Costanza Casati on her new novel The President Show, important themes and the writing process

  1. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

My name is Costanza Casati and I am a 25-year-old writer and screenwriter. I was born in Texas, USA, and moved to Italy when I was two – my whole family is Italian and I grew up in the countryside just outside Milan. I then moved to London when I was nineteen to study at Queen Mary University, where I graduated in English and Film. After that, I got my Masters in Writing at the University of Warwick. I have worked as a freelance journalist – covering two editions of the Venice Film Festival for HOLR Magazine – and screenwriter – the documentary I co-wrote with director Erminio Perocco was broadcast by ARTE, the European culture TV channel, and by RAI, the national public broadcasting company of Italy. I have recently finished writing my second novel (yet to be published) and I’m researching for the third.

What is your book about? Can you give us a little summary?

The President Show is a feminist dystopia set in a totalitarian repressive regime where the most powerful politicians, the Leaders, use entertainment and propaganda to hold sway over the people. The novel follows a young woman named Iris as she is captured and forced to join the reality TV show ‘The President,’ where, together with a group of girls taken from disadvantaged backgrounds, she has to entertain the Leaders. The only way out is to win the show, but the women are constantly turned against each other and the politicians are ruthless when cameras are off… In order to protect herself and the people she loves, Iris will have to fight in a world of lies, abuse and fake perfection. 

With the premise of the book being based on real-life sex political scandals, the story deals with the dangers of reality TV, the role of women in our society, and the power of dissent.

What was the inspiration behind the book? What made you write a dystopian story for your first published novel?

I was really interested in the bad and amoral message that most reality TV shows send about human behaviour. Love Island, Big Brother, Survivor, The Apprentice… these shows are really about finding weakness in the other competitors in order to win at all costs. That’s why I decided to have a reality show setting for my novel – it was perfect in terms of pushing the narrative forward and creating complex dynamics between the characters, and it would also force the reader to think, ‘what would I do in this scenario?’ 

I was also inspired by recent real-life scandals such as the Weinstein case, Epstein’s sex trafficking ring, Italian tycoon Berlusconi’s parties and many others – it seemed to me that the more powerful these men were, the more they abused their power, and young women always got the worst of it. 

Dealing with these topics within a dystopian frame felt appealing: recently there has been a new canon of feminist dystopian literature that tackles women’s anger and anxieties – Vox, Red Clocks, Only Ever Yours, The Water Cure – and all these books really force readers to ask themselves important questions about our world: what if this happened? What would I do? 

Who are your favourite authors/who you draw inspiration from?

I read across various genres and my favourite authors are Elena Ferrante, Margaret Atwood, Sally Rooney and Madeline Miller. In terms of speculative fiction, my favourite books are The Hunger GamesThe Handmaid’s Tale and The Power

Your novel has a very strong female protagonist – was this an important part of the book for you, to have a female as the main protagonist? If so, why?

It was hugely important. I grew up reading mainly books written by men with male protagonists. Before university, I never came across a female author at school: we would only study the men and the few pages dedicated to women on the syllabus were always skipped. Once, during a creative writing course I was told that if you write a book with a male protagonist, both girls and boys will read it, but if you write a book with a female protagonist, only girls will read. That really stuck with me. More and more books with women at the centre are being published and widely read now, and yet it still isn’t normal or ‘mainstream’ for a man to experience the world from a woman’s perspective while reading a novel. 

I really wanted to have a central character that fights and resists any stereotype society throws at her. In the novel, Iris is seen by others as nothing more than an entertainer, a victim, a glamorous celebrity, but the fact that the narration is in first person (from her perspective) allows readers to see how she responds to those stereotypes, and how they affect her. I really don’t think The President Show would have made much sense if written from one of the men’s perspectives.

Are there any other important themes in the book that send out important messages to the reader/convey a message you want to get across?

A lot of current world events and issues from our society influenced me as I wrote the novel, but I really want people to read the book and draw their own conclusions. Though The President Show is a work of fiction, most of the things that I have included in the book have happened in our world too, in one way or another: people’s sexual relationships broadcast on screen for entertainment; the abuse of women coming from disadvantaged backgrounds at the hands of powerful men; offensive social media posts affecting young people’s mental health; the violent repression of political opposition. I’m sure readers will recognise at least some of these elements and have a think. 

Have you always wanted to be an author?

Yes I have! I’ve always loved to read, and even as a child I would draw and write stories and show them to my family.

What were the challenges you faced writing your first novel and how did you overcome these?

There were many challenges, and there are still a few now! Finding a good editor and a good illustrator for the cover, working on the blurb and the re-writes, learning to promote the book through social media. I think that it’s very important to be extremely committed when you write a novel and be ready to fight all the challenges along the way. The most important thing for me is probably to be passionate about your book and share it with the widest audience possible, while also remembering that not everyone can like or understand what you write. 

Was it difficult coming up with the title of your novel?

I love thinking about titles for books, chapters etc. I find that it helps me find what the story is really about. I initially wanted the title to focus on the main character Iris but, as I kept writing the novel, I realised the story is really about the group of women on the show, the relationships they form, the bonds they break, and their journey within ‘The President’ show.

How long did it take you to write the novel and how did you stay motivated?

I wrote the first draft in three months, but most of that draft doesn’t exist anymore – I changed the book completely in my re-writes. I didn’t find it hard to stay motivated because writing is the thing I love the most in the world. What I did find hard was not knowing whether it was going to be published or not. But I eventually overcame that because, in the end, I knew I’d keep writing no matter what. 

Do you have any tips for getting over writers block?

Read! Pick up a book that is a similar genre to what you’re writing, or simply a novel that you loved, and re-read it until you feel inspired to go back to your own. It always works for me. 

What is your top advice for those who are wanting to write their first novel?

I’m still learning a lot myself, but I’d say that it’s important to surround yourself with fellow writers, and to share your work with them. Be ready to accept suggestions and (constructive) criticism. And write about what interests and affects you the most. 

Purchase The President Show here.

Follow Costanza on Instagram and on her platform where she shares book recommendations as well as interviews with debut authors – follow here.

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