Author August: Alexia Casale – Q & A

Author August- Alexia Casale Q&A

To view all guest author posts so far and for a chance to win a £40 Foyles Giftcard visit the Author August Page.

Discover insights into Alexia’s inspiration, what’s she’s learned as an author and all about YA shot and it’s conception.

What was the inspiration behind YA Shot?

In mid-February last year (can’t believe it’s such a short time ago!), Hillingdon Borough Libraries asked if I would help them plan a ‘YA Day’ for their month-long programme of Arts events in October 2015… A month later, I asked if I could take over the YA day and explode it from three panels to a whole festival. I’d been thinking for a while about the fact that I wanted to work with a charity focused on libraries, literacy and supporting aspiration… only I couldn’t find an organisation where I felt I had something special to offer. But then the Hilllingdon YA Day turned up and a bunch of things came together in my head.

The key thing was realising that lots of UKYA authors probably feel as I do – that we must do something to help save our libraries – and it struck me that they might also be willing to donate time and energy if there was some way of joining up our shared effort in a scheme that would then make a meaningful difference, especially if it wasn’t just London-focused. So then I thought about how to make a one-day festival in Hillingdon reach out around the country to help libraries, because I knew that if there was a way of doing that then it wouldn’t be just ‘another literary festival’ but something new and unique, adding real value to the festival landscape.

That was when I came up with the idea of a festival that existed to support a Libraries-Schools Programme of year-round free author visits. That’s really what YA Shot is – a flagship festival that celebrates UKYA and, in the course of this, raises money to help one or more different library systems around the country each year. It brings together all the best things of the UKYA community, offering a day for us to come together and a year-round project to rally behind the rest of the time that supports libraries, aspiration and equality.

 

You’ve have two books published so far, what’s one thing from each book did you learn while writing?

The Bone DragonThe Bone Dragon, as my debut, showed me how publishing works in a way no amount of reading could ever have conveyed. It was also the first book where I managed to draft ‘short’ and I’ve pushed myself to follow this path since. It is so much easier to edit when you don’t *have* to cut words before doing anything else: I really enjoy editing when I am just weighing words for their worth, not for the word count.

With House of Windows, I learnt about some of the pragmatic elements of creativity, including the order in which the books you write are published. House of Windows is something I was planning to do later in my career but for various reasons it made sense as a Book 2 and I’m so proud it’s been picked for the Reading Agency’s ‘books on prescription’ Reading Well for Young People list. I wrote it for all the reasons the list exists so it’s truly the best compliment the book could ever receive.

 

Who inspired you as a writer? 

My maternal grandparents are probably the reason I’m a writer. I grew up with them telling me their stories. I can’t think why else a severely dyslexic child who didn’t even read properly until she was 10 would be so set, from the very first, on being a writer. It’s literally one of my first memories – knowing I wanted to write – and I think that must be where it came from.

But my life took a very different turn on that path when I read first Anne Tyler’s Celestial Navigationand then LP Hartley’s The Go-Between. I’d been planning on doing English Lit (or possibly Classics) at uni, but then I realised I had to study Psychology or I’d never know enough to be the type of writer I aspired to because I needed to know about the content I wanted to write as much as how to write. Instead of applying to English Lit at Oxford as my first choice, I did this amazing degree at Cambridge where I could study in six different departments (Psychology, Sociology, Criminology, Anthropology, Politics, Natural Sciences) and also get a thorough grounding in scientific research. It taught me how important it was not to restrict my curiosity even to work towards a set goal if I wanted to bring richness to my writing.

 

The Bone Dragon has a personal resonance for you. Is there are similar story behind House of Window?

Alexia CasaleThere was no event from my life I used as a jumping off point like the rib in The Bone Dragon: instead, House of Windows is a story I literally grew up with. I started writing the very first version of it when I was 12 or 13 because it was a book I needed and couldn’t find on any shelf in any house, library or bookshop. Being picked for the Reading Agency’s Reading Well for Young People list means that if there are young people like 12-year-old me looking for this type of book now, hopefully they will have what I could never find.

