What does a healthy friendship look like in the age of social media, where self-comparison is at an all-time high? Rosie intern Ciara Kirby chats with YA author Allayne L. Webster about all things friendship, social media, and her latest book, Selfie.
Photography via Matilda Bookshop
CIARA KIRBY: Impressively, you’ve written ten books now, six for young adults. What inspired you to write your latest book, Selfie?
ALLAYNE L. WEBSTER: For me, most of my books come from a tiny seed that germinates, takes root and won’t leave me alone. The seed for Selfie comes from a memory of when I was a teen. I was excitedly explaining to a family member how enamoured I was by a particular person. I was incredibly offended when the way I felt was labelled a childish crush. It stands out in my mind as a pivotal moment in my adolescence because I wish the joy I was experiencing had been celebrated instead of being belittled and dismissed. Tully is just as smitten, just as committed, just as starry-eyed as I was.
Selfie explores the complicated territory of real and fake friendships. Why do you think it’s so hard for young people like Tully to work out which of their friendships are real, and which aren’t worth pursuing?
Even without social media at play, some friendships are tricky to navigate simply because of our backstory/the existing trauma we bring to the table. Trust is at the heart of all good relationships, but it’s difficult to build if we’ve been burned before. Not all friendships are long-lasting. Some will burn brightly and dissolve just as fast. In the case of Tully, she’s almost hyper-focused on Dene, dizzy with excitement for the way Dene makes her feel; Dene is like a drug Tully can’t get enough of. As the relationship progresses, Tully’s high dwindles and it’s like she needs larger doses of Dene to get the same fix. Eventually she has to find something else (art) to fill the void. But what Tully doesn’t readily see is that Dene is like the art — they’re both a distraction for the true void in Tully’s life. I’ll stop there. No spoilers!
Photography via Unsplash / Helena Lopes
Your book interrogates the negative side of being insta-famous, but do you believe social media is all bad? Is there a way that we can enjoy social media without losing our authenticity along the way?
I definitely don’t believe all social media is bad. And I certainly don’t think Instagram is bad. To the contrary: of all of the social media platforms available, Insta is my favourite. And without giving away any spoilers, the ending of Selfie is evidence of that.
Authenticity is dependent on the individual. Only you know if you’re being truly authentic online. When you submit to the public domain, regrettably everyone’s authenticity, including yours, is up for debate. I try to approach it with an open heart. Humans are flawed, they make mistakes, and they’re not going to get it right every single time. We are a messy soup-mix of emotions and what we post on any given day is reflective of that.
Finally, I’d question what’s wrong with a bit of projecting? So what if it’s a bit pie-in-the-sky. Humans are capable of talking themselves into a happier space via projecting a frame of mind or an image they aspire to. Does it make them any less authentic to be reaching for something?
Tully eventually finds her way back to herself by rediscovering the joy she finds in painting. Do you share this passion for art with Tully? What are some things you like to do when you want to feel like yourself again?
I’m definitely artistic. My Insta is evidence of that. I’ve posted many a painting/illustration. At one point I was posting with the hashtag #distractionismyqueen because keeping my mind actively immersed in something joyful (painting) prevented me from wandering to darker spaces. Other than painting, I play guitar, or I go bush-walking and search for koalas to photograph. These things help to centre me and remind me it’s not healthy to focus on just one thing in order to feel fulfilled.
Photography via Unsplash / Jade Stephens
Your book examines the difficulty of navigating friendships in a time when social media is so intertwined with modern social life. What advice would you give to young people struggling with maintaining healthy friendships?
I’m wary of giving advice because every situation (and the players involved) is different. But I would say to keep in mind that SM messages don’t always carry tone, so use friendly emojis wherever you can. If you’re in a rush and you don’t have time to reply properly, briefly explain just that and promise to respond soon, rather than leaving a friend on read. Acknowledge people politely just as you would in the real world. If your friendships are truly important to you, they’ll be strengthened by real world interaction. Make time for the people you care about and prioritise them.
What are some qualities you look for in a friend?
Someone who’s honest, who’ll tell me all the uncomfortable truths. Someone who doesn’t leave when the going gets a tough, who sticks around through thick and thin. A strong communicator, a naughty sense of humour.
If you could be friends with anyone in the world (dead or alive), who would it be?
Judy Blume. She was my favourite author when I was a teenager and she inspired me to chase my dreams. When I published my first YA novel Our Little Secret, Judy sent me signed copies of her books. A package arrived postmarked from New York and I couldn’t believe what I found inside. I still can’t quite believe it. Sometimes I get her books out and just stare at them. Her signed books are my most treasured possessions.
Photography via Glamour / Jonathan Skow
What are some of your favourite recent young adult books that you would recommend to Rosie readers?
This is like asking me to pick my favourite child. There are so many books I love! Recently? Alice Boyle’s Dancing Barefoot and Biffy James Completely Normal and Other Lies — because both books made me laugh. But I could give you an enormous list of all the Australian YA I adore and waffle on for hours. We are spoilt for choice in Australia and so very very lucky!
Selfie by Allayne L. Webster is now available at bookstores across Australia.
ALLAYNE L. WEBSTER
Allayne L. Webster grew up in rural South Australia and now lives in Adelaide. Her books include the CBCA notable novels Paper Planes and A Cardboard Palace, Our Little Secret, The Centre of My Everything, That Thing I Did and Sensitive.