This interview was originally published by The AU Review on 21/02/19
Highway Bodies, the second novel from author Alison Evans, hit bookstore shelves earlier this month. I had the chance to chat to the writer about their latest work, a unique slice of Aussie YA fiction, which pits a diverse group of teens against seemingly impossible, zombie-riddled odds.
First, can you tell us a little about Highway Bodies?
Highway Bodies is about three sets of teens who have to navigate their world suddenly becoming a zombie apocalypse. No one really knows what’s going on, all they know is that they have to rely on each other to survive.
What was the inspiration behind the novel?
I’ve always loved speculative fiction and I think zombies can be really fun. Seeing a group of queer teens surviving something like that, I think it’s very powerful.
The teens featured in Highway Bodies cover a pretty broad spectrum, with many identifying as LGBTQI. How important is it to you to have such diverse characters? What messages do you hope reach the young people reading your work?
When I was growing up I love reading fantasy and sci-fi, but there were very few queer characters, and fewer queer main characters. It’s important for young queer people to see themselves in these books; to know that you’re not the only one like you is affirming.
You’ve stuck with Melbourne and its surrounds for both Highway Bodies and your first novel, Ida. What is it about the area that gets your writing muscles flexing?
This is where I grew up, I don’t know if I could really write about anywhere else. For the first twenty or so years of my life I lived in the Dandenongs and there’s something about the unending trees that really leaves everything open to possibility.
You’ve shifted your talents from sci-fi to horror with Highway Bodies. Was it a conscious decision to take on genres that have such well known tropes and often quite gendered roles within them? And what other genres would you love to tackle?
I don’t know how conscious it is! I generally just start writing something because I think it’ll be fun, and then while writing the first draft I usually come up against the unconscious biases I have within these genres, ones where harmful tropes have just squeezed their way into my brain. By writing my own take on these genres, I find that I’m really undoing a lot of internalised harmful ideas about gender in my own mind. As for what I would like to write, I would love to write a space opera or something like that!
How has the publishing world responded to your genderqueer YA fiction? Were you nervous pitching work that challenges the status quo in this way? The team at Echo certainly sounded supportive, if the acknowledgements at the end of Highway Bodies are anything to go by!
Echo are the best publisher I could ask for really, they’re a dream to work with. As for the wider publishing world, it’s an ongoing process. There are few genderqueer/non-binary authors and right now it’s pretty difficult. But it’s exciting too; we’re making it easier for the next generation and I can’t wait to see the future of non-binary publishing.
Ida was shortlisted for several awards and won the Victorian Premier’s People’s Choice Award last year. Can you tell us a little about that and how it felt to win?
It was pretty overwhelming. It’s very encouraging to see my work being acknowledged in that kind of way. I hope it means that publishers will be encouraged to take on more work by non-binary people, because there is a market for us.
And, finally, what else can we expect from you?
My next book is Euphoria Kids (2020), a magical realist story about three trans teens who become friends and have to go on a search to find the witch that cursed one of them.