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Q&A with Bea Fitzgerald - Girl, Goddess, Queen

Girl, Goddess, Queen

By Elle Summers

We are honoured to welcome Bea Fitzgerald to The Reading Corner to talk about her new release Girl, Goddess, Queen released on the 18th of July 2023.

To hell with love, this goddess has other plans...

Thousands of years ago, the gods told a lie: how Persephone was a pawn in the politics of other gods. How Hades kidnapped Persephone to be his bride. How her mother, Demeter, was so distraught she caused the Earth to start dying.

The real story is much more interesting.

Persephone wasn't taken to hell: she jumped. There was no way she was going to be married off to some smug god more in love with himself than her.

Now all she has to do is convince the Underworld's annoyingly sexy, arrogant and frankly rude ruler, Hades, to fall in line with her plan. A plan that will shake Mount Olympus to its very core.

But consequences can be deadly, especially when you're already in hell . . .

A fierce, fresh and enormously fun YA fantasy re-imagining from a growing TikTok superstar.

Girl, Goddess, Queen

Hi Bea! Thank you for giving myself and The Reading Corner the opportunity to read your debut novel Girl, Goddess, Queen, and for talking with us about the inspiration behind your work. When crafting your novel, what target audience did you have in mind? Listed as a young adult fiction, how did you work to create a romantic and sexualised plot that is appropriate for young readers?

I started writing this book when I was 22, so I felt like I’d just come out the other side of this turbulent time of sexual pressures and expectations, this non-stop pressure to secure a future and make the right choices and everyone weighing in on what I should be doing with my life. At the time my sister was 14 and just starting to go through all that herself so I very much wrote it with her and her peers in mind. I thought about what I loved in romance and what I wanted to see more of – and I wanted to depict a healthy and loving relationship that drew those characteristics as something to aspire to. The sex content was very important to me for numerous reasons. The sex education I received in school was very much with the tone of ‘why would intelligent teenage girls do this but if you are foolish enough to, here are your contraceptive options’ and at the same time we were being hit from every direction with this aggressive sex positivity that left me feeling really isolated and confused. In Girl, Goddess, Queen I wanted to lean into sex positivity but also push sex neutrality – this idea that sex is just a thing, with no moral value and it’s not good nor bad, it’s not going to change your life but it might be fun, and it also might be bad or funny or weird or maybe all those things at once but it’s not going to define who you are. And I wanted to write that within a framework of a supportive, loving relationship free of sexual pressures.

Please could you tell us a little more about your inspiration for this story? You clearly draw on Greek Mythology yet invert the rhetoric that has been passed down for centuries, placing Persephone in a position of power and free will. Why was it important for you to provide a space for this change?

The rhetoric of the original myth wasn’t actually the one I was raised on – I was sort of taught that Persephone was taken to hell but it was okay because her mother was overbearing and actually she really loved Hades. By the time I reached adolescence, there were so many reimaginings that made it romantic in that same vein, with that same arc. I think its popularity was due to it being one of the first stories we encountered that told us it was okay to have a difficult relationship with your parents, encouraged the idea of embracing a darker side of yourself and of gaining power through love.

When I was older, my love of the ancient world gained a more academic bent, with that disparity between the myth I was raised on and the actuality of the ancient story. But I’m first and foremost interested in the longevity of stories and the reaching power of them – the idea of tales that have connected with people for thousands of years is so interesting to me. So I wanted to play with the idea of the story that I grew up with but draw in elements of the ancient tale and world too.

I also really wanted to draw on Persephone beyond the myth of her marriage to Hades, where she’s often portrayed negotiating with heroes and wielding real power. My favourite is Homer’s Odyssey – which is our first time meeting her in any text and she’s first introduced to us as Dread Persephone. Homer refers to the underworld as her lands repeatedly and when Odysseus leaves it is out of fear that Persephone will send a gorgon head after him – which is of course in turn the threat of another powerful woman. Persephone has this real variation in myth from innocent maiden to terrifying queen and I wanted to chart that journey and align it as a modern coming of age story. Coming back to that original myth then, I wanted to toy with the narrative often presented –what would this particular myth look like if it were the version of her depicted in other myths at play? And what would that modern version that means so much to so many people, the one that posits it as a romance, look like if it were not simply a narrative of ‘Persephone was kidnapped but she liked it’ but one where she took control? And where power was not something she had to be given by a man, but was always hers to find?

The title Girl, Goddess, Queen feels important in crafting this strong female voice of Persephone. Could you please tell us about how it came to be and why did you use these three descriptors in this order?

The title was actually my agent’s suggestion, but it feels so perfect. Girl is a reference to Kore, which means maiden or little girl and is a name Persephone is given by her father to firmly put her in her place when her ambitions threaten to eclipse his. Though she changes her name, this aspect of her is still a true part of her – and she is able to be both a girl and a goddess and a queen all at once. Goddess relates to the journey she undergoes to find and claim her own power and of course queen is both a reference to her becoming the ruler of the underworld and a nod to the way she manages to rival Olympus and the power of her father. Together they encapsulate much of the journey of the book.

A lot of your novel is centred around providing space, voice and power to women. Yet in doing so, a fairly negative light is shone on the male characters, Hades aside. How important was it for you that in this retelling that both male and female characters were given the opportunity to present their true nature?

