Black History Month – Interview with Ciannon Smart, Author of Witches Steeped in Gold; On Her Jamaican-Inspired Fantasy Debut, Worldbuilding, and its Gorgeous Cover

I love reading fantasies that are clearly written from their writer’s hearts. There’s something so special and wonderful when you read a story and you can feel pieces of the author’s love and soul in the words. Witches Steeped in Gold is one of my most anticipated books of 2021, and I think, after reading this interview that I did with Ciannon, the author of Witches Steeped in Gold, you will agree that her debut is such a book – one that is a book of her heart and a story she loved telling.

When Ciannon reached out and expressed interest in partaking in Black History Month at the Pond, I was thrilled. But when I read her brilliant interview answers? My excitement increased tenfold. That’s why, I’m very, very excited for Witches Steeped in Gold, a young-adult Jamaican-inspired fantasy about two witches and enemies turned reluctant allies. Therefore, I am thrilled to show you all the interview that I did with Ciannon, and I think, after reading this interview, you’re going to want to pre-order this book immediately.

Witches Steeped in Gold by Ciannon Smart

Trust no witch . . . 

Iraya has spent her life in a cell, but every day brings her closer to freedom—and vengeance.

Jazmyne is the queen’s daughter, but unlike her sister before her, she has no intention of dying to strengthen her mother’s power.

Sworn enemies, these two witches enter a precarious alliance to take down a mutual threat. But revenge is a bloody pursuit, and nothing is certain—except the lengths they will go to win this game.

Deadly, fierce, magnetically addictive: this Jamaican-inspired fantasy debut is a thrilling journey where dangerous magic reigns supreme and betrayal lurks beneath every word.

Find this book on:
Goodreads | IndieBoundBlackwellsBookshop | Harper Collins

Author Interview with Ciannon Smart

CW: Hi Ciannon! A huge welcome and thank you so much for visiting us for Black History Month! We’re all really looking forward to Witches Steeped in Gold so we’re delighted that you’re here today. For our readers out there who are only meeting you for the first time, can you tell us about yourself? 

Ciannon: Thank you for having me, CW!

To the readers of The Quiet Pond, hi, I’m Ciannon Smart (pronounced Shannon), and in addition to being terrible at introducing myself, I also hail from England. 

CW: Witches Steeped in Gold is your debut fantasy about two witches and enemies-turned-allies set on a path of revenge to take down a mutual threat – and I’m so excited to read it come April. What inspired Witches Steeped in Gold

Ciannon: It’s surreal to think that, five years after I first sat down to draft the earliest iteration of Witches Steeped in Gold, it will finally be published. My inspiration started with a trip to Rose Hall in Jamaica the summer I turned twelve. There I learned that my culture had witches of its own, and they used a taboo branch of magic that’s still spoken about reticently today. As a die-hard Sabrina The Teenage Witch fan – the sitcom, not the cartoon – I was hooked, but it wasn’t until just over a decade later, when I asked myself what sort of book I wanted to read next, the answer was a Jamaican-inspired fantasy, with witches, set against the backdrop of a perilous world. 

I should say, CW, that allies might be a little optimistic for these witches, but I suppose you’ll have to wait and see come April . . .

CW: Something that I’m really looking forward to in Witches Steeped in Gold is that the main characters, Iraya and Jazmyne, have motives of their own and subvert the dichotomy of ‘hero’ and ‘villain’ that we see in fantasies. What inspired your love for heroes-like-villains, and what did you enjoy the most when writing Iraya and Jazmyne?

Ciannon: I’ve always been a fan of characters who tend to subvert a reader’s expectation, the ones who, instead of seeing two paths as the hero so often does, sees multiple courses of action to take. For me, it’s more exciting, and it was a deliberate choice to create a world in Witches Steeped in Gold that doesn’t really have a place for the traditional hero. Instead, it needs characters like Ira and Jazmyne who, while not villains, certainly don’t shy away from taking greyer paths in pursuit of what they want—something that, let’s face it, makes for a messy plot full of ups and downs and heart-stopping moments; who doesn’t like their fantasy with a healthy dose of dread?

