Hi again! I absolutely love Kate Forsyth’s books, and her novel ‘Bitter Greens’ is one of my all-time favourite novels, so it is a real honour to be interviewing Kate for my blog today!
Kate’s books include ‘The Wild Girl’, ‘The Beast’s Garden’ and ‘Bitter Greens’, all books that mix a well-known fairytale with historical fiction in a way that enchants and delights the reader. Kate has also written books for children, and her writing is brilliantly diverse.
So, on with the interview…
So Kate, can you tell us a bit about how you first got into writing, and the books you’ve written so far?
I’ve always wanted to be a writer, and began writing when I was just a kid. I wrote my first novel when I was seven, and have been writing ever since. I was first published when I was thirty, and have since published 40 books, ranging from picture books to poetry, children’s fantasy to adult historical fiction.
I have also written a collection of essays on fairy-tales which was my doctoral exegesis. My most recent book ‘Beauty in Thorns’ was inspired by the fascinating lives of the women of the Pre-Raphaelite circle of artists, poets and designers in the mid-19th century.
What authors do you draw inspiration from, and what elements of their writing are clear in your own work?
I love so many different authors! I read across all genres, and am always discovering new authors to admire. My favourite novelists include Charlotte Bronte, Mary Webb, Jane Austen, Geraldine Brooks, Tracy Chevalier, Joanne Harris, Sarah Waters, Kim Wilkins, Juliet Marillier, Karen Maitland…too many to list! I’d like to think I share with them strong sympathetic heroines, vivid atmospheric setting, and compelling, surprising plots (at least I hope so!).
Your novels often revolve around fairytales, such as ‘The Wild Girl’ and ‘Bitter Greens’, what first got you interested in fairy-tales?
I’ve loved myth and fairy-tales since I was a child, and my mother gave me a copy of the Grimm tales when I was sick in hospital. I loved books that drew upon fairy-tales, and many of my earlier stories and novels had magical or mythic elements to them.
I first studied them as an undergraduate doing a degree in Literature & Creative Writing, and later did a Doctorate of Creative Arts in which I wrote a biography of Rapunzel as well as a novel about the woman who first wrote the tale. Stories like ‘Rapunzel’ are among the oldest of all narrative arts, and universal across all cultures, which means all humans share this language of motif, symbol and archetype, which I find fascinating.
One of the things I love about your novels is the way the reader learns about the original fairytales, such as Rapunzel, which are often a lot darker than the ones read in children’s storybooks. What kind of research do you undertake when writing about fairy-tales?
I am always interested in finding, if possible, the oldest version of the tale, and then tracking its movement across geographies and centuries and seeing how the tale changed and evolved. I’m interested in why some tales survive and others do not.
I’m also interested in the lives of people who wrote, or told, or studied fairy-tales, or who were inspired by myth and fairy-tales to create art or music or ballet or some other form of creative endeavour. I’m particularly interested in the hidden meanings of fairy-tales, and how they can be interpreted.
For my research, I read a lot of books and articles by folklore and fairy-tale scholars, collect old fairy-tale volumes, listen to lectures and performances, and follow faint trails of breadcrumbs into the dark thorny forest of human storytelling, always hoping to find some kind of hidden treasure.
Why do you choose to write about side-lined women figures in your writing, such as Charlotte Rose de Caumont in ‘Bitter Greens’ and Dortchen Wild in ‘The Wild Girl’? Why do you think it’s important to tell the female side of history?
I’m naturally drawn to telling the stories of forgotten women, perhaps because I fear I too may be forgotten one day. Or perhaps its because I struggled with a stutter all of my life, and so finding my own voice and the courage to speak out was harder for me than most people, and so I want to give a voice to those who have been silenced. Or maybe its just because I love the dark secret corners of history, the cobwebby attics filled with fascinating forgotten things. I don’t know the answer, perhaps it is all of these things.
Your novels often include many twists and turns. Before writing a novel do you plan what will happen beforehand, or do you see how the story unfolds while writing?
I do both. I always have a strong sense of the architecture of my story before I begin writing, and I always know my beginning, my middle and my end, the key psychological turning points. Because my novels are often inspired by real lives and real events, I need to research and establish my timelines before I start writing, and that research will often give me most of my story.
However, I am always open to new ideas and new inspirations- my plan grows and evolves as I discover my story. I often know I must write a certain scene without knowing why, and much later in my creative process I suddenly realise what was the purpose of that particular scene, and I’m astonished by how perfectly I had prepared for it. It is as if the story knows more than I do, and so I have learned to trust the story, and follow where it leads.
Out of all your characters, is there any that you feel particularly resonates with your personality?
Oh yes! I share Charlotte-Rose’s longing to write and her determination to shape her own life to her will (she’s the protagonist of ‘Bitter Green’). I felt a very strong connection to Dortchen Wild, the heroine of ‘The Wild Girl’, and agonised over what her life story revealed to me. And I share Margot Burne-Jones’s shyness, her longing for love, her fear of being hurt. We were actually born exactly 100 years apart, which I just found extraordinary considering she was the embodiment of Sleeping Beauty in my novel.
What is your favourite fairy-tale and why?
‘Bitter Greens’ is a retelling of ‘Rapunzel’, ‘Beauty in Thorns’ explores ‘Sleeping Beauty’, ‘The Beast’s Garden’ draws upon ‘Beauty and the Beast’, and ‘The Wild Girl’ references many old tales but ‘All-Kinds-of-Fur’ in particular. I also love old Scottish stories like ‘Tam Lin’ and ‘Katie Crackernuts.’ This past year I’ve been working on a novel named ‘The Blue Rose’ which references a tale of the same name set in China. I’ve also just published a collection of seven old feminist fairy-tales called ‘Vasilisa the Wise and Other Tales of Brave Young Women’, in which I’ve re-written some of my favourites. I love far too many to choose only one.
I love fairy-tales so much because of their beauty, strangeness, darkness and power. Because they carry hidden messages about how to live wisely and well. Because they trouble and enchant at the same time, and open up the mind and the heart to endless new possibilities. Because they are the oldest of all narrative arts, and so connect us to all other humans. Because they are stories of transformation and transfiguration, and teach us that we can change out world for the better.
Thank you so much to Kate for letting me interview you for my blog, I had so much fun coming up with the questions! I absolutely love all the books I’ve read by Kate Forsyth, and can’t wait to read the others that I haven’t yet had chance to check out. All the reasons why Kate loves fairy-tales are the reasons they appeal to me, and I can’t think of anything better than studying them full-time!
Have you read any of Kate’s books? Do you want to give them a go? What’s your view of fairy-tale retellings? Let me know all your thoughts in the comments below!