I know I keep saying this, but it's always a happy Monday here!
Because I get to talk to all kinds of amazing authors!
Christiana Matthews is the author of the fantasy duology, Flowerface, now available on Amazon, and Owlfeather, due out in January 2023. She’s also working on the Heirs of Samandahl series of novels and novellas.
The first book in this series, Witch Queen, began as a retelling of Snow White, narrated by the (slightly) wicked stepmother, Grizel. The author’s original intention was to continue with sequels based on other fairy tales, such as Rapunzel and Snow White and Rose Red, but the characters took over and outgrew their origin stories. The seeds are still there if you look closely, but the world which evolved is multi-layered and complex, owing more to the historical novels of Dorothy Dunnett, Georgette Heyer and Mary Stewart than the Brothers Grimm. Witch Queen is available now for pre-order on Amazon and will be published on 25th April.
Three short stories appeared in the Independent Press anthologies Bound in Blood and Fractured Folktales in 2021, and a flash fiction fantasy story in SFS Stories in February 2022. A fourth short story, Manannan’s Daughter will feature in Trials by Tides by Zasra Press at the end of April, 2022.
Christiana lives in south-east Queensland, Australia, with her cats, Heidi, Lilah, Onyx and Ulysses, and a constant stream of foster cats and kittens.
1. Where do you get your information or ideas for your books? The far reaches of the universe and the deep dark corners of my brain. Honestly, ideas can come from anywhere. I went on holiday to Darwin last August, and looking at the incredible termite mounds up there I got an idea to incorporate them into a half-finished story that I’d kind of stalled on. I wrote a poem about Covid, and another flash fiction story at the beginning of the pandemic involving a virus-demon and a cat who was possessed by a cat. I wrote a flash fiction from a writing prompt in one of the Facebook groups that got accepted for a SF magazine. I’m not very good at the image prompts and don’t attempt them very often, but occasionally something will gel and the result will make its way into one of my stories. Then of course, there are myths and fairytales. I base a lot of my stories on those.
2. What do you like to do when you’re not writing? I used to sketch and paint a fair bit, but since getting seriously into writing that’s fallen by the wayside. I’d like to get a drawing tablet one day, and make my own character art. I also garden and dabble in tarot and essential oils. I used to do bellydancing, years ago, and Tai Chi before Covid closed so much down. Love to travel, but had to cancel a planned overseas trip a couple of years ago due to the virus. Hope to be able to do at least part of it in a couple of years time when things settle down a bit more.
3. How many books have you written? Which is your favourite? I have one published, Flowerface, based on a Welsh myth from the Mabinogion, and a 2nd based on Snow White which comes out on the 25th of this Month. Title is Witch Queen, and yes, it’s intended for adults. After that I have a novella called The Knife of Truth, set in WQ’s universe scheduled for 1 July. As for favourite – how do you pick a favourite child? The most fun I’ve had so far is probably with the yet to be published The Unicorn Uprising, which follows on from Witch Queen.
4. Do you like to create books for adults? Yes, because I like using characters of various ages, not just teenagers. I also like using big words, lol.
5. As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up? My earliest ambition was to be an artist, but as I grew older I realized that would be a difficult way to make money. So I became an arts administrator, which didn’t come with a huge income but was at least steady – I worked for a university. Then I took early retirement and decided to become a writer, which also doesn’t make very much money, lol.
6. What literary pilgrimages have you gone on? Scotland and Orkney, with a paperback copy of King Hereafter, Dorothy Dunnett’s novel about the historical Macbeth tucked into my luggage. I’d have taken her Lymond Chronicles with me too, if I could, but this was a few years ago and I didn’t have Kindle back then. She’s the best writer I’ve ever read and KH is my favourite book in all the world.
7. What is the first book that made you cry? Not a book, a silly sentimental poem about an abandoned toy – Little Boy Blue. It can still make tears prick my eyes, lol. But two of my favourite books have tragic endings – Dorothy Dunnett’s King Hereafter and Giles Kristian’s Lancelot, so I’m not averse to books that make me cry. There’s a chapter in Dunnett’s Pawn in Frankinsence (which I’ve read a few times, as I have all of her books) that I sometimes have to skip over, it’s so heart-wrenching. Doesn’t stop me from re-reading, though.
