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Interview: Robyn Bavati

February 17th, 2014 (06:00 am)
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Current Song: Kinks Shirt by Matt Nathanson

When I read the premises of Robyn Bavati's novels Dancing in the Dark and Pirouette, I knew I had to read them. Stories about dancers? Yes, please. And while I'm not one to judge books by their covers, Robyn has certainly been blessed by lovely covers, both in her native Australia and in the USA. (Go check 'em out at her website - and you'll see that her website features a Degas painting in the background!)

Robyn was recently given the Sydney Taylor Honor Award in the Teen Readers category for Dancing in the Dark. Thanks to the lovely folks at the AJL, who arrange the annual Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour and made this interview possible. Come dance with us!

Dancing in the Dark is an exploration of artistry, faith, and family. What do you have in common with your protagonist, Ditty Cohen?

Like Ditty, I loved ballet and dancing. Unlike her, I was allowed to take one or two dance classes a week from the age of twelve, even though I too grew up in an observant Jewish home where pursuing ballet seriously or taking classes on the Sabbath was out of the question.

What traits or experiences did you give her that you wish you had had as a teenager?

I gave Ditty a conscience, like mine, but I also gave her maturity, a sense of responsibility, and degree of competence that I lacked. Ditty is also more passionate than me, more talented, and more determined to forge her own path in life than I was at her age.

For the young writers or dancers reading this piece, especially - Any advice for those who are passionate about their pursuits but may not have the support of their family?

Oh, that's a tough one, because pursuing your passion without the support of your family comes at a cost. I think it's best to try to garner your family's support if that's at all possible.

How has your faith informed your writing? How has your writing informed your faith?

My strong Jewish background is an integral part of my identity, and has necessarily informed my writing, though not always to the degree that it has done so in Dancing in the Dark. Writing is a way of resolving inner conflicts, and has helped me discover who I am and what I believe.

Have your children read your novels?

Yes, but only when they're published, and I've made it clear to them that I don't want criticism from my family, only support.

Who are your beta readers?

Dancing in the Dark took a long time to write and for some of that time I was studying creative writing at university. I received contradictory and often unhelpful feedback from my classmates while still writing it, and ultimately sent it off for a professional assessment. I've since decided not to seek feedback until after completing a first draft, when I show my work to my agent, a fellow writer who has worked as a freelance editor, and a couple of readers in the target age group.

Dancing in the Dark was first published Australia in 2010, then released in the US three years later. Your second YA novel, Pirouette, was published in the US first, then in Australia a few months later. What have you found to be the biggest differences between the publishing industries and the reading audience in Australia and the United States?

I suspect Australians read more widely, and don't need to have foreign books 'Australianized' for them. US readers, on the other hand, tend to read books that are mostly set in the US or in fantasy worlds, and for this reason my US publisher Americanized my books to a degree, getting rid of Australianisms that perhaps Americans would struggle to understand.

Pirouette also has its roots in dance. Do you find it easy or difficult to describe the artistry and the world of dance in text?

I find it difficult. Words can never quite do it justice.

I often find myself standing in third position without thinking about it. Do you have any favorite ballet moves?

It's been many years since I've taken a ballet class, but back when I was in my early teens, we used to do something called 'together up' from one corner of the studio to the other, which was basically a series of high kicks. I loved doing that, and used to do it quite often at home.

What are your favorite ballets to watch or perform? I have always loved The Nutcracker.

I love all the classics - Coppélia, Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, Giselle...

Name your top ten favorite books.

It's difficult to pick just ten. I have so many favourites, and my answer would probably change depending on the day you asked that question. So I'll just say that today, right at this moment, my favourites are (in no particular order):

The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nightime
My Name is Asher Lev
As a Driven Leaf
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Wildlife (by Australian author Fiona Wood)
Addition (by Australian author Toni Jordan)
Grace (by Australian author Morris Gleitzman)
Foreskin's Lament
The Color of Water

For more information about Robyn and her books, please visit robynbavati.com

Love dance as much as I do? Check out my booklist: I Am a Dancer!

Visit The Association of Jewish Libraries blog and the official Sydney Taylor site,

Follow the Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour. Click here for the schedule.