Today we’re chatting with author Alison Evans about their new YA book, titled Ida. So, in honour of them being the co-editor of Melbourne zine Concrete Queers and a lover of bad movies, we will be conducting this interview while sitting on a concrete wall and balancing on our head a copy of the very bad 2003 film Gigli and the even worse 1995 film Showgirls. We’re sure they won’t mind.
So, Alison – for those who haven’t read it, can you tell them what Ida is all about?
“Ida is a girl who can go back and change any choice she’s ever made. She’s just out of high school and has no idea what she wants to do with her life, so she keeps skipping around between decisions, where she never really takes any responsibility or finds any direction. When she starts skipping too much, she starts to see shadowy figures of herself around, and she’s not sure whether they mean to harm her or not.”
Ahhh, the doppelgangers. Never a good sign when they show up. Okay, so, wait a second, just getting comfy here. Right, so tell us a little about how this story formed. Was there a lightbulb moment or did it evolve over time?
“After I finished work one day, I was about to go out but realised I’d forgotten to change into my party clothes. So I got out of my car, got changed, then got back in. Once I rounded a bend in the road, I saw there had been an accident. I wondered if I hadn’t gone back, would I be in that? Would I be okay? And then I just kept thinking about it, and now here we are!”
Right – so you had a Sliding Doors moment. I actually often wonder how much better my life would be if I’d gone ahead and dyed my hair blue instead of climbing this wall. Anyway, let’s switch gears. Ida is set in the Melbourne region. What made you want to set a sci-fi in good ol’ Melbourne as opposed to a fictional city?
“I love Melbourne. I set Ida in the Dandenongs because it’s where I grew up, so I know it well, and because the atmosphere really lends itself to spooky stories. Ida is set in winter and the Dandenongs in winter are beautiful, but a little terrifying. You can’t see anything through the fog. Plus it’s always fun to write about places you’ve been, like the room with the stained glass ceiling in the NGV [National Gallery of Victoria]. People who’ve been there might have a fun moment of ‘Oh hey, I know this!’ and people who haven’t might want to go there, or google it to see what it really looks like. It’s just fun.”
Yeah, good point. Whoops, okay, I just lost Gigli. Never mind, no real loss. So sci-fi fans are going to be excited about the multiverse elements in this story, and I’m curious about how you came up with this? And of course how you kept track of all the different multiverses!
“I watched a video in year 12 about the ‘13 different dimensions’, and one of the later dimensions it was theorised a place where every decision made creates another alternate universe where the opposite decision is made. When I combined that with the almost-car accident, that’s when things started to really get going. And I didn’t really keep track, which meant there were a lot of plot holes! After a while everything worked itself out but whoo boy, I should prepare better next time…”
Now, this is interesting. There are several characters who do not fit the gender binary in this story, could you tell us a bit about why you think it’s important to include them?
“Daisy, Ida’s partner, is non-binary. This basically means that they don’t identify as a woman or a man. There are a lot of different ways to be non-binary, and I’ve tried to show this with the inclusion of some other non-binary characters, Damaris and Adrastos. They all treat gender differently. Damaris remarks at one point that ‘he [Adrastos] is genderfluid as well, but he is more solid than she ever feels’, so while Damaris and Adrastos both use the same word to describe their own genders, they think about and feel their genders differently.
It’s important to include non-binary characters because non-binary people exist!”
That’s right – in fact (as readers may realise from the intro to this chat) you are one yourself.
“There aren’t a lot of us in fiction, and we could always use more representation. Varied and diverse representation is so vital, I think, especially to a YA audience where readers may be starting to question their identities, or they’ve just had a friend tell them that they’re questioning.”
Okay, so Daisy (like yourself) uses gender neutral pronouns “they/them”. In writing, singular “they” is not yet commonly used – it’s very uncommon to see it used in published fiction works. How has it been received by the publishing world and by your readers?
“Daisy and their pronouns have generally been received pretty well. Everyone at Echo/Bonnier has been brilliant about it. A couple of reviews have stated that it’s confusing and unnecessary. But mostly, people have been really great. I had someone tell me that Daisy was the first character they’d seen that used ‘they’ pronouns, and because this person used ‘they’ pronouns themselves they were really excited and grateful. So I don’t care if people don’t like it, it’s helping people and that’s all that matters.”
Fair enough too. Now this concrete is getting a little uncomfortable so just one last question. What’s next for you? Do you have another novel in the works?
“I started a new book in November that I abandoned briefly to focus on my PhD, but I’m planning on picking it back up again soon. It’s a YA witchy romance queer spooky story, also set in the Dandenongs but this time in summer. Which is very vague I know! But the plans are still very vague. Hopefully that’ll be written soon, though!”
We look forward to it! And to find out more about Alison and the things they write, get yourself to their website.