Christiana Spens is a young female writer who is currently in the process of finishing her third book, The Idiots’ Club. With two published books under her belt as well as a Cambridge philosophy degree at just twenty three, she’s doing pretty bloody well for an era where graduates struggle to find work and works of art seem to be increasingly losing value. Here’s what happened when I caught up with her for an interview:
Did you start off writing fiction or did you already have experience in other forms of writing?
I can’t really remember, but I think I started various kinds of writing all at the same time. I did reviews for Studio International and Rockfeedback from about the age of fifteen, which was also when I started writing fiction.
So, you’ve quite recently graduated from Cambridge. How on earth did you manage to fit in writing novels whilst studying? Is the work load at Cambridge as heavy as we all think?
I didn’t do much writing at all during term time, and I didn’t finish any projects while I was at Cambridge. I kept doing the odd review or short story, and came up with some ideas for projects during the summer breaks, but that was about it. I’ve only really started writing properly again since finishing there in June.
The work load is heavy at Cambridge, but I think what stopped me writing there was the atmosphere in general. I don’t know why exactly, but I just found it impossible to be creative there, in a committed, focused way. Perhaps essays on Philosophy and being free to write fiction don’t really mix; they’re different ways of thinking entirely.
Tell me about your new novel.
It’s called “The Idiots’ Club” and is about a band of that name, narrated by an obsessive fan from Nashville, Tennessee. It’s about idol-worship, insanity, fame, lust, those sorts of things.
Does it cover similar topics as your previous books?
I suppose there’s a cross-over with subject matter, in that both concern bands, London, New York, and all of that. But I think “The Idiots’ Club” is quite different in the sense that it’s sharper, more satirical, and more in-depth. I spent longer writing the latest one, anyway, and I think my style has changed during that time.
What made you want to do an illustration book (The Socialite Manifesto)?
Well I’ve been drawing as long as I’ve been writing, if not longer, and I suppose I just thought of the illustrations as another side of the same story. I was living with a fashion photographer when I put those pictures together, and surrounded by magazines, photos, beautiful people. Those illustrations were a reaction to being around that, I think, and naturally developed from the work I’d done for the first novel as well. (Bella, the photographer, did the cover photo for “The Wrecking Ball”, incidentally).
The characters in your novel, The Wrecking Ball, are pretty much middle class hedonists. Are they based upon a group of people you’ve met in your life?
They’re not based on any particular people I’ve known, though I must have been vaguely influenced by various school friends and acquaintances I met at that time (when I was about seventeen or eighteen). There are “middle class hedonists” all around, in any case. It would be hard not to meet people like the characters in the novel, even if I tried.
Do you think that the themes found in the novel were also influenced by other works of fiction?
Definitely. First novels tend to be a bit of a product of whatever the author’s been reading at that time. When I was sixteen, I read a lot of Bret Easton Ellis, MacInerney, Kerouac and Blake! It takes a little time to move beyond your idols and become comfortable in your own writing and stories.
Favourite author ever?
So hard… Probably Keats – or Fitzgerald if ‘author’ means ‘novelist’.
There are a lot of references in The Wrecking Ball to the English indie music scene circa 2006 (ish). Any particular reason for this? Were you really into indie music around this time? Did you see lots of bands?
Just because that’s when I was writing it and I wanted to capture an impression of that time, to have the characters all caught up in their present. I was also doing some music journalism and running around festivals that summer, and so it all seeped into the book.
What are you listening to at the moment? Any tips for 2012?
Right now I’m listening to Patti Smith’s cover of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Dancing Barefoot” and some T. Rex and Bob Dylan. I have no idea what’s meant to be good for 2012! I hope Jack White’s various bands come up with something new, and I hope to see the Kills soon as well.
What are you reading at the moment? Any recommendations?
I read “The Marriage Plot” by Eugenides, and “Love Begins in Winter” by Simon Van Booey recently, and both were lovely. Also I just started “Wuthering Heights” this week, as somehow I missed it before (obviously familiar with the Kate Bush / Noel Fielding take though…) And I’ve been reading some Tarantino scripts, too. Big fan of “True Romance”.
You keep a photoblog and have a Twitter account. Is social media important to you and do you think that authors thrive from the internet or do you think that it’s a threat to printed fiction?
I just use them to keep in touch with friends and other writers mostly, rather than as a PR thing. So the people I stay in touch with are important, rather than the media. It’s a means to an end.
So far, social media seems good for those who like the PR side of things, and perhaps not so good for those who just want to focus on the writing itself. PR seems to be becoming too important now.
I don’t know if the internet it really a threat to printed fiction per se. I think people will always buy hardbacks, for instance – though maybe the design of those books will become more important, as they’ll be literary objects rather than just the way to read literature.
It does seem like the internet is a threat to print magazines and papers, though, and a threat to getting paid for that work. A lot of magazines simply don’t pay their writers anymore, which seems unfair. I don’t know whether that’s the internet or the recession, though.
Interview by Katie Wilkinson
The Wrecking Ball and The Socialite Manifesto are out now on Harper Perennial and Beautiful Books whilst Christiana is hoping to release The Idiots’ Club in early 2012.