Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

On Writing, with Charis Marsh

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Charis Marsh

Vancouver-based author and lifelong dancer Charis Marsh is the author of Love You, Hate You (Dundurn), the first instalment in the Ballet School Confidential series. Set in a prestigious Vancouver ballet academy, the book follows four young students struggling to fit in and stand out at the same time.

A second book in the series, You're So Sweet, is forthcoming in July.

Charis talks with Open Book about the dancer's life, her CanLit reading recommendation and her plans for the Ballet School Confidential series.

Open Book:

Tell us about your book, Love You, Hate You.

Charis Marsh:

People always ask me, “What is your book about? How does it end? Who’s the hero?”

I tell them, “It’s not that sort of book. Nobody wins a war, nobody’s a true hero, there’s no glorious finale with a car chase.” Love You, Hate You is the story of four teenage dancers trying to become professional ballet dancers. It’s about the fun stuff that happened to them, and the weird stuff, the sad stuff, the sweet stuff. It tells you what makes these characters awesome people that you’d want to be best friends with, but it also tells you about the idiotic, stupid, mean, and ridiculous stuff that they do.

They’re people, but they’re also dancers, so their lives are extremely connected to each other because of the sheer amount of time they spend with each other in the studio. Sometimes you want to give them a hug and tell them it’s going to be all right, and sometimes you might want to hit them over the head with a pointe shoe. With all that said, the book culminates with the dancers performing The Nutcracker, and the four main characters are Julian, Taylor, Alexandra, and Kaitlyn. It is set in Vancouver, B.C.


How did your dance background inform your writing process? Is it ever difficult to capture in writing the joy and pressure of a life in dance?


I started writing because of dance. It was a way to set down everything I loved and hated about dance. For me writing Love You, Hate You was the equivalent of writing a really long love letter to the world I was leaving behind as I went off to continue my academic education. Now I love writing, and I’ve always read constantly, but I started to write because of dance not a love of writing. Of course, I finished Love You, Hate You because I discovered how much I really liked writing pretty early on in the book.

The hardest part of writing about dance, in my opinion, is wanting to describe what it feels like to dance. Dance gives you a high, it is incredible; but how do you give a reader that feeling? How do you explain why so many people are willing to give up on “normal” life to spend day after day in the studio? It’s easier to explain the world of dance in the pauses, the moments where the dancers have stopped dancing for a second. But those moments aren’t why dancers are in the studio day after day, hour after hour.

When I was in high school we had a poetry unit, and so I wrote a poem about adrenaline, relating it to dance. In hindsight this was an odd topic to pick. But that is still how I see dance in a way; a combination of the physical rushes of a sport and the exquisite beauty of the movements, the music, everything coming together in an alive painting. The chance to be a part of that magic is why dancers dance.


What recurring themes or obsessions do you notice turning up in your writing?


I like music. I think that the music a person listens to defines them in some ways; and so I always know the kind of music that my characters like. Also, I am always interested in knowing what my characters think of the people around them. I think that how we divide our world into “us and them,” who we identify with, what types of people we can’t tolerate and which ones we will tolerate almost anything from, says a lot about who we are.


Who are some people (fellow writers or not) or what are some experiences which have deeply influenced your writing life?


One of my old ballet teachers, Joy Camden. She never stopped working or being interested in everything. If I live to my 80’s I want to still care as much about the people around me and my world as she did. She used to always say about me, in a slightly amused tone of voice, “Charis — she wants to have her cake and eat it too, doesn’t she?” It was a fairly accurate statement, I think. When I started writing, I realized that writers get to do that. You get to experience everything, be whoever you want, be wherever you want, whether it exists or not. It’s magic, and as girl who grew up wanting to go to Hogwarts, I approve. But Joy also didn’t believe in daydreaming, she believed in work, in being honest, in supporting other artists. She was an incredible role model to grow up with, and I am sure she is still a role model up in the Anglican heaven she believed in.


Is there a book you’ve read recently that you wished you had written?


I just read Not Wanted on the Voyage by Timothy Findley for the first time, and it’s definitely my favorite out of the books that I have read this year, so I would like to have written that. Oh, and my biology textbook because then I would already know the stuff inside it!


What are you working on now?


I’m editing You’re So Sweet (set for release in July 2012), writing I Forgot To Tell You (the 3rd book in the Ballet Confidential Series), and I just started writing for a new web magazine called EPIC Vancouver that will start publishing in 2012, so let’s see how that goes!

Charis Marsh has been dancing for as long as she can remember, and loves the people you meet in the dance world almost as much as the dancing. She has performed in many productions, including The Nutcracker. Her first novel in the Ballet School Confidential series is Love You, Hate You. She lives in Vancouver.

For more information about Love You, Hate You please visit the Dundurn website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

Are you a high school student who loves to write? Check out Write Across Ontario, a creative writing contest for Ontario high school students from IFOA Ontario and Open Book: Ontario. You can find the full details at

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