Conversation with Kate Forsyth
Kate Forsyth was interviewed by Judie Cross in February, 2018.
Kate Forsyth always wanted to be a writer, completing her first novel when only seven. Her novels for adults include Bitter Greens, which was initially written as the creative component of her Doctorate of Creative Arts at the University of Technology Sydney in fairy-tale studies. Bitter Greens won Kate the American Library Association Award for Best Historical Fiction in 2015. Another of her award-winning novels is The Wild Girl, which was inspired by the true story behind the Grimm brothers’ collection of fairy tales. Her most recent book, Beauty in Thorns, is a reimagining of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ in the passionate period of the Pre-Raphaelites. Apart from her novels for adults, she has also written many books for children, such as The Chain of Charms series, which won five Aurealis Awards for Best Children’s Fantasy and the popular Impossible Quest series. Kate is not only a writer, but an accredited performance storyteller with The Australian Guild of Storytellers http://www.kateforsyth.com.au/.
As I understand, you have always been particularly fascinated by fairy-tales, probing their origins and original versions. How do fairy-tales inspire you to reimagine them; for example, The Beast’s Garden?
I loved fairy-tales and fairy-tale retellings as a child, and first studied them in my undergraduate degree when I became fascinated by their history and possible meanings. I’ve always drawn upon fairy-tales and myth in my own writing, but as I undertook my doctorate in fairy-tale studies I began to be interested in reimagining fairy-tales in new and surprising ways. The idea of retelling the Grimm brothers’ version of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ in Nazi Germany came to me in a kind of dream as I was waking from sleep one day. The idea just electrified me, and I knew I had to write it.
Can you elaborate on important people and influences in your education and creative life?
I come from a creative family, with both my brother and sister being published authors. Our childhood was full of reading and writing and art, which were all encouraged by our mother (we all could read fluently by the time we were four or five, for example, after following my mother’s finger as she showed us the words as she read to us each night.) My teachers at school and university were always very supportive too. However, the strongest influence on me was, I think, the thousands of books I read (Kate’s Blog).
In your recent novel, Beauty in Thorns, painting and other forms of art feature prominently. To what extent are images an integral part of your craft?
I have a vivid visual imagination, and so I love any kind of image that helps me envision a character or scene or setting. While writing Beauty in Thorns, I poured over so many Pre-Raphaelite drawings and paintings – it was wonderful. I also love Pinterest, and am always pinning photos on to my boards there. I also have covered the wall of my study with art and artefacts (including a key to a chateau that was found at the bottom of a well in France).
I’m particularly impressed by how prolific you are. How do you manage a thriving family and career so well?
It’s really just a matter of being well-organised and self-disciplined. I like to keep my house in order, and so I do that every morning. Then I walk for an hour or so, then settle down to my writing. At least one or two days a week are taken up in administrative tasks, answering emails and doing auxiliary tasks like answering this interview. I try and maintain a steady rate of writing on the other days, but its not always possible and so I will sometimes write on the weekend as well. I do most of the household chores on the weekend, and spend time in my garden and my kitchen and with my family. I tend to read at night, after dinner. Usually it works well, but sometimes I find myself overloaded and I need to cut back on public appearances, teaching, mentoring and reviewing. It’s now 6am and I’ve been at my desk since 4am, simply because this past week has been very busy and so I’m behind on everything. It’s going to be a long day, but I feel more in control having got quite a lot done in the hours before my family wakes!
Can we talk about The Blue Rose and anything else you are working on now?
Of course! The Blue Rose is my main focus for the year (apart from supporting my son who is doing his final year exams.) It’s an historical novel for adults that moves between France at the time of the French Revolution and Imperial China, which was then closed to foreigners. It’s a love story, but also a novel about liberation and courage. The title comes from a literary fairy-tale set in China about a quest for an impossible rose.
I am also working on a collection of little-known fairytales which feature clever young women, which is a follow-up to Vasilisa the Wise & Other Tales of Brave Young Women which was published in late 2017, and has already sold out its first print run.
And some friends and I are setting up a book & cooking show called Word of Mouth TV, in which we cook meals inspired by books and chat to the author of that book about their ideas and inspirations and, of course, favourite meals.
So it’s another busy year, but it will be wonderful, I think!
© Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kate Forsyth, Judie Cross and Figure/Ground with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
Cross, Judie (2018). “Conversation with Kate Forsyth,” FigureGround.org, February, 2018.
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