Enter the Dragon – Interview with Samantha Shannon

Priory of the Orange Tree might just be the most magically anticipated fantasy novel of this year. And we can say with absolute certainty that it is worth the hype. Magical women, brave warriors, powerful queens and, of course, dragons – what more could you want. We were lucky enough to chat to author, Samantha Shannon about the experience of writing Priory and her favourite fictional dragons!

1. Priory of the Orange Tree is home to epic queens, dragons and magic – there is so much to unpack with all of the glorious detail that flows through it – can you tell us where you got your first inspiration for the novel?

There was never a single eureka moment for this book, as there was with The Bone Season – it was a few different ideas coming together over twenty years. I can trace the thread of inspiration right the way back to my fifth birthday, when I first saw Dragonheart. That film sparked a lifelong love of all things fire-breathing and scaly, and once I knew I wanted to be an author, I also knew I wanted to write my own dragon book one day. In 2014, I decided to do that by contesting and re-imagining the legends surrounding Saint George and the Dragon from a modern feminist perspective. I also wanted to write a novel that explored the different ways in which dragons are imagined across the world, had religious (mis)interpretation as a prominent theme, and intertwined mythology with some fascinating periods of history.Priory hatched out of all of this and more.

2. How did you feel about writing Priory while also writing the Bone Season series – was it refreshing to work in a different genre of fantasy? 

It was, yes. I thought it was going to be impossible to divide my time between the two, as they’re so different – one set in Paris in the year 2060, the other a standalone in a fictional world inspired by the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries – but both projects ended up benefiting so much from my multi-tasking. Moving between them kept my inspiration for both alive. If I started to lose steam in one manuscript, I could switch to the other and recharge my creative batteries. I plan to always have at least two projects on the go from now on, as I find it so helpful to have that breathing space. 

3. Ead and Sabran and Tané are wonderful characters, made more wonderful by their differences, can you say which character’s story you felt you knew first? 

I’m so glad you like them! Tané was the first Priory character to walk into my head, and she’s also the character who’s most like me – an anxious workaholic – so she has a special place in my heart. Ead was probably my favourite to write out of the four narrators, though. Most of her story takes place in an Elizabethan-style court, and I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed writing about the intrigue, opulence and pressure of life in the entourage of a queen. 

4. Was it exciting to be able to tell a story using dragons – one of the most loved fantasy tropes?

It really was! I loved being able to write my own take on the most beloved of mythical beasts and create a taxonomy of creatures related to them, from cockatrices to wyverns to dragons born of fire and starlight. I sense that dragons are about to make a huge resurgence in fiction, and I can’t wait to see new takes on them. 

5. What was it like to take the story of the dragon rider who revered dragons and contrast it with the characters who fear dragons more than anything? 

I knew from the beginning that I wanted dragons to form the basis of the main religions of the book, with some people viewing them as gods and others as purely evil. There are benevolent and unpleasant dragons in Priory– the former connected to one branch of magic, the latter to another – and that divergence is the source of an age-old misunderstanding between the two sides of the world. Writing creation myths for my dragons and turning them into opposing faith systems was such an enjoyable challenge. 

6. One of the most satisfying aspects of Priory of the Orange Tree is the wideness of the world and the richness of the detail of the court and its magic. How long did you spend building the world before you began writing? 

I don’t clearly remember this, as I started the book more than four years ago, but I think I spent a few weeks sketching the basics before I jumped in. I believe in worldbuilding on the go, allowing your character to guide you as they go about their life. You never know if a paracosm is going to hang together, what details you need to add, or what gaps there are to caulk, until you throw a character in there and let them start telling you. I essentially built a skeletal world and added flesh as I went along. 

7. Was it important to you to tell the stories of these diverse women? 

Epic fantasy has historically been a male domain. Fortunately, many authors have been working hard for many years to change that, and I hope Priory does its small part in pushing that change forward. There are two male narrators, and I loved writing their stories – but the women are the ones whose actions have the greatest impact on the narrative. I wanted to write a feminist tale that allowed women from many backgrounds to control the fate of nations, eviscerated the damsel in distress trope, and wasn’t set in a violently misogynistic world. 

8. Priory reads like an homage to the wonderful epic fantasy of the 70s and 80s but with a thoroughly contemporary head on its shoulders – was it fun bringing this type of fantasy right up to date? 

It was great fun, and very liberating. I always meant for it to be a story that utilised many of the tropes of classic epic fantasy – an enemy returning from the dead, a hero with a magic sword, a hidden society of magic users – but left some of its more negative features behind. 

