Monday, 1 August 2016

YA SHOT:: An Off-the-Wall Conversation with Alexia Casale

It's that time of year again, and the second YA SHOT blog tour commencing here at Lost in a Library! In partnership with Hillingdon Libraries and Waterstones Uxbridge, the main aim of YA SHOT is to highlight the importance and value of local libraries, with the big event taking place on October 22nd. In kicking off the tour, I have had the pleasure of conversing YA SHOT's director, author of The Bone Dragon and House of Windows - Alexia Casale. So keep reading if you want to hear more on who Alexia would Marry/Kiss/Kill in Harry Potter, and what made the wonderful author a reader herself!

Has being an author changed how you read?
Yes! In good ways and, sometimes, troublesome ones. I almost never read now purely as a reader, just throwing myself into the story: I'm always unpicking, trying to figure out how the book works... This means I am very rarely surprised by plot twists - which is good for me as an author, but a pity sometimes when I see the machinery before the art. Being an editor, has also made me a terrible grammar pedant and I can no longer turn it off. This is because editing has taught me how precise and specific language is an art in itself – some writers are so good that they blur the lines between technical and artistic brilliance and that's something I aspire to. But it's made me more critical of writers who dismiss the possibilities of grammar and ignore the fact that it can let you say incredibly complex things but in a subtle, quiet way that can be sublime. 

Which of the Deathly Hallows would you choose?
Oh this is so tricky! I want to say the Elder Wand because I could do Great Things with it... but my cleverer, sneakier side says the Invisibility Cloak because then I can just murder people in their sleep and get away with it.
Scary? Who me?

What is the best part of your job?
The YA community. And the joy of knowing I get to do the thing I love best as a big bit of my career.
Yes, I'm cheating. That's two things. I need a selfish, inward-directed one and a happy, outward-appreciating one.

If you could live within any book for the rest of your life, whose pages would you pick and why?
Oh, but I could never pick! Seriously, it would be awful to be stuck in just one world, no matter how amazing it was. (Yes, even Hogwarts.) This is why all my degrees are in different disciplines and I drive my agent bonkers writing books that have very little in common. The world and the world of the imagination are both too big and wonderful and full of new things to discover for me to ever understand why anyone would want to pin themselves down. That’s one thing I shudder to imagine!

One of my favourite elements of the Bone Dragon was the dragon himself, if any fantastical creature could come out of mythology and exist in the modern world, what would you pick?
Probably a Dragon. I also have a thing for the phoenix. But then I also think cats are completely and entirely magical, so I'm just about content.

Do you have any writing traditions or rituals?
I try really, really, REALLY hard to avoid this. I'm a naturally obsessive person but I try to be pragmatic and professional about writing. I get very fed up when people dress it up as 'angels whispering words in your ear'. Sometimes it can feel like that, but if you treat writing as a mystical activity triggered by outside forces then you're going to be a lousy professional. Writing is inherently magical, but it's the magic of creating something out of nothing: the magic of reaching out and making another person see what's in your imagination – it's the closest we get to telepathy and not being alone in our own heads. But the act of writing is what it is. You sit down. You write words. The minute you start thinking it's anything more than that, you start being a bit of a pillock as far as I'm concerned. Sit down and write. Have a walk to clear your mind of other stresses first. Play some music. But don't treat it like a grand ritual that can actually create a book. All that matters is whether you then sit your butt down and produce words.

