A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
Rhian Ivory interviews Keris Stainton about her latest release, Starring Kitty — out today with Catnip Publishing! Here’s a little more about the book…
Sometimes the greatest love stories happen behind the scenes…
Kitty’s keeping secrets. Like how she’s struggling to cope with her mum’s illness. And how she’s falling for the girl with the purpley-red hair… A fun film competition with her friends Sunny and Hannah seems like the perfect distraction. But then Dylan wants to be more than Kitty’s secret. Is Kitty ready to let her two worlds meet or will she risk losing Dylan forever?
Starring Kitty is the first in a new series about first love and friendship by much-loved teen author Keris Stainton.
Starring Kitty by Keris Stainton
Author Allsorts interview
Rhian: Is this the kind of book you’d have liked to read when you were a teenager?
Keris: It’s the kind of book I did read as a teenager – I was obsessed with the Sweet Dreams romance series – but I don’t think I read any with a girl/girl romance…
Rhian: Oh I loved Sweet Dreams, such a great series but yes it was all traditional girl-boy romance wasn’t it. So how did you come up with the title, it reminds me a little of Judy Blume’s ‘Starring Sally J Freedman as herself’ which I loved. Were there any other titles in the running?
Keris: I am utterly hopeless at titles.
Rhian: I hate titles too, so difficult to know if you’ve got a good one.
Keris: The working title of this was the same as the working title of my first book: The Summer Book. My editor suggested something to do with the film-making theme and I think my friend and fellow UKYA author Keren David came up with the title. She’s brilliant at titles.
Rhian: *makes a note to run future titles past Keren*
Now I know you home school but did you spend any time in secondary schools in order to create such authentic school scenes?
Keris: Oh I’m glad they seem authentic – thank you! The school in the book is a blend of two schools. The first is my old high school, where I did a school visit a couple of years ago. It’s in a swanky new building now (all my schools have been demolished!)
Rhian: *worries about where they’ll put the plaque*
Keris: The second is the high school nearest to where I live. It’s another new school and I went for a nosy around. In the book, the relaxation areas, the library, the pods, the chickens were pinched from that school.
Rhian: Would you like to write about a character/family that home school.
Keris: Do you know, that hadn’t actually occurred to me until you asked that question, but now I think I’d love to, yes! Thanks!
Rhian: Happy to help! Where did you come up with the name Guyomar from? It is such an unusual and distinctive name.
Keris: Ha! PE teacher at my high school. She was lovely.
Rhian: Mine definitely wasn’t! Someone locked her in a cupboard once. Moving swiftly on aren’t you glad that you were a teenager without the perils of twitter, Facebook and other social media? How important was it to you to show the role it plays in teenagers’ lives today?
Keris: Oh absolutely. On the one hand I think it would have been good for me – I felt very alone and isolated and didn’t really know anyone else who I felt was like me. It’s only through the internet that I feel like I really found my “tribe” and that was in my 30s/40s – but on the other, there’s so much pressure and I would no doubt have done something hideous and humiliating and felt like I’d ruined my life at a very early age. The thing I find now is that it doesn’t even just play a role in teenager’s lives, it’s totally embedded. Even my kids can’t remember a time before internet and they’re only 10 and 5. It’s scary really.
Rhian: On that note, I’m so pleased you addressed the ‘frape’ issue. I’m with Kitty and can’t stand this term. Do you think it bothers most teens/that they realise the problem with the term or is Kitty in the minority?
Keris: Oh, I don’t know. I hate it though. I’ve actually pulled a couple of friends up on it and they said they hadn’t even realised it came from ‘facebook rape’, so it’s possible that teens use it without realising. I’ve seen people excusing it by saying “Oh but they all say it now” but that doesn’t make it ok. The words we use matter. And dismissing and minimising rape is a real thing that happens in the world every single day.
Rhian: Well said! Now I love Kitty, Sunny and Hannah’s relationship, did you base this on your own experiences?
Keris: Ha! Very much not. But thank you. I was a rubbish teenager. A lot of the fun in writing YA for me is creating teen experiences I would have liked to have had. I had a couple of good friends at school, but I never had the talk every day, always in each other’s houses, friendships I really wanted.
Rhian: I see and what about now as an adult how important are they to you?
Keris: I’m still actually pretty rubbish at friendship. Real life friendships, anyway. This is one of the reasons I am so grateful for the internet. I’ve made amazing friends through blogging and social media in general and they’ve transmitted into really valuable real world friendships, but unfortunately they’re all with people who don’t live anywhere near me. I really need to work on real world friendships with people in the same town…
Rhian: Yes, that’s the trouble when you live ‘up north’ as my friends refer to where I live. Can I ask what made you focus on MS as an illness in the book? I thought the scene where the family eat spaghetti bolognaise was so sensitive and well handled.
Keris: Thank you. My mum had MS. She was diagnosed when I was a bit younger than Kitty. One of the things I wanted to write about was how teenagers can still be selfish, even when faced with something huge and live-changing. I remember being shocked that one of the first things my sister did was find out whether it was hereditary. I hadn’t even thought about that. But I had thought about using it for the sympathy factor with a boy I liked (I was even more rubbish at boy stuff than general teen stuff), which I still feel guilty about. My editor questioned a bit in the book where Kitty says she doesn’t really understand MS, saying surely she would have found out all about it. But it was too scary to find out about it.
