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Today’s Women in SF&F Month guest is Ciannon Smart! Her Jamaican-inspired YA fantasy debut novel, Witches Steeped in Gold, is out tomorrow—but if you can’t wait until then to start reading about witches seeking vengeance, you can read this excerpt!

Witches Steeped in Gold by Ciannon Smart - Book Cover

Building an Empire

I didn’t think I had the imagination to create a secondary world.

Now, the jury’s still out as to whether I can or not, but Witches Steeped in Gold has been written, bound, and is waiting for its April 20th release in various warehouses around the world. It’s too late to back out now.

When I first knew I wanted to become a writer, I gravitated towards writing books similar to what I was reading at the time: Twilight, Divergent, The Hunger Games. They all contained worlds that felt familiar, aside from an eldritch wrongness permeating the foundations of society. Familiar felt safe for me, comfortable, as I wrote and rewrote my earliest manuscripts at fifteen. There’s an adage, write what you know and draw what you see, that I actually read in a book. For five years I did just that. My worlds were western; the magic, where it appeared, was soft whisper on the page.

Then I came across Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and that familiar ground beneath my feet gave way. Suddenly I was immersed in a world of angels and demons, chimera and magic; what’s more, I loved it. My reading tastes expanded; I discovered the City of Bones books, Shadow and Bone, Red Queen, and more. I was hooked on these expansive societies, some hidden in the pockets of the familiar, others in entirely fabricated places.

Things changed once again when I heard about two books that would change the game, for me: The Belles, and An Ember in the Ashes. Magical Black and brown girls. New worlds with non-western touchstones. I wanted more; in order for that to happen, I had to write the story myself.

Up to this point, the lane through my memories that we’ve been walking, dear reader, has been linear. But before I can move forward, I need to go back a decade to the second time I’d been in Jamaica. A family tour of the island included a trip to Rose Hall, a former plantation home in which an alleged white witch lived. Like most 90s babies, I grew up hooked on Sabrina The Teenage Witch; to learn my own culture had a magic system, witches, floored me. So much so that, when the time came to write the non-western fantasy story I craved, this trip would be my inspiration.

I wasn’t cavalier about what was ahead, but my fear to leave the familiar was replaced by drive. I turned to those authors whose works I’d admired. Victoria Aveyard, in particular, was keeping a blog back then that I found hugely informative. I drew maps, I read through Brandon Sanderson’s Laws of Magic, I excavated Jamaica’s history by way of my mum and various relatives. It was an interesting symbiosis; layering my story removed layers from a heritage I hadn’t known as well, growing up in England.

And layers, really, have been key to building the empire in the Witches Steeped in Gold world. As much a character as my cunning protagonists, it too is varied and nuanced; not to be trusted, and flawed. Book One is but the tip of the iceberg of places I can’t wait to show you.


Photo of Ciannon Smart 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. In YA she loves her heroines exactly as she loves her villains: willful, 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. Witches Steeped in Gold is her first novel, and you can learn more about her at www.ciannonsmart.com.