9. Would you say there were particular stories or myths that lent inspiration to Priory? 

Yes. The main one was the legend of Saint George and the Dragon – which isn’t a single legend, but a mythos. The one I most wanted to retell was a 1596 version of the story by Richard Johnson, a contemporary of Shakespeare, who turned Saint George into an Englishman from Coventry. I took several elements from that story and re-imagined them in a way that I hope challenges Johnson and his frankly disturbing ideas about what makes a hero. The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser and the Japanese tale of Hohodemi, which involves a magical fishhook and two jewels that control the tides, also had a significant impact on the story and worldbuilding. 

10. Can you name your favourite fictional dragons? 

Draco from Dragonheart was the first dragon I ever loved. I also love Rollo from Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho, Saphira from Eragon by Christopher Paolini, and Firedrake from Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke, which was my favourite childhood book. 

11. What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received? 

Neil Gaiman once told me to enjoy myself. Not exactly writing advice, but excellent life advice. Sometimes I can get so anxious about my work as I strive to make it perfect, so this was a reminder to sometimes sit back and enjoy the ride. 

Priory of the Orange Tree will be released on February 26 and you won’t be able to put it down!

What we’re Reading – Sally Green, Melinda Salisbury and Margaret Rogerson!

An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson

An Enchantment of Ravens is an incredibly beautiful winter read. It is a gorgeous lyrical story that takes a talented painter with a set of unusual client – Faeries. This urban fantasy followed Isobel, a painter who’s skill is something that is envied and coveted by the fair folk. However when she receives a royal commission she makes a grave error, she paints weakness into her subjects eyes, something he could be killed for. So she finds herself spirited away to the dangerous faerie court where she has to use her art to defend herself and save her life. We absolutely adored it and cannot wait for Margaret Rogerson’s second book due out in May!

State of Sorrow by Melinda Salisbury

Sorrow is a Queen governing the court of tears, stepping in for her ailing father who slips further and further into madness every day. Sorrow seeks some sort of comfort in the arms of the boy she loves but she has to try and protect the place that she has inherited.The book is fuelled by political intrigue where we witness Sorrow try to navigate the political landscape of her home and try to save her people.

The Smoke Thieves by Sally Green

The Smoke Thieves has been burning up our TBR bookshelf for the last few months! From the brilliant mind of Sally Green, of the Half Bad series, comes a new, gorgeously purple edged book that is pure adventure and joy. The beginning of a new series it follows four teens, a princess, a thief, a revenger and a hunter. Fleeing demons and fighting marriages and planning revenge, this is the Princess Bride of books, everything you are looking in for in a fantasy. The characters are brave and charming and will have you gagging for the next instalment.

Three fantasy novels you don’t want to miss: Albert, Cogman, and Mostyn

 

The Hazel Wood By Melissa Albert 

Was the original Alice in Wonderland a little too tame for your taste? Are the Grimm Brothers not dark enough for you? Are you hungering for something a little creepier in your childhood fantasy heroines? Then by all means pick up a copy of The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert. Ever since she can remember, 17 year old Alice has been on the move, living a nomadic lifestyle with her mother.  All that time she has longed for a true connection with her grandmother, the mysterious author of fairytale stories, Tales of the Hinterland. Alice’s life is confined to glimpses of this world until she comes home one day to find her mother gone and all hints point to characters from the Hinterland come to life. The story is dark, complex and will draw you in and set your imagination on fire.

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

Libraries, spies, Victorians – what more could you ask for? Genevieve Cogman’s The Invisible Library has all of that and more. Irene is a professional spy for the mysterious Library, which harvests fiction from different realities. Along with her enigmatic assistant Kai, she’s posted to an alternative London. Their mission is to retrieve a dangerous book. And any more information will spoil your experience! There are few things that attract avid book lovers more than libraries – but book thieves and spies are among those topics. The characters blaze through the novel and the joy of The Invisible Library is that it’s just the first in a series of four. So you can indulge in your book thief librarian spies for three more volumes!

The Gods of Love by Nicola Mostyn

Are you a fan of the Greek gods? Well, even if you aren’t, we think you’ll be a fan of Frida, divorce lawyer and all around expert on love. Mostly because she’s a secret descendant of Eros, the greek god of love. So when a handsome but clearly delusional man named Dan bursts into Frida’s office and insists that she is fated to save the world, she has him ejected. But a creepy meeting, a demon or three and one attempted kidnapping later, Frida is beginning to face the inconvenient truth: Dan is actuallyThe Oracle, the gods of Greek mythology are real and Frida herself appears to be everyone’s only hope.The world is doomed. A little. This novel is so, so much fun! It is non-stop enjoyment from start to finish and we guarantee you won’t be able to put it down!

