Dance Academy, Learning to Fly

Based on the major new ABC tv series, Dance Academy, Learning to Fly tells the story of 16yo Tara, the daughter of sheep farmers who soon discovers that being in Dance Academy is not quite the dream come true she thought it would be.

She has to cope with back stabbing ballerinas, a teacher who seems to have taken a dislike to her and her own feelings for a boy who seems to have no interest in her.

Once of the things I loved about this book is that the characters were so well rounded. Heroine Tara was of course extremely talented, but she also had flaws which did more to endear her to me rather than detract from her appeal. Conversely, Abby, ‘the baddie’ had redeeming features that made the reader empathise with her even though she is trying to bring Tara down.

Learning to Fly handles real issues for kids this age in this kind of situation and the authenticity of the characters, dialogue and setting will appeal to teen readers.

Learning to Fly has themes of friendship choices, first love and finding your place in the world and would provide a useful discussion focus for any high school classroom.

Learning to Fly is published by ABC Books and Harper Collins

Meredith Costain Talks About Writing Learning to Fly

What inspired you to write this book?

Learning to Fly was commissioned by the publisher. It’s based on the TV show Dance Academy, currently screening on the ABC. They sent me the scripts and rough cut DVDs for 13 episodes and asked me to write a novel based on them. So the characters and the storylines belong to the scriptwriters rather than me. It’s a very different way of working.

Why will kids like it?

It’s based on a TV show that’s been very popular. Learning to Fly sold out its first print run in three weeks, so I guess kids do like it.  🙂

But also, dance is very big at the moment. Shows like So You Think You Can Dance, Glee – even Dancing with Galahs!

Can you tell me about the main character and what you like/dislike about him/her?

Tara is a very complex character, which made her much more interesting to write about than a two-dimensional clichéd ‘bunhead’. I didn’t invent her, but I had to be careful to make sure I included scenes in the book that display who she is, by her dialogue and actions. She’s over-sensitive, which means she takes things to heart too much. She’s also devastatingly honest and wears her heart on her sleeve – which gets her into embarrassing situations with the guy she falls for. She has a dream, and she’s determined to achieve it, no matter what it takes. As one of the lines from the background material says, she’s ‘nobody’s doormat. Push her too hard and she’ll come back fighting.’

Are there any teacher’s notes, associated activities with the book?

There’s a fantastic website at

Is there something that sets this book apart from others?

It’s a novelisation of a TV show, so a different way of working. But it goes beyond being just a blow by blow recount of everything that happens in the show. There’s room for the character to reflect on what’s happening to her – the reader can get inside her head and she what she’s thinking, as well as seeing her actions and hearing what she says.

What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

The scripts were wonderful and the production standards were very high. It made my job much easier when the raw material was so good. You could tell the kids in the acting roles – who were all fabulous dancers as well as actors – really enjoyed themselves making the show. The setting – Sydney Harbour – was so vivid it almost became one of the characters.

What was the hardest thing about writing this book?

Distilling so much material (13 episodes) into one book of 25,000 words. I had to plot everything out very carefully to work out which scenes had to go in and which could be left out. Not just for ‘my’ character though. Four books following the lives of the other main characters were being written by other people at the same time, and I had to be careful not to ‘steal’ too much of the storylines that concerned them. So there needed to be a few ‘sweeping paragraphs’ that moved the story along so that what happened next to my character made sense.

The deadline was also very tight as the producers wanted the books out at the same time the show went to air. I had the DVD playing in one corner of my computer screen, a script in another, and my text in the middle. Plus masses of scribbled notes all over the desk. The rewind function got a really good workout too, as I’d play a scene over and over to set it in my mind so I could describe it accurately, or pick up on dialogue that had changed since the script had been written.

Thanks for visiting Kids’ Book Capers this week, Meredith. It has been great to hear about your new releases and how you wrote them.

Next week on Kids’ Book Capers, Sue Whiting is here to talk about her gripping new novel Get A Grip, Cooper Jones.