For Day Seven of Pride-iversary, we have three eARCs of Gwenhyver's Jasyn and the Astronauts: Under the Ice Skies on offer in our giveaway coming on Instagram later today — but for now, let's learn all about the wonderful author of this Greek myth retelling, which includes all of our favourite Ss: swords, sapphics, and sorcery... in space!
Tell us about your newest novel, Under the Ice Skies, inspired by the myth of Jason and the Golden Fleece!
Sure! I’d love to! Under the Ice Skies is Book 1 in my Jasyn and the Astronauts novel series, due to release this summer. It’s a sapphic, swords & sorcery reimagining of Jason and the Golden Fleece – an adventure fuelled by wonder and good intentions, while navigating weather fronts formed of feelings along the way.
If I had to express the book with words and arrows, it would be this –>
Jasyn is an explorer with a talent for reaching for the stars and upending weather systems with her emotions. She spends her days dreaming of adventure, hiding her power of ice, and definitely not thinking about what it’d feel like to be the snow on her reclusive best friend Atalanta’s cheek.
They’ve lived in each other’s orbit most of their lives, but she’s just as magical and mysterious to Jasyn as all the galaxies under the Seven Suns.
When their world is forcibly upturned, a journey of discovery begins. Venturing across their ice and blight-infested home-world, they discover the solution to their out of balance world lies in the skies.
Of course, with a tyrant Ice King intent on closed sky-borders and Jasyn’s demise, they have to survive long enough to get there, first.
Under the Ice Skies is the first leg of the journey that uproots Jasyn from her life and sets her on a skyward trajectory. She goes from hiding her abilities and self away, to being in the spotlight and risking her life facing the tyrant king, all while crossing paths with the motley crew of astronauts (yes, of course there’s a motley crew!) who seek the solution in the skies.
And I’m thrilled to share the cover art, created by the very talented Alyssa Winans (also responsible for the absolutely stunning artwork for Aliette DeBodard’s The Red Scholar’s Wake UK cover and Nghi Vo’s Singing Hills Cycle).
What was it about this specific myth that made you want to write the reimagining?
Jason and the Argonauts is a pretty epic adventure. The original myth has some awesome concepts and moments that have been imagined through TV, film and other media in various ways. The clashing rocks the Argonauts have to sail between. The Sirens luring sailors to their death. The impossible challenges to be met to gain the Fleece, achieved through sorcery and determination. It’s all so mythical and magical!
It’s about journeying into the unknown to seek out something world-changing while facing impossible tasks along the way. And that, story-wise, is a fun starting point to reimagine from. So, originally, that’s what drew me to it. Then, somewhere along the way I realised the ultimate truth: Great story. Needs more lesbians!
It’s worth noting that while the source material can be found in broad strokes and in some of the details of the Jasyn series, it’s not a step-by-step rehashing. Imagine I studied a road map, nodded sagely at the general gist of it, then threw the map away and decided on my own scenic route!
Can you tell us a little bit about your characters? Which, if any, did you identify with most and why?
Yes! Please! They’ve been living in my head for so long I need to tell everyone about them! But in a calm and collected manner so people don’t think I’m weird…
Which do I identify with? It’s a great question!
If I’m feeling sociable and adventurous and determined to change the world for the better, then I’m Jasyn. She’s endlessly curious, loves exploring and can’t let injustice go. If I’m leaning into my hermit tendencies or roaming nature, then I’m Atalanta.
I love Jasyn and Atalanta because they’re caring and loyal and would move the heavens for each other. They’re the main characters, but across the series it’s more of an ensemble adventure, with certain astronauts more central depending on the book. The majority of the characters fall somewhere on the LGBTQ+ spectrum, with female and enby characters taking the lead.
Of the astronauts, Herakles – she’s an ex-sky-ship-captain turned arena-gladiator – has the kind of decisiveness and confidence I’d love to possess. But Doctor Orpheus is my favourite. With her V-iolin possessing the power of life vs death, she’s medically, magically and musically gifted. She’s also gruff and scathing and swears like a sky-sailor. Though I identify the least with her, it wouldn’t half be therapeutic to channel her for a day!
