For Books’ Sake Talks To: Keris Stainton
27th Nov 2012
Given that Stainton herself has two sons, her novels show an uncanny understanding of what it’s like to be a teenage girl in the age of technology, I’m curious to find out how she stays up to date with what the cool kids are doing, wearing and saying.
“I’m thrilled you get the impression that I’m up to date because I’m really not. I’m not sure it’s possible to stay up to date with anything – particularly where teenagers are concerned – because it’s all changing so fast,” she replies.
“I did try watching Skins, but it frightened me because those kids are so far removed from the teenager I was and those I grew up with. I have to assume they’re not representative and that there are still plenty of teens who are nervous and dorky and gormless in the same way I was in the eighties.”
I ask Stainton whether it was this that inspired her to write for this generation of young women, but she explains that her inspiration mostly came from the idea that someone’s personality might become fixed in their teens.
“[But] I do think it’s a particularly difficult time to be a young woman, yes. That’s primarily because of the sexualisation of popular culture and how it’s perpetuated by social media,” she adds.
Stainton has previously spoken very highly about Meg Cabot, and notes that not only is The Princess Diaries series “gorgeous and feminist”, but also that Cabot is extremely supportive of other authors.
“My other big literary influence is Armistead Maupin. I discovered the Tales of the City series at a really low point in my life and I fell madly in love with them. They’re the only books I own first editions of,” she says.
When questioned on whether she is more likely to read YA and romance, Stainton explains that she tends to read quite widely, particularly enjoying non-fiction and memoir.
“I love Nora Ephron’s essays, of course, and I also love a writer called Catherine Newman. Her memoir, Waiting for Birdy, is my most re-read book.”
Stainton is a self-confessed social media addict, and technology features heavily in her YA novels.
“I find social media endlessly fascinating,” she says. “There, on my desktop, is this constantly updated stream of fascinating, terrifying, inspiring links interspersed with jokes and rants and annoying remarks.”
Stainton credits social media as having had a huge impact on her life, from developing important friendships to deepening her understanding of feminism and politics.
“And on the most basic level, giving me people to talk to when I’m home alone. I’d be lost without it,” she adds.
However, Stainton is quick to point out that although she loves including social media in her novels – because “there’s lots to explore and plenty of new ways for characters to misunderstand and misrepresent each other” – it’s not as straightforward as it seems.
“[The] mobile phone thing is tricky – you always have to find a way to get rid of the mobile because so many problems can be sorted out with a quick phone call,” she says.
Stainton’s love of social media extends to blogging, and she is currently the editor of Bea, a feminist webzine championing a community of “acceptance, sharing, anti-bitching, intelligence, all sorts of culture, truth-telling, mutual support, celebrating success and keeping it real.”
“We’ve got some incredible writers covering such varied topics and… we’re all so supportive of each other,” says Stainton. “I noticed the other day that we’re heavy on ‘feminism’ and ‘family’ and light on ‘work’ so I’m about to start interviewing women who really love their jobs and I also want to get more politics on there too.”
Stainton previously held the position of editor at Trashionista, a blog dedicated to the latest and greatest and chick lit. I ask Stainton if she was ever frustrated that chick lit is so often treated as inferior.
“Chick lit used to mean something specific – usually first person, snarky, looking for love stories, often set in an urban environment,” she replies. “Now the term is used to describe (and often dismiss) pretty much anything written by a woman. I find that very frustrating.”
Stainton also condemns the fact that many ‘lad lit’ authors were able to reach a level of success and critical acclaim writing popular fiction in a way unparalleled by the women perceived as chick lit authors.
“While I enjoyed One Day, the plaudits David Nicholls received infuriated me. If that book had been written by a woman it wouldn’t have had anywhere near the same praise,” she says.
While chick lit might still be trying to shake off a bad reputation, the erotica market is undergoing a huge rise in popularity. I ask Stainton if she thinks that 50 Shades has changed the game a little, and whether readers now want more sex with their romance.
“Oh, I think there’s definitely a market for both,” she replies. “Some people want hearts and flowers and some want, um, handcuffs and butt plugs. Although I have a bunch of problems with 50 Shades, I actually have more of a problem with the response to it, much of which was based around a fear of women’s sexuality.”
At this time of year, Stainton would usually be in the midst of the frantic thirty days of NaNoWriMo. She speaks regularly in praise of the event, and admits it was a difficult decision to opt out this year.
“I first did it in 2004 and it was the first time I finished a book. I got my agent and deal with a book I wrote for NaNo (although it was never published) and I wrote the first draft of my last two published books for NaNo. I just think it’s magic. I think it pushes you out of your comfort zone,” she says.
Somehow, alongside raising two kids and writing and editing all over the literary and parenting blogospheres, Stainton is also working on a number of writing projects. She is working on ideas for a picture book, as well as outlining the next in the Hearts series and finishing a book for younger readers, and another in Italy.
If there are enough hours in Stainton’s day, expect to see more from Bea, too: “I just hope it keeps developing and growing,” she says.