Monday 13 May 2013

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2013 YA UK Debut Interview: The Bone Dragon by Alexia Casale

We all like supporting YA and New Adult debut authors, but this year, rather than just read their books, I'll be highlighting them on my blog too, so you can hear about these wonderful authors.

Today I'm interviewing UKYA author Alexia Casale, whose debut YA novel The Bone Dragon is being published by Faber and Faber in the UK on 2nd May 2013. Read on for more:

The Bone Dragon by Alexia CasaleThe Bone Dragon by Alexia Casale - Evie's shattered ribs have been a secret for the last four years. Now she has found the strength to tell her adoptive parents, and the physical traces of her past are fixed - the only remaining signs a scar on her side and a fragment of bone taken home from the hospital, which her uncle Ben helps her to carve into a dragon as a sign of her strength.

Soon this ivory talisman begins to come to life at night, offering wisdom and encouragement in roaming dreams of smoke and moonlight that come to feel ever more real.

As Evie grows stronger there remains one problem her new parents can't fix for her: a revenge that must be taken. And it seems that the Dragon is the one to take it.

This subtly unsettling novel is told from the viewpoint of a fourteen-year-old girl damaged by a past she can't talk about, in a hypnotic narrative that, while giving increasing insight, also becomes increasingly unreliable.

A blend of psychological thriller and fairytale, The Bone Dragon explores the fragile boundaries between real life and fantasy, and the darkest corners of the human mind.
from Goodreads.

Alexia CasaleCan you tell us a little about yourself?

Well, when I’m introducing myself to a new class (I teach Literature, Creative Writing and Academic Writing), I tell them two facts about myself. One part of my day job involves human rights editing: my area of expertise is torture. Also, I collect shiny knives. I believe that a healthy environment of fear stimulates learning. It seems to work: attendance rates are always good for my classes and my students tend to hand in all their work. I make sure to embed this principle into all aspects of my teaching, so most of my grammar examples involve premeditated murder. Well, if you had to teach grammar to bored First Years, what would be on your mind? Besides, it’s a good tactic: it reminds them of their fear and then they pay attention... and then their grammar improves, they write better cover letters for job applications, and then they end up with better jobs. It’s win-win really.

Have you always wanted to be an author?

Yes. Since before I can remember. I always knew it was a very silly career choice and tried very hard to convince myself I’d be happy doing something else. And I might have been. But not as happy as when I’m writing. So eventually I gave in and tried to make choices that would give me a wide range of experiences to draw on as a writer and also a wide range of skills so I would always have something I could do to earn a living if writing never brought in anything at all. If I can keep getting published and have my books do well enough that I can get a nice part-time lectureship and some really interesting ‘story doctor’ consultancy work to pay the bills - but leave me time to write - then I will be a very happy person indeed. Teaching writing, and working with other writers, is very much part of my creative process so, for me, ‘being a writer’ means being those other things as well. But first and foremost, I’ve always wanted to write.

How did you come up with the idea for The Bone Dragon?

Well, a few years ago I had an operation. Afterwards, the surgeon came in to tell me about it and he put a little pot down on the hospital table beside my bed and said, ‘That’s your rib.’ So I squinted at the pot, then at the surgeon. ‘Well,’ I said, ‘if all of womankind, via Eve, came out of Adam’s rib, I had better get something extra special out of mine.’ (Well, I’m sure what actually came out was slurred and incomprehensible, but that’s what I meant.) Anyway, as it turns out, what I got out of my rib was a book.

The Bone Dragon is not an autobiography, I hasten to add! But it did come directly from that doped- up, post-anaesthetic thought. It took me about 2 years to figure out what fictional story I wanted to tell based on that idea. I wanted to use the experience as a springboard but I didn’t want the book to be about me or my life. The important thing for me was to turn a rather miserable experience into something really good. And what better than the thing I had always wanted? - the start of a professional writing career.

If you could describe The Bone Dragon in three words, what would they be?

Oh, please don’t ask me to be brief! Brief is not my thing. Oh dear… Well, I think of it as my ‘wicked little book’. Will that do?

Why will readers like your main character, Evie?

That’s a surprisingly hard question. I could tell you the answer with regard to any of the other characters without giving away too much, but it’s really tricky for Evie. She’s a very difficult person who is going through a very difficult period in her life, so the things about her that people would warm to at a party are not what she’s in a position to demonstrate in The Bone Dragon. I do hope that readers will admire her strength, but I’m not sure it really matters whether people like her or not – it’s not that sort of book. What is important is that readers feel they’ve gone on a journey with Evie and feel bound to her by what they have experienced through her.

What research did you have to do for The Bone Dragon? Was there anything you found that surprised you?

It has been surprisingly hard to find out how to dry out a piece of cartilage so it can be carved. It turns out that ribs aren’t, for the most part, bone per se but cartilage. There’s only a small bit of actual bone. And only adults have any at all. Children’s ribs are all cartilage.

Tell us about how you write; do you write in a particular place? Do you have any music playing? Do you have any must-haves with you while writing?

I wrote The Bone Dragon in my attic study and in the garden. I just need to be somewhere quiet without people near me so that I can get lost in the world of the book: it doesn’t have to be a specific place. I vary between playing music and needing it absolutely quiet. The music for The Bone Dragon is by a Japanese composer: I heard the theme song while watching anime and then fell in love with the composer’s work. I’m still working on a theme song for my new book: ‘Running Up That Hill’, ‘Skyfall’ and Susan Enan’s ‘Bring on the Wonder’ are the key contenders at the moment.

What was most surprising to you during the writing process?

How pleased I was with the work. With The Bone Dragon, for the first time I felt that the ‘book on paper’ was better than the book in my head. I’m really happy with it: it’s exactly the book I wanted to write. I’ve never felt that way about a manuscript before and it’s a nice place to be. Maybe I finally know what I’m doing!

How does it feel to know your book will soon be in the hands of readers?

Wonderful and terrifying at the same time. Mostly I’m excited. I love my book and the cover Faber have designed is perfect, plus I’ve got a wonderful agent and publisher who think the book is good… maybe other people will too. Maybe they’ll want to talk to me about it, and about their work, and about other books… Sounds like the perfect life to me.

Anything else you would like to add?

Thank you very much for interviewing me!

Thank you, Alexia, for allowing me to interview! Aren't you so intrigued by The Bone Dragon now? I am so looking forward to reading it! You can find Alexia on her website, The Bone Dragon website, Twitter and Facebook.


  1. THis has just been bumped up to the top of my reading pile, thanks for the wonderful interview.

    Love, love, love the inclusion of torture and shiny knives into your introduction :)

  2. The Bone Dragon sounds fantastic. I've had it on my pile for a while actually, but I'm hoping to dive into it soon. Thanks for sharing!