Interview with Juno Dawson (HER MAJESTY’S ROYAL COVEN)
Juno Dawson is a bestselling novelist, screenwriter, journalist, and a columnist for Attitude Magazine. Juno’s books include the global bestsellers, THIS BOOK IS GAY and CLEAN. She won the 2020 YA Book Prize for MEAT MARKET. Her first adult fantasy trilogy HER MAJESTY’S ROYAL COVEN arrives in 2022.
She also writes for television and has multiple shows in development both in the UK and US. Her debut short film was THE BIRTH OF VENUS (BBC 2020) and she created the first official Doctor Who scripted podcast DOCTOR WHO: REDACTED (BBC Sounds 2022). An occasional actress and model, Juno had a cameo in the BBC’s I MAY DESTROY YOU (2020), a recurring role in HOLBY CITY (BBC 2021) and was the face of Jecca Cosmetics Play Pots campaign.
Juno grew up in West Yorkshire, writing imaginary episodes of Doctor Who. She later turned her talent to journalism, interviewing luminaries such as Steps and Atomic Kitten, before writing a weekly serial in a Brighton newspaper. Her writing has appeared in Glamour, The Pool, Dazed and the Guardian. She has appeared on Pointless Celebrities, BBC Women’s Hour, Front Row, ITV News, Channel 5 News, This Morning and Newsnight.
Juno lives in Brighton. She is a part of the queer cabaret collective known as CLUB SILENCIO. In 2014, Juno became a School Role Model for the charity STONEWALL.
Welcome to the Hive, Juno. Thank you for joining in on our Women in SFF feature. Can you tell us about your upcoming release, Her Majesty’s Royal Coven? Why should readers check out your work?
It’s The Craft meets Kingsman! What if there was a government department for powerful witches to protect us from supernatural threats? That’s the basic premise.
The trilogy concerns five lifelong friends who come in to conflict when the oracle division foresees the total annihilation of all witchkind.
Tell us a little something about your writing process – do you have a certain method? Do you find music helps? Give us a glimpse into your world!
I tend to write from an office space I rent. I don’t get much done at home. I always listen to music when I write. For HMRC, I mostly listened to fantasy movie soundtracks.
Speaking of worlds, HMRC features a secret government department run by… witches! Other than of course the real life HMRC (run by demons, not witches) could you tell us what inspired your worldbuilding?
There was something super fun about taking something incredibly heightened and combining it with the very banal. The witches work in a very ordinary office in Manchester. My favourite kind of fantasy is always set in “our” world with just a few obvious changes.
You could call HMRC an “alternate universe” novel in that I took various points in history and suggested that there were secret, supernatural things going on. I like taking historical figures and putting a spin on them. Anne Boleyn was a witch, Queen Victoria started the coven.
Tell us more about the types of magic your witches use?
There are five types of witch in my world: sentients; healers; oracles; elementals and the type the coven doesn’t officially recognise: necromancers.
I wanted the magic to be in-your-face. It’s not an allegory, they really can fly.
Your story heavily reflects upon themes such as gender and feminism. Can you tell us more about this? How important was it for you to create a matriarchal society?
Fantasy has always held a mirror up to society. Hello, Handmaid’s Tale! I am a trans woman living through a toxic media landscape for trans people. I was burning to talk about my experiences but wanted to do so in a way I found entertaining. This novel is my way of exploring trans inclusion. The second novel is different and looks at misogyny. I’m one of many authors right now using witches as a metaphor for the persecution of women.
Can you tell us more about your four main characters, Helena, Leonie, Niamh, and Elle? Which of these were your favourite to write and were any of them particularly tricky in any way?
They are my version of the Spice Girls. Each of them brings something unique to the coven and they’re electric when they come together. Niamh begins in stasis, stuck in a rut following the death of her fiancé. She’s about to find a new purpose though when she returns to her coven.
Helena and Leonie were the most challenging for different reasons. With Leonie I was mindful that I am not a mixed race lesbian so to take extra care and used sensitivity readers to ensure her character rang true. Helena is a thorny character. There’s a lot I love about her but her response to the prophecy sends her down a dark path. Sometimes it was hard to write.
You absolutely pulled it off though, she started as a character I quite liked but progressively became more and more shocked by as she showed her true colours.
So Juno, if you could be a member of the Royal Coven, what kind of witch would you be, what powers would you have and what would you try to change in the government first?
I suspect I’d be a sentient. I’m a cancer, empathy is my gift! With that gift I’d definitely “persuade” my way into Downing Street to “encourage” Boris Johnson to do the right thing for the country and quit. He’s driving our nation to ruination.
[British politics move faster than our schedule here at the Hive]
We see such varying opinions from authors when it comes to the time of editing their books. How have you found the editing process? Enjoyable, stressful or satisfying?
If authors think working with book editors is bad, they should try working in TV for a year or two! Editing books is lovely by comparison!
We always appreciate a beautiful book cover! Both your US and UK covers are vastly different but both are just as striking! How involved in the process were you? Was there a particular aesthetic you hoped they’d portray?
Thank you! I can’t take credit for either! I was very kindly asked for my input which is all I ever want really. I was especially wowed by the UK cover. It underwent very little changes from when I was sent the first drafts. That said, the US cover has massively grown on me. I love that neither cover really looks like anything else.
One of our favourite questions here on the Fantasy Hive: which fantastical creature would you ride into battle and why?
What was She-Ra’s flying horse called? Spiritwind? Him.
Are you planning anything fun to celebrate your new release? Do you have any upcoming virtual or in-person events our readers may be interested in?
I’m touring the UK in July. Please do come along. I can’t wait to see readers again, it’s been way too long.
Non-disclosure agreements aside, we need you to spill some highly confidential secrets now! Can you give us a few teasers for your sequel, what can we expect to come next?
In news that will surprise no-one, the middle book in the trilogy is always the darkest so there’s that. Book 1 ends on a MASSIVE cliffhanger so the effects of that will be far reaching.
M A S S I V E sob
Finally, what is the one thing you hope readers take away from your writing?
This book came about because I wanted something fun to do during lockdown. I totally escaped into this world and I hope readers do too. Hopefully, my coven is a fictional safe space for all readers and especially queer witches!
Thank you so much for joining us today!
Her Majesty’s Royal Coven is out now and you can pick up your copy HERE