Your book takes place in space. What initially drew you to the sci-fi aspect of the story?
Reimagining the story as an interplanetary adventure allows scope for exploring the unknown with more freedom from our world’s rules. It’s a ‘blank canvas’ where worlds can be as stunning or as chaotic as I want them to be. It’s that element of wonder and possibility that has my head in the clouds, and beyond!
Fantasy in general often involves lots of planning, especially in the mix with sci-fi. What did your writing process look like throughout? Did you have the full outline to begin with, or did the story develop as you wrote?
So. Many. Flow diagrams. And one epic spreadsheet!
I had the broad story structure early on, and I knew how I wanted the first book to end. I knew what the rough shape of the journey would be for book 1 and the series beyond, but the depth of story and characters evolved with each rewrite.
And because it’s a series, book 1 needs to strike the balance between setting up story threads and character arcs, but also be a fulfilling adventure in its own right. So there was a lot of back and forth in the development where I was honing ideas for later parts of the series and integrating them into book 1. Thank goodness I enjoy a good spreadsheet, because that really helps me keep track!
Did you come across any challenges while writing Under the Ice Skies? How did you overcome them?
Unrealistic/over-optimistic expectations of time. For me, writing is much like DIY missions. There’s the amount of time I want it to take, the amount of time I think it will take, and the amount of time it actually does take. These three measures rarely match up!
I find getting the shape of a story relatively straightforward, but it takes several rounds of rewrites and stepping away and returning, to make sure the emotions are present on the page. A lot of rewriting involved honing in on areas that felt rushed, that didn’t resonate, and figuring out whether they weren’t needed at all or whether I needed to dig deeper.
Though I’m going to let myself off the hook a little with it taking longer than I thought it would, since technically I’ve been developing the rest of the series at the same time!
How to overcome the challenge of a novel taking much much longer than you thought it’d take to write? In the wise words of Dory the fish, “just keep swimming, swimming, swimming.”
Your book includes a sapphic love story. Who are some of your favourite queer characters from other media, and is there any representation you’d like to see more of?
Personally, I love stories that don’t ‘other’ queerness. Obviously stories that feature coming out and the different societal and political contexts are important, but in terms of reading/listening for enjoyment, I’m a fan of the drama stemming from something other than queerness.
I want to read stories about best friends freaking out about having feelings for each other because they don’t want to ruin a friendship, rather than because their love is societally frowned upon due to gender and/or sexuality.
That’s one reason why I really enjoyed watching the Willow series on Disney+ this year. (And yes I am devastated that Disney+ not only aren’t commissioning a second series, but have pulled it from their streaming service. *thumbs down* “Booooo!”)
In Willow, the princess and the knight are so cute together, as well as both being capable, strong and good with swords! It wasn’t a ‘we can’t be together because we’re women’ storyline, but a ‘there’s external chaos’ and ‘we’ve got some personal growth that needs to happen’ storyline. I'm also a fan of when love interests aren’t polarised according to traditional masc/fem roles. Two knights in shining armour? Yes, please. Because who doesn’t love a ‘teach me how to sword fight… oh and we’re kissing’ scene?
Queerness as standard, and more sword lesbians, please!
Alongside books, you also write screenplays. What is your process when writing a screenplay and how does it differ from the process of writing a book?
The process for both starts the same. Get as many of my ideas out of my head and onto paper/laptop. There are usually post-its and highlighters involved! Then it’s time to create order out of the chaos, arranging those ideas, moments and snippets into something resembling a story-order. (Some ideas land in the ‘what was I thinking?!’ pile!)
Then it’s a case of fleshing it out, scene by scene, until I’ve got something that, if I squint, might be considered a first draft. Then I take a step back, write down what I want/hope the book is and anything I think should be in there that I might have forgotten. Rewriting begins, and then it’s a case of rinse and repeat until the story, the characters, world and events, all feel like they’re meshing. Feedback from people I trust is also a crucial part of the process.
In my experience, writing a novel takes a lot longer than writing a screenplay. Screenplays are a lot quicker to finish because there are fewer words on a page.
