Join Kate’s VIP Club Now!

Follow Me


Kate's Blog

Subscribe RSS

SPOTLIGHT: Josephine Pennicott on Picnic at Hanging Rock

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Today on the blog, Josephine Pennicott talks about the haunting Australian classic Picnic At Hanging Rock and how it helped inspire her new Gothic mystery, Currawong Manor, which is set in the Blue Mountains.

Please welcome her! 

A Dream within a Dream” – Joan Lindsay and some other influences on Currawong Manor.

One of the cinema experiences that haunted me throughout my adolescence was Peter Weir’s 1975 film of Joan Lindsay’s mystery novel Picnic At Hanging Rock (1967). The dreamy, surreal juxtaposition of Victorian schoolgirls and the Australian bush seemed to imprint itself through my being. Even discovering later that the dreamy on-screen effect was achieved by placing a bridal veil over the camera has never diminished its power. It remains one of my very favourite movies to this day.

When I came to Joan Lindsay’s book, I was relieved to see how faithfully Weir kept to her story. Joan must surely give hope to all aspiring novelists, as she wrote Picnic At Hanging Rock in her mid-sixties – her only work of adult fiction – in just four weeks. It was written in a frenzy where she felt as if she totally lived the novel. Lindsay's original draft had a final chapter in which the mystery was resolved. 

At her editor's suggestion, Lindsay removed it before publication, but it eventually appeared as The Secret of Hanging Rock in 1987, three years after Lindsay’s death. The lost chapter suggests that the girls encountered some sort of time warp, which fits Lindsay's interest and emphasis on time.

I believe the editors and publishers were correct in cutting the original ending, because Picnic At Hanging Rock works best as a unsolved mystery.  The girls have somehow succumbed to a magical, yet natural Australia, and are forever lost - possibly within a remnant of ancient dreamtime. 

It was genius marketing at the time, because nearly everyone I knew believed it was genuinely a true case. Joan herself refuses to discuss how true the book was, which has only added to its appeal. In the book’s forward, she says, “Whether Picnic At Hanging Rock is fact or fiction, my readers must decide for themselves. As the fateful picnic took place in the year 1900, and all the characters who appear in the book are long dead, it hardly seems important.”

But there was another mystery regarding Picnic At Hanging Rock and the author. Watching a documentary where Anne Lambert (who played the bewitching, enigmatic Miranda) recounts that one day she wandered away from the crew in full costume, to explore some of the rock. A middle-aged woman seemed to come from nowhere, rushing at her in great excitement, calling her Miranda and saying how much she had missed her. This woman was Joan Lindsay. She never referred to Anne by her name and seemed to really believe she was the Miranda of her book.

Another Joan Lindsay  mystery is that Picnic At Hanging Rock has watches stopping when they are at the rock. Through this device, we know we are now in a world without time – a world between worlds. There have been several reports from people of their watches stopping at Hanging Rock:  Joan Lindsay was a ‘watch-stopper.’ She claimed just by sitting next to somebody she had the power to stop their watch. She had this gift all her life, but could not explain it. Her absorbing autobiography is called Time Without Clocks.

I relate deeply to Joan Lindsay with her fascination with the mystical and her appreciation of the Australian landscape. in my novel, I used currawongs as a link to the eerie natural world which remembers through some primordial brain a wrongdoing long-forgotten by recorded history.  

Birds represent life in the heavens, higher paths of knowing. Birds that are black represent mystery, magic, secrets, transition and transformation. In the early days of European settlement in Australia, the unfamiliar currawong calls were mistaken for the cries of ghosts, so haunting and unfamiliar were they. Just as Joan Lindsay’s Picnic At Hanging Rock has long haunted me.

BOOK RVIEW: Currawong Manor by Josephine Pennicott

Monday, August 25, 2014

Currawong Manor
Author: Josephine Pennicott
Publisher: Macmillan Australia. 
Age Group & Genre: Contemporary/Historical Parallel Narrative; Gothic Mystery. 
Reviewer: Kate Forsyth
Source of Book: I bought it. 

The Blurb:
When photographer Elizabeth Thorrington is invited to document the history of Currawong Manor for a book, she is keen to investigate a mystery from years before: the disappearance of her grandfather, the notorious artist Rupert Partridge, and the deaths of his wife, Doris, and daughter, Shalimar. For years, locals have speculated whether it was terrible tragedy or a double murder, but until now, the shocking truth of what happened at the Manor that day has remained a secret.

