Alexia Casale on Sing If You Can't Dance and real-world novels for early teens

Sing If You Can't Dance by Alexia Casale. Book cover and author photo.

Sing If You Can't Dance, one of the books we picked for our Macaw subscribers this month, had us alternately laughing, crying and screaming with frustration! We love Ven, a hugely relatable lead character who we think young people will find inspiring. This is an emotional but ultimately hopeful novel that celebrates diversity and the power of young people to do good in the world. We are delighted that author Alexia Casale has agreed to tell us more about writing for teens and which books with real-world settings she recommends you read next.

What inspired you to write Sing If You Can’t Dance?

Nothing! The main character just turned up and refused to give me a moment’s peace till I told her story. When you start the book, you will understand exactly what I mean.

Are any of the characters or elements of the story based on real people or events?

I only ever put people into books when (a) I don’t know them very well, and (b) I don’t like them at all. Real people are too complicated to fit in a book, no matter how rich the characterisation. But when someone’s awful, I sometimes take a piece of their behaviour and give it to a character I dislike. (O sweet, sweet literary revenge.)

As for other elements and events – yes! I was the lone atheist in a revelation rock-gospel choir at uni, and I used to be Box Office Manager at a music festival, so I brought my own knowledge, expertise and emotional experiences to the book regarding how it feels to perform with a group, what it’s like helping to run an event with tens of thousands of people over multiple days… But none of it is an exact version of my experience because it’s Ven’s story.

How different do you think the story might have been if it had been told by another character?

Ha! As if Ven would have ever, ever let that happen! Unthinkable!

However, I am working on a new book that may, one day, indirectly provide a good answer to this question.

What do you hope young readers will take away from the story and how it unfolds?

I always try to write books that ask questions, rather than delivering messages, so I hope readers will take away their own thoughts, feelings, imaginings, curiosities – and, most of all, that they keep thinking about the book long after they finish the final page. Dear reader, what do you all make of the story? What did you like? What surprised you? What do you wish I’d written differently? Is there anything you’ve looked up or done having read the book? If you’ve got any questions, do feel free to chat to me on Instagram or Twitter/X! I’m a friendly little human-bean.

Can you tell us anything about what the future holds for Ven?

Um… I can only say no comment or my publisher will kill me. 😉

World domination is definitely a possibility though.

Why did you choose to write books for this age group?

I write both YA and adult fiction, so it just depends on what the story is, which always depends on who the main character is (or are, if there’s a group). Ven determined everything about this book. With The Bone Dragon, my debut, it was similar, though Evie’s a bit younger. I try to do the equivalent of ‘method acting’ – putting myself into the body, mind, life of the main character then seeing how that person talks, acts, thinks and imagines. Sing was super fun because of Ven’s sense of humour – though I did tone down her swearing as it lands much harder in a book than when people speak and it’s not worth putting people off a story they’d otherwise love. Overall, though, I don’t write differently for children, young people or adults, I just write different things, and the nature of those things mean each story takes on its own shape, tone and language.

Do you have a favourite place to write?

Yes! I have a covered porch at the back of my home so I can be outside and look at the garden as I write. A fresh cup of tea, and a purring cat beside me, and life is bliss! I’m there right now and the robin I share the garden with has just dropped by to say hello.

Which other books with real life settings for tweens and teens would you recommend our subscribers read next?

I am a huge fan of Holly Bourne, so it was an absolute honour to have her blurb Sing If You Can’t Dance. Louisa Reid writes amazing verse novels – it takes about 5-10 pages to get into the narrative the first time you read one, but they offer an amazing reading experience once you’re in the flow. Christi Daugherty does action-packed thrillers, often with an intriguing political edge grounded in the shifting sands between espionage and diplomacy. Karen Gregory writes beautiful books – Skylarks is a great place to start if you like a little romance alongside a story about important social issues. And… there are just too many!

Copies of our Sing If You Can't Dance pack, including a copy of the book and loads of fun activities to go with it, are now available for individual purchase. Grab a copy while stocks last!

This post includes affiliate links to our page, meaning we receive a small percentage of the sale should you purchase through them. Additionally, a percentage from all sales on the platform goes directly to local UK bookshops which is an initiative we're delighted to support!


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