Anne Mattias is a British author, currently based in Germany. She tried writing her first novel at the age of eight, but the draft was sucked into another world when a secret door opened in her great-grandmother’s haunted cellar. She wrote much of Kingsrise on her phone while commuting to and from a London office.
When she isn’t making up worlds of her own, she enjoys running, baking, laughing at eighties movies with her brother, and catching the latest musical theatre shows in London’s West End. She’s happiest with a cup of tea, a good book, and in the company of her two cats. Kingsrise is her first (published) novel.
1.- What made you choose self-publishing?
I considered self-publishing as an option early on. I did some querying for my first novel, Kingsrise, but quickly decided that – as I’d already paid for editing and proofreading myself – I’d rather self-publish than wait a long time for someone else to decide on my behalf.
As many authors will tell you, there are upsides and downsides to both self-publishing and traditional publishing. I haven’t regretted my decision to self-publish. It’s been a steep learning curve, but it’s given me plenty of new skills that transfer well to other areas. I’ve really enjoyed finding out how everything works, from learning how to format for print and ebook, via organizing my book launch, all the way to marketing (which I have much left to learn about).
Self-publishing has also given me a fresh perspective and a new appreciation for the publishing process, and the hard work that goes into it. I have nothing but respect for anyone who decides to undertake that journey, whichever publishing route they choose.
Now, knowing that complete strangers are reading and enjoying what I’ve written is hugely rewarding, and self-publishing has helped me achieve that.
However, hands down, one of the best things about being a self-published author is the community that you become a part of as you go along. I’ve met a lot of truly wonderful people, who are extremely supportive of each other. Having these people around really helps with the kind of rough patches I’m sure all authors experience, when we start doubting ourselves, our work, and whatever we define as success.
I’ve really enjoyed myself throughout the whole process, and I’m looking forward to what’s to come.
2.- What would you say were the main inspirations to write Kingsrise?
I’ve always loved King Arthur stories, ever since I first watched Disney’s The Sword in the Stone as a child. Obviously, I went looking for the book that the film is based on, and I’ve since read T.H. White’s The Once and Future King more than once.
I love anything to do with the Arthurian legends, but a couple of works really stand out, such as The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, and – very recently – Morgan is my Name by Sophie Keetch. The Idylls of the Queen by Phyllis Ann Karr, a murder mystery set in Arthurian times, is another one of my favourites (I love Mordred in this one!) The BBC’s Merlin – which I still comfort-watch sometimes – has also had a lot to do with my love for the characters, and for adaptations that reimagine the legends in a way that stays faithful to the source texts, while also putting a fresh spin on them.
At university, I read some of the old Middle English texts about King Arthur as part of my coursework (I studied English and American literature) and I adore those, too. The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle is absolutely hilarious.
So, obviously, the Arthurian legends are a major source of inspiration for me, but one of the things that’s always irked me about them and many of their retellings, is that it is very often the same people who are cast as the villains. I’ve always enjoyed books that take these kinds of characters and do something different (Joanne Harris’s Loki books are a great example of ‘writing back’ to well-known myths and stories).
I also really like crime and mystery. Val McDermid is one of my favourite authors. And, of course, I’ve always loved fantasy more broadly. I’m pretty sure I owe that appreciation to my dad, who inspired my love for storytelling from an early age. He was very good at bedtime stories. Come to think of it, he also scared the crap out of me with some of the art and stories from Faeries by Brian Froud and Alan Lee, which is a wonderful, wonderful book. Actually, that may go some way towards explaining my somewhat accidental penchant for horror.
I should probably also mention my brother, who is a constant source of inspiration to me, simply because he’s a wonderful human being (shout-out to my mum here, too!)
The relationship between my main character, Niamh, and her brother, Lance, is one of the key elements of the book and one of the things that I like best about it. Readers have remarked on this as well, which I’ve found very rewarding. Not that Niamh and Lance are in any way like my brother and I, but I do think that our relationship has informed the way they support and care for each other.
3.- Could you tell us more about why you decided to give this special twist to Arthurian myths?
My initial idea was this: a body (or what appears to be a dead body) is discovered on a lakeshore. A criminal investigation is launched. The young detective inspector in charge of the case soon realises that she has stumbled upon something that seems impossible: the return of King Arthur. I don’t quite remember where the idea came from, but once I’d had it, I knew that was the story I wanted to tell.
I think part of the reason why I wanted to continue the story of King Arthur is that the Arthurian legends have always made me quite sad. Sure, there’s magic, and knights, and adventure, and romance, and a lot of hilarity. But there is also loss, betrayal, suffering, and many tragically broken relationships.
Arthur as a hero is quite tragic, too. I’ve always felt that he really tries his best, but the odds are stacked against him from the start. Not so much because what happens is inevitable, but very much because of his own – and other people’s – choices. The element of prophecy and fate in these stories aside, part of the reason they’re so tragic is because you can always see how things could have worked out differently, if only people had made different choices. That tension is fascinating to me. It leaves a lot of room for interpretation and reimagination, which the huge number of retellings attest to.
