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“Heartstopper” Creator Alice Oseman Says Success as a Writer Was ‘A Wonderful Surprise’ (Exclusive)

The best-selling YA author talks classic literature, asexual representation and writing for the Netflix show

<p>Graphix; Scott Garfitt/BAFTA via Getty</p> Alice Oseman and the cover of

Graphix; Scott Garfitt/BAFTA via Getty

Alice Oseman and the cover of 'Heartstopper'

Alice Oseman, like so many young readers before her, had a teenage phase of reading classic literature.

“I thought it was important,” Oseman, 29, tells PEOPLE. “Intelligent to do so. I was very into The Catcher in the Rye when I was, like, 15. Read that several times.”

Oseman, who uses she/they pronouns, also adds that the 1951 J. D. Salinger classic influenced her own writing career.

“That all kind of led to me writing Solitaire, my first book, which I wrote when I was 17,” she says.

Now, Oseman is the best-selling author of books for young adults, including the acclaimed graphic novel series Heartstopper. As the series celebrates its 5 year anniversary, Oseman is both looking back on her writing career and looking forward.

A young reader and writer

<p>Scott Garfitt/BAFTA via Getty</p> Alice Oseman

Scott Garfitt/BAFTA via Getty

Alice Oseman

Raised near Kent, England, Oseman came of age during a boom in young adult literature, when authors like Stephanie Meyers and Suzanne Collins reigned supreme.

John Green, I think, was the first time I'd seen a contemporary YA author write the kind of serious drama-style books that I eventually wrote myself,” Oseman says. She sold her debut novel, Solitaire, in 2014 when she was only 18 years old.

Related: Say 'Hi' to 'Heartstopper' Season 2: Charlie and Nick Are Boyfriends — and 'Kissing Many Times a Day'

Oseman’s novels have since grown a dedicated fanbase, particularly for her realistic portrayal of teenage life and LGBTQ+ representation. Radio Silence, which was published in 2016, stars two classmates that start a podcast, and 2018’s I Was Born for This focuses on a teenage pop rock band. Loveless, which hit shelves in 2020, gives a perceptive look at one teenager’s experience with starting university.

Of her start, Oseman says that she was simply writing stories about a world she didn’t often see represented at the time — life in all-girls school in the U.K. — and that her age worked to her advantage.

“I was very much writing the world and the life that I was familiar with,” Oseman says. “About people like me, people like my friends…it was just very cemented in the life that I was experiencing at that time.”

The birth of 'Heartstopper'

<p>Netflix</p> Joe Locke (left) and Kit Connor in season two of 'Heartstopper'

Netflix

Joe Locke (left) and Kit Connor in season two of 'Heartstopper'

Solitaire, which follows teenager Tori Spring and her mental health journey, also featured two supporting characters that may sound familiar: Tori’s younger brother, Charlie, and his boyfriend Nick. The two would later become the protagonists of Oseman's web comic, Heartstopper, which the author wrote, illustrated and published online, before the story was released as a series of graphic novels by Hachette Children’s Group UK and by Scholastic/Graphix in the United States. Oseman initially crowdfunded a limited print run of the web series herself.

“For quite a while, I tried to plan [Heartstopper] out as a prose novel like Solitaire, but I just couldn't make it work,” Oseman recalls. “In my mind, it didn't have that beginning, middle [and] end structure of a traditional novel. I really wanted to look at each phase of Nick and Charlie's school life together, which would suit a more serialized story.”

The first print volume debuted in 2019, and the latest book in the series became the U.K.’s fastest-selling graphic novel. Heartstopper gained a whole new wave of fans when it was adapted into an acclaimed Netflix series in 2022, starring Kit Connor and Joe Locke.

Related: 'Heartstopper': Nick Inches Out of the Closet, Tao Trims His Locks and Isaac Gets a Love Interest in Season 2

Oseman wrote the show’s teleplay, and found she enjoyed screenwriting due to her knack for dialogue. There were other challenges that arose with the transition to television, however. 

“The hard part is the structure of a TV show — getting episodes to be the right length, balancing all the storylines, making sure that the end of each episode encourages people to keep watching,” she says.

"I don't write autobiographical fiction"

<p>Netflix</p> Oseman on the set of 'Heartstopper'

Netflix

Oseman on the set of 'Heartstopper'

Another difficult aspect of the writing process, Oseman says, can be implementing self-care as an author.

“I’m not very good at that,” she says. “I am definitely not very good at that sort of work-life balance. It is difficult because I really want to express myself in my writing and it is hard to find a healthy balance of doing that versus putting too much of yourself on the page sometimes.”

While Oseman does write about topics and characters that are familiar to her, there are limits to how much of herself she will put on the page.

"In terms of what I'm writing, I like to explore issues and ideas that are relevant to my own life, but I always try and do it in a fictional way," she says. "I don't write autobiographical fiction. I explore things through characters who are not me and through events that have not happened to me. And that helps to keep the distance a little bit.”

Related: 'Heartstopper' Cast Drowns Out Anti-LGBTQ Protesters with Whitney Houston at London Pride

It's important to Oseman to include asexual and aromantic representation in her work, which she explores in Loveless and the TV adaptation of Heartstopper. She prefers to showcase her characters' experiences with coming out, as opposed to showing a person already at the point of acceptance, as "it's helpful to see the whole journey of figuring out who you are."

“If you are an aro or ace person, there's really no way to summarize that experience when there's just such a variety of ways you can experience being ace or aro,” Oseman says. “So I just have to write the character that I can and I know that it won't represent everyone.”

What's next for the 'Osemanverse'

<p>Samuel Dore/Netflix</p> A scene from the Netflix adaptation of 'Heartstopper'

Samuel Dore/Netflix

A scene from the Netflix adaptation of 'Heartstopper'

Before her rise to YA fame, Oseman found a community online. She originally posted her work on the website Tumblr, where she began to grow a following. Though the author has previously stated that she can't interact with fans as extensively as before, she is far from stingy about sharing material from the aptly-named “Osemanverse” — her website hosts numerous goodies, including fictional Wikipedia pages and bonus short stories about her characters.

As for what's next for Oseman, there's news for Heartstopper fans. The author shares that she is working on the sixth, and final, installment of the series; something she admits feels “a little bit scary” as she anticipates reader reactions. She is also thinking about entirely new writing ventures.

Related: 'Heartstopper' Renewed at Netflix Through Season 3: 'Can't Wait to Continue the Story'

"I am really looking forward to writing about adults," she says. "That is something that I've just never had the opportunity to do...I'd love to try writing more for screen. I've really enjoyed writing the TV show and I would love to do more of that, whether that's something original or I would love to try adapting someone else's book. I think that could be really fun. It's all a mystery right now, so we'll see."

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Still, the success of her work, Oseman says, remains “beyond my wildest dreams.”

“I don’t think any author can really anticipate that,” she says. “That’s been the biggest surprise, but it’s a wonderful surprise.”

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