And meet Alexia Casale, author of “The Bone Dragon” and recently published “The House of Windows” but she is also the lady behind YaShot, the event promoting reading where readers will have the opportunity to meet their favourite authors. It is held on October 28th in Uxbridge in London.
Alexia has kindly accepted to indulge me and it is a real honor to have her on CHOUETT today.
- What profession did you want to get into while growing up?
I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember, but I always knew it wasn’t likely to work out so I spent a long time considering what else I could do while trying to become a writer. For a long time I wanted to be a marine biologist. Then I planned to be a counsellor, so I did a lot of volunteering and I realised it just wasn’t for me. So then I started working to get qualified to teach writing and that was a perfect fit!
- You went from studying Social and Political Sciences to becoming an author. Tell us, how did this happen?
When I was about 16, I read The Go-Between by LP Hartley and Celestial Navigation by Anne Tyler and I realised that I’d never be the type of writer I wanted to be if I focused on learning how to write without having anything to write about. So I did the broadest Social Sciences degree I could find (majoring in Psychology) so I’d actually know about the substance behind my stories. Then I took on all the part-time and voluntary work to do with writing that I could so I’d learn the how as well as the what. But writing was always the end-goal for me professionally.
- Was “The Bone Dragon” your first writing project? If not can you share with us one previous idea that you were toying with?
Actually one of my earliest serious projects was a very different version of House of Windows! It’s been amazing to get to a place where I finally felt I had the skills and knowledge to do the story justice… And finally get it out of my head to make way for other stories to grow!
- What was publication day like for your first book release?
Quiet. A hitch had meant a few publicity things hadn’t happened so I’d been scrambling around to get all that sorted, which meant I had a good second month but the day itself was unremarkable in many ways (as it is for most debuts). But it was a lovely all the same because a few friends and people in my family were determined to make it special so I got some presents and we had lovely food and we planted a particularly beautiful tree in the garden – my Dragon tree because the leaves flame in the autumn when the sun comes through them.
- How different was your approach to writing “The House of Windows” compared to “The Bone Dragon”? Was it easier the second time round?
Easier? EASIER?! *shudders* Book #2 Syndrome is Real. And deadly.
I think a lot of it – for most people – it about finding a Book 2 project everyone feels is a good next publishing step. This is a creative issue but also a business and marketing one, so requires some tricky compromising between pure creative pull and good practical sense. I think the issue of expectation is also important, not just in terms of worrying about what readers will think, but negotiating those expectations in terms of editorial feedback. There’s often more than one path a manuscript can take to become a really good book, but not everyone involved will have the same taste or vision and it can be really hard to figure out which compromises are good all round. It’s such a balancing act to listen properly to top-notch input but also know when your take as the author should triumph. It’s very much part of the process, but this time through it really shook my confidence not being sure what was the best thing for the book on some issues.
That said, in other ways House of Windows was easier. I had an amazing agent already – and while Claire was on maternity leave, I had superb input from Margaret Halton. And then I had Rebecca and everyone at Faber. That gave me a huge boost of confidence. Also, I’ve been working on versions of House of Windows since I was 13 so I knew the story options and characters even better than those in The Bone Dragon. This time round it was more about telling the definitive version of a story I’ve been passionate about for more than half my lifetime than creating a story as I went along. It was just really different, but there were a lot of things I learnt during The Bone Dragon that were a huge help for House of Windows.
- Now let’s talk #YaShot. So what prompted this wonderful event that every single YA reader is looking forward to on October 28th 2015?
My earliest memories of reading were with my grandparents, who lived in Hillingdon and who were great fans of the Library. They didn’t have a lot of money but the house was full of books and they taught us all that education was the key to possibility. I’ve been volunteering at various local libraries for over ten years, but since I’ve been published it’s been easier than ever to set up meaningful events and workshops. I’ve done all sorts of things with Hillingdon Borough Libraries, including helping with the programme of last year’s Awards Evening for their young volunteers, so it was a natural progression for them to ask if I wanted to help out with a ‘YA day’ in their month-long Culture Bite (originally Culture Shot) festival. I’d been looking for a new big volunteering project for a while and the opportunity brought all sorts of things together. On a personal level, it’s been amazing to do something that I know my grandparents would be so proud of: they gave me so much and it feels wonderful to pay that forward in a way that supports our libraries at a time when they need our support so desperately. I am so excited about YA Shot, and with all the lovely people involved it can’t help but be a fantastic day, but for me the best thing of all is the Year-Long Legacy Programme. That’s the heart and the soul of YA Shot and why I feel like it’s part of the brilliant UKYA movement but also has its own place and raison d’etre within that.
