Poppy Nwosu, editor of Hometown Haunts
15th November, 2022

In conversation with BOTY shortlisted author Poppy Nwosu

Hometown Haunts (Wakefield Press) showcases some of the best voices Australian YA fiction has to offer in this sometimes strange, sometimes terrifying collection of short horror. This anthology acts as a reminder of how it feels to explore the unknown: unknown genre, unknown worlds, unknown lives. Editor Poppy Nwosu has compiled an anthology that celebrates and reflects the grassroots beginnings of Australian YA—raw, playful, and packing a hell of a punch.’

BOTY 2022 judging panel

We asked Poppy some questions about the YA horror anthology she edited, Hometown Haunts, one of the titles shortlisted for the 2022 SPN Book of the Year Award. The award ceremony will take place on 25 November and will feature readings from some of the shortlisted authors.

To see the full shortlist, click here.

To book a ticket to the BOTY award ceremony, click here. All the shortlisted books will be available for purchase at the Independent Publishing Conference and at the BOTY award ceremony, through our conference bookseller, Readings. They can also be ordered through the Readings website.

Q: Being that you’ve published romance novels in the past, what made you want to delve into the horror genre? And why did you decide to do so using a YA lens?  

As a reader, I really love immersing myself into a wide variety of genres, and as a writer I am exactly the same. Even though my first three published novels were all romantic contemporary YA fiction, I had actually written quite a few manuscripts in much darker genres prior to that. It just happened that my first published book was romance, and so I decided to stick with that for a while and write more in the same genre, but it’s been very exciting delving into horror with this anthology.

I’ve actually always loved horror, ever since I was a kid, and whenever I think back to the stories that first sunk beneath my skin and really left a deep impression on me, many of these were uncanny, unsettling, creepy and hard to explain, which, as it turns out, is now my favourite kind of horror. Books like Paul Jennings’ Grandad’s GiftsThe Watertower by Gary Crew and Shaun Tan / Gary Crew collaboration The Viewer were all books I pored over as a kid, and I was always drawn to stories that I found unsettling and challenging. When I first thought up the idea of the Hometown Haunts anthology, it was really with those strange and unsettling Australian stories in mind. I was really keen to create something unexpected and creepy, but for a YA audience, that might make teens today feel the same as I did when reading those stories all those years ago.

Q: Could you give a bit of insight into the process of curating collaborators? The anthology includes some prolific writers, but also emerging literary talent. Why was it important to you to have an open call-out process? 

I was really keen to include new emerging voices as part of the anthology, just because as a new author only a few years into my publishing career, I still acutely remember that feeling of desperately dreaming of seeing my work in print. I think being an unpublished author dreaming of that opportunity can be a very intense and sometimes, difficult period for any writer, and I loved the idea of being in a position to create a pathway and opportunity for emerging voices within Australia’s YA scene. It also felt special to create an anthology that had a mix of voices, both established and new, as a way to bring something fresh to the table. 

Q: How did you ensure consistency in each story while also giving writers the space to present fresh, original ideas each time the page was turned?  

I really love this question as it makes me reflect on my thoughts during the initial process of setting up the Hometown Haunts project with the wonderful team at Wakefield Press and what I was, at the time, imagining the project might look like once finished. In truth, I think consistency actually wasn’t at all what I was aiming for, and so I specifically approached many amazing authors who weren’t necessarily known for their work in horror at all (just like I wasn’t a horror writer, either). I think that what I hoped for most, was an eclectic mixed bag of stories, to reflect the variety of experiences in the world we live in today. I felt like it was important to have each writer really interpret the horror theme in their own unique way and their own individual voice, and I really hoped the project would be filled with stories that might surprise people by how different they were from the one they had just read. I think the one thing we all have in common in life is that we all have things we fear, and I felt like that connection was enough to draw each story together into a coherent anthology. In the end, I am really proud of how the book turned out and really love the fact that each story feels so unique and fresh.

Q: In the foreword, you say that you hope this book will leave the reader feeling unsettled and give them the opportunity to ponder what it is that scares them the most. I have to ask: what is it that you fear? Were any new fears unlocked while you were putting the book together?  

The biggest new and unexpected fear that working on this anthology unlocked was the terrible fear of letting all the authors involved down, haha. Honestly, working on this book was probably the most challenging thing I have ever done, and I had many sleepless nights, only because I so respected and admired each of the authors who was involved in the project and I so badly wanted them all to have a good experience working with me and with Wakefield Press on the project. So that was certainly an unexpected fear that blossomed while working on this project, haha.

But in terms of general fears, other than the obvious ones (fear of the future, fear of being buried alive, fear of being sucked into that gap in escalators!) the biggest fear for me is always of the unknown. I have a really good imagination, and I am always able to imagine the worst possible thing. It’s a skill and a talent, haha. 

Q: On that note, some writers took the prompt quite literally, writing about very real fears like lockdown, love and loss, and the uncertainty of the future. What frightens you more – the real or the supernatural? 

This is such an interesting question! I must admit that when I watch or read horror, I do much prefer the supernatural stories. But potentially that is actually because I find real life horror too frightening to enjoy as a past time. For instance, I’d much rather watch a movie about a ghost or monster than a movie about a home invasion, which feels too possible and close to home. So definitely I prefer my horror of the supernatural variety!

Q: What do you hope the young reader takes away from this anthology? Is there anything you wish your teen self would have read and held onto? 

I always feel like the most important thing a story can ever do is make the reader feel something, whether that is joy or fear or happiness or anything at all. Those feelings are why I read and also why I write. So mainly I hope that any young reader delving into Hometown Haunts finds something to enjoy inside the pages and I hope it makes them feel. Some of our stories are chilling, some outright scary or thrilling, some are weird or unsettling. I feel like there is something for everyone within these pages!

Poppy Nwosu is an author of young adult fiction. She has published three contemporary romance novels and is the creator and editor of the YA anthology Hometown Haunts: #LoveOzYA Horror Tales. Her debut novel, Making Friends with Alice Dyson, was shortlisted for the 2019 Readings Young Adult Book Prize and the 2018 Adelaide Festival Unpublished Manuscript Award. She has also been awarded the SA Writers Fellowship residency at Varuna Writers House, as well as an Arts SA grant. Poppy is currently based in Adelaide, Australia.

Check out Poppy’s catalogue of YA titles or explore her dark fantasy stories for adult readers under the name PJ Nwosu. Her debut adult novel, Dream of Death City, is out in November 2022.

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