Words on Wednesday: Keris Stainton and her "Female Fiction Fiddling" List


I am very excited to be hosting this guest post as part of Keris’s blogtour.  Her new novel, Emma Hearts LA is just out and I strongly recommend it.  Without further ado, here’s what Keris has to say:

A few years ago, I read a book called Everything I Needed to Know About Being a Girl I Learned From Judy Blume, which features an essay by Lara M Zeises called The M Word. The essay begins with Zeises, age 7, discovering that touching herself feels good, “sometimes good enough to help me fall asleep”, and how she didn’t know what she was doing until she read a Judy Blume novel, Deenie
Zeises went on to say that “relatively precious few novels even allude to girls getting their groove on by themselves” adding that one notable exception is Meg Cabot’s All-American Girl: Ready or Not

Deenie was published in 1973. Ready or Not was published in 2006. I was astonished that female masturbation was still considered such a taboo subject, more than 30 years later. And so I decided I had to mention it in my first novel, Della Says: OMG! 
It did actually fit the plot: Della’s diary is stolen and someone starts circulating the most embarrassing bits and, as a teenager, I couldn’t have imagined anything more embarrassing than people knowing I masturbated. Which is precisely why it needs to be addressed in more YA fiction. (A friend told me about a recent YA novel in which the main character complains that her aunt comes into her bedroom without knocking and says, “What if she caught me smoking? Or undressing? Or, like, masturbating or something? Not that I really do that, ever – but it’s the principle of the thing.” Fine, that particular character may not masturbate – though I’d be very surprised – but if I’d read that as a teen, I would have been mortified.)
And so I am collecting a “female fiction fiddling” list. If you know of any other books that should be on here, I’d be delighted to hear about them. 
NB: May contain spoilers, so proceed with caution!  

Deenie by Judy Blume (pub. 1973)

Deenie touches her “special place” when she has trouble falling asleep and asks a teacher, in an anonymous note, “Do normal people touch their bodies before they go to sleep and is it all right to do that?” The teacher explains that, yes, masturbation is “normal and harmless”.

All-American Girl: Ready or Not by Meg Cabot (pub. 2006) 

Sam’s sister tells her she practices making love by herself. In the bath. 
“Look, it’s easy. Get in the bathtub. Turn the water on. Scoot down to the end of the tub, until your you-know-what is under the running water. Then pretend the water is the guy, and let it–” 
“OH MY GOD.” 
This leads to an extended discussion of why girls should do it (“Come on, Sam. You can’t expect a guy to know what to do to make you have an orgasm. You have to do it yourself. At least until you can teach him how.”) which is both feminist and very funny. 

Pop! by Aury Wallington (pub. 2006)

I think I must have loaned my copy of Pop! to someone, but I’m pretty sure that, like Sam above, Marit treats herself to a romantic moment with her bath tap. (Is it just me or does that sound incredibly uncomfortable?) 

Leader of the Pack by Kate Cann (pub. 2008)

Leader of the Pack is a perfect example of how we’re much more open about/comfortable with/used to the idea of male masturbation (it’s never even usually referred to as “male masturbation”, is it? There’s “masturbation” and “female masturbation”). Gem is alone in bed…
“She started moving her hands on her thighs, rocking herself. She thought… If you feel this turned on right now at the start, how’s it gonna be when… Her hands moved higher. She was thinking of the amazing kiss they’d had…” 
The next paragraph begins “Over in his bedroom, Jack had been masturbating too, highly pleasurably.” If it hadn’t been for that, I might have actually missed that that’s what Gem was doing. 

Della Says: OMG! by Keris Stainton (i.e. me) (pub. 2010) 

A page of Della’s diary is scanned in and sent to her on Facebook. It reads: “But since he’s not interested in me and nothing’s ever going to happen between us, I’ll have to make do with the next best thing: touching myself and pretending it’s him.” 
Della’s embarrassed, but her more experienced friend Maddy tells her she needn’t be, that it’s perfectly natural and everyone does it. 

Forget You by Jennifer Echols (pub. 2010) 

Zoey is in the bath, trying to work out whether or not she had sex the previous night. ‘Testing for tenderness gave way to making myself feel better. It helped with my headache.’ This is another one where I could quite easily have missed what she was doing. 

Adorkable by Sarra Manning (pub. 2012) 

After Jeane and Michael have had sex for the first time, Jeane tells him not to worry about the fact that she didn’t orgasm. 
‘”I was close and then I wasn’t. It happens. It’s not, like, an exact science. Like, sometimes when I’m doing it to myself, my timing goes all wrong.”
“It does?” I managed to spit out, because my mind had just gone into a tailspin at Jeane’s casual reference to the fact that she masturbated. I mean, I know that some girls do, but generally they don’t talk about it.’