8. What is your writing Kryptonite? Commas. I always, always misuse them. But hey, that’s what editors and proofreaders are for, right?
9. Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym? Yes, if I ever change genres I’ll use a different name. I’d like to try cosy mysteries one day. Also, the name I use for fantasy is a slight variation on my real name. I googled Christine Matthews when I first decided to publish and discovered another author with my name! Hers a pen name, and she writes murder mystery thrillers, so I changed the spelling of mine just to differentiate between us.
10. Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want? I think we’re all original because we’re all different and our brains and imaginations are all individual. I write in the fantasy genre, so hope I’m giving fantasy readers what they want, but I put my own spin on each story.
11. Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you building a body of work with connections between each book? Both, in a way. I hope that anyone who picks up Flowerface or Witch Queen will find the stories complete in themselves, but also want to learn more about the characters and the world. Each of the above are set in different realms – Flowerface, being a mythic retelling, is set in a distant era of our own world, whereas WQ takes place in an imaginary universe. However, it, The Knife of Truth and most of the books I have planned for the next 3 years are all linked, even though the connections might not be obvious at first. Once Errant Knight, WQ’s sequel kicks off the next 4 books will use the same characters and follow a tightly connected arc.
12. How did publishing your first book change your process of writing? It slowed me down – a lot! Publishing and publicising takes a lot of effort, especially when you have no idea what you’re doing. I really hope it will get easier with time.
13. As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal? Mascot would be a cat – I have four who supervise me while I’m writing. Avatar, I’m not sure, maybe something mythical. An amphipthere, perhaps. I like lizards and birds, so a combination of both sounds kind of cool.For spirit animal I’d choose a wombat. Cute and chunky, lol.
14. How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have? Umm, a lot. Four sequels to follow Witch Queen, plus another 3 set in that universe and several short stories to use as reader magnets, a sequel to Flowerface titled Owlfeather which I’m working now and need to get done really soon, another trilogy prequel to Witch Queen, a collection of modern day fantasy short stories, and more. There are a few anthologies coming up that I plan to submit to as well, so those stories are either sitting on the computer waiting to be edited, or are still only half written.
15. What do you have coming next? Witch Queen! Out in a couple of weeks on Amazon – here’s the blurb and the link: Think you know the Snow White story? Think again! Queen Grizel is the only one qualified to train her stepdaughter as a priestess so she can inherit the throne. When the princess goes missing, Grizel is determined to find her, but the king, as well as a group of mysterious dwarves, seem equally determined to stop her. Her only ally is Duncan, the leader of the king’s mercenaries, but even he distrusts her motives. Grizel’s efforts to convince him that she means her stepdaughter no harm result in a new conflict – one involving the heart. However, giving into love means losing power and Grizel likes being a queen. Having it all – love, freedom and her title – may not be possible. Which will she keep, and which will she lose? https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B09P565ZYN
How about a little excerpt? YES!
Excerpt from Chapter One of Witch Queen:
Blanche was ten years old when I married Kendric, and had just turned seventeen when he announced her betrothal to the son of a foreign ally. Marriage would require her to take a more active interest in politics than she’d hitherto shown. Determined to ensure her readiness for the role, I had to resort to sometimes dubious methods.
Invading her bedchamber in search of forbidden items, for instance. Forbidden by me, that is. That resolve led me to Blanche’s room one morning, shortly after her betrothal was formalised. I discounted the carved bedside tables, the drawers, and the equally ornate chests. Blanche and I had performed this dance several times, and she never repeated a hiding place. The fine red and blue Tokary rug showed no suspicious lumps, and although the blue velvet curtains could easily conceal what I sought, I’d already shaken them out. I reached under the mattress and felt around. Toward the foot of the bed, I located a soft rectangular shape and, straightening, considered my prize.
