Katharine and Elizabeth Corr, authors of the spellbinding The Witch’s Kiss, are back this January with an all-new fantasy novel, A Throne of Swans. They were kind enough to answer my questions about themselves, their books, writing process, and more!
Hi, Katharine and Elizabeth! Could you tell us a little about yourselves?
Kate: Hello! We’re sisters, and we’ve been writing together since 2012. Our first novel, The Witch’s Kiss was published by Harper Collins in 2016. Our new book, A Throne of Swans is coming out with HotKey on 9th January. We’ve both been avid readers and writers since childhood (the angsty poetry and the gruesome sci-fi fan fic is safely hidden away, luckily!), but we didn’t think seriously about the possibility of being published authors until we started working together.
Liz: We both love fantasy – anything by Tolkien, Terry Pratchett or Neil Gaiman is a must-read. We enjoy YA fantasy in particular because of the ‘coming of age’ aspect; growing up and stepping into a larger and scarier world is something everyone expects to experience to some degree. From our earliest (terrible) teenage writing attempts, fantasy has always felt like our natural home. Aside from writing, we’ve worked in various different professions and we both have kids and cats.
For those who haven’t heard of it, what can you tell us about your upcoming novel, A Throne of Swans?
Kate: A Throne of Swans is a high fantasy novel, loosely based upon Swan Lake, with a dash of Game of Thrones and just a hint of Hamlet. Following the untimely death of her father, 17-year-old Aderyn inherits the role of Protector of Atratys, a dominion within the kingdom of Solanum (a place where the ruling aristocracy have the power to transform from human into bird form). Having spent most of her life confined within the walls of her family home, Aderyn is keen to experience the wider world and to travel to the court of her uncle, the king. However, she has another reason for leaving Atratys: she wants to find those responsible for her mother’s brutal murder and exact her revenge.
Liz: But, Aderyn is young and inexperienced, and also concealing a potentially life-threatening secret; she has been unable to transform into a swan – her own ancestral bird – since witnessing the death of her mother. It’s no surprise that she soon finds herself out of her depth and in danger: taking revenge proves to be far more complicated than she anticipated. As Aderyn uncovers the deadly secrets at the heart of her uncle’s court, she gradually realises just how much she will need to sacrifice to protect both the people and the land she loves.
A Throne of Swans is inspired by the story of The Swan Princess – what made you want to write about this fairytale and what aspects of the original story made it into your retelling?
Kate: Our initial source for A Throne of Swans was actually Swan Lake, which of course is itself based upon the Swan Princess fairytale (a story where a swan maiden stays with a human man as long as he conceals her wings). One of our children – who is ballet obsessed – suggested that a reimagining of Swan Lake might make a good story. However, once we started looking into it, we realised we were more interested in the story’s villains. The ballet is a very black and white tale of good versus evil: Odette and Siegfried are virtuous whilst Rothbart and his daughter Odile are definitely not! We wondered if there could be more to Odile’s story. What if she wasn’t the villain she was made out to be? What if she had some unrevealed motivations for her behaviour?
Liz: That was our starting point, but the story took on a life of its own and developed in ways we weren’t originally anticipating. We’ve kept some of the names from the original ballet (Odette, Siegfried and Rothbart), but Odile changed into Aderyn at some point, and now has a very different tale to tell.
A Throne of Swans is the first of a duology. Without spoilers, what can you tell us about what’s next for Aderyn and crew?
Kate: Aderyn has dealt with a lot by the end of A Throne of Swans. She’s had to make sacrifices, and her life has changed in ways she couldn’t have imagined. In the next book, A Crown of Talons, we see her struggling with her new responsibilities and fighting desperately for the future of Solanum, whilst still trying to hold onto some measure of happiness in her personal life.
Liz: There are new characters, some from within Solanum, some from other kingdoms. But Aderyn finds that both the newcomers and those she thought she knew are not necessarily what they seem, and her world is turned upside down more than once before the final pages of the book.
What was the hardest thing about writing A Throne of Swans?
Kate: I think I’m going to say the world building. Our first trilogy was mainly set in modern-day Surrey, with some scenes in early medieval England – very much rooted in our own culture and history. We had to dig deeper in order create the Kingdom of Solanum. Although we referred back to history (the setting is loosely based on eighteenth century Europe) we had to think about the impact of having a ruling class of shapeshifters. We had to imagine how that would affect things like dress, social structure, religion, architecture. We also had to invent the geography of Solanum. It took a lot of time and research, but it was also hugely enjoyable.
Liz: We also spent a lot of time on Aderyn’s character development. We wanted to show a realistic level of naivety at the beginning of the book: she’s just turned eighteen when she travels to her uncle’s court, but until that point she’s had an incredibly sheltered upbringing, and she tends to look at things in a fairly black and white way. But Aderyn has to learn fast that appearances can’t be trusted, and that her own desires might need to be put aside for the greater good. We were a little anxious about showing that rapid development in a realistic way, but we’re both pleased with how it ended up.
