The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Keris Stainton

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The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Keris Stainton

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Summary: Kicking off the Countdown to 5th June tour Keris Stainton popped into Bookbag Towers to chat to us. You'll find all the tour dates here.
Date: 2 May 2014
Interviewer: Robert James
Reviewed by Robert James

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Kicking off the Countdown to 5th June tour Keris Stainton popped into Bookbag Towers to chat to us. You'll find all the tour dates here.

  • Bookbag: When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, who do you see?

Keris Stainton: Oh blimey. That's a very good question. I honestly haven't really thought about it. I still can't really get my head around the idea that people - people I don't know! - are reading my books. So when I first tried to answer this question, I was met with blackness and a hint of panic. But then I tried again and I think that lurking in the background are the readers who've emailed me (particularly with this new book because I got the idea for the filmmaking competition thanks to an email from a reader). Still freaks me out a bit to think about it, though, so I'm going to stop now!

  • BB: The first hint I (and I think most people?) got that you were planning on LGBTQ novel was when you gave us a wonderful guest post on 'Bex Hearts Paris', which was at one point looking like being the third in your Jessie/Emma series. What inspired you to write an LGBTQ novel?

KS: I think it was a conversation with author friends about how few gay romances were available. I started thinking I'd like to write one after I'd written Bex's book (which I hadn't started, but had been thinking about), but then wondered if I could do both in the same book. I'd planned for Bex to have a fake - for publicity - relationship with her co-star and how that would work if she met someone else, so then I started wondering what if that someone else was a girl. In fact, I didn't so much start wondering as go "Yes!" as soon as I thought of it.

  • BB: On that note, is there any chance we'll see Bex in the future, or have these characters' stories come to an end for now?

KS: I actually wrote the first draft of Bex's book and I like it a lot, so I don't know… maybe. Fingers crossed!

  • BB: Starring Kitty seems to be more likely to appeal to an MG audience, as well as the intended YA one, than most LGBT novels out there at the moment. Where do you stand on the always-interesting debate of age banding, age ratings, and similar ways of steering readers towards the right reads/stopping them from reading unsuitable books? (Depending which side of the fence you're on!)

KS: I go back and forth with this really. I don't agree with age banding because age doesn't automatically correspond to emotional maturity. But I do think simple content guidelines are fair enough. My first book, Della Says: OMG!, has 'Contains strong language. Not suitable for younger readers' on the back cover, and I like the Hot Key keyring a lot.

I read a really interesting thing recently about how often people who want to steer teens away from "unsuitable" YA books would be more than happy for them to read classics, even though many of them have strong language, sex, death, etc. That hadn't occurred to me before, but it made me wonder what people are trying to protect children from. And it reminded me of a review of Della Says that said it captured teen life so perfectly that teens shouldn't be allowed to read it. Hmmmm.

As far as Starring Kitty is concerned, there seems to be this idea that gay relationships are more "adult" than straight relationships and therefore not suitable for younger readers, which is nonsense, of course.

  • BB: One of the reasons I'd be happier to recommend Starring Kitty to slightly younger readers is that it's such a wonderfully positive book. While there are many superb LGBT novels out there, an awful lot of them have torn my heart out (I'm looking at you, Tess Sharpe and Cat Clarke, in particular!) but I actually read this one with a huge smile on my face. How important do you think it is to get a full range of LGBT books like this?

KS: Thank you! What I wanted to do with Starring Kitty was to write a romance that just happened to be between two girls. In my books, I tend to err slightly towards how I want the world to be rather than how it actually is, but of course it's also important to have books showing the world as it is right now. (And also how things were and how they've changed, which is why I loved David Levithan's Two Boys Kissing so much.)

  • BB: Another reason for me reading it with a massive smile on my face is that pretty much every character is absolutely adorable. Who's the character outside of your own writing you love most, though?

KS: Thank you! Sorry, but I'm going to have to choose two characters - they're from the same series though, so it's not really cheating… Michael Tolliver and Mrs Madrigal from Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City series.

I found the original six book series at a really unhappy time in my life and fell madly in love with all of the characters. The final three books have been published over the last few years and I can't tell you how thrilled I was to meet the characters again - I know it's a cliche, but it really was like finding old friends. I had to keep putting the books down to sniffle because I was just so happy. (I kept thinking It's you!)

I read the final book a few weeks ago and sobbed for the last couple of chapters. I can't believe I'm not going to hear any more from these characters. In fact, I can't believe they're characters - they're completely real to me. I'm crying again just writing this...

  • BB: Since debuting four years ago (I think?), you've become a really strong voice for UKYA, running the excellent UKYA site with Keren David and Susie Day, organising a fantastic event a couple of years ago, and being hugely active on Twitter. What changes have you seen in UKYA since you debuted?

KS: Oh blimey, it's been incredible, hasn't it? Thanks to so many amazing bloggers and sites, particularly The Bookbag, Ya Yeah Yeah, and Project UKYA, UKYA has really become a recognisable… thing (I was thinking "brand" but I don't think we're quite there yet - I'd like UKYA stickers on books and a UKYA award). Malorie Blackman choosing to champion UKYA as Children's Laureate is hugely positive and then we've got YALC to come too. It's incredibly exciting.

  • BB: Going back to what I just said about Twitter, good or bad for authors, overall?

KS: I think you know how I feel about Twitter, don't you? (I'm approaching 150,000 tweets.) The UKYA site - and hashtag - came out of a Twitter conversation. Project UKYA's #ukyachat hashtag has been staggeringly successful. I've made friends on Twitter, met authors, publishers, bloggers, readers on Twitter. I even first got to know my agent via Twitter. Yes, there are some obnoxious people on there, but there are obnoxious people everywhere - my experience of Twitter has been overwhelmingly positive to the point where when people talk about the end of Twitter or "what's next after Twitter" I feel a bit faint.

  • BB: What was the last thing you Googled?

KS: "Pug bite" for the MG book I'm currently working on. I don't recommend it. I wanted a picture of a nice nibble mark and instead got infected gaping wounds.

  • BB: What's next for Keris Stainton?

KS: The MG book mentioned above - just finishing the latest draft before sending it off to my agent. And then I'll be getting on with the next book in the Reel Friends series, Spotlight On Sunny. Or if you mean immediately next, that'll be another episode of The Good Wife. I'm obsessed.

  • BB: Thanks for chatting to us, Keris. It's been the most tremendous fun. The Countdown to 5th June tour will continue tomorrow as Jo at Once Upon A Bookcase interviews debut author Sarah Sky.

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