- How did you transition from an author to directing a project of that magnitude? And was it a comfortable fit?
For a number of years I was Box Office Manager at a fairly big music festival and I’ve worked backstage in a theatre too, so I knew a lot about the logistics and practicalities of event management. But the book-business side of stuff has been a steep learning curve! I now know much more about stock ordering and how it all works, and how incredibly time-consuming it is to arrange for panel-chairs to get copies and for all authors to get a show-card for their signing! The main challenge was actually the time-frame. I didn’t formally take on the project and turn it into YA Shot until late March so there wasn’t the lead-in needed to do it calmly, but by and large everything’s worked out! But if there is a YA Shot 2016, it will all be much simpler – not only because I know what to expect and what to do, but because I’ll have the time to do it all early enough to deal with hiccups easily rather than as emergencies because OMG-it’s-next-week!
- What will you remember from the all experience so far? What is your best moment?
All the stuff I’ve learnt. How patient publishers and publicists have been with me as I fumbled my way through getting to grips with the business side of things without the time to do all the research I would have done if I’d had longer to get up to speed! The generosity of friends and strangers in terms of time, advice, effort and keeping costs down! Moving forwards, it’s going to be really important to take the time to explain to everyone how and why YA Shot is different and what that means for everyone involved. On both sides, it’s important we’re all on the same page about the time and effort we’re happy contributing to do different things – it’s all about managing expectations so everyone’s happy but also knows where they are, me included.
I’ve also loved how generous people have been about tweeting and helping us get the word out. And it’s been wonderful to work with some fantastic students in the Work Experience & Mentoring programme. But I expect the very best bit will be the end of the day itself. Hopefully it’ll all have come off OK with no major disasters and I can just look forward to hearing how the Year-Long Legacy Programme events have gone. I’ve been so lucky to work with all sorts of lovely and amazing people and that is something to be treasured.
- Can you tell us 10 things we don’t know about Alexia Casale?
- I have a trophy for white-water rafting as the youngest person down some very treacherous rapids in the USA.
- My first ‘job’ was as a stablehand, aged 9. I got paid in free hacks.
- I used to do semi-professional sugarcraft and cake design.
- I’m allergic to watermelon because my father poisoned me with it as a child. This was not his first (nor last) poisoning.
- I used to do a bit of demo dancing in a salsa nightclub.
- I ran away from my primary school once and refused to go back until my teacher stopped being a bully. It worked and she was polite to me for the rest of the year.
- I’ve been this height since before I was 10. I was one of the tall kids.
- I have bridge-hopped in Cambridge. With broken ribs. I’m tougher than I look. But just as stubborn.
- One of my favourite things is to climb mountains via streambeds.
- I once electrocuted myself changing a lightbulb. This is because I am officially a Mechanical Moron. However, I am nothing compared to other members of my family.
- If you could be any book character, who would you be and why?
This is so hard! Definitely someone with magic. As much magic as possible. I’ve always thought Galadriel from Lord of the Rings was someone to aspire to: brilliant clothes, all the hair ever, lovely woods, all sorts of powers, wisdom and immortality. I’d just need to check out her library access before I committed myself. But then I’d LOVE to go to Hogwarts, though I don’t necessarily want to be a particular character from the books. Then again, I could be Sophie from Howl’s Moving Castle and I could have awesome magic and Howl. But I rather suspect too much Howl would not be a happy thing. Maybe I’d rather just be a female Chrestomanci – the ‘Enchanter of Enchanters’ from Diana Wynne Jones wonderful series and borrow Howl for a bit by slipping series for a minute. Or… Well, you get the gist: immortal (or as good as), mega magic powers and all the books ever. Those are among my key things to aspire to. I would also like a sword. Just putting that out there in case any blacksmiths happen to want to craft one that will pick me like an Olivander’s wand!
Thank you Alexia
You find Alexia on Twitter @alexiacasale