Thank you so much Keris. It’s amazing to think that there are so few references that it’s even possible to compile a list. Any more recommendations, anyone?

Words on Wednesday: Guest Post by Katie Dale

Someone Else’s Life, Katie Dale’s fabulous YA debut, came out this month. I loved this emotional read encompassing family secrets and the trauma of living under the shadow of Huntington’s Disease. Naturally I was thrilled that Katie agreed to visit the Hearthfire as part of her blog tour. So, it’s over to Katie:

My Top Ten Childrens/YA Authors in the History of Time!

As my first books hit the shelves it’s got me thinking about the authors who inspired me, and the stories that stick with me even today.

Here are my Top Ten!

JM Barrie The story of the boy who never grew up has stuck firmly in my heart since I was a child, waiting by my bedroom window for Peter to take me flying off to Neverland! My all-time favourite.

Enid Blyton Blyton has to be the most prolific children’s author ever. As a child I couldn’t get enough of her series, from the childhood magic and mischief of Noddy, Naughty Amelia Jane and The Magic Faraway Tree, through the midnight feasts and escapades of St Clares and Mallory Towers, right to the mystery and adventures of The Secret Seven, The Famous Five and the Adventureseries, Enid Blyton was wonderful company throughout my childhood, and every book I opened was a wonderful adventure.


Jacqueline Wilson – Hot on Blyton’s heels, Wilson has earned her place as the tween girl’s favourite, writing two books a year – and what books! Taking serious and gritty issues and handling them with humour and vitality she creates vibrant, memorable, feisty characters who make us laugh and make us cry. My faves are The Story of Tracy Beaker and The Suitcase Kid.


Morris Gleitzman – Like Jacqueline Wilson, Gleitzman takes tricky/tragic situations and makes them both poignant and hysterical with his sparse, witty, sparkling books, particularly Blabber Mouth, about feisty fun-loving Rowena Batts – who just happens to be mute – and more recently Once and Then, about Jewish children trying to escape the Nazis during the Second World War.


Michael Morpurgo – Michael Morpurgo is the author of some of the most beautiful children’s books around today. The Dancing Bear, Why The Whales Came, The Butterfly Lion and War Horse simply sing with their lyrical prose, and deep emotional heart beating strongly behind every page.



JK Rowling – Rowling is unquestionably one of the defining literary talents of modern times. The vast, detailed and magical world she created around Harry Potter, the scope of her vision across all seven books, her use of allegory and themes, and her skill in weaving it all together into an adventure that kept children and adults alike gripped, nose-deep in her books right till the very end, will undoubtedly be enjoyed by generations to come.


Jane Austen – the original chick-lit author! Austen’s romantic novels describing a time of balls and manners are as well-loved today as ever. Absolutely timeless. But my favourite is not the beloved Pride and Prejudice, but the even more heart-wrenching Sense and Sensibility. Like the Bennet sisters, Marianne and Eleanor are dependent upon a good marriage for a viable future, but the fairytale ending doesn’t come quite so easily, and hard lessons must be learned first.


Bronte sisters Okay, this is a bit of a cheat, but I couldn’t choose between these talented sisters whose vibrant imaginations transported them from their restrictive parsonage upbringing into romance, danger, and adventure with two of the most classic love stories of all time, Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights – with two of the most rugged literary heroes ever.

Caroline B. Cooney – I first encountered Caroline B. Cooney through one of her “Point Horror” books –The Train, which gave me several sleepless nights and had to be abandoned halfway through after a character got nailed into a coffin – alive. It took me a while to pick up another, but when I started reading Among Friends I was so thankful that I had. Cooney has such a knack for describing the trauma and triumphs of the teen experience, and Among Friends and her incredible Face on The Milk Carton series, in which a teenage girl discovers she was kidnapped as a toddler, are two of my favourite ever YA books.


Sharon Creech – I discovered Sharon Creech like a hidden jewel when I picked up Walk Two Moons. I’d never heard of her before, but became so captivated by the story of Salamanca – a girl on a road trip with her Gram to visit the mother who recently left her and her father –  that I have sought out all her other titles. Part coming-of-age, part family mystery, completely charming and moving and heart-breaking, Walk Two Moonsis a treasure I will keep forever.


So those are my top ten – what are yours?

Chosen by Katie Dale

Published by Simon & Schuster February 2012

Twitter: @katiedaleuk


Wow, thanks Katie – so many great memories and recommendations there. Thank you so much for visiting and sharing your Top Ten with us. Caroline B Cooney is new to me. What about you?