Rhian: I can only begin to imagine how scary that must have been for you.
Keris: My sister and I talked about this recently and we were quite startled by how little we all talked about it, as a family.
Rhian: Is the novel set in a real place? I liked all the references to the prom and beach, is it based on somewhere close to home?
Keris: Sort of. God, these questions are just revealing how rubbish I am at actually making stuff up, Rhian!
Keris: It’s based on New Brighton where I grew up. But I fictionalised it because I wanted the town to have a pier and New Brighton’s pier was demolished in the late seventies. The park and the bandstand are still there though.
Rhian: There is a great sense of respect for Grans and Nans in the book; is this something you purposefully set out to portray?
Keris: Sort of… When I started to write Kitty’s nan, I automatically thought about a little old lady, like my nan was. But then I realised that Kitty’s nan could easily be in her fifties, so that was interesting. I’ve made her a little older – she’s retired – but I wanted her to have had a more exciting life than you would maybe expect.
Rhian: Where did the idea to call the lean-to Trevor come from? Genius by the way!
Keris: Ha. Thanks! That’s my life again. We rented a house about 15 years ago and the landlord said there was a conservatory.
Rhian: When we bought our bungalow the estate agent referred to the awful lean-to with a stinky toilet in as a conservatory where we could ‘dine as a family’. The kids had to hold their noses as they ran through the conservatory (or outside privy) to get into the garden.
Keris: When we went to see it, it was this really crappy half-built lean-to. We didn’t know what to call it. So we called it Trevor. We’re a bit weird.
Rhian: I think all families are a bit weird but in a lovely way. I love the notion of ‘London Kitty’; you capture that sense of when I’m grown up so well without patronising the reader. You’ve lived in London haven’t you and I know you’ve had a trip (London Baby!) to Buckingham Palace recently, describe ‘London Keris’ for us.
Keris: I used to imagine ‘London Keris’ when I was a teen. She was a lot cooler than I actually was when I did move to London. London Keris now is mostly really ‘child-free’ Keris.
Rhian: I need to hang out with London Keris, tell me more!
Keris: So she drinks a lot, talks even more (sometimes even managing to finish whole sentences!) and stays up very late. Bliss.
Rhian: Ok, let’s get down to business…who is the worst Disney Princess and who is the best? Obviously Kitty is on the money with Merida!
Keris: Yep, Merida is definitely my favourite, but I love Rapunzel too. And Belle. And Mulan. I’d have to choose Aurora for the worst. But only because I haven’t seen Sleeping Beauty for years and can’t remember anything about her. Sorry, Aurora.
Rhian: Why did you pick photography and photos as Kitty’s special talent?
Keris: Because Kitty doesn’t want to be in the spotlight, she’s wants to be the one hiding behind the camera, focussing on her friends.
Rhian: What’s next for Kitty, Sunny and Hannah, without spoilers?
Keris: Hmm. Well. I’ve just finished the first draft of Sunny’s book and I can say that there’s a lovely boy, a not very nice girl, and a life-changing ride on a Sky Flyer.
Rhian: Susie Day has said that she wants to take this book out dancing and having read it I know what she means (I just want to cuddle this book). Which book would you take out dancing and why?
Keris: Ahhhh, I love this question! (And I love Susie’s quote – still makes me grin like a nit every time I see it.) I think I’d take the first Tales of the City book out dancing. Maybe to the jockey shorts dance contest at The Endup, which means I’d have to go back in time to the seventies. The whole Tales of the City series means a lot to me. I discovered them at a miserable time in my life and absolutely adored them. I re-read them recently and adored them all over again. The characters feel like friends.
Rhian: That’s a great point to end on, characters who become so important they feel like friends and I know that everyone is going to feel that way about Kitty and her friends.
Keris Stainton was born in Canada, and brought up on the Wirral. In 2005 she gave up her job as an administrator in Corporate Recovery and Personal Insolvency (which is exactly as exciting as it sounds) to write full time. Her first novel, Della Says: OMG! was published by Orchard Books in 2010 and her second, Jessie Hearts NYC was published in 2011. Emma Hearts LA was published in June 2012. She lives in Lancashire with her husband and two young sons, who make her laugh every day. Sometimes intentionally.
Rhian Tracey was found on the slushpile at Bloomsbury Children’s Books. The slightly quirky title of her first novel ‘When Isla meets Luke meets Isla’ caught the eye of a commissioning editor and 4 book deals followed.
Rhian is now writing as R.M.Ivory (her married name) and has recently finished her 5th novel which is about art, witches, ghosts and a river with a past. She has started on her 6th novel which will be set during World War II and the present day.
Rhian has always wanted to be a writer but was told to get a proper job, so she trained as a teacher. Rhian currently lectures in Creative Writing and Children’s literature but spends as much time as possible on her non-proper job, writing.
Rhian is represented by Kirsty McLachlan of David Godwin Associates.