Chenée Marrapodi’s novel about stamina and persistence is a story that reflects her own experiences
In One Wrong Turn Chenée Marrapodi has made all the right turns (of phrase that is). It’s a great book for middle readers and a wonderful retelling of the traditional ballet story. Told with subtlety and honesty, she replaces the ballet clichés with a realistic portrayal of the grit, determination and teamwork required by our dancer athletes to put on a successful show. And in this interview, she shares the grit, determination and teamwork it takes to be a writer too.
When did you discover your love of writing, and did you always dream of coming out with a book like this?
I was always a really creative kid with a wild imagination and a love for storytelling. I would spend hours writing and illustrating my own picture books, spurred on by a family of incredibly supportive cheerleaders.
Towards the end of primary school, I spent an entire school holidays working on a novel. It was called The Rebel Riders and was a cross between The Saddle Club and The Famous Five. It was largely inspired by my obsession with horses and the devastating reality that I couldn’t have one. I enlisted my mum as my editor and by the end of the summer holidays, I had a full manuscript, which I quickly followed up with a sequel.
My parents submitted the books to Fremantle Press and I distinctly remember thinking I was going to be an ultra-famous twelve-year-old author. Sadly, those dreams were shattered by the kindest rejection letter in the world (which I still have!).
From that moment, the dream of being a published author was forever in the back of my mind. Given Fremantle Press gave me my first publishing rejection, it feels pretty perfect that they are the ones publishing my debut novel!
In a nutshell, what is your book about?
One Wrong Turn is a celebration of my love for dance and my Italian heritage.
It follows two dedicated young ballet dancers as they go head-to-head for the lead role in their academy’s production of Cinderella. Amelia is talented, hard-working and determined to dance the lead, but when Valentina arrives from Italy, the competition intensifies. While Amelia’s sole focus is achieving perfection, Valentina is juggling a new country, a foreign language and a family who doesn’t understand the demands of an elite ballet school.
Among all of this, someone tells one big, unnecessary lie that has the potential to ruin everything.
Who will One Wrong Turn appeal to, do you think?
I think this is the perfect book for dance enthusiasts – whether they attend formal classes, enjoy dancing around the house, or are just curious to know a bit more about what goes on in a ballet school. Oh, and lovers of Italian food – some chapters will make you hungry!
How would you say your take on dance and ballet is different from the classic ballet books?
There have been some beautiful ballet books over the years, but I really wanted to write something that took readers beyond the glitz and glamour of the art. I wanted to paint a picture of the athleticism and dedication required of a ballerina. I think that’s something that’s easily underestimated because dancers make everything look so graceful and effortless!
Competition and rivalry often feature in dance books and One Wrong Turn is no exception. But while Amelia and Valentina think they are battling one another, in actual fact, their greatest fight is within themselves. They are both struggling with the pressure of high expectations – many of which are self-imposed. It’s not until the girls learn to trust themselves, and each other, that they are truly able to shine on stage. Teamwork is an essential part of every dance performance!
The book deals with cultural differences in a subtle but effective way. What made you want to tackle those differences in a book for middle readers?
I think that’s the world we live in today. In a class full of dancers, there’s a variety of cultures and as a result, everyone brings something different to a performance.
Culture was a really interesting element to explore within the framework of a ballet class, where rules are often so rigid. Our backgrounds affect our mindset, beliefs, actions and the way we approach different things. Without recognising that, I think it’s easy to get frustrated when someone else’s values don’t align with our own.
For me, it was really important to take readers away from the dance school so they could meet the families of my ballerinas and understand how that shaped the way they each approached class. Understanding builds empathy and hopefully readers will carry that with them into real life.
You’re a mum, a dog mum, a career journalist, a producer, broadcaster, podcaster, recreational dancer, workshop presenter and an MC at major events. Though you make it look easy, it can’t always be that easy, really. What advice would you give to other aspiring writers about how to maintain a creative life in the thick of it all?
I’m glad it looks easy, but I can assure you it’s definitely not! Like everyone else, life is a bit of a juggling act and some weeks work better than others.
I’ve learned that you’ve got to prioritise the things that are important to you. You’re never going to ‘find’ the time – you’ve got to make it.
For me, that means writing on the days I’m not working in the newsroom, or in those precious (brief) moments when my two-year-old is asleep. It’s not a foolproof plan, at times it leads to burnout, so I’m always fine-tuning the process.
I think you also need to be kind to yourself and have fun with it (not to be confused with waiting for motivation to hit. That may never happen). The best stories are the ones we enjoy writing. To steal a line from my writing buddy Tamara Moss: ‘It should be an indulgence.’
One Wrong Turn is available in all good bookstores and online.