How one writer of fan fiction turned her love of One Direction into a full fledged novel

In the spirit of all things embarrassing, I hope against all hope that Anna Todd can’t tell that I’m trembling. She, of course, is perfectly calm about meeting another journalist for yet another interview, but I am straight-up freaking out. All cool lost, I gush as we talk about our One Direction pairings (she’s a Ziam, I’m a Zarry) and Russian love stories. I refrain from telling her that I’ve been up till five in the morning every day for a week because I’ve been finishing her bestselling After series — and just like that, I never felt more like my 10-year-old self, staying out late at night to read fan fiction in our family desktop.
You see, Anna’s writer origin is quite unconventional; the After series actually started from One Direction fan fiction she posted on Wattpad that was eventually turned into an original novel. The plot revolves around college students Tessa Young and Hardin Scott (who was originally Harry Styles in the story) who get into a tumultuous relationship that is borderline nuts. But Anna somehow reels it back from crazy territory — full of dark themes like alcoholism, betrayal and broken dishes — with unapologetic honesty on every page. After is such an affecting story because it’s pure indulgence of our deepest desires, one where the best and worst versions of us get the happy ending we’ve always wanted.

Anyway, enough about my feelings. The After has a pretty legit following. Aside from being a wildly popular story on Wattpad, where anyone can read it for free, it also happens to be one of the most prominent young adult/new adult books right now. It’s been translated into several languages, and has inspired a spinoff series based on a supporting character. Even more amazing is that Anna continues her writing process on Wattpad despite being a published author — she says that it’s what keeps her writing genuine, by keeping its development close to her readers, and has hardly affected book sales.

I got to meet Anna at the recently concluded 2016 Readers and Writers Festival, hosted by the nice folks of National Book Store. During our interview, we discussed many things, including our shared love for Harry Styles, her new muse, and the thrill of reading fan fiction about the fanfic phenomenon she created.

YOUNG STAR: Hey Anna. I’m curious, why is Harry (Styles) your favorite member? Why’d you start writing fan fiction with him in mind?

ANNA TODD: I don’t know, I never thought of writing about anybody else. It always felt like a natural thing. I love all of them, of course, but he was the first one who I was like, “Oh, I love him now.” He seems like a gentle soul. Something about him is so charismatic and you can’t help but love him.

Did you still have Harry in mind when you finally turned the character into Hardin?
I did at the beginning. It was weird, because I read so much fan fiction that it was easy for me to distinguish actual Harry from the book. I never thought about real Harry. I don’t know how to explain it. He just looked like Harry, but it wasn’t Harry. I just thought of that for a long time, but the readers — now it’s kind of split between people who like One Direction and people who don’t like them. Once the readers started saying that they wanted Daniel Sharman as Hardin, I was like, that’s literally perfect. Everything about that is so perfect. And when I met him it just furthered my feeling that okay, he is Hardin. So now that I’m writing Nothing Less, which is Landon’s book, when Hardin’s there, it’s Daniel. It’s kind of like the Harry thing. I can picture Daniel, but it’s not actually Daniel. It’s really not about Harry anymore.

Have you ever read any fanfic about your books? How does that feel like?
I do, actually. I love it. I think it’s so cool. One of my favorite ones is about Emery, Hardin and Tessa’s daughter. And it’s like, when she’s in high school. Her personality there is not exactly how I would write it, but it’s interesting to see how well they know these characters. And some of the things that Hardin says as a dad of a teenager — yeah, he would say that, he would totally feel that way. And there’s one about Steph… there’s so many of them. There’s one that only has about four chapters, and it’s what would happen if Hardin is a good guy, and Tessa is a bad girl. I think it’s cool that my books have inspired its own fan fiction. I love it so much.

The After series is available in all National Book Store branches nationwide.

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