Arming the nerd girls – an appreciation post for Kelly Marie Tran and Millie Bobby Brown

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Cinders was conceived as a free online haven for nerd girls. Fandom, the internet and popular culture are our absolute favourite things. And that’s why it upsets us so much to see bullying and toxicity win on platforms that we use to spread our stories and others. So, in the spirit of Hear me Roar Méabh McDonnell decided to share our anger for actresses Millie Bobby Brown and Kelly Marie Tran. 

I was going to call this post ‘In defense of the nerd girls’ but you know what – I’m not writing in their defense. These girls are talented and powerful and shouldn’t need defending. It shouldn’t be any sort of controversial opinion that young women who are hard working, good at their jobs and take the time to be considerate and open online are in the right.

The fact that the last few weeks has seen both Kelly Marie Tran and Millie Bobby Brown driven off of social media, because of the actions of despicable bullies is a truly sad and desperate state of affairs. It is one that reflects the toxic atmospheres that can develop around fandoms. 

As a magazine that celebrates fandom and pop culture (particularly female fandom and pop culture) the treatment of these actresses fills us with sadness for them and extreme anger at the people who felt that they could collectively bully these young women. 

As a magazine that celebrates fandom and pop culture the treatment of these actresses fills us with sadness for them and extreme anger at the people who felt that they could collectively bully these young women.

This culture of people – often women – being driven off of the internet because of the place they occupy in an industry that many people take ownership over is so despicable. It is the dark side (pun fully intentional) of fandom that should be at the forefront of our discussions. 

We’ve seen this in gaming, where female gaming reviewers have been victims of cyberbullying. We’ve seen it in reactions to the announcement of Jodie Whittaker as the first female Doctor in Doctor Who. We see it when girls part-take in cosplay and are quizzed about their inherent knowledge of whatever aspect of pop culture they are portraying. 

The fact that we see it time and time again in a community called ‘fandom’ is truly upsetting. Fandom is about celebration. It’s about finding something: a tv show, a movie, a book series, a comic book, a game; that you fall in love with and then finding all of the other people who love it as much as you do. It’s about passion and creativity. 

Fandom is the experience of enjoyment and so it always hurts that little bit more when we see that experience being tarnished for anyone. It hurts when we see it tarnished by the experiences of some fans and it hurts when we see it tarnished by the actions of so-called ‘fans’ against actresses, producers and reviewers.

Fandom is the experience of enjoyment and so it always hurts that little bit more when we see that experience being tarnished for anyone. 

It’s also worth noting that it is within fandom that many who find themselves on the fringes in life find a tribe. It is the refuge of those who are often struggling and trying to find something they can hold onto. 

And in finding that community and that shared experience people’s lives can be saved. Fandom is often the thing that shows those of us who felt alone, who felt different, who felt under-represented, that there are others who see us and that we are valued. It’s not just within the shows and books that fandom springs up – but through the creativity and community that those stories inspire. People create art and stories inspired by the things they love and share them with a group who love them too. Fandom is a place of inclusion. 

Or at least it should be. 
This is why it is so very heartbreaking to see self-declared Star Wars ‘fans’ drive the wonderful Kelly Marie Tran off Instagram. Kelly Marie Tran, who portrayed Rose Tico in The Last Jedi, was a ray of sunshine online. She happily invited people into her experience of being a part of one of the world’s biggest franchises – something she did not have to do – and was repaid by bigoted, short-sighted bullies who accused her of tarnishing a series that they saw as something they had ownership of. 

Here is something we are very clear about – fandom is not ownership. It is celebration, it is inspiration and it is community but it is not ownership. No one person can claim to own Star Wars. The same that no one – save maybe JK Rowling, and even that could be argued – owns Harry Potter. They are shared commodities.

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Because of The Last Jedi Kelly Marie Tran is a part of the Star Wars Universe and because of her portrayal of Rose Tico the universe just got a bit more inclusive – something it always should have been but better late than never. She is in that world. I’m looking at her face on a piece of merchandise right now. She’s in. So the idea of her being forced out of a space where she no longer felt free to be herself because they are unaccepting of her – that’s unacceptable. 

