Book: Small Places
About Matthew Smalls
Matthew Samuels is a science fiction and fantasy writer based in London, UK. His first novel was the Sci-Fi Solarpunk / Hopepunk adventure story Parasites, the first book in the Navigator Series. He enjoys reading, gaming, running, walking, EDM and perversely, quiet.
PLEASE NOTE: There will be spoilers if you have not read Small Places
Thank you so much for taking the time to discuss Small Places with me. It was a unique and wonderful urban fantasy.
Aside from the bio that is on your books and website, can you tell us more about yourself?
I’m not sure where they come from, but there are lots of stories inside of me trying to get out! Sometimes it’s an easy process and other times it’s like that scene in Alien… Ahem … I love writing and I’ve always loved books, both as objects and for the stories inside them; I’m also a big gamer, music fan and need quite a lot of solitude to get things done.
That’s so amazing that you think of so many stories! I’m like you, I definitely need solitude to get things done. Sometimes I’ll have the TV on with very low sound in the background, but if there’s too much noise or my family making noise, it’s very distracting.
Did you always want to be author? How did you decide on both Urban Fantasy and Science Fiction?
I’ve always written, but I think it took me a long time to realise that being an author was something I should actively pursue rather than just being a hobby! My first book was an urban fantasy title (still unpublished and in desperate need of a freshen up) but I still had quite a lot to learn as a writer at that stage (and still do!). That took me to Parasites, my first novel, before Small Places. I’ve always read both Sci-Fi and Fantasy, so it seems quite natural to me that I’d write both as well!
So cool to write in both genres. I rarely see authors do more than one. The books that I have read, fantasy (all subgenres) and science fiction, the authors stick to one genre. Plus, in the fantasy genre, they often stick to one type, like grimdark or epic. I look forward to reading your science fiction as well!
I’m always in awe of writer’s stories. I write reviews. I teach students how to write research papers, but I am not at all creative. How did you form the idea of Small Places?
I was on holiday in the New Forest in England, and I’d just finished Nevernight, by Jay Kristoff, and that – along with Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson – both really inspired me in terms of storytelling and structure. They’re both wonderfully paced and structured; it’s like looking at a musical score. I’d felt that Parasites was a bit of an unstructured ‘road trip’ of a book, and was really keen to try and emulate the tightness of plotting in those two books. I did a lot of walking in the New Forest, and little by little, plot elements started to come into my head. I tend to write lots of messy notes down and then evolve them, typing them up and tidy them, seeing them become a bit clearer and tighter as they progress, eventually forming into sections and chapters.
I can certainly see the influence of the forests in Small Places. The worlds you created were so vivid and beautiful.
Small Places was great. I absolutely loved the characters. Melusine made me laugh out loud-she has great one-liners and quick wit. Jamie is almost like the straight man to her wise-cracks. How do you create characters? Are any inspired by people you know?
I found it really cool that Mel’s looks was what was everyone thinks of witches. But her looks quickly fade into the background because of her personality. It only becomes relevant when people stare. Mel is one the best characters I’ve read. She is complex, sure of herself, and holds nothing back. Is it difficult to create such a complex character that is dealing with so many other diverse characters?
Thank you 😊 I’ve always felt that I’m less of a character-driven writer than a worldbuilding writer, so this is really nice to hear! Mel came from a lot of thought about what a modern witch would look like in today’s world – I don’t think many practitioners of the arcane would simply let the world pass them by; there are far too many opportunities for them in the modern world. One of the themes for the book (as you can see from the back cover) is ‘best of intentions, the blackest of magic’, which is Mel through and through – she does have a bit of a wonky moral compass, but she’s very much intent on doing the right thing, even if she breaks a few eggs along the way to make the omelet. Jamie – as a wide-eyed novice in the magic world – also presented a lot of opportunities for Mel’s critique of modern life, which I really enjoyed…
I also wanted to create an alternative take on the Seelie and Unseelie Courts, noble elves and ‘bad’ creatures; I’ve always loved Charles de Lint’s take on urban fantasy, and the more mischievous and complex creatures within them, and that was certainly a great source of inspiration for me, alongside Laurell K Hamilton’s work.
She’s a great character and just so funny. I loved her. I like your take on the Seelie and Unseelie Courts, how they dressed and acted was so cool. I think what always pops into people’s heads when the hear elves is Legolas from LOTR. Your characters leap off the pages and turn the readers pre-conceived ideas around. Awesome!
I found it very interesting and really unique that Jamie has no magical ability. He has courage and loyalty. Just about all main characters in fantasy that I’ve read, if there is magic used in the book, the main character has it. Why did you choose for Jamie not to have magical ability?
It felt too convenient for Jamie to arrive, find a magical world, become a master magician and conquer the day – that wasn’t the kind of book I wanted to write. He’s a guy trying to find his place in the world and has some skill with poisons, but to a greater extent, Mel is really the star of the show, and I was pretty happy to let that happen. We see things through Jamie’s eyes, and I wanted him to gradually acclimatize to the magical world, but also to still feel like he could straddle both, rather than just living ‘happily ever after’. It’s definitely not that kind of book!
It was a really great choice and even better with how you came to decide it. Again, you turn to whole notion of magic and who has it in a book and take the reader by surprise!
The realms of the Seelie and Unseelie Courts were so vivid, as was Gaia. World building is so fascinating to me. Is it difficult to create worlds? Is there any guidance you have, or do you create them as you imagine they would be?
Sometimes it’s hard, but the Seelie and Unseelie Courts flowed pretty naturally; I think once I had the overall notion of a prissy, bigoted Seelie Court, and a grimy, dangerous but ultimately more honest Unseelie Court, I just let them happen. They really came to life in my mind’s eye, and I hope that’s the case for readers as well!
That’s great!! Yes, they did come to life and the descriptions were spot on!
Well, you probably get this quite a bit, but will there be a sequel to Small Places? That was quite a brilliant ending!!
Thank you! I’ve got about 60% of the next one planned – I’m not sure if it’ll be one or two, but we can’t just leave Jamie like that…
I’m so excited!! That was really one hell of an ending. It was so great and I’m glad there will be a sequel.
Thank you, Matthew, for letting us know more about your creative process and how Small Places came to life! I look forward to reading more of your work.
Small Places: Book Summary
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.
Matthew Samuels Website: http://theabditory.co.uk/
Purchase on Amazon
Review here on Book and Nature Professor