If it isn’t obvious already, the twists that accompanied the decisions made by Ira and Jazmyne were my favourite part of writing their characters. There’s a lot of foreshadowing, and revealing the outcomes of those set ups made the late nights, the multiple drafts, worth it.

CW: Witches Steeped in Gold takes place in a Jamaican-inspired world where “dangerous magic reigns supreme” – and I cannot wait to discover what the magic looks and feels like in your story. What was your process of creating a richly-imagined world, and how did you integrate pieces of you into the worldbuilding?

Ciannon: I always wanted the world in Witches Steeped in Gold to feel like a character, to have influence in the wider decisions that could and could not be made; throughout each round of edits – key for me when it comes to layering in or cutting information about a world – this anchor became increasingly important when I was making plotting decisions. The magic system I’m excited for you to discover too is a fundamental example of how the world sets the precedent, and every person living in it has to think of ways to work around those rules. 

As for integrating pieces of myself into the worldbuilding, something fun I haven’t shared is that the creatures characters ride in my world were inspired by those I encountered in Jamaica when I visited as a kid.

CW: What are you most proud of in writing Witches Steeped in Gold, and what is something that readers of your book can look forward to?

Ciannon: This is a lovely question. It’s so rare to pause and assess the high notes while constantly pushing toward some sort of deadline. 

For readers, something I am first even when writing, Witches Steeped in Gold is a book for obsessives, for those who fill pages with tabs and message theories to their friends. I hope that once certain twists have been revealed, they land as intended, and you come and find me on Instagram to yell about them with me.

As for what I’m proudest of, aside from the book being published at all, it would have to be the story’s structure, and the various twists and reveals planted early on and throughout the narrative. It was a lot to juggle, but so satisfying to land. 

CW: I’d love to ask you about the cover for Witches Steeped in Gold – it’s exquisite and Ashley Straker has done an amazing job. Did you make any special requests for what you wanted your cover to look like? And what is a detail that you love in the book cover? 

Ciannon: Harper’s design team and Ashley did such an amazing job, I agree!

My editor looped me into the design process very early on. I shared my Pinterest board with her, and we discussed title placement – which is where I always thought it would be – and the colour palette, which was initially very clean and minimalist, with no green a sight. And then the Head of Marketing said, this is a Jamaican inspired fantasy, it should look like one; how do you feel about adding more colour? And I am so glad she did, because the first mock-up I was sent with this new direction in mind was an Experience, and every version thereafter only continued to encapsulate the story perfectly, and far better than I initially imagined.

As for the detail I love the most – aside from the background and the dripping title, it has to be Ashley’s illustrations. Ira has this telling glint in her eye, and Jazmyne looks as haughty as her family is. He captured their essences perfectly.

CW: And finally, the last question – and this is a question I like to ask all of our guests! What is a food that feels like ‘home’ to you – wherever or whoever that may be?

Ciannon: A food that feels like home to me is probably fried plantain. My earliest memories of connecting with my culture all include my mum in the kitchen, slicing the skin to peel it back to chop for the pan, my dismay at having to wait for it to cool, and then the sweetness of the first bite.

Thanks so much for having me, CW.

About the Author

Of Jamaican heritage, Ciannon Smart grew up in a small town
in the south-east of England. As the only daughter in a house
full of boisterous sons, she developed a voracious appetite for
reading from an early age, preferring anarchy in stories rather
than real life. Her debut YA fantasy duology, beginning with
WITCHES STEEPED IN GOLD, releases April 20th 2021
(HarperTeen US, Hot Key Books UK). In YA she loves her
heroines exactly as she loves her villains: wilful, wily, and
unpredictable. When not writing, Ciannon can be found
reading, painting, or taking the long way home to listen to a
good song more than once.

Find Ciannon on: Website | Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest

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