts and focus on writing the best stories for my readers. They will find me eventually.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Don’t think, just write!
Alexandra Sheppard is YA author based in North London. Her debut novel OH MY GODS was published by Scholastic in 2019 and was featured in Buzzfeed, Refinery 29 and The Guardian.
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