Do you think painting the majority of male Gods as misogynistic and patriarchal is a successful way of portraying a male narrative to young readers? I think it’s important to bear in mind that the whole book is coming from Persephone’s perspective, and she’s been raised on stories of men as horrific predatory people. Hades is obviously the primary narrative where that is broken but I think you see it in other ways too – he mentions that he certainly isn’t the only man who feels like that and suggests they may never know how many are acting a role. I wanted to present that in this book – the idea of patriarchy perpetuating because of a performance people are giving. I don’t want to spoil too much, but you see in the wider cast of male characters a difference between their behaviour when we first meet them – often in public settings or before Zeus, the literal patriarch – and their behaviour later. At the start, perpetuating crassness is a way patriarchy offers men to bond. But outside of that performative space and away from the pressures, that falls away – and often the male cast become some of the gods who respect Persephone and her power as queen the most. The stories Persephone is raised on are indeed the myths we have, many of which are filled with sexual and patriarchal violence, so I wanted to look at what damage that does to men just as much as it does to women – and here you see it stops deeper bonds forming, stunts emotional growth, sex not as connection but conquest and how reductive that is and of course how patriarchy controls what men are allowed to do just as much as women. Then beyond that I wanted to depict going against this narrative – men being allowed to be vulnerable and emotional as desirable traits because I think that can all be perpetuated in romance books too – to offer a sensitive male hero rather than an alpha male.

Without wanting to give too much away, this novel is full of longing, for power, for place and for people. Romance lies at the heart of this narrative, fuelling the feelings of Persephone and Hades. How did you go about crafting their enemies to lovers story line?

I’m a voracious romance and fantasy romance reader. This book is full of so much of what I love about that genre – and enemies to lovers is one of my favourite tropes. As for that plotline, I think I knew going in that there had to be genuine reasons for them to dislike each other, that the enemies aspect could not lean into bullying or abusive behaviour and they had to have a reason to come together that went beyond attraction. It’s actually enemies to friends to lovers and I think that middle stage was crucial for me in this story. I resonated so much with Persephone’s turmoil of trying to figure out in what way she like Hades and I think that was further tested by the fake dating narrative, which formed a wonderful parallel to her own existence of pretending to be whatever is expected of her. To separate her emotions from the performance is such an important part of her journey. And my favourite thing about the coming together of Hades and Persephone in this book is the way two hurt people come together to heal, not fixing each other, but offering support and encouragement in their own efforts to overcome and grow.

How much of the original Greek Legends and Myths have you followed in your narrative? Have you stretched or changed anything? And if so, do you believe this speaks to how narratives need to be altered to provide a female perspective? Or are readers simply seeing this story from a different set of eyes?

I’d definitely say Girl, Goddess, Queen is a reimagining rather than a retelling – the setting is a fantasy adjacent world where elements of the ancient world are depicted as courts with their own internal politics. The overall narrative and its beats follow myth, but each aspect is contemplative – at times a subversion or an intentional spin. And there are larger things I’ve changed – like removing any form of age gap in the romance or the fact Persephone’s parents and their parents were both siblings. I don’t think myth needs to be altered to provide a female perspective – many ancient texts centre women, albeit they’re written by men - and I love a literary retelling of these stories. But that’s not what I’m doing in this story, nor is it what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to recreate the ancient world in the story, I wanted to use it as a launching off point to inspire, to use the framework of myth to ask questions about our own modern society and to explore issues relevant to the lives of teenagers today. And I wanted to create a fantasy and romance that stands on its own.

How do you feel your novel stands within a canon of literature that provides space and power to women? What do you believe a text like this will teach a young readership?

There’s certainly a lot of female rage in the book, and a great deal of unpacking ideas of power and agency. I hope the journey Persephone goes on encourages more young women to not be afraid to disrupt systems and fight for what they want. And I hope that core of a romance arc encourages a healthy perception of romance and what sort of love we should all be looking for – one that is powerful and healing and lifts you up rather than holding you in place.

Being your debut novel, could you please tell us about your experience with the publishing industry? What has it been like working with Penguin?

I work in publishing so had a pretty realistic view of what it was going to be like, though that was reinforced sometimes in some pretty hard ways. The book was on submission for over a year before it finally sold – and that in and of itself was quite chaotic. It went from no offers for so long to a five-way auction in which Penguin pre-empted. My advice to young writers is that all you can control is your writing because the market ebbs and flows and what’s out can suddenly be in – in my case romantasy was booming and suddenly my book fit the market perfectly. Working with Penguin has been beyond my wildest dreams. I’ve worked in publishing for six years and never seen a campaign like it – for that amazing effort to be for my book has been incredible. They’ve been so creative, enthusiastic and hardworking. Beyond anything else, the whole team has been supportive and I think you can feel when you read the book just what a team effort it is – to see the work of the designers in that amazing cover, the production team in those gorgeous finishes, the different editors who have worked on the writing and of course all the other teams – and beyond Penguin to booksellers, librarians and bloggers who have supported this book. My favourite thing of this whole process has been my book becoming our book. It’s been an absolute privilege.

Where will people be able to find this fantasy romance?

It’s available online and in bookshops but I really encourage everyone, if you can, to order through your local independent bookshop. Do feel free to follow me on @chaosonolympus too because I’ll always shout about any new places selling it!

Girl, Goddess, Queen

Bea Fitzgerald is an author and content creator. She has worked in publishing for a number of years and has a degree in English Literature from the University of Reading, where she also studied several classes in Ancient History. Bea is passionate about stories and fascinated by the way they endure and resonate through centuries and generations. When she's not writing, she's entertaining her followers on TikTok and Instagram with her mythology-themed comedy account @chaosonolympus. Girl, Goddess, Queen is her debut novel.


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