interview by Shanta Everington
Keris Stainton’s debut young adult novel, Della Says: OMG! is published by Orchard. This fresh, funny novel touches on a range of contemporary issues relevant to teenagers, such as first love (and first time sex), sibling rivalry, wavering self esteem, and the tricky business of online social networking and privacy. Della’s over the moon when she kisses her long-standing crush at a party – but then she discovers her diary has disappeared...
When scans of embarrassing pages are sent to her mobile and appear on Facebook, Della’s distraught – how can she enjoy her first proper romance when someone, somewhere, knows all her deepest, darkest secrets?
"A fun delicious treat you'll want to eat up in a single bite!"
~ Meg Cabot, New York Times bestselling author
I caught up with Keris to talk about the book and her writing in general.
Thank you! It's lovely to be here.
Huge congratulations on the publication of your first novel, Della Says: OMG! Whoo-hoo! Can you describe the feeling you got when you first laid your hands on a copy of your book?
Thank you. The first feeling was one of glee. I couldn't quite believe it and I couldn't stop giggling. And then I started crying. And then giggling again. And then I took it out for a drink.
Della’s voice is wonderfully quirky and felt very authentic. How did you get ‘in role’ and write as a vulnerable teenager?
Thank you again! Sadly, I don't really have to get 'in role' - I feel much more like a teenager than I do a - *cough* - 38-year-old woman. Della's voice came to me quite easily, but I've no idea where it came from.
The novel is fresh and funny and touches on a range of contemporary issues of relevance to teenagers, such as the thorny business of online social networking and privacy. Facebook wasn’t even around when I was a teen. How do you think online social networking has changed the way teenagers communicate and is it a good or bad thing?
I'm going to have to stop saying thank you. (But thank you!) I think it's both a good thing and a bad thing. I imagine it's changed the way teens communicate in that they spend more time chatting in their bedrooms and less at, say, bus shelters (like we did when I was a teenager). So they get less fresh air, but it's also probably empowering for shy/self-conscious people. I would have loved it when I was a teen. I was very antisocial and spent a lot of my time reading in my bedroom. If I could have stayed in my room and still had friends, that would have been perfect. (And that pretty much describes my life now...) Of course there are risks to privacy and with fake identities and bullying, but I tend to think of the internet as just like the "real" world but on a computer and so I don't think it's any more (or less) dangerous than the real world.
I thought you were incredibly brave to tackle female masturbation in the book. Go girl! (Half of The View From Here readers have choked on their coffee and the other half have rushed off to buy a copy!) It’s still quite taboo really and not often talked or written about, isn’t it? Did you feel nervous about people’s reactions?
Oh god, yes. Still am. I blushed writing it and I blush whenever anyone brings it up. But I wanted to write about it because it IS still so taboo - in ALL women's fiction, not just teen fiction - but it's such an important part of female sexuality. Women still don't talk about it as openly as men do (even post-
Tell me a bit about your process for writing a book from initial idea to final publication?
I tend to write first drafts during National Novel Writing Month so that I have a decent deadline. I start with characters and setting rather than plot and then hope the plot shows up during the writing. Although with Della I started with the missing diary, but I didn't know who had taken it until probably three quarters of the way through.
Once the first draft is done, I decide that it's total tripe and ignore it for as long as feasibly possible (for example, I wrote the first draft of the next book last November and have only started working on it in the past couple of weeks because I now have a deadline from my publisher). I print it out, read it and mark it up, then do another draft on the computer. Then I have to take myself out of the house to focus on it without distractions for the next draft. When I'm finally happy, I'll send it to my agent and then my editor.
With Della, my editor took me out to lunch to discuss the edits and then sent over the editorial letter, which completely freaked me out. Seeing all my mistakes and inconsistencies there in black and white made me feel like a complete idiot. But I tweeted about it and was reassured that that's a perfectly normal reaction (this is one of the many reasons I love Twitter). Then I got the copy edits which made me feel even worse (again: normal, apparently). The next stage was the proof, which was probably my favourite moment of the entire process since it was the first time that I saw it looking like a real book. (The copyright page completely thrilled me.) And then the book!
Tell me about your launch party for Della Says: OMG! Was it really exciting? Did you get drunk?
What do you particularly enjoy about writing for young adults?
It's such an awkward, embarrassing, self-conscious time and I've always felt like such an awkward, embarrassing, self-conscious person that I find it quite cathartic. And teenagers are so enthusiastic about books and they don't tend to have much book snobbery, so that's refreshing.
Would you consider writing a novel for adults in the future?
I've written one actually. I'm currently in the "avoidance/denial" rewrites stage of the process, but I should get to work on that soon. It's about three friends who are all about to turn thirty, but who are at very different stages of their lives and find their friendship falling apart.
When did you first know you wanted to be 'a writer'?
I've always written, but I didn't think seriously about being a writer until I was in my mid twenties. But then once I thought of it, I couldn't believe I hadn't thought of it sooner.
How did you get your first 'break' as a writer?
My first break was in journalism. I pitched an article about blogging to Essentials magazine and they loved the idea and commissioned it. Once I'd written that one they commissioned another straight away. I was working three days a week at the time and each article paid more than my month's wages. So I figured I only needed to get one commission a month to cover my wages and so I quit my job. As it turned out, those articles paid more than any I've written since, but I'm glad, because it made me take that chance.
Do you have any advice for writers trying to get young adult fiction published?
Write what you want to write. Don't try and write the next big vampire book or the next angel book or even try to anticipate what the next trend might be. Just write what you want. And read a lot. Joining a writing group was one of the most useful things I did - an online one is fine if, like me, you shudder at the thought of reading your work to other people.
What are working on now?
Ooh, so glad I've started work on the next book and I don't have to bluff this answer! I'm working on my second book for Orchard, which will be out next summer. It's about a girl from Manchester who goes out to New York for the summer after having her heart broken, and an American boy who's in love with his best friend's girlfriend.
Thank you, Keris, and the very best of luck with Della and all your books.
Visit Keris Stainton's website at http://www.keris-stainton.com/