12-year-old me came up with House of Windows because I needed a book about the process of how people change, but I didn’t need or want a book that amplified everything into ‘high story’: I wanted a realistic tale of how people go from feeling a certain way about themselves and their lives to feelingly differently, because that was what I was trying to learn how to do – and part of the reason I didn’t know how to achieve this was that I couldn’t find any books to help me.

Sure, I tried behaving differently and hoping how I felt would catch up, but ‘fake it till you make it’ doesn’t work as simply in life as it usually does in books. Books told me that nerdy, weird kids could decide to act confident and all of sudden they’d have brilliant friends and a fabulous social life. Tried it. Nope. Books told me that fashion-backwards, not-conventionally-pretty teens could learn about clothes and makeup and – *insert montage scene* – reappear at school with a whole new look and be treated like a whole new person. Epic fail. Over and over again, I read books where the characters would have one big blow-out argument with parents, friends, teachers, mentors… and suddenly everyone would understand what was wrong and the teen in question would be free to move on feeling differently about him/herself and the world in general. In books, the story would reach a climax and afterwards the protagonist would be on a different path with everything steadily moving in the right direction. Abort mission MASSIVE Argument! Abort! Abort!

I read so many of these books and followed the examples they showed… and none of it ever worked for me. The changes were too big and too sudden – they were literally the stuff of high fiction – whereas I wanted realistic fiction. I wanted stories that could give me a realistic idea of how much and how quickly a person could change – and how to do it. It wasn’t satisfying to me to read about a character achieving a big change only to close the covers of the book and find my life small and grey and drab in comparison.

House of Windows is about the tiny steps by which a person can come to feel and think and behave just a little bit differently, and how that can slowly bring about other realistic changes in their life. It’s not a ‘big’ book and it’s not a ‘fast’ book. It’s an honest book about the process of emotional change – and how that carries forward into everything else. It’s the book I so desperately needed when I was a teen, struggling to figure out how I could ‘change my stars’.

 

What elements of a book do you think are key to making it good?

This is so hard because a book can be ‘good’ in so many very different ways! Some books are all about the language – its beauty, its wit, its subtlety, its surprises: the way the voice of the author or the characters shouts or whispers from the pages. Some books are all about the story – how heartwarming, how exciting, how clever, oh what a twist! Some books are all about the people – characters who are as real to you as anyone you’ve known in real life: some character move beyond the pages of the book, continuing to live in your head and the worlds of your imagination like friends you carry everywhere with you. Some books are about distraction – they’re the perfect thing at the perfect moment, taking you away from life when you can’t bear to be who you are or where you are. Some books are the doorway to Narnia – a familiar place that will always be waiting for you if you need it: somewhere that never changes, even if you do. We need lots of different books so that there’s always a book out there for anyone and everyone in any situation or mood they find themselves in.

 

What are you currently reading?

I am on a strict diet of YA Shot2016 books… and books for other events I am doing that I am currently not allowed to talk about (shhhhh!). A lot of my reading nowadays is dictated by YA Shot or other events, but soon I’m going to have read one book by an AWFUL lot of UKYA authors then I’ll only have to read debuts to have a good sense of who is best for the YA Shot programme each year. I’m really looking forward to that. While all our YA Shot authors are amazing, my reading tastes are eclectic and I miss the breadth of my usual reading habits. I’ve got a stack of adult literary fiction, crime, adult historical fic and US fantasy I’ve been dying to dive into for ages! I might take a tiny pause from YA Shot just in the run up to YALC and read a few books for that, including VE Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic. I couldn’t resist dipping in a little while back and I loved the first page so much I need to make time for it before YALC so I can tell her how brilliant it is.

My personal thanks to Alexia for taking part in Author August!

To view all guest author posts so far and for a chance to win a £40 Foyles Giftcard visit the Author August Page.

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