Marry, Kiss, Kill - Draco Malfoy, Ron Weasley, Harry Potter?
Um, could I give them to someone else? Not that I’m not fond of them, but I don’t really see them in that way! OK, I'd have to kill Draco because he's a bigot and I couldn't kiss or marry him. Also I definitely couldn't kill Harry or Ron as they worked to defeat Voldemort and make the magical world a better place and less bigoted. It's a pity about Draco as I always hoped he'd grow up not to be a jerk, but it's clear he does so... bye! I'd have to kiss Ron but yuck. I suppose it could be a peck on the cheek rather than a snog (always be specific or writers will cheat!). I admire the fact that he was part of the fight to defeat Voldemort but he's so thoroughly NOT my type. I'd have to marry Harry because I couldn't marry Ron. There's a lot to appreciate about Harry, though I still don't understand why he wasn't nuts about Hermione. I mean, Ginny ends up OK but she's such an awful drip to begin with and Hermione never is... though I get the Laurie from Little Women thing about wanting to marry into the Weasleys, which mean Ginny... But as a woman, I just don't get why Harry isn't so completely mad about Hermione from almost the start that that is just it for him. Even J.K Rowling later thought they should have ended up together! So, yeah, I'll marry Harry but I'm a bit suspicious of his taste in women.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
- Read! Write! Read widely! Write a LOT to practice before you try to get published! Read some more! Write some more!

- Join Twitter and stalk all the agents you're remotely interested in signing with AND a bunch of their authors.

- Start reading book blogs and following book bloggers on Twitter. [Blogger's Note - if interested, join #TeenBloggersChat - Sunday 7pm which I'm a moderator for, and #FeminisminYA - Sunday evenings!]

- Go to book events and festivals. Make yourself say hi to people, but don’t be pushy or needy – don’t ask them for anything.

- Invest in one expensive edit/set of critical feedback from a talented professional consultant. You get what you pay for so fork out for the thing that will make all the difference and hope you only need to do it once. There is NOTHING like this type of one-to-one input, even on a writing course, because that is about a lengthy teaching relationship not a commercial transaction where someone tells you the professional, commercial and critical truth about where you are versus where you want to be.

What book made you a reader and why?
My grandparents made me love stories. But Enid Blyton made me a reader. I didn't read properly until I was ten because I'm dyslexic and dyspraxic. When I was eight and a bit, I started seeing a dyslexic tutor who helped me start dealing with words. I can't remember how I got started on Enid Blyton but I was reading one and my tutor jumped on it and told my father I just needed to keep reading them. He went out and bought me a huge box of them and I read the whole lot. They're very simple and they all use basically the same words but the stories are exciting and just different enough to keep you going. By the time I'd finished the lot, I'd practised enough with that small set of words to be able to read. And then I moved straight on to Ursula Le Guin and Dickens. But I will always have a soft spot for Enid Blyton. My dyslexia means that what other people can do on the first go takes me a thousand tries: her books gave me that thousand tries in enough different stories that the effort wasn't so painful I gave up before I got there. I might still not be able to read if not for those books. And my life would have been much smaller and sadder and entirely different. I wouldn't have gone to university, I wouldn't have had the weird and varied career path I've enjoyed, I wouldn’t read for pleasure, I wouldn't write... I wouldn't be me

Obviously the main feature of YA SHOT is to raise awareness for libraries. What do libraries mean to you and how can people support them?
Libraries are a cornerstone an equal society and key to supporting human rights, two things I'm hugely passionate about. We can support them by using them and, as authors, by giving a little of our time. Part of the reason I started YA Shot is because I feel authors should probably do two free library events per year... and that got me to thinking, maybe across the whole UKYA and UKMG author pool if everyone gave one of those two events every few years to some national programme, we could really do something big and special together without it being individually onerous. For people who aren't authors, there’s still plenty to do to support your library. Why not joint a reading group – or start one! Or volunteer a few hours at the homework club – or set one up if there isn't one. Libraries are a great place to give meaningfully to your community, so if you want to contribute something to the world, they're always a great place to start.

Thank you so much to the team at YA SHOT for giving me the opportunity to participate in this spectacular blog/vlog tour, and to Alexia Casale for working with me. It's been wonderful to communicate with an author who I so greatly admire. To find out more information about YA SHOT, visit and follow the blog/vlog tour to it's next stop!

1 comment:

  1. This was so interesting to read! I totally agree with Alexia's stance on libraries: they are so important for discussion, support, and inclusivity. Couldn't have said it any better!


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