As is the awful treatment of Millie Bobby Brown, a 14 year old child who has the difficult experience of growing up in the public eye because of her talent and has bourne it very gracefully. Yet despite this she was chosen as the target of a series of homophobic memes. This is a truly horrible and cowardly way to treat anyone, let alone a child who has always supported LGBT causes. Their actions led her to leave Twitter, a platform she has been vocal on and has been open about her experience as a young actress in Hollywood.

Unfortunately these are the actions of bullies and of cowards. People who are getting a lot louder in this Trumpian nightmare. They hide in groups. They hide behind people they see as powerful. They anonymously torture 14 year olds! Because they think it’s funny. Because they think they have something to prove. Because they are terrified someone will see just how small and insignificant they are. 

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We know this. I hope Millie Bobby Brown knows this. I hope Kelly Marie Tran knows this. But it still doesn’t stop the words from hurting and it doesn’t make the pictures go away. 

Even if they come back to social media – something that I hope they do if it makes them happy – this experience will have always happened for these girls. These bullies will always have been people they had to deal with in a community that these girls did their best to nurture. 

So we can’t undo the past but we can try and fix the future. We can commit to making our own fandoms better. To promote inclusiveness, to celebrate creativity, and to discourage negativity as much as possible. We should respond with acceptance, constructive criticism, and encouragement. We will shout back with our message of inclusiveness and happiness! 

We shouldn’t defend the nerd girls. We should arm them.

Goodness knows we need them now, more than ever.

The Hawkman by Jane Rosenberg La Forge – Book Review

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The Hawkman is a unique fairytale set against the backdrop of WWI and examines the trauma of war, isolation and the perennial fairytale notion that if we just extend a helping hand, we can change a life. 

Taking inspiration from lesser-known fairytales such as The Bearskin, it tells the story of the strangely nick-named, Hawkman, also known as Michael Sheehan, an Irish veteran of WWI and his saviour and friend, Miss Eva Williams. The story is told in a dreamlike fashion, alternating between different character’s perspectives and fairytale re-tellings. 

For those who have an affinity for historical fiction the well researched depictions of the POW camps of the First World War and the experiences in orphanages at the turn of the century will be of particular interest. However the frequent segues into these perspectives can be disruptive to the main story. 

Often characters will begin to reminisce while in the middle of a conversation which can be confusing for keeping track of the story. That being said, the whole novel reads somewhat like a half-remembered dream, so this may be the author’s intention. 

That is not to say that there isn’t anything to enjoy in The Hawkman, readers of magical realism will likely find a great deal to love in the story. 

The benevolent, brave, characterisation of Eva Williams was a stand out for me and I was disappointed when she was sidelined from the narrative towards the end of the novel. Much of her experiences are given over to the other characters, which, for me, diminished her impact in the story’s finale. 

While The Hawkman wasn’t my favourite version of a fairytale re-telling, the story is one that will likely appeal to fans of historical fiction and magical realism.

Geekerella by Ashley Poston – Book Review

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With a name like Cinders you can hardly expect us to pass up a book like Geekerella can you? Geekerella is a modern Cinderella story, except this particular Cinder’s prince is of the sci-fi variety – can you say meant to be? Geekerella follows a dual narrative, between Elle, our Cinderella fangirl and Darien, our secret sci-fi prince.

Elle is a nerdgirl who is obsessed with erstwhile TV show Starfield (think the original Star Trek/The Next Generation). Her connection with the show is one of her few pleasures, given her mentally abusive stepmother and bullying/apathetic stepsisters. However despite Starfield being the one glimmer of light left in Elle’s life, she wakes up one morning to find it threatened by the casting of teen heart-throb and famous soap opera actor, Darien Freeman as lead Prince Carmindor. 

Geekerella is just so much fun. It takes a light, relatable look at romance and at fandom, where evil stepsisters are more interested in maintaining their vlog than their hair. 

Through a series of plot twists and mis-adventures, the pair of them end up meeting – not at the ball – at the Starfield Convention cosplay contest! The rest, as they say is geek-infused history. 

Geekerella is just so much fun. It takes a light, relatable look at romance and at fandom, where evil stepsisters are more interested in maintaining their vlog than their hair. 

The whole story is a wonderful snapshot in time: Elle works at a vegan food truck, aptly named The Magic Pumpkin (no points for guessing where her fairy godmother resides!); Darien is a secret fanboy with airbrushed abs and an overbearing father. 

