Today’s guest is the very lovely Keris Stainton whose debut YA novel Della Says: OMG! was published earlier this month. You can read my review here. Keris is currently on a Blog Tour to raise awareness of Della Says: OMG! and she was kind enough to answer my questions about the book and writing, including NaNoWriMo.
1. You had the inspiration for Della Says OMG! from a real-life event when your own diary went missing. Do you still keep a diary or would you rather tweet and blog now where everything’s all out in the open anyway?
I was really rubbish at keeping a diary. I usually managed a few weeks at the start of a new year and then I’d forget all about it. I’m a much better blogger. I’ve been blogging for six years and tweeting for three and, yes, I pretty much write about anything and everything.
2. Della is a fantastic, extremely likeable character. She is attractive and engaging but also full of the doubts that we all have as teenagers (and some of us still have as adults!). Can you tell me how you fixed upon her as the character to tell the story, how you got to know her before writing or if you found out more about her as you wrote the book? (Did you write her backstory, fill in a character questionnaire for her or think about her likes and dislikes, for example?)
Thank you. I didn’t do any of that, I’m afraid. I’ve tried to do the whole backstory/questionnaire thing in the past, but it just doesn’t work for me. I find it too contrived. All I knew about Della before I started was that she was self-conscious and insecure and her diary goes missing. I just let her evolve in the writing.
3. As for the other characters in the book, I loved Della’s Dad and Dan was a bit scrummy, too (although it feels so wrong to admit that!). Do you find inspiration for your characters in real life – at the coffee shop or from among your family and friends – or from TV and film actors or do they take shape once you begin to write them?
Again, they take shape as I write, but it’s a strange thing, really. Often with secondary characters, I pick a celebrity as the inspiration for their looks, at least. So, for example, in an adult book I started writing YEARS ago, I originally pictured the male character, Lee, as Dermot O’Leary. So the physical description of him basically matches Dermot and I had Dermot’s personality in mind when I started writing, but then, as the book went on, he became his own man. Now I don’t even picture Dermot – I picture Lee, who looks a bit like him…
4. I know you’ve said that you don’t plan before writing the first draft. You tend to just write which is what I do. This often leads me down interesting paths though. Did you have any surprises when writing Della Says: OMG! with characters not behaving in the way you thought they would or the story veering off from how you originally envisaged it?
I actually started writing with three different points of view: Della’s, Maddy’s and Jamie’s. I was surprised that I automatically wrote them in different styles. I didn’t plan it, but Della was first person, Jamie third and Maddy would only be written diary-style, for some reason. I kept trying to change it, but every time I did, I drifted back to the same style without even realising it. But the only real surprise in this book was who had actually taken the diary. I still didn’t know until probably three quarters of the way through when I was starting to panic a bit, I must admit. I remember having a chat with my writer friend Luisa Plaja and saying “Do we REALLY need to know who took the diary? Can’t it just remain a mystery?!”
5. Can you read other fiction when you’re working on your own novel or not?
Oh yes. I have to be reading all the time. Although I do try not to read YA when I’m writing YA. But sometimes I can’t resist.
6. Having just spent the weekend with my goddaughter and her siblings, I’m in awe of you juggling raising a young family, writing for magazines and writing your own fiction, let alone running your own blog and tweeting regularly. Are you naturally a highly-organised multi-tasker, do you have an understanding family who know not to disturb Mummy when she’s writing or have you grown accustomed to making the best use of small windows of time?
Ha. I am FAR from highly-organised and I wouldn’t say I’m a multi-tasker either (I do try, but I’m easily confused). I am lucky in that my eldest son is at school full-time and my in-laws look after my youngest two days a week. The three days he’s at home, he sleeps pretty much all morning, which is when I work. Or rather faff about on Twitter. I wish I could work in small windows of time. I remember reading an article by the incredibly prolific author Julie Kenner in which she said she left her laptop on the table and would sometimes just write a couple of sentences as she happened to be passing! I can’t do that. I have to get myself in the, you know, zone. *snorts*
7. I notice from your website Q&A that, if you don’t get much writing done during the day, you write in front of the TV? How do you manage that? Doesn’t that distract you?
