Let’s start from the beginning. Who were the writers who inspired you to become an author?
This is a funny one, because writing had always been a part of my life, but the idea of being an author came later.
My gran worked as a secretary, and she liked to write poems in folk’s birthday and leaving cards. And my dad, who worked at the hospital, he would write comedy sketches for my church. One Sunday, when I was little, he was putting on his latest sketch and I was impatiently waiting for it to start. When the Pastor stood up to introduce it, I mistakenly thought he was going to give a sermon instead and loudly proclaimed to the whole congregation, “Oh no, not him again.” As you can imagine, this story pops up a bit in my family.
My gran and my dad’s kind of writing was very community-based. It was all about shared experiences, in-jokes and acknowledging the bonds between people. Y’know, the good stuff. But no one expected to get published. That said, my dad did try.
He wrote two novels. I grew up in a religious family so they were Christian thrillers. He handwrote notes and then typed them up into these big lever-arch folders. I remember lugging one around school so I could read it. It was a Christian Sci Fi about a sceptic who went back in time to meet Christ. I can’t remember much about the meeting-Jesus bit, but I remember being enthralled by the speculative time travel method. My dad tried to find a publisher, but without much luck. Christian Sci Fi is an admittedly tricky genre to place.
It was only when (and yes, I realise I’m a massive cliché here) Harry Potter came about that I thought being an author might be possible for someone like me. At the time, the press made a lot of the author being this single mum, living on benefits, writing in cafes. I thought if she could do it, why not me? I’m not a fan of her current choice of ‘direction’, so I feel complicated acknowledging the influence she had on younger me. But I don’t think I’m alone in that. I guess the important thing, as with all our influences, is to know which parts to take with you and which parts to leave behind.
What is the very first piece of fiction you ever wrote?
Oh dear. Hold onto your hats!
I’m afraid it was this cringey series of YA books I wrote between the ages of thirteen and eighteen. They were sort of a Christian Sci Fi/Fantasy series with heavy influences from Harry Potter, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dragon Ball Z of all things! The main character was everything I wanted to be: smart, confident, funny, powerful. She and her friends were learning how to fight monsters and demons at this secret (scarily militarised!) school hidden under a mountain.
God, I loved that series! If I wasn’t writing it, I was thinking about it. I handwrote three books, hundreds of pages each. I still have them in their folders in my study. I was definitely one of the weird kids at school, lugging around those folders. In retrospect, I feel lucky to have found my passion so early.
After a while, some of my school pals started to read my books. I loved the thrill of handing over a fresh chapter and watching the reader’s face to see when they’d get to certain ‘bits’. It was the best feeling in the world! I learned early on that writers don’t make their books alone. It’s a partnership between you and the reader.
What is the hardest part of writing, in your experience?
Oh my god. Learning how to edit has been a journey! But that’s what most of writing is, editing and rewriting, so you have to put your big kid pants on and get on with it.
Last year, during lockdown, I came up with a process to help me break down edits on novel-length works. It was a bit like learning how to eat a mountain. In essence, it’s the same as with any large, complicated task: one bite at a time. But the key, I found, is finding a way to note your progress. This gives you the dual benefit of keeping track of where you are and being able to see how much you’ve achieved.
I trialled the process on The Queen of the High Fields and I guess it must have worked because here we are!
Tell me about your book. What was the inspiration behind it?
The Queen of the High Fields is a Dark Fantasy slash Folk Horror about two women who become obsessed with a mythical island off the Welsh coast. Told in two halves, one charts their long journey to taking the High Fields, while the other follows their disastrous reunion ten years later.
And it was inspired by a dream.
I know I know, it’s a bit of a faux pas to go on about your dreams. But it’s true! That’s where I first saw the High Fields and that’s where I first saw Her. This big, powerful woman who had to be worshipped or you’d die. It (obviously) struck a chord with me and I wrote up a quick synopsis the moment I woke up. There was something about the relationship between this woman and the person I inhabited in the dream. There was a lot of tenderness and a lot of fear.
There was also something about the High Fields themselves and my memories growing up in Wales. There’s so much about Wales and Welsh culture that I didn’t get taught about in school. The Mari Lwyd, the Eisteddfod, the Gorsedd. Sometimes I feel like I came from a place I don’t really understand.
We have a word in Welsh, you’ve probably heard of it: hiraeth. It means a longing, nostalgia or sense of grief for a place you’ve never been or that might never have existed. I read somewhere that it specifically came from a homesickness for Wales or a long-lost, pre-Christian version of Wales. I think The Queen of the High Fields is definitely inflected with hiraeth.
Is there a particular character in the book? What makes it so?
Hazard will always be special to me. I grew up knowing a lot of big, loud, scary girls who’d take up space and make their opinions known. I daresay even I’ve been her to some folks.