What Would You Risk Everything For?

Today, the #darkdaysofjanuary blog tour stops here at the Hearthfire.  This tour is to celebrate the publication of  Sara Grant’s gripping dystopian debut Dark Parties, published by Indigo at the start of this month. In this final stop on her tour, Sara discusses risk and commitment – a topic she explores fully in the novel. For more information about Dark Parties: my review and its Goodreads page.


Dark Parties explores how far someone will go to stand up for what she believes in. My main character Neva risks everything to rebel against an overbearing government and save those she loves. If I was faced with Neva’s dilemma, would I do the same? It’s a question I asked myself over and over while writing Dark Parties. It’s probably at the heart of why I wanted to write this story.

I would like to think I would be a rebel and stand up and speak out for what I believe in – no matter what the cost. But that’s an easy thing for me to say from my comfy flat in London. That’s a much different decision when there’s a gun or Protectosphere standing in your way – or worse yet when your actions would hurt a loved one. I want to believe that I would have walked along side Martin Luther King, for example. I want to believe that I’d step in when I see injustice. As Edmund Burke said: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men to nothing.”

But for most of us, improving the world doesn’t often come down to life or death decisions, nor is it focused on one moment in time. It’s constant baby steps. It’s making small decisions on a daily basis.

More than twenty years ago, I attended a Franklin-Covey seminar on time management. I’m a compulsive list maker and planner. I have an electronic to-do list but also often have adjunct Post-it note lists tacked all over. This seminar talked about planning each day based on what you want to accomplish long-term. The presenter asked us to imagine a two-by-four plank placed between the Twin Towers. He asked us what was important enough to make us cross that narrow beam. What would we risk everything for?

The list of worthy causes seems endless: protecting human rights, ending poverty, curing cancer…all the way and including, well, world peace. But if I’m honest, there’s only thing for which I’m 100 percent certain that I’d risk life and limb – those I love. I’d cross a wire strung between the Twin Towers in a raging wind storm for my family and close friends.

The presenter in the Franklin-Covey seminar asked us to generate a list of our top long-term goals. He asked us to break those goals down to what we could accomplish in one year and then identify what we could do each month, week, day and then spend the next hour and minute in activities that are directed toward those goals. It’s a lesson I think about often and still endeavour to plan my time using this principle.

I’m not doing enough to improve the world or even my little corner of it, but I keep trying. I hope that Dark Partiesencourages action and rebellion and inspires the belief that one person can make a difference. I love the quote from Anne Frank: “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”

So….how do you want to change your world?


Wow, thank you Sara – so much to think about there. Again, I would recommend having a look at Dark Parties if you haven’t already. It certainly does raise questions about conformity and rebellion, as a good dystopian novel should.

Double Shadows Blog Tour: Can You Police the Past?

Today, Thoughts from the Hearthfire is visited by the lovely Sally Gardner. She’s here as part of her Double Shadows blog tour to promote the marvellous and myseterious-sounding The Double Shadow, released today. The hardcover looks gorgeous (with a lovely matte dust jacket – I’m such a book-stroker…) and I’m looking forward to reading this (it’s somehow jumped to the top of my TBR pile *whistles innocently*).

Anyway, over to Sally and her take on the idea of Political Correctness in writing historical fiction for children.

The past is a foreign country, and we did do things differently there. There is a tendency to whitewash it in fiction – especially for younger readers. This robs them of the knowledge of the journey we’ve made and the lessons we’ve learned. You can’t pat-a-cake the past pretty, you have to be true.

The Double Shadow is set between the wars and in the 1930s they smoked a lot, anti-Semitism was prevalent in Britain as well as Europe, there was the use of drugs and alcohol, the facts of life were not taught and young girls were often in trouble. Things were swept under the carpet and not talked about, but in the writing of them you bring them out from under the carpet.

Then, if you upset a man’s moral machinery by being dressed in a sparkling skirt you would expect little sympathy for what happened to you. The two world wars can’t be made to look all right, they were a huge black cloud over Europe and they changed the fabric of our society. Not to talk about it is a terrible mistake.

Humans on the whole are very slow learners as history has proved. The wheel always goes back a little before it goes forward. Writers have a duty to be true to what history has given them, even when writing fiction and especially when writing for a young audience. There is an issue with patronising today’s youth. The dumbing down of history should not be condoned.


Thank you so much to Sally for sharing such interesting thoughts with us today. I agree completely: part of the excitement of reading is discovering different viewpoints and we can’t do that if we re-colour and re-touch attitudes from past times (or from different places and cultures).



Don’t forget to visit the other stops on the tour!