Her intelligence was evident from the start – she flew off to Rochester Grammar School, a selective secondary school, and her teachers thought she could get into Cambridge University.
Instead, Alice Oseman, whose mother Trudi works at Kent University and whose father Matthew is a senior computer engineer, failed her entrance exam at Cambridge… and became a publishing sensation.
She was just 17 when she signed her first two-book deal for the novel Solitaire.
What she wanted to read, she explained, was a book about a powerful female character who had a life-changing moment that involved no man. Since she couldn’t find this, she just wrote one herself.
Ten years later she is 27 and has recently moved into a south London flat on her own and books by Oseman are outselling JK Rowling, David Walliams, Sally Rooney or Lee Child.
In the UK alone, she sells books worth around a million pounds a month.
Alice Oseman is 27 and recently moved into a flat in south London alone and books by Oseman outsell JK Rowling, David Walliams, Sally Rooney or Lee Child
The reason is the phenomenon of Heartstopper graphic novels. They began in 2016 as crowd-funded, self-published graphic novels for teens about a shy 15-year-old boy who falls in love with a rugby-playing boy in his school class.
After being adapted for television by Netflix – the show began streaming in April – they have established themselves as a global brand. They have already broken all records for sales of a graphic novel in the UK.
The show was a huge hit for Netflix in over 50 countries, and the streaming giant has already ordered series two and three.
The demand for the books is now huge. Figures released by Nielsen show that total UK print book sales for Oseman titles from January to June were £5.5m.
That puts her ahead of David Walliams (£4.7m), JK Rowling (£3.8m), James Patterson (£2.9m), Lee Child (£2.1m) and Sally Rooney (1.3m). million pounds).
Publisher Hachette says the novels have topped the charts since spring, with all four volumes and the coloring book selling fast. This week, Heartstopper Volume 1 is number one. They’re releasing a Heartstopper Yearbook in October.
Internationally, the picture is rosy. The Heartstopper books have sold over 4 million copies worldwide and are in the top 10 in the UK, US and Latin America, with rights sold in a total of 33 countries.
Perhaps ironically, given how critics rave about her ability to convincingly tell the story of a school crush and teenage friendships, she describes herself as “aromantic and asexual,” meaning she has no significant sexual or romantic feelings for others.
The reason is the phenomenon of Heartstopper graphic novels
Alice Oseman grew up in the suburbs of Rochester, Kent. Mama Trudi worked in a nursery and later for the University of Kent. Father Matthew is a Digital Engineer and leads a team from offices in nearby Dartford.
A straight A student, she had a passion for writing – spending hours in her bedroom typing stories on her laptop.
What drove her was a desire to blast the “lazy” tropes of young adult fiction and explain to adults what their teenagers were going through.
When she was 19, she said in an interview, “When teenagers have these feelings of loneliness and melancholy, they say, ‘Oh yeah, that’s just a teenage thing.’ It is not. It only undermines her feelings. The word fear implies that the emotions are not legitimate.’
Adding that she wrote Solitaire to please herself, she told the Times, “I really just wanted to convey the mood of my colleagues. I had read a lot of coming-of-age books; hadn’t found anything that represented the people around me: everyone is a bit bored.
“At the same time, I was very influenced by social media: the internet was a place where people could express their innermost feelings and tell their darkest stories. It showed me a completely different side than my colleagues. That’s what (the heroine) Tori discovers, everyone is so melancholy inside.
“I really wanted a real coming-of-age story for women. I hadn’t found very many. I hadn’t really found anything at the time: it was either magazines about a specific problem, like the girl got bulimia or something, or books about boys. It seemed to be one or the other.
“Now I know there are some out there. At the time I was like, ‘Oh, I’ll just write my own.’
She began writing solitaire in the summer of 12th grade and finished it over summer vacation. After receiving her results – all and A-stars – and accepting a place at Durham University, she sent the manuscript to agents.
