Shade Lapite is British-Nigerian and has drawn on her heritage to create the world of Goddess Crown. She spent a significant slice of her childhood nestled in the library, inhaling books by Diana Wynne Jones, Tamora Pierce, Lois Duncan and Mildred D Taylor. Her love for the arts led her to a degree in Media Arts at Royal Holloway, University of London. She now lives in Toronto and juggles writing with her career in digital marketing. Her blog, Coffee Bookshelves, celebrates writing and promotes titles by authors of colour.
Goddess Crown (Walker Books)
Goddess Crown takes us to the fictional world of Galla in West Africa, where teenager Kalothia, sets out on a journey to find out who she really is. In so doing, she discovers surprising truths not just about her family and her identity, but about her destiny.
Find out how a British monarch inspired Goddess Crown, how the author researched West African civilisation to create her world, and what she hopes readers will take from the main character, Kalothia, and her battles with patriarchy, in our Q&A with Shade Lapite.
Q&A with Shade Lapite
"Often the most powerful rooms are filled with men... Women have to work extremely hard to get into those rooms,
then they have to continually prove they are good enough to stay there."
1. Hello Shade, thank you for joining us on ReadingZone and for introducing your debut, Goddess Crown. Can you tell us a little about yourself? What gets you out of bed in the morning?
Hi ReadingZone! A pleasure to be here! I live in Toronto and love rambling around the city. Even when it's minus 25 degrees and snowing, I'll still take a lunchtime walk. During winter the outdoor rinks open across the city. I have my own skates so I just grab them and head out to enjoy the ice.
I get up much more slowly when I know I have a ton of work to do. Sitting at a desk for long stretches of time is quite hard for me. Every November I like to attempt the National Novel Writing Month challenge. You have to write 50,000 words in 30 days. That's how I wrote the first draft of my novel Goddess Crown and started my journey to being a published author.
2. What will readers find in Goddess Crown, about? Has it changed a lot from your original ideas for the book?
Goddess Crown is about a girl who discovers she is heir to the throne of her country. Unfortunately there are many people who'd rather kill her than allow her to wear the crown. She has to stay one step ahead of her enemies, while searching for the truth about the parents has never met.
The story changed significantly over many drafts, but my writing improved with each draft and the story became more interesting as I got to know the characters and settings better.
3. What inspired this story?
Goddess Crown was inspired by the early life of Queen Elizabeth I. I'd learned about Anne Boleyn in school and how she was executed by her husband, Henry VIII. I wondered how that affected their daughter, Elizabeth I.
4. Why did you want to bring a female hero, Kalothia, into such a patriarchal society?
Often the most powerful rooms are filled with men. This is true for the heads of companies, the heads of educational institutions, the heads of countries. Women have to work extremely hard to get into those rooms, then they have to continually prove they are good enough to stay there.
I wanted to explore how a bold, outspoken, fiercely intelligent girl like Kalothia would handle herself in rooms where powerful men wanted to silence her. I was also curious about how men, who were used to running the country and passing laws that forced women to be submissive, would deal with a girl being the most powerful person in the country.
"I hope she inspires readers to speak up when they have something to say, and to seriously pursue the dreams
they have for themselves and not to be influenced by other people's prejudices."
5. Who are your inspirations for Kalothia, and what do you hope she will inspire in your readers?
I grew up feeling very inspired by the action heroines, Alanna of Trebond (Tamora Pierce) and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Alanna dressed as a boy for years while she trained to become the first female knight in her country. Buffy smashed the stereotype of the helpless female victim who gets eaten first by the monsters.
I also loved Cassie in Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry (Mildred D Taylor) and how she bravely asserted herself in the segregated American South, despite the dangers. I infused their qualities into Kalothia. I hope she inspires readers to speak up when they have something to say, and to seriously pursue the dreams they have for themselves and not to be influenced by other people's prejudices.
6. Why did you decide to give her a small companion, Ye-Ye?
One of my favourite fictional heroines, Alanna of Trebond (Tamora Pierce), had a cat with purple eyes. I always loved the relationship between this warrior girl and her intelligent pet. I wanted to give Kalothia a similar companion who would cause a bit of mischief but also help in a scrape. So I gave her a cute monkey called Ye Ye who eats too much and likes stealing shiny things.
7. Why have you set the book in West Africa, and can you tell us a little about this setting?
In my first drafts of Goddess Crown, the heroine is white. She resembled the action heroines in the books I'd grown up reading. Once it occurred to me that I could make her Black, I began to wonder about the world around her. I decided to build a Black world for her and used historical West Africa as a foundation.
I waded into research about the ancient empires of Ghana, Mali, Songhai and the Yourbalands. I put Kalothia in a baked-brick, clay house, impressed by how the natural building material cools and heats depending on the time of day. I gave the Gallan citizens strings of cowrie shells to use as currency as was common until the 1800s. In the palace, the royal line is memorialized with sculptures, modelled on the famous Benin Bronzes that can now be found in the British Museum. Meanwhile, something like the royal hierarchy remains very European. The end result is a world that's a mixture of eras, and African and European.
"West Africa has a range of belief systems, from worship of the ancestors to a pantheon of gods
headed up by a supreme god. I enjoyed creating a new entity."
8. Do you draw on any existing West African myths and goddesses, or are you creating your own in this story?
The goddess was my creation. West Africa has a range of belief systems, from worship of the ancestors to a pantheon of gods headed up by a supreme god. I enjoyed creating a new entity and deciding how the people of Galla would interact with her.
9. Were there any areas you needed to research before writing Goddess Crown?
Once I decided I wanted to use an African location as the foundation for the world of Galla, I had to do a lot of research to ground myself in that world. I read books like The History of the Yorubas by Rev. Samuel Johnson to get an idea of the houses people lived in, governance systems, local industries, farming methods etc in historical West Africa.
10. Can you tell us what you're writing currently? What kinds of books do you enjoy reading when you're not writing?
Goddess Crown is a standalone book so alas, Kalothia's adventure is over. However, I do plan to write another story in the world of Galla so stay tuned to see which new colourful characters will appear from there.
I'm currently reading and enjoying Amelie Wen Zhao's Song of Silver, Flame Like Night. I read Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao last year and bragged about it to everybody! I'm looking forward to the release of Masquerade by O.O. Sangoyomi as it's set in 15th century West Africa and is loosely based on the myth of Persephone.
One of the things I'm enjoying about being a published writer is meeting other amazing authors and asking them insider questions about their books...!