Relocating to the manor, Elizabeth interviews Ginger Flower, one of Rupert's life models from the seventies, and Dolly Shaw, the daughter of the enigmatic 'dollmaker' who seems to have been protected over the years by the Partridge family. Elizabeth is sure the two women know what happened all those years ago, but neither will share their truths unconditionally. And in the surrounding Owlbone Woods, a haunting presence still lurks, waiting for the currawongs to gather...

An evocative tale set in the spectacular Blue Mountains, Currawong Manor is a mystery of art, truth and the ripple effects of death and deception.

What I Thought: 
Currawong Manor

is an atmospheric and dramatic Gothic mystery set in the Blue Mountains of Australia. The narrative has two threads. The first is that of a modern-day photographer who is invited back to the house that once belonged to her grandfather, a famous artist in the 1940s who disappeared mysteriously after the tragic death of his daughter and wife on the same day. Elizabeth interviews one of her grandfather’s muses, an elderly, flamboyant and quite fabulous former model and actress named Ginger. Her story provides the second narrative thread. Ginger is the only one still living who remembers what happened on that tragic day so long ago.

But as Elizabeth digs deeper into the mystery of her grandfather’s disappearance, she begins to fear that someone at Currawong Manor may not want her to discover the truth …

The two stories intersect in all sorts of interesting ways, and the whole book is imbued with a Gothic atmosphere of menace and strangeness. I was kept guessing right up to the end, and was still surprised by the denouement which deftly tied all the threads together in a most satisfying way. 

Josephine's blog


SPOTLIGHT: Fairy Tales Reimagined with Kate Forsyth and Natasha Mitchell

Sunday, August 24, 2014

I've been chatting about the strange, dark history of well-known fairy tales with Natasha Mitchell on ABC Radio National's LIFE MATTERS show over the last four months. 

Here are the links to all the podcasts for your listening pleasure, plus the round-ups I've been posting on the blog. 

Read on  ... if you dare ....

Edward Burne-Jones, 'Sleeping Beauty'

Sleeping Beauty Podcast


Snow White Podcast

My post on SNOW WHITE

Aya Kato, 'Rapunzel'

Rapunzel Podcast

My post on RAPUNZEL

And the talkback session with me, Natasha and Jack Zipes from last year! 

SPOTLIGHT: Spike Dean & her fairy-tale-inspired art

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Spike Deane is a friend of mine who does the most exqusite fairy-tale-inspired art - she is exhibiting her work at the moment and I just had to share some of it with you. It is so beautiful.

Spike says:

My inspiration comes from stories, particularly those of folk and fairy tales, and I like to read them all! I can’t say enough how reinterpretations and retellings inform my visual arts practice. 

Collecting different impressions of a story, from old tales and new, academic papers, poems, short stories, comics, novels and of course lots of images of illustrations and sculpture (hello Pinterest) assists in critically examining the tales and feeding the creativity well.  All the words and ideas bubble around in my head until one particular concept comes forward, demanding to be made. 

In my work I focus on the narrative elements of metamorphosis and becoming, for folk and fairy tales for me encourage us to believe that change and transformation are essential aspects of the human condition. That is why, I think that Kate’s character Isabeau/Khan’tinka from the ‘The Witches of Eileanan’ series is a favourite of mine, she very much embodies the power of transformation and personal growth.

Whilst many of my glass pieces draw on the magic of the woods and forests my newest body of work is based on the shape changing Selkie. It was Margo Lanagan’s novel ‘Sea Hearts’ which rekindled my interest in Selkie tales. 

From that point I read every Selkie retelling I could get my hands on, though it was an article on Midori Snyder’s blog (on the Swan Maiden’s feathered coat) that really got me thinking about the role that the ‘Selkie’s Coat’ plays in the tales. The skin/coat then became in my interpretation, the symbolic core of the myth. It signified change, transformation or becoming within the story. The shed seal skin, rendered someway in glass was the image in my head, demanding to be made. That was the beginning to these works in glass and textiles.

Thank you to all the folk and fairy tale writers and researchers. Know that your words and ideas have an ongoing effect on my arts practice.

Fragments of poems often become my titles, two pieces I named from