In Casting Lily, fourteen-year-old Ava is thrilled when she lands a part in a play based on the true story of orphans sent to Canada in the 1800s to work on farms. But is she good enough to hold her own in a professional production? As the rehearsal pressures crank up, Ava struggles with her character, with the vocal demands of outdoor theater and with the annoying ego of her castmate Kiefer. But as she learns more about the historical Lily on which her part is based, things begin to fall into place.
Then one bad decision jeopardizes Ava’s chances of being able to perform on opening night.
How do you usually begin writing your stories?
For me it usually starts with a character that interests me, in a situation that interests me. I kind of live with them for a while, thinking about the possibilities and probing around for the story. I’m probably doing some research at the same time, trying to flesh in a sense of the world the story is set in. Then I will write a few exploratory scenes to get a feel for the character’s voice and see if it feels like I’m “onto” something. It goes from there.
What planning or research did you do for your book?
This book was inspired by a real outdoor theater near where I live, and a real historical play about the Barnardo or “home” children that was performed there. After I got the authors’ permission to use the play, I read it, of course, and interviewed the young woman who played “Lily” in the production I saw about what the process was like, what it was like being a young actor in essentially an adult theater company, what she found most challenging about the role, things like that. I also sat in on a number of rehearsals at various stages with a couple of local productions, and talked with people involved in community theater, getting them to walk me step by step through how a production comes together.
Do you have any advice you would give to an aspiring writer?
Read voraciously! Let all kinds of good writing sink into your bones. And write the stories you love and care about, not the stories you think you “should” love and care about.
Oh no, that’s impossible!
Do you keep books after you’ve read them, or give them away? Do you borrow books from your local library?
Both. But I confess I keep a lot. And yes, absolutely I borrow from the library!
What types of conversations do you hope will come out of your book?
I hope Casting Lily will encourage kids to discover the challenge and fun of participating in drama productions, whether on the stage or backstage. But there’s a bit of a history embedded in the story too, and I hope some readers will be interested in the original Barnardo children and what happened to them. We often teach kids about the Big Events in history, but these stories of what happened to ordinary people are, I think, really important.
Holly Bennett is the author of numerous young adult novels, all published by Orca. She lives in Peterborough, Ontario, where she enjoys singing, being in nature, hanging out with her family, Scrabble and, of course, reading. For more information, visit www.hollybennett.ca.