Both characters just draw your interest and firmly keep it there throughout the novel. Elle is written as an empowered young woman in a crappy life situation and her experience of using fandom as an escape is one that will ring true for thousands of other young women.  The division of the book also gives us some much needed perspective into Darien’s mindset and makes him a much more sympathetic character. Fandom is a refuge for both of them, Elle because of the connection with her parents, especially her father and Darien as the one place that can be himself.

The book – which was released by Quirk Books last year is just out in paperback, right on time to take with you on your summer holiday excursion! For fans of fairytales, nerd culture and fandom Geekerella is a bright ray of sunshine, I wasn’t able to put it down!

Cinders magazine received this book in exchange for an honest review

Dream Child: An interview with Irish Musician Sive

Sive is an Irish singer-songwriter and multi instrumentalist , with a voice that sounds like the Irish sea. Her music is full of depth and haunting lyrics. Cinders was lucky enough to sit down with Sive and chat about her latest album, The Roaring Girl, the Irish music industry and what she hopes to see in the future.

1.Your music has a really ethereal sound, what would you say is your main inspiration?

I’d say my musical inspiration comes mostly from a combination of folk, jazz and world music. In the last few years I’ve been addicted to a number of African artists like Rokia Troare, Fatoumata Diawera and Ayub Ogada as well as contemporary Irish artists who bring their own flavour to Irish traditional music, like Kila and Colm Mac Con Iomaire. I’m a big lover of jazz as well, particularly the more piano-based stuff. And from a songwriting point of view, I love people who really craft their lyrics, like Joni Mitchell and Jesca Hoop. So I guess it makes sense that those influences might come together to create something slightly ethereal!

Continue reading Dream Child: An interview with Irish Musician Sive

Happy International Women’s Day! Cinders Reading List

Happy international women’s day to all of the friends, mothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, co-workers, inspirations and activists out there! You all inspire us daily and make us take pride in who we are and make us choose who we want to be.

This year our thanks go out to all of the brave women who have told their stories and truths in the hope that we can be part of a better future. Both in the workplace and outside of it.

Here in Cinders we love brave confident women and we look up to them every day. Here’s hoping that we can grow up to be like them.

If you’re looking for some fantastic International Women’s Day reading then look no further, here’s our definitive list:

If you like non-fiction and badass women:

Rocking the System by Siobhan Parkinson

If you like scientific Victorian feminism:

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Gross

If you like sci-fi dystopias:

Spare and Found Parts by Sarah Maria Griffin

If you like realistic stories:

Almost Love by Louise O’Neill

If you like relatable stories with musicals in the end:

Like other Girls by Claire Hennessy

If you like fairytales:

Tangleweed and Brine by Deirdre Sullivan and Illustrated by Karen Vaughan

Make sure to check out the CBI #BOLDGIRLS hashtag for more brilliant reading recommendations!

New issue of Cinders Magazine out now!

Cinders magazine volume two issue two is out now! This issue is all about empowerment.

From fearless Irish women to #MeToo and body positivity, to remembering great’s like Ursula K. Le Guin, this issue is all about women supporting women. Don’t forget to check out our in-depth interviews with writers Stefanie Preissner, Siobhán Parkinson and Theodora Goss!

Click here to read the bumper new issue Cinders Magazine Volume Two Issue Two

Contributors to Cinders empowerment issue were: Méabh McDonnell Grainne Coyne, Teresa Mulhern, Jasmine Harris, and Aisling O’Halloran.

This issue is insightful and has many home truths to tell, from how to live in the age of #MeToo to understanding the lives of historical women, to thinking about writing.

You won’t be able to stop yourself from diving right in!

Book Review: Owning It by Caroline Foran

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Caroline Foran’s Owning It has swept onto our shelves and excited new readers. Anxiety is something that we are all familiar with, whether in ourselves or in another person’s point of view. Anxiety has a place in our world now and it’s very welcome to have a book from someone who has experienced it for themselves. Caroline Foran takes her own battles with anxiety and gives it over to a fresh perspective, how she and her research has helped her to deal with it. She doesn’t give any impression that she possesses a cure for anxiety but she gives a clear idea that she can live with anxiety and win some of the battles against it through work.

The book is written in an easy conversational style where you feel as though you’re getting advice from a friend, rather than a clinical source. There is sound advice, drawn from her own ideas and from extensive research and it finds a clear path that anyone will find useful, not just those who suffer a great deal from anxiety. She doesn’t claim to be a healthcare professional but rather someone who has gone through this same experience and wishes to give advice to those who are struggling with the same problems that she has had.

We could all use the help of a friend when we are anxious and Caroline Foran’s book does just that.