For example, I wrote a feature screenplay which was a standard formatted 100-ish pages, and although it did well in competitions, it wasn’t getting made. So, I developed it into a novel (The Music of Life - Brought to you by The Instruments of Death - yes, I do like ridiculously long titles! It’s not released yet… I’ll be revisiting it once the Jasyn books are out in the world. Anyway…). The 100 pages of script were about 15k words. For a direct comparison, the finished novel is around 90k words.
Novels take more time to write and to go through. Writing time aside, a screenplay might take a couple of hours to read, a couple of days to scribble on, and a week or two to edit thoroughly, but the ‘same’ story as a novel takes several times that.
Novel writing is like running a marathon, while screenplays are a sprint. Both challenging and rewarding, but very different beasts.
We’d love a hint about any of your current projects! Are you working on anything that might please or even surprise your readers?
Of course! Apart from having The Music of Life… novel on the backburner, I’m currently editing Jasyn and the Astronauts book 2 - The Sea of Stars (releasing later this year). Book 3 - Two Faced Planet - is at an early draft stage, as is book 4 - The Ice Princess. Books beyond that are at the rough sketch stage and I can hardly wait to write them! For anyone who enjoys book 1, or likes the sound of queer and capable characters adventuring while wielding swords & sorcery, they’ll hopefully be pleased to know this is a long-haul adventure!
I’m also working on Theseus and the Sky Labyrinth, which is a standalone novel set in the same universe as Jasyn and the Astronauts. This time, I’m sure you’ve guessed, it’s the reimagined myth of Theseus, Ariadne and the Minotaur. The first draft is printed and awaiting my scribbles. Once it’s finished, I’m planning on sharing the novel with the lovely people who sign up to my mailing list.
So, if it sounds like your cup of mythical and sapphic tea, feel free to sign up to my mailing list (www.gwenhyver.com/jasyn) and I’ll send the e-book your way when it’s ready!
Have any shows, movies, books, or games influenced your own work at all?
When I think about the ingredients of what’s in the Jasyn series - mythology, magic, swords, female lead, queerness, adventure, on a mission to improve the world/universe - I feel like maybe, possibly, definitely, Xena: Warrior Princess is occupying my subconscious on a rent-free basis… I love that the main characters were on their own journeys but also there for each other. I also really like that the series didn’t always take itself too seriously.
Perhaps more recently, Warrior Nun falls into this category, too. I love that there’s a mythology and cast of capable and interesting characters dealing with a world on the edge of catastrophe. There’s magic, swords, queerness, and healthy communication of emotions, so… Yeah, I’m a fan!
Book-wise I think Becky Chambers’ The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet has been an influence. I love that her stories take time for the characters to just be. And Anna Burke’s Compass Rose is the perfect swashbuckling, f/f romance adventure.
Our podcast focuses on media we’re currently loving. Are there any books, shows, movies, games, or podcasts you’re enjoying this Pride month? Any recommendations for our audience?
Shows I recommend (which I plan to rewatch soon) are: We Are Lady Parts - a music comedy about a Muslim female punk band - it’s hilarious, sweet, and with tons of attitude. And, Motherland: Fort Salem - about a witch military academy. It’s so haunting (and cool!) how the witches use their voices to bring about their powers.
Things I haven’t watched yet but plan to are: Picard season 2 and The Power.
Podcasts: Well, there’s the obvious… *cough* Swords & Sapphics *cough*... but I’m also really enjoying Lez Hangout - about lesbian culture, life, etc. - and Nobody Panic - a guidebook to being a functioning adult, which always makes me laugh.
I’m currently reading Aliette DeBodard’s The Red Scholar’s Wake - it’s got sapphic space pirates, so obviously I’m on board!
Gwenhyver writes stories with fantastical elements and queer characters. Or is that fantastical characters and queer elements…? She lives in a village on Dartmoor, England, with her wonderful wife. When she’s not happily hermit-ing in her writing den, she’s likely roaming the moors or exploring cycle trails wearing too much hi-vis. Jasyn and the Astronauts is her debut novel series.
You can keep up with her writing mischief and Jasyn updates by signing up to her mailing list: www.gwenhyver.com/jasyn