It’s probably not an exaggeration to say we’re all pretty much in our Greek mythology retelling era right now and thanks to Girl, Goddess, Queen, Bea Fitzgerald’s brilliantly run new YA fantasy rom-com reimagining of the myth of Hades and Persephone, we have a new feminist retelling to swoon and obsess over.
To celebrate the release of this fabulous addition to the world of mythological retellings, we had the joy of chatting to Bea all about her passion for mythology, her journey to publishing and of course, Girl, Goddess, Queen.
Hi Bea! I’m so excited to get to chat to you today to celebrate the release of your sensational debut novel, Girl, Goddess, Queen. Before we get started, how would you best describe the book to readers who may just be hearing about it?
Girl, Goddess, Queen is a YA fantasy rom-com reimagining of the myth of Hades and Persephone. Persephone’s spent her whole life on an island avoiding the Olympian gods. But now she’s being forced to marry one of the very gods she’s spent her life hiding from – and she is absolutely not going to do that. But with her mother having overview of the land and her father the skies, there’s only one place she can run to escape: the underworld. Hades, the underworld’s snarky, grumpy and infuriatingly hot king wants nothing to do with the wayward goddess, and when she forces him to give her sanctuary with a sacred bond of hospitality, he’ll do anything to make her leave. But when he realises she’s working on a plan to fight back against the Olympians, he wants in. And when the Olympians find out where Persephone is, they realise there’s only one way she can stay long enough to enact their plan – they have to get married. Can they fool a whole court with a love that definitely doesn’t exist? And what if their performance is so convincing they might be starting to believe it themselves?
It’s a tropey romantasy full of fake dating shenanigans, enemies to friends to lovers and even an only one bed scene. Girl, Goddess, Queen is chaotic and fun, with a powerful heart.
Can you tell us a little about what inspired you to write Girl, Goddess, Queen?
It was a combination of my love of mythology and my desire to write something in conversation with adolescence – both my own experience and that I was watching my pre-teen siblings rapidly approaching.
I always loved the story of Hades and Persephone when I was growing up and read every reimagining I could get my hands on. When I was older, my love of the ancient world gained a more academic bent 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 – almost as a connecting bridge between the ancient myth and the version prevalent in the cultural zeitgeist. Persephone is such a fascinating person in mythology – a dread queen who strikes fear, an innocent maiden and a generous ruler who shows kindness and compassion when negotiating with heroes. Her journey from Kore to Persephone is a coming-of-age story, so it felt perfect to reimagine a version of it that might be as relevant to teenagers today as the original was to the lives of ancient girls.
And when it came to teenage girls, I was watching my sister start to go through many of the things I went through and that I explore in Girl, Goddess, Queen: the pressures to be a certain way, to make big decisions when you don’t even know who you are yet, and that alienating dichotomy of sexual liberation and positivity mixed with slut shaming and purity culture. At the same time I was watching my teenage brother negotiating the flipside of that: a form of masculinity pushed on him that involved controlling and reducing emotions. In Girl, Goddess, Queen that combined with the myth to form a story of coming into your power and fighting the prescriptive roles laid out for us.
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Girl, Goddess, Queen is your debut novel. What has the journey from inspiration to publication been like for you?
It’s been wild and chaotic and messy – and thankfully I work in publishing so that was not a surprise, even if the reality of it was a rollercoaster. I started writing Girl, Goddess, Queen in 2018 then took a pause to delve into the research and wrote it between 2019 and 2020. I put it aside for a little while then sent it out to a few agents and signed with my agent in early 2021. We did edits and sent it out and then . . . nothing. Well, not quite nothing – a few editors had tried to take it forwards but couldn’t fit it into the schedules. As I work in publishing, everyone knew I had my book out on submission which made it even more nerve-wracking and I was so anxious about it that I asked my agent to only update me if there was an offer, so on my end it was mostly silence. We eventually decided to shelve it and I resigned myself to it never being published. But in 2022, while I was working on other projects, my agent wanted to try again. I agreed not really expecting anything to happen – but then there was an offer, and then there were five offers and we were at auction and then Penguin pre-empted. Which was equally as hilarious because pre-empts have a time limit and I was at a festival with no signal and no battery while my agent desperately tried to get a hold of me – I think she even DMed the festival. Thankfully she did get through and the next day I read the pitch Penguin had put together (while some heavy metal pirate music played in the background) and I was bowled over – for the first time since signing with my agent I saw genuine enthusiasm and excitement for the book.