Is there any advice you would give to aspiring authors?
Kate: Don’t attempt any major editing until you’ve finished your first draft. Your story will develop, your characters will change, but if you don’t push yourself to get to the end of that initial draft there’s a risk that you’ll just keep re-writing the beginning and never actually finish. Trust me, we’ve been there. Of course, once you’ve got that first draft don’t send it straight off to agents; take time to let it sit, then polish it as much as you can.
Liz: Write what you love and don’t give up. Taste in books is subjective: one person will read your story and be utterly enthralled, another will think it’s the worst thing they’ve ever read. You can’t please everyone. What you can do is believe in yourself. Don’t take no for an answer. Keep submitting, keep improving and above all keep writing!
If A Throne of Swans were adapted to the screen, what format would it take (TV show, movie, etc) and do you have anyone in mind for a dream cast?
Kate: I think it would make a great Netflix or Amazon series – like Game of Thrones but probably shorter! With modern CGI it might not be too difficult to portray scenes where nobles transform from human to bird and back again.
Liz: Casting is a hard one – we’ve not really talked about it, and I’m sure we both have our own ideas of how the characters look. Off the top of my head I’d say Rose Williams (from Sanditon) as Aderyn, Leo Suter (also from Sanditon) as Lucien, Jodie Comer (Killing Eve) as Odette and Patrick Gibson (The Spanish Princess) as Siegfried. Oh, and Tom Glynn-Carney (Dunkirk) as Aron.
Kate: Can I add Sean Bean as King Albaric (Aderyn’s uncle)? We both loved him as Boromir.
You wrote both The Witch’s Kiss and A Throne of Swans together! Is there anything you particularly love or hate about writing a book with someone else?
Kate: Given the way we write (mainly from a single point of view, rather than a dual narrative with alternate chapters), it could be quite a difficult experience if we weren’t related by blood! There can be a lot of disagreements over things like the general direction of the story, which characters to kill off, whether particular passages fit or need to be edited out, who gets to write which bits. We have to be organised: we create detailed outlines for our books, including the plot and a schedule for who is writing what. Although both of these inevitably change along the way, at least we know in which direction we are supposed to be heading.
Liz: Overall, writing together has been a really positive experience. If one of us gets stuck on a particular plot point, the other one can usually find a solution. And because we’re sisters we can argue with one another knowing that we won’t have a massive fall out, no matter how heated it gets. Most of the time it’s been a lot of fun: we really do make each other laugh! We can’t write together in one physical space though. We have to be in separate houses for that, as apparently one of us talks way too much…
Kate: She really does.
Talking of writing together, you also grew up together! How has your relationship as sisters changed since your childhood?
Kate: To be honest, it hasn’t changed that much over the years. We still like all the same stuff (we’re both die hard Jane Austen and Star Trek fans), and we still live about ten minutes from one another. Even though there are almost four years between us, we’ve always been incredibly close. Our mum was ill for more than a decade before she died, so we’ve been looking after each other and looking out for one another for a long time.
Liz: Something that has changed is that we both have children now. Luckily, we both love being aunties – there’s been a lot of babysitting each other’s kids over the last few years. Our four children are very close to each other, despite the ten-year age gap between the oldest and the youngest. There’s the occasional epic argument, but mostly they get on really well.
Your first novel, The Witch’s Kiss, was published in 2016. What have you learned since then?
Kate: We know a lot more about publishing now: how the editorial process works, what to realistically expect in terms of marketing, how to deal with criticism (constructive and otherwise). We’ve also become better story tellers and much better at editing our own work. At the same time, we’ve come to trust our own intuition more. By the time we finished the last book in The Witch’s Kiss Trilogy – The Witch’s Blood – we were much more confident in our own abilities, and far less willing to compromise. Luckily all our editors have been an absolute delight to work with, and we’ve learnt a lot from all of them.
Liz: Having worked on A Throne of Swans we’ve also learnt how much we love writing high fantasy. Creating our own world was an intense experience, but incredibly satisfying.
Do you have any book recommendations for us?
Kate: Everyone should read Sanctuary (V V James) and Perfectly Preventable Deaths (Deidre Sullivan) – I absolutely loved them! I also really enjoyed A Spell of Murder (Kennedy Kerr), a lovely cosy witch mystery.
Liz: Recent reads for me include The Sentinel Trilogy by Joshua Winning, The Cruel Prince by Holly Black and Frostblood by Elly Blake, all of which I thoroughly enjoyed.
And finally, I think this is the most important question of all, what bird do you think you would turn into if you lived in Solanum?
Kate: Definitely an owl. Binocular vision and virtually silent flight. I can be a little bit clumsy in real life so it would be fun to be stealthy for a change.
Liz: Someone else asked this and I said an eagle – strength and grace combined. But I think I’d also enjoy being a swan. They are such elegant creatures it’s easy to forget how powerful they are too.