Cover of ‘Dancing Barefoot’ by Alice Boyle.
Dancing Barefoot is also a song by punk poetess Patti Smith—what influence has it had on the story?
Patti Smith has had quite an influence on Dancing Barefoot. The protagonist, Patch, is named after her, and Patch’s life is full of music. She lives with her dad and brother above the family record shop and music is woven through the story (there’s even an official playlist to accompany the book).
Like the real Patti Smith, Patch is someone who doesn’t quite fit the mould of what society expects girls and women to be. Patti Smith is a complex, multi-talented person. She does things her own way and values art, music, and literature. I’ve tried to imbue Patch with some of those characteristics while still making her very much her own person.
Album cover for Patti Smith’s ‘Horses’, sourced from https://www.gooieneemlander.nl/cnt/dmf20220601_70934408?/.
Patch feels out of place at Mountford College, where she has been labelled as a ‘povvo scholarship kid, weird dresser and friendless oddball’. Is ‘fitting in’ overrated? How can we stay true to ourselves while negotiating the social norms and hierarchies of high school?
I’m a little biased on this one because I myself was once a scholarship kid, weird dresser, and a bit of an oddball! I definitely think fitting in is overrated. Or, rather, I think changing who you are in order to fit in is overrated.
Secondary school can be such a challenging time. A lot is shifting in your world: your friendships, your body, your relationship with your family. It’s a time of figuring out what kind of person you want to be and where your boundaries lie, and it can be tempting to try to change yourself to fit in with what those around you are doing.
In Dancing Barefoot, Patch tries some things and realises they aren’t for her. It takes courage for her to stand up and say, ‘I tried this and I didn’t like it’ because, in doing so, she’s going against the grain of some of the more privileged kids at Mountford. While that can be a difficult thing to do, it’s also important to be true to your own values.
Patch has a huge, unrequited crush on the popular and beautiful Evie Vanhoutte, but is unsure about how to act on it. What are the challenges of finding romance when navigating queer identity is thrown into the mix?
Queer romance is beautiful and exciting and joyful, but it can also be fraught. I remember having these all-consuming crushes on girls when I was in secondary school and never acting on them because I had no idea if my feelings were reciprocated. We’d do all sorts of things that, if they were happening between a guy and a girl, you’d be like, ‘Well duh, of course this is a date!’ But if you’re not out, and the person you’re with isn’t out, there’s an element of risk there. Yes, if you make the first move, it might go really well, but if it doesn’t, you not only run the risk of having your heart broken, but also of being outed, shamed, or ostracised. That’s a terrifying prospect and often enough to keep people closeted.
“As a teenager, I found my queerness incredibly stressful, but these days I wouldn’t give up being gay for a million bucks. It’s a source of so much joy.”
It’s interesting because, as an adult, I’ve found it much easier to navigate romance than many of my cishet friends. When you’re out and comfortable with who you are, finding queer community and queer love is so enjoyable. You get to make your own decisions about what works for you and your partner(s) away from the dominant narrative of cishet expectations and gender roles. As a teenager, I found my queerness incredibly stressful, but these days I wouldn’t give up being gay for a million bucks. It’s a source of so much joy.
Image by Shingi Rice on UnSplash.
Coming to terms with our sexuality and gender identity can be incredibly challenging, especially when we’re young. If you could give one piece of advice to queer youth, what would it be?
That it’s okay to take your time and to try things out! Nobody has everything figured out right away (even if they seem like they do). Explore, play and enjoy the experience of finding out what feels right for you.
Your novel celebrates LGBTQIA+ romance and gives us an insight into what’s it like to grow up queer. What does authentic LGBTQIA+ representation mean to you, and what would you like to see more of in queer literature?
To me, authentic LGBTQIA+ representation means celebrating queer joy and—clichéd as it may be—pride. I started writing Dancing Barefoot because when I was a teenager, there were no cute funny queer rom coms. They just didn’t exist. All I could find were stories of doom and gloom where queer people suffered because of their identity, which didn’t give me much hope for the future. I wanted to write a story where queer teens could see themselves represented on the page, because even though being a queer teen can be scary, it’s also an exciting time of self-discovery and should be celebrated.
“I started writing Dancing Barefoot because when I was a teenager, there were no cute funny queer rom coms. They just didn’t exist.”
Looking forward, I would love to see more intersectionality in queer literature. I think we’re in an age where queer literature is finally getting the recognition and appreciation it deserves. There are some fantastic authors out there writing queer stories from BIPOC, disabled, trans and gender diverse, and/or First Nations perspectives. People like Jessica Walton, Gary Lonesborough, Malinda Lo, and Juno Dawson are writing such fantastic intersectional stories. I’m excited to read more stories like theirs.
A TV displaying colours of the Pride flag. Image sourced from https://www.them.us/story/dont-say-gay-walkout-organizer-queer-youth-media.
Have you read any queer YA books recently that you would recommend to Rosie readers?
My favourite recent queer YA reads are Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo, House of Hollow by Krystal Sutherland, and Take a Bow, Noah Mitchell by Tobias Madden. I also love Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell, Amelia Westlake by Erin Gough, and The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth.
Dancing Barefoot by Alice Boyle is now available at bookstores across Australia.
Alice Boyle is an English teacher and author living in Naarm/Melbourne. She has written for SBS Voices and the Stella Prize, and her short story ‘The Exchange’ was published in the Black Inc. anthology Growing Up Queer in Australia. In 2019 she was highly commended for the Wheeler Centre’s Next Chapter program, and in 2021 she won the Text Prize for her debut novel Dancing Barefoot.