It was non-stop from there – all the edits and marketing plans and meetings, all squeezed in alongside my full-time job. I had to make a social media schedule just to keep up with my own channels and I had other projects in the works at the same time. It was simultaneously the most fun I’ve ever had and the most stressed I’ve ever been. The team at Penguin were incredible, their boundless energy and enthusiasm was often all that kept me going. And then . . . the book published. Which was kind of the point but I’d sort of forgotten that at the end of all that work there’s be an actual book out in the world which was phenomenal. Seeing my book in bookshops and in the hands of readers? It still doesn’t feel real. I’m not sure it ever will – but it’s so so exciting.
Are there any elements or moments of Girl, Goddess, Queen you especially enjoyed writing or any you found particularly challenging?
I think the answer to both is Demeter. In the ancient myth she’s this incredible woman and a dream of motherhood, fighting the will of Zeus to get her daughter back. But in the version a lot of us grew up with, and indeed that a lot of people resonate with, that forcefulness and the fact she kept Persephone on an island gets translated as an overbearing and controlling mother. I wanted to explore those perceptions of her, to essentially ask what good motherhood looks like in this world. Is it even possible? And if Demeter did the best she could in a broken world where does that leave Persephone? Are her feelings of hurt invalid if she can see why they happened? I wanted to write a dynamic that was messy, with no clear answers. I wanted to explore the way sometimes we can be so caught up in finding a reason for our feelings or to assert blame that we end up invalidating them. We see the whole book from Persephone’s perspective, so it’s biased but I wanted to explore that, especially when it comes to people and their relationships with them, many contradictory things can be true at once, and you’re allowed to feel however you do. It was a really tricky dynamic to write but one that I really appreciated being able to explore in Girl, Goddess, Queen.
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Between Girl, Goddess, Queen and your hugely popular Greek mythology dedicated social media channels, it’s safe to say you’re up there among the queens of Greek mythology but what inspired your love for these tales to grow?
I think I’ve always been fascinated with the idea that people have always been people. I love ancient graffiti, trinkets and insights into the lives of people who came before us. And I really love stories – the idea that people have always connected and resonated with tales and have done so with such passion and depth that they’ve survived thousands of years, and sometimes they’ve changed, been reimagined or inspired other stories in the process – like the way you could see Beauty and The Beast as a reworking of Hades and Persephone or Psyche and Eros. I grew up in Essex, surrounded by Viking and Saxon history then found out that Boudica burned our nearest town down in rebellion against the Romans, which then led me into a fascination with the Romans and in turn Greek mythology. The way those stories influenced others was enticing, and then growing up and taking a more academic bent, seeing the complexity in all that – and beyond the stories too, in the way ancient Greece, especially Athens, influenced so much of modern Western civilisation. It was seeing that connection that drew me to it in so many more threads – and I see it now when I see the passion people share online. The @chaosonolympus channel has enabled me to talk to so many people as interested in these stories as I am and I love the many different ways we can all engage with it, often going from squealing at the latest Percy Jackson casting news to debating our favourite Odyssey translations and being hyped about the latest archaeological find. These stories mean so much to so many people and I think it’s really beautiful that thousands of years after they were first told, we’re all still finding so many new ways to keep telling them.
Mythological retellings and feminist retellings in particular, have gained huge popularity over the past few years. Why do you think authors and readers alike are so captivated by reexperiencing these stories?
I think it comes back to that idea of connection, the idea of something so much larger than us stretching back for so long. Retellings have always been popular – from Ovid through to Shakespeare and the plethora of retellings in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. But within the context of the current wave, I think it ties in with the idea of rediscovering the women who have stood before us – and more importantly how they have been imagined before us. So many wonderful writers are engaging with world mythology and especially the women within them, and often the same themes arise. Within the context of Ancient Greece, the lives of women were not very well documented but the plays often centre around them, where they are complex and powerful – plays written by and performed by and for men. What might that say that women were conceived of in this way but restricted in their public lives? I think this interests people, and so too do the retellings that posit another viewpoint or stance, that do not simply rework the text but reimagine it to ask more questions about ourselves, and use the lens of ancient story to shine a light on modern society.
Finally, are you currently working on anything new and if so, is there anything you can share with us?
I have a few things in the pipeline, with adult fiction coming next year. All I can tell you about that is that it’s not mythology related and I should have more details soon. Following on from Girl, Goddess, Queen, I have a second YA Greek mythology inspired rom-com publishing next year too. It’s a standalone, inspired by a different Greek myth and it’s a sapphic rivals-to-lovers story which I can’t wait to share with the world.
Get your copy of Girl, Goddess, Queen by Bea Fitzgerald here.