Alice Oseman grew up in the suburbs of Rochester, Kent. Mama Trudi worked in a nursery and later for the University of Kent. Father Matthew is a Digital Engineer and leads a team from offices in nearby Dartford
The book about cynical teenager Tori Spring was bought. She spent her years in Durham quietly writing the follow-up Radio Silence and has stated that she did not like the course at all and found it difficult to make friends.
She said, “I didn’t enjoy the course, I didn’t enjoy the social aspect – I didn’t find many people who I could really be good friends with.” She largely kept her success as a novelist to herself. “It always felt like a pretty private thing I was doing and I didn’t really like talking about it with other people.”
In another interview, she said: “I was very successful at school, so my teachers all wanted me to go to Oxbridge. I’d spent my whole life being praised for how academic I was, so I tried to get into Cambridge but failed. I ended up in Durham studying English literature and hated it. I didn’t pay attention to everything I read and struggled to connect with someone on a deep level.
After university she continued writing and in 2016 decided to return to the story of Nick and Charlie, who were supporting characters in her first novel, Solitaire. She wanted to tell the “upbeat and upbeat” story of their romance.
“I couldn’t stop thinking about her and just knew I wanted to tell her story. I basically just wanted to write it so that I could read it, but then people of all ages enjoyed it,” she said. Her goal was to draw a page every day – and share it on free-to-read websites.
In late 2017 the book was finished and she crowdfunded £58,000 for a self-published edition. She sent the first 2,000 books to buyers herself.
In 2019, she sold the rights to See Saw films, which brought the project to Netflix. Oseman adapted the books and was closely involved in the process.
She was keen on teenagers playing the big screen teenagers. “There aren’t enough shows where teenagers are played by real teenagers,” she said.
Actor Kit Connor, who played young Elton John in Rocketman, is rugby player Nick, while newcomer Joe Locke is Charlie. Charlie’s friend Elle is played by trans TikTok sensation Yasmin Finney in her TV debut – she has since been cast in Dr. Who cast.
She said: “Nick and Charlie are such important characters, not just to me but to so many people, and I knew if we didn’t find the right actors, the show just wasn’t going to work. We saw SO many actors. We did an open audition search for Charlie and so many talented people turned up but not many that I saw and just thought you could be Charlie. It was probably because I have such a clear idea of who these characters are in my head, but eventually Kit and Joe just showed up – I have no idea how! It was very tough and we didn’t have many chances to be honest. We were just very lucky.”
In the books and TV series, Charlie and Nick encounter homophobia. Oseman said: “When I meet teenagers who have read my books, I get the impression that some of them have had a much better experience of being LGBT+ at school, but it sounds the same to others. I like to think that things have improved overall, but it’s still not a blissful amazingness everywhere.
On the shows, Nick has to educate his peers and himself that he’s bisexual. Oseman, who identifies as queer, said, “That’s one thing that bisexual and asexual people can absolutely relate to. These are lesser-known sexualities and you’re more likely to get questions if you come out.
Her 2020 novel Loveless is about a girl who has never had a crush on anyone but is determined to fall in love in her freshman year at Durham University.
There were obvious autobiographical elements for Oseman, who also identifies as asexual and aromantic. She told The Guardian this year: “Asexual and aromantic people have little representation in anything” and hopes it will help people better understand a friend or family member.
In another interview, she said: “The story was very personal to me. It explores asexuality and aromantics – what I am. I am an asexual aromantic. It was kind of a coming out journey, a deep dive into something that had influenced me my entire life.
“Writing this story forced me to dig up some dark personal feelings, and that’s not really what you want to sit down at your desk to do every day.”
She added, “I think I use my books as therapy. Radio Silence has a demisexual character that I really identified with at the time – that was my first exposure to those feelings. And looking back at Solitaire, the main character, Tori, reads heavily as asexual.
“It wasn’t on purpose – I didn’t even know what asexuality was. As a creative person, when I write, I explore things that touch me.”
It is believed that she has now finished the eighth and final Heartstopper book and is contemplating her next step.
She may stray from “YA” or young adult novels. She said: “I feel drawn to writing about older characters now – because I’ve grown up. But I don’t know yet what that would be.”