Surprisingly, no. I find that once I start writing, I completely tune out whatever’s on TV. When I was writing Della, I put an episode of Gossip Girl on, finished writing, went to do the school run, etc., and didn’t even remember that I’d completely missed the show until a couple of days later. In fact, I think I might actually work better that way. I’ve been thinking of trying it in the next couple of weeks because it’s half term so I doubt I’ll get much done during the day.
8. You mentioned that you used NaNoWriMo, which takes place each November, to write an as-yet unpublished book, Forget Me Not. Is that the only time you’ve taken part in the infamous month of writing, how did you find it and do you have any tips on how to prepare for it and get the most out of it for anyone thinking of doing it this year?
I first did NaNo in 2004 for an adult book (the one in which Lee appears), which remains unfinished. In 2005 I wrote the first draft of Forget Me Not. I wrote another YA in 2006 (which I still haven’t actually re-read since I’m pretty confident it was dreadful). I think I may have used NaNo to finish Della Says in 2008 and then I wrote the first draft of what will be my next book during last November. I plan to do it every year for a first draft.
I absolutely love it. I love the pressure of the deadline – I work so much better under pressure. I also find that magical things happen when you force yourself to write instead of waiting for the “muse” to strike. For Forget Me Not in particular, so many plot strands came together completely unplanned (consciously, at least!). At one point I can remember starting to cry AS I WAS TYPING. I’m evangelical about it, I really am.
As for preparing for it, Chris Baty’s book No Plot? No Problem has everything you need to know. The one thing I would say is not to go in to it thinking that if you don’t manage the 50,000 words you’ve failed. Even if you come out at the end of the month with 5000 words, that’s 5000 more than you had before. I floundered a lot last year and ended up starting over so many times (you don’t have to delete anything, you can just change the font colour to white so you can’t see it anymore), so at the end of the month I had 50,000 words, but knocked off about 15,000 in the first edit. That’s still left me with 35,000 to work with (although I do wish they weren’t in quite such random order…).
Have you done it, Kath? – Er, no, I haven’t. I was thinking about doing it last year but wimped out. But I’ve heard a lot of positive thoughts on it since then, so this year could be the year… watch this space!
9. Yours is the second YA novel I’ve read this month, neither of which I might ever have read, had it not been for finding out about both the author and the book through Twitter. You’ve made great use of both your blog and Twitter to connect to potential readers and other writers. Any tips on how to get the most from these tools for writers?
I think in order to get the most out of them you need to enjoy them. I don’t think there’s much point in starting a blog if you don’t want to reveal yourself (in whatever way) or you don’t want to engage with people. The same goes for Twitter. I chat a lot – a LOT – on Twitter and I’m not doing it to try and convince people to buy my book (please buy my book, people!) but because there are so many lovely, friendly, chatty and supportive tweeters. What I suppose I’m saying is that I was aware of the self-promotion aspects of both from early on, but for me they’ve evolved organically.
One thing that I do think you need to get the most out of Twitter is a desktop client like Tweetdeck or something. She says vaguely. It took me a while to download one since I thought it was too technical for me, but I’m so glad I did. I use Echofon (for Mac) and it’s made following conversations so much easier.
10. I love it when books take me by surprise, which is exactly what yours did – and I mean that in a good way! I said in my review that I probably would have resisted the cover and title and not chosen the book because it was YA, had I discovered it in a bookstore, which would have been a real shame. Has there been a book which you thought you wouldn’t want to read or wasn’t intended for you but which you’ve subsequently read and has similarly surprised you?
Oh I do it all the time. It’s embarrassing how often my reviews start with ‘I didn’t think I’d like this book, but…’ But the one that immediately sprung to mind was The Cloths of Heaven by Sue Eckstein. The title gave me the impression that it would be worthy, serious, ponderous, plus it’s set in West Africa among the diplomatic corps… But it’s funny and sad, thought-provoking and moving. I really loved it.
Thanks so much for such great questions, Kath!
Thanks so much for stopping by and for being such a wonderful and generous guest, Keris!
Della Says: OMG! is the fantastic debut novel from Keris Stainton. She is currently working on her second novel (which has a working title of Jessie *hearts* NYC) due out in May 2011. You can find links to all Keris’ stopovers on her Blog Tour page. Tomorrow she’s calling in at the excellent When I Was Joe blog.