“Grizel!” Young, melodious and imperious, the voice also brimmed with outrage. “What are you doing in my room, and what have you got there? Give it back!”
I spun around, unaccustomed heat burning my cheeks. Blanche’s entrance must have been as furtive as mine, I hadn’t heard a whisper of sound.
“It’s for your own good,” I began, but she saw the book in the folds of my skirt.
“Oooh! Alatea. How dare you steal it before I’ve even had the chance to read it?”
I cast a disparaging glance at the volume in question. Bound in brushed blue leather, the title, tooled in gold leaf, proclaimed it to be Alatea; or The Vanished Heiress. I usually had my maid purloin Blanche’s ridiculous romances to encourage her to concentrate on her studies, but that morning I’d been unable to locate Susanna.
Blanche tucked a stray black curl behind her ear and reached for the book. I backed away. “Recite the ‘Treaty of Dunarian’ in its entirety; explain the reasoning behind it and the conditions that made it necessary, and Alatea is yours.”
She scowled, bottom lip outthrust. I smiled in triumph. At seventeen Blanche had little interest in politics and even less in esoterica, an attitude she needed to change if she wished to become an effective ruler. I nodded toward another, heftier volume on top of the chest of drawers. “You haven’t even opened it, have you? By the time you’ve waded through that lot, sweeting, I’ll have finished this book and a dozen more besides.”
I swept out, novel in hand, while she glowered after me. Blanche’s room and mine lay in different wings, so I needed to negotiate a large section of the palace to remove Alatea to her new home. The last strains of a mournful ballad faded as I entered the Great Hall and the minstrel, with an obsequious nod to me, began another song:
“Fairer than the morning is the Lady of Rhodonnekeep,
With flawless skin and swan white limbs and eyes of silver grey,
Slender as a sapling and as supple as the willow,
Flowers bloom beneath her feet as she glides upon her way.
Lovely as the evening is the Lady of Rhodonnekeep,
The darkest night is twilight next the raven of her hair,
She knows the language of the birds, and how to read the heavens.
She is the Lady of Rhodonne, the Fairest of the Fair.”
I accepted his offering with a smile and a stately nod, scanning the ranks of the assembled lords and ladies, looking for a certain ex-courtesan.
“Highness?” said a smooth, faintly accented voice behind me. “Is there a problem?”
I turned to confront my maid Susanna, her arms full of vividly coloured, highly perfumed blossoms. A buxom twenty-three-year-old of forthright opinions and remarkable self-assurance, Susanna held an ambiguous position at court, being neither of the nobility nor yet truly a servant, because she answered only to me. Or, theoretically, the king, but Kendric had no interest in Susanna’s chosen and proven domain; clothing, cosmetics and jewels.
“No, why should there be?”
She tossed back her heavy flaxen braid and hefted the flowers, black eyes sparkling wickedly. “You look as if you’re selecting the ingredients for a stew. This lot would be too tough, I think.”
“No doubt.” I indicated the lilies and pea-flowers, slipping from her arms and decorating the floor at our feet. “Who died?”
“They’re for Lady Ylsa’s mother, for her party tonight. Don’t worry, she can offer no inducements which would tempt me to leave your employ. Her so-called lady’s maid has no taste, so I volunteered my services. I hope you don’t mind.”
“Your generosity is laudable. Make sure she knows she’ll need to return the favour.”
“But of course, My Queen.” Susanna pinned the flowers with one arm and her chin, hitched her skirts a little higher and trod toward the Lesser Hall, trailing petals and leaves like an attendant at a bridal feast.
I turned back to Susanna’s courtier stew. At the foot of the stairs the taciturn Master of Horse conversed with Sir Felix, a brown-haired, athletic knight wearing a bored and cynical expression. Not an edifying company, yet I considered these the least obnoxious of Rhodonne’s lords. Their women were worse. The Rhodonnais nobility had never approved of, or warmed to, Kendric’s foreign queen. Kendric’s foreign, barren queen.