SPFBO7: Q & A with Small Places Author, Matthew Samuels

I’m here today with one of FanFiAddict’s SPFBO7 contestants, Matthew Samuels! He’s the author of Small Places (his entry this year) and Parasites. I always enjoy talking to him so it was a delight to have him on our blog for a Q & A today.

Synopsis for Small Places:

Jamie is a lonely, anxious kid when he has a run-in with a witch in a remote Somerset village. He’s almost forgotten about it thirteen years later when unpredictable storms and earthquakes hit England – and that’s the least of his worries. Suffering from anxiety, terrible flatmates and returning to his family home after his mother is diagnosed with cancer, he’s got a lot on his mind. But Melusine, the witch of flesh and blood, lures him back with the offer of cold, hard cash in exchange for his help investigating the source of the freak weather; something’s messing with the earth spirit, Gaia, and Mel means to find out who – or what – it is. As they work together, travelling to the bigoted Seelie Court and the paranoid Unseelie Court, meeting stoned fauns and beer-brewing trolls, Jamie must reconcile his feelings about the witch’s intentions and methods all while handling grief, life admin and one singularly uptight estate agent.

Q & A:

Hello, Matthew! Thanks for doing this interview. Congratulations on your latest release, Small Places. First things first, how does it feel to be entered into SPFBO?

Hi Cassidee, thanks for having me here on your site! It feels … well, a little daunting; it’s my first time in such a major competition, and having read last year’s winner – The Lost War – I’m aware of the high caliber of the winners. Either way, I’m looking forward to seeing what happens! 

•It’s a wonderful accomplishment regardless of where things go! Has your writing process changed at all from when you wrote Parasites to having written Small Places? Where did the idea for Small Places come from?

Yes, it’s definitely changed. Small Places was much more planned, where parts of Parasites evolved quite organically. I wanted to have a fairly tight narrative structure and plot for Small Places, with distinct sections and twists. Parasites had a very definite beginning and end, but the middle was a bit … well, it’s an intergalactic road trip novel, really. 

I wrote a ‘test’ book before I wrote Parasites, which was also an urban fantasy, and I’ve been really keen to get back to the genre, because I love the idea that somehow, hidden amongst the normal world, is magic. I suppose the real inspiration [for Small Places] came from a holiday in the New Forest, UK, just before the pandemic began; the marshes and woodlands of the area were very evocative of a lot of the settings you see in the book. 

•What came first, the love of writing or reading? When did you get into reading SFF? 

It’s hard to say. I’ve still got scrawled stories from when I was four or five; again, sort of urban fantasies, extrapolations of me and my school friends exploring the school grounds and finding magical tunnels and having all kinds of adventures. They don’t make a huge amount of sense, but I still have them somewhere. I definitely loved books and reading at that time, so they probably arrived roughly together. A lot of the stuff I wrote when I was young could either be labelled ‘fanfic’ or just ‘wildly derivative’. I’m not entirely sure what the first SFF book I read was, but probably the most evocative in my early years was The Hobbit; I remember being curled up on the sofa with a mug of hot chocolate after a walk with my family, just losing myself to it entirely.  

•What fantastic memories to look back on! Are there any authors that have influenced your work? 

Phew … too many to name! Specifically for Small Places: I aspired to create something with the narrative tightness vaguely resembling Kristoff’s Nevernight or Sanderson’s Final Empire. In terms of urban fantasy influences, Charles de Lint’s work – specifically Spiritwalk, Moonheart, Widdershins and the Onion Girl – all played a large part, as did Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Diane Wynne Jones’ Howl’s Moving Castle. Although going further back, I suppose you could label the Chronicles of Narnia as urban fantasy as well! 

•What’s your best advice for anyone who is wanting to self-publish?

Unless you’re a designer by trade, don’t try and do the cover yourself! There’s a great ecosystem of support out there for all the bits of the process that aren’t the writing bits, so outsource the things you can’t do yourself – it’s really worthwhile getting beta reader feedback, getting someone else to do the layout for you (h/t to Gaynor from Paperbacks and Pinot), and as I said, the cover.  

That goes wonderfully into the next question I had planned. I wholeheartedly agree. I always love the cover art that you have for your books! I feel like sometimes people don’t realize how important it is to have well-done cover art. Do you have a hand in making the art or have you commissioned it and left it up to the artist’s interpretation?

Ha! Thank you! I did initially try to do the cover art myself for Parasites and that was a fairly steep learning curve. I usually have a visual concept in mind, but in future I might try and leave it up to the artist – I’m definitely more of a words person than a pictures person. 

Now that you’ve dabbled in both Sci-Fi and Fantasy, is there a genre that you like writing more? What about YA vs Adult?

I’m kind of leaning towards fantasy more – I’ve got about three or four other ideas in my head within that genre, although there’s definitely at least one more good SF idea, in addition to the Parasites sequels. 

Are you planning a sequel for Small Places? There was definitely room left at the end for your to pursue that avenue if you wanted, so I’m curious! Or any other future books already planned?

I’ve got about 60% of a plan for a sequel, although I can’t quite work out if it’s one or two books. There’s definitely still a bit of room to explore in Jamie and Melusine’s world! I’m currently working through the sequel to Parasites, Dusk, although I also have two urban fantasy books, a high fantasy epic, and a post-apocalyptic SF story that also explores the roots of IQ and intelligence in my head … and not enough hours in the day… 

•That’s great! A lot of ideas to keep you busy on your free time. Do you identify with any of your characters on a deep level?

Yes – I think that in their hearts, Jamie and Melusine are both quite jaded by the world; he’s lonely and anxious, she’s seen too much and found it wanting. I totally get this. 

I can relate to that as well! I found them both to be extremely relatable; Jamie in dealing with his grief and Melusine’s dry humor. What’s your desert island book, the one that you could read over and over again if you were stranded?

Against a Dark Background by Iain M Banks, partially for the reason above – it’s about a tired heroine, trying to do the right thing even though it’s a shitty, shitty world. It’s also a wonderful, found-family epic with some incredibly imaginative settings, characters and heists. 

I always think it is fun to wrap up interviews with some rapid fire questions, so here we go!

Cats or dogs: Cats but I’d love to have a dog one day 

Pepsi or Coke: Neither 

Wine or beer: Spirits

Coffee or tea: Coffee

Favorite season: Autumn

Favorite food: Steak

Dream vacation: Somewhere snowy and cosy, preferably with dog sleds

Who would you like to have dinner with, dead or alive: They say never to meet your heroes, so I’ll just say my partner 🙂

Biggest pet peeve: Currently, people who say ‘changing tact’ instead of ‘changing tack’ 

Favorite tv show: I’m currently watching and enjoying Shadow and Bone

Favorite movie: The Lion King

Favorite band: Tough call: either A-Ha, or Tiesto

Favorite whisky at the moment (I know we are both fans): Caol Ila 11 from That Boutiquey Whisky Company. I had a small bottle a little while ago and it’s quite incredible. 

Three words you would use to describe Small Places: curious, strange and (hopefully) funny 

Thank you so much for your time, Matthew! I can’t wait to read more from you after having enjoyed both Small Places and Parasites!

Thank you for having me around 🙂

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