'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Monday 10 May 2021

Guest Post: Alexa Moses on Character Crushes

When I was in year 5, I fell in love for the first time. I knew with burning clarity that this guy would understand my 11-year-old soul like no one else could.

I wasn’t sure how Gilbert and I would make it work, since he was:

a) Canadian; b) living in the 1870s; and c) fictional - but those facts didn’t stop me from day-dreaming.

Of course I understood it was impossible, but I struggled to square that with the feeling that Gilbert Blythe from Anne of Green Gables was meant for me.

Am I alone here? I’m hoping other avid readers understand the feeling of connecting with a person who doesn’t exist except on paper.

Here are a few other literary crushes of mine:

The eccentric and passionate Jonathan from Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke. Funny, envious Erica from Hating Alison Ashley by Robin Klein. Severus Snape in the Harry Potter books.

Were these heroes inspired by real people? The beating heart in each makes me think they were.

In my latest book, Michaela Mason’s Big List of 23 Worries, a comic middle-grade novel about an anxious girl, I was inspired to create my heroine by some real-life kids.

Michaela Mason is funny, fussy, intense and opinionated, and soothes herself by writing many lists to tabulate her life. Michaela has IDEAS about how the world should work. In this first book in the series, Michaela moves to the country and is forced to grapple with her fear of DOGS! (that’s how she hears the word in her head, in big and screechy letters like in a horror movie).

Michaela Mason was inspired by real girls I met years ago while working as a research assistant in the psychology department of a large university.

I was helping to film a session of the university’s anxiety clinic, which that day consisted of kids from 8 to 12 years old. The kids who suffered from social anxiety were painfully shy, unable to make eye contact or speak above a whisper. Other kids couldn’t sit still and roamed the room. Some kids were anxious about going to school or being separated from their parents, while others were terrified of the dark. The first thing I realised was that I’d been an anxious child, at least to some extent. For example, I remembered being terrified of burglars breaking into the house as a child.

The second thing that struck me was a girl … or was it a couple of girls? I may be fusing two girls into one. Let’s say two girls. One I remember as warm and quick to flash a big, bright smile at anyone who needed encouragement. Another I remember as clever and boisterous and funny. These girls didn’t fit my idea of what an anxious kid looked like which is why they intrigued me.

Not long ago as I was slogging away at a middle-grade story that wasn’t working, those girls appeared from the dark, mysterious place where thoughts arrive and memories go.

A little shiver passed through me. My memories of the girls were vague – I couldn’t tell you what they looked like or even how many girls there were - but that didn’t matter. What I remembered clearly was their bravery and humour in the face of fear.

I turned to a blank page in my beaten-up notebook, determined to create a character with that same spirit.

Soon, I’d come up with a new fictional person unto herself: Michaela Mason. Around her, my middle-grade story fell into place.

As I write the Michaela Mason books I find myself snorting at her thoughts or getting choked up over her struggles. I hope that readers will get to know her, too, and experience with me the strange, solitary magic that comes from making friends with a fictional character.

Alexa Moses is a children’s author and screenwriter. Her latest book, Michaela Mason’s Big List of 23 Worries (Scholastic Australia) is available for pre-order now. Her picture book Bat vs Poss (Hachette Australia) was shortlisted for the CBCA 2020 awards.

She has also contributed a number of poems to CBCA Notable children’s poetry book A Boat of Stars, and written two books set in New Kingdom Egypt for ‘tweens.

Her screenwriting credits include the Berry Bees, as well as Sydney Sailboat, Hoot Hoot Go!, Lexi & Lottie: Trusty Twin Detectives, The Davincibles, Tashi, and co-writing credits on the Alice-Miranda movies.