Dancing With Diana

Dancing with Diana by [Jo Salas]

THE BOOK: Dancing with Diana



THE PUBLISHER: Codhill Press, a small independent press in upstate NY specializing in literary fiction and poetry.

SUMMARY: Visiting a school for disabled boys, 15-year-old Diana singles out wheelchair-bound Alex to dance with—a five-minute encounter that colors the rest of his life, though quickly forgotten by her. Alex, a survivor of brutal school bullying, thinks constantly of the tall girl with blue eyes. One day he sees her on television, the new fiancée of Prince Charles. Alex follows her life with secret pride, which turns to concern as her private anguish comes to light. Their paths cross once more when Diana visits Alex’s small town.

Jo Salas

Alex’s story interweaves with the account of Diana’s final day before her fatal accident. In the unsatisfying company of her billionaire boyfriend she careens from one luxurious, alien Paris location to another. Paparazzi pursue and torment her. All day she tries to reach a friend in the government who might have news for her—news that could bring a new direction to her life.

THE BACK STORY: Dancing with Diana was prompted by a true story: at 15, Diana and her boarding school class visited a home for disabled people. While the other girls hung back in shyness and distaste, Diana danced joyfully with a man in a wheelchair–her gift for empathy already evident at that young age. Reading about this moment, I wondered what it was like for the man she danced with.

My other main character, Alex, is invented but became quite real to me. I traveled to England to help fill in his background, visiting the town where he “lived” (where I myself had lived for a year long ago). And I had a very moving visit to a cerebral palsy clinic in London where I met a courageous young man who could have been Alex.

The theme of bullying in the story is informed by my work in schools using theatre to build empathy and respect. What happened to Alex is sadly all too common. Less predictable is the bullying that Diana was subjected to.

WHY THIS TITLE: It seemed like the only possible name for this story! Their brief dance together as young teens continued in Alex’s heart for the rest of her life.

WHY SOMEONE WOULD WANT TO READ IT: The extraordinary love that Diana inspired in her brief adult life has been rekindled by her portrayal in The Crown. Dancing with Diana shares The Crown’s sympathetic perspective, letting the reader overhear her thoughts, feelings, memories, and hopes (as I imagine them, of course). Readers who are fascinated or curious about Diana might be intrigued by this fresh view of her.

It’s unusual to get to know a main character who is disabled, especially someone as feisty and funny as Alex. Readers have been drawn to his story of disability, suffering, resilience, and devotion.


“Dancing with Diana is a beautifully-wrought story that takes us deep into two hard-to-imagine worlds. Alex, a bright young man with cerebral palsy, has his destiny intertwined, in double-helix fashion, with Princess Diana. The latter we meet in her last few hours, and Alex we accompany from childhood through manhood. His ungainly yet triumphant progress towards self-acceptance and independence has an extraordinary echo in Diana’s own brave, doomed search for an authentic life. This is a very fine book that side-steps cliches about celebrity to create a new awareness of Diana, and also gives us a startling sense of life lived strongly and meaningfully with cerebral palsy.” — Dan Yashinsky, author of Tales for An Unknown City and The Storyteller at Fault.

“I loved this book, couldn’t put it down — in fact, I read it on a flight home from Europe. What a heartfelt world Jo Salas evokes with such a light touch, such care, and so many beautiful sentences. It was a pleasure to read each page, so I took my time. It is a humanizing story. And in case anyone is keeping count…I cried four times. My seat mate got a little uncomfortable. I sure didn’t. I recommend it enthusiastically.” (Amazon review).

“I admired so much about the book – for starters the original conceit of pairing the story of a middle class disabled boy, Alex, with the charitable Princess Diana, The story is winning and sweet without being sentimental. The reader knows the ending will be tragic for Diana yet the incidents of her life before the accident are riveting and freshly imagined. Similarly, whether Alex will ever meet Diana again is doubtful. Yet, Salas renders it plausible, particularly given Diana’s generosity, and keeps Alex’s hopes – and mine, as a reader – alive. Alex’s meeting and coming together with kids of like restrictions is eye opening. Interestingly, I never felt pity for him. This is a story that will stick with me.” (Amazon review).

And one more from Amazon:

“Just finished reading Diana with a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. Beautifully woven, richly textured story with a very powerful message about bullying and a brilliant articulation of the real love people felt for Diana. Lovely writing of admirable clarity and control.”

AUTHOR PROFILE: I grew up in New Zealand, lived on the island of Borneo and then in England in my early 20s, and since then have lived in upstate NY. I’ve written all my life, for a long time mostly nonfiction about Playback Theatre, where ordinary people’s stories are enacted on the spot. Some years ago I began to write fiction as well and have published a number of short stories in literary journals and anthologies, winning a few awards and a nomination for the Pushcart Prize. Dancing with Diana was my first novel. I’ve completed another, Anticipation, based on the life of Thomas Mann’s translator Helen Lowe-Porter.

My books about Playback Theatre include Improvising Real Life: Personal Story in Playback Theatre, published in nine translations and a 20th anniversary edition.

In addition to writing and Playback, I’m busy with my family and the struggle for social justice.

AUTHOR COMMENTS: Writing fiction is about creating compelling works of art. As a reader as well as a writer I’m drawn to fiction that also in some way embodies the predicaments that face our wonderful, terrible human race. As well as simply being (I hope) an engaging story, Dancing with Diana depicts young people and adults making moral choices about how we treat each other.



LOCAL OUTLETS: Dancing with Diana is available from the publisher, Codhill Press, and my local bookstore, Inquiring Minds.

WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: Amazon (print and e-book).

PRICE: $15

CONTACT THE AUTHOR: josalas5566@gmail.comhttp://www.josalas.com

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Recently retired after 35 years with the News & Advance newspaper in Lynchburg, VA, now re-inventing myself as a novelist/nonfiction writer and writing coach in Lake George, NY.

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