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Authors Alexandra Hart and Phoebe Sleeman describe their new YA Fantasy Book, Alight, on The Best Book Reader Magazine in the UK.

JJ Barnes editor of The Table Read online creativity, arts and entertainment magazine

Written by JJ Barnes

I interviewed teenage co-authors Alexandra Hart and Phoebe Sleeman about working together, what inspires them, and the creative work that went into their new YA fantasy book, Alight.

Tell me a bit about who you are.

We are two nineteen year old students, who started writing our novel together when we were just twelve years old. Having met in secondary school, we’ve been best friends ever since, and currently both study at Durham University – Phoebe reads History and Alex reads History and English. We both live in North London, with our families; Alex also has a pet tortoise and Phoebe has four younger siblings!

Alexandra Hart, author of Alight, on The Table Read
Alexandra Hart

When did you first WANT to write a book?

Honestly, since we could read and write. Like many children, we both spent a great deal of our childhood scribbling pages of stories, with the aspiration that they would become books. We can scarcely believe the invented dreams of our twelve year old selves are finally being realized.

When did you take a step to start writing?

We started writing when we were in Year 8 and discovered that we both had a similar idea for a fantasy novel. We would go to each other’s houses and sit for hours writing and discussing (probably irrelevant!) things, such the exact interior design of our protagonist’s bedroom, or which middle names best suited our characters.

Our first major step up in writing was during lockdown, when our A-levels were cancelled, and we found ourselves with lots of time and a story clamoring to be written. We would like to think that our novel is the silver lining of the cloud that was lockdown and isolation.

How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?

Over 7 years! We came up with the idea when we were twelve and it’s finally being released when we are aged nineteen.

What made you want to write Alight?

We both came up with separate ideas around the same time. Alexandra had a birthmark that she always liked to imagine was a sign of being magical. Phoebe and her siblings came up with a plethora of mystical ideas which turned into a make-believe game – one that they maintained for an entire weekend!

Phoebe Sleeman, author of Alight, on The Table Read
Phoebe Sleeman

Eventually, after many an hour of illicit talking in the back of PE lessons, we decided to merge our ideas and turn it into a book.

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What were your biggest challenges with writing Alight?

One of the biggest challenges was persevering with writing over such an extended period. In all honesty, we couldn’t have done it without each other. Another challenge was knowing how to go about publishing. We made quite a lot of mistakes in our first round of submitting to publishers and it took a second round of applications for us to know what to do.

Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?

As young children often do, we based Emilie on our own model. It was difficult to give her distinguishing characteristics without turning her into a stereotype, but we hope that we gave her the best and worst part of ourselves and a couple of nuances as well. Her endless imagination, even to the point of fault at times, is certainly a recognition of the trait that Phoebe and I share the most.

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Who or what inspired you when creating your Antagonist?

The one thing we knew for certain is that we wanted our antagonists to be difficult figures to discern. We wanted our readers to question who is a force of evil and who is a force of good. Within the novel. Inherent and unexplained evil is too simple a concept, we wanted our antagonists to be sympathetic as well as hated.

What is the inciting incident of Alight?

The first incident arrives in the prologue, when Emilie, our protagonist, is informed that she is to be sent to her Great Aunt’s house for the summer. However, as Emilie explores her aunt’s rambling old manor house, she discovers many a secret in the process.

What is the main conflict of Alight?

Alight by Alexandra Hart and Phoebe Sleeman on The Table Read

The main conflict comes towards the end of the book and is both mental and physical – Emilie is conflicted within herself as to who to trust and what to do – while, simultaneously, a battle between magical powers rages around her.

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Did you plot Alight in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?

We loosely plotted the book in advance when we were about 14 and stuck to that plot as we wrote most of it during lockdown.

However, we did not plot it chapter by chapter but rather event by event so that there was more freedom to write freely. Oftentimes, our characters surprised us too, and elements such as Emilie’s mental conflict were not originally plotted but became inevitable during the writing process.

Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did Alight need?

We got incredible support – shout-out to Kirsty our editor! We also went through multiple edits. Before sending it off to publishers, we got some friends and family to read it and edited it from their feedback. Kirsty then encouraged us to expand on some areas and suggested some cuts. We then went through a further final edit after that. We’re so grateful for the edits, they have turned our novel into a far more succinct and engaging story with hopefully no plot holes – Phoebe’s siblings were very good at pointing them out first time around!

What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?

Set aside time, get to really know your characters, and then persist in writing. If it’s a story worth taking time to write, it will clamor inside your head until you’re forced to sit down and let the characters speak.

Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?

Our imaginations are full of ideas of where to take our characters next – we don’t feel like we’re done telling their stories.

And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?

It was utterly and completely worth the effort. It has taught us so much about ourselves and each other and is such a testament to friendship and hard work. We can’t wait to share it with the world, and although aimed at children and young teenagers, we hope it will be able to resonate with many.

Pop all your book, website and social media links here so the readers can find you:

Facebook: Alight_fantasy

Instagram: @alight_fantasy

TikTok: alight_fantasy


Waterstones pre-order website:

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