On a more personal level, I’ve always held a torch for Arthur partly because of that powerful image of the scrawny little boy in the Disney movie pulling the sword from the stone. Arthur (or Wart, as they call him) finds himself confronted with a huge responsibility that he has no idea how to carry but which he grudgingly accepts, nonetheless. I’ve always liked the idea that Arthur – in addition to being this larger-than-life character that everyone stacks their hopes on – is also very human, with all the flaws, anxieties, and difficulties that entails. And I guess, because I love these stories so much, a part of me just can’t accept that his death is the end. Fortunately, the idea that Arthur isn’t actually dead, but waiting to come back when his people (whoever they are) need him is also very much part of the legend.
As I’ve mentioned before, I also wanted to try and reimagine some aspects of the stories that we often take for granted, when, in fact, they’re obviously stories told over a vast amount of time by different people. How we read them today and what we think we ‘know’ about the characters is very much a result of what people have chosen to portray. Which is true of a lot of history, too.
Personally, I’ve always thought that if Arthur did come back, it probably wouldn’t be with a bang, and people wouldn’t know what to make of him. I just liked the idea of having him return to the UK today and see what happens. That’s why the story isn’t told from his perspective, either. It’s more about the other characters whose lives he ends up stumbling into, and their reactions to what his return means for their world.
At the end of the day, though, it was mostly about me sitting down and writing a story that I really enjoyed writing and that I’d like to read. Hopefully, others will enjoy it too.
4.- From all the self-publishing process, which parts would you say are more challenging?
There’s quite a lot that’s challenging about self-publishing, obviously, but for me personally, it’s getting the book in front of readers. There is so much going on every day, so many books and stories being written and published, and there is such a wealth of unbelievably good stuff coming out of the self-publishing community.
So, the competition is extremely stiff.
Finding your audience can be extremely difficult, especially as I’m sure many authors – like me – only have a limited amount of time they can dedicate to writing, editing, marketing, networking, and all of that on any given day. (Most of us have day jobs, right?)
I’m still figuring all of that out, but just knowing that people read my work makes me happy every single time someone picks up a copy, especially because it is very much an uphill struggle. So, although it’s challenging, it’s all worthwhile.
I’ve got to say, I am extremely grateful to all those self-published authors out there who share their experience and advice, to the reviewers and bloggers who put so much work into reading self-published books and sharing them with others. Shout-out to you lot; you are incredible!
5.- Kingsrise has some fragments that are quite into horror; have you considered writing a full horror novel?
Not until you suggested it, I didn’t 😉
It’s funny because it honestly hadn’t occurred to me that I was writing horror until people read Kingsrise and pointed this out to me. Even when early readers kept coming back to me saying, ‘You know, this is actually really spooky or ‘I was quite scared during some of it’, it didn’t occur to me that some elements are horror. I was merely trying to write something gripping that would keep people turning the page, and I didn’t quite notice I was straying into that genre, perhaps because I don’t actually read much horror myself (I’m wimp!)
Having said that, Stephen King is an absolute genius. Whether or not you like horror, or enjoy the more horrific elements of his stories, his writing is absolutely magnificent. I’m also a huge fan of Neil Gaiman and some of his stuff is quite dark. At university, I was quite into early Gothic literature, too, so perhaps I do like horror more than I thought.
I have written a short novel as a companion piece to Kingsrise, which is deliberately quite spooky. I really enjoyed writing that, as well as the scarier, fast-paced parts of Kingsrise, so I definitely wouldn’t rule out leaning into that more in the future.
6.- You entered Kingsrise into SPFBO9. How has the experience been until now?
Simultaneously a lot of fun and quite nerve-wracking. I mean, 300 entries, spaces filled within 41 (!) minutes, everyone hoping for their book to stand out, people sharing their favourites, bloggers starting to share reviews, and announcing who is still in and who is out – it can be quite overwhelming.
There’s a lot of potential for both gratification and disappointment as you find out how your work stacks up compared to others, and I think this kind of contest has the potential to be one of those moments where you really have to face up to the reality of how competitive your work is, and how well it does or doesn’t fit into the wider fantasy landscape.
That’s the dauting bit.
But on the other hand, it’s amazing seeing the incredible variety of work that has been entered and reading some of it. I’ve found a couple of books that I really enjoyed, which I may not have been aware of otherwise, and my list of books to read has become substantially longer.
It’s just amazing to see the enthusiasm that people have for SPFBO, and the amount of work and dedication that the judges – and other reviewers – put into it.
I really do love being part of it, so I’m very glad I got in, and I’ll be really interested to see who makes the final cut and who emerges as the winner this year.
7.- What can we expect from Anne Mattias in the future?
Right now, I’m working hard on the Kingsrise sequel. I’m still on the first draft, so it isn’t anywhere near publication, but I think it’s coming together.
There’ll be a couple more Kingsrise books after that, and then, who knows?
I’ve got a few very rough sketches for other ideas, but none of them is at a stage yet where I can see clearly where it’s going. I know a lot of writers somehow manage to have several projects on the go at the same time (who are these wonders? I don’t understand how that works 😉), but I’m very much the kind of person who can only focus on one thing at a time, and for now, that’s Kingsrise.
I wouldn’t rule out going off in an entirely different direction, though, once I have another idea that really works in my head.
Sorry, I realise that may not be the most satisfying answer to this question, but I’m kind of curious to see what will happen, too.