Characters like Hazard get demonized a lot in stories for not being demure and small and kind. Hell, even I did it in my early writing. But at the same time, there was always this desire to be like them. To have that internal sense of power. To look at the pressures of society and say, “Fuck you, I do what I want!”
I guess Hazard is a love letter to those women and girls. Even if they do still kind of scare me!
Think back at your debut book. How did you approach the ‘getting published’ process? Any tips, resources that you can share with our readers?
Considering this is my first longer-length publication, I was quietly confident someone would pick it up. A lot of places have been looking for novellas recently and I had a novella length project more-or-less ready to go. So, at the beginning of 2021, I made it my goal to send out The Queen of the High Fields and find it a home.
I think the key is to be organised. Make a list of all the places you want to send your manuscript and note they’re open for submissions. Prepare synopses, extracts and covering letters in advance.
I know, so predictable so boring. The tricky bit is the mindset.
You’ve got to divorce your sense of self-value from your publishing record. Getting something published can’t be your be-all and end-all. It has to be just another day at the office (admittedly, a good day) or you’ll end up emotionally exhausted! Sustainability is the goal.
How did you find the publishing process, in general?
Pretty painless. I was in the middle of moving, so I had to be nagged a bit to sign things and get bits over. But Luna Press have been very patient with me!
What do you think is the status of publishing today? I’m referring to issues such as representation, diversity, etc.
I think a lot has improved, but more needs to happen. I see a lot of calls for more diverse voices within writing, but I think the key will be more diversification within publishing itself.
Just like how my gran and my dad wrote for and within their communities, I reckon there are lots of talented writers out there writing in and for their communities - building ideas and connections and ways of talking about being human we haven’t seen before.
What is your take on social media, when it comes to being an author? Do you think that an author should have at least one channel of communication with the readers?
Social media is a tool and one of many. As with any tool it’s about as useful as the skill and inclination of its wielder allows it to be. It can’t do the writing for you and it won’t send your work out for you, and those are the two most important things for a writer. Ali Smith is not on any form of social media as far as I know and her books sell just fine.
If you want to use social media as an author, I find it helps to outline some specific goals. I use it to promote my work, chat to other writers, stay abreast of the craft/industry, and find opportunities.
Be wary of the pressure to go viral or gain a large number of followers. Going viral is way too based on luck and constant posting, and it doesn’t necessarily result in folks reading your work. Similarly, aiming for a large number of followers doesn’t guarantee that any of them will buy your book. Aim instead for an audience who know what you’re about and like your stuff.
As for having a channel of communication with readers, I think the best channel is the writing itself. Everything else is secondary.
What do you think about Awards in publishing?
At best, they help exciting voices access the connections and resources they’d otherwise struggle to find. At neutral, they’re good for advertising books. However, at worst, they can entrench which voices we think are worth celebrating.
Overall, I wouldn’t worry about aiming for awards. As always, focus on the writing first of all.
What are you working on at the moment?
Hoo boy, I’m working on another novella and it’s a horrible wee thing about a semi-detached house in the countryside.
Finding a publisher for The Queen of the High Fields aside, 2021 has been a tough year. I won’t go into details, but I’ve not felt this awful in a long while. Every time I felt overwhelmed or properly shit over the year, I’d process it by putting it into writing. Miraculously it’s come out in the shape of a story.
Once I’ve got a clean draft, I’ll pass it by my crit group. I’m hoping I’ll have something I can put out to publishers late next year. If not, then at least it helped me get through a particularly disorienting time.
If you had to recommend an author and/or a book, who would it be?
What a Carve Up by Jonathan Coe is my go-to recommendation. It’s a mix of magical realism, political commentary and murder mystery resulting in a good primer for understanding how Britain has ended up in the state it’s in.
Rhiannon-getting-angry-about-politics aside, I’d recommend anything by Sarah Pinsker, Naomi Booth, Margaret Killjoy and Lucie McKnight Hardy.
Welsh author Rhiannon Grist, is a writer of Weird, Speculative and Dark fiction.
Her work has featured in Shoreline of Infinity, Gutter Magazine and Monstrous Regiment Literary Magazine: Emerald among others, and was selected for The Best of Three Crows Magazine: Year Two and both The Best of British Science Fiction 2019 and 2020 (NewCon Press). Her novella The Queen of the High Fields (Luna Press Publishing) is a “Folk Dark Fantasy” inspired by Welsh mythology.
About The Queen of the High Fields:
Two misfits, Carys Price and Angharad ‘Hazard’ Evans, strike out from their disenfranchised seaside town to take ownership of the High Fields, a mythical island brimming with world-bending promise. Objecting to the demands of modern society, they hope to find a place where they can live as they choose, but instead they find an ancient power that tears their friendship apart. Ten years later, Carys returns to the collapsing world of the High Fields to face the terrifying power of the friend-turned-goddess she left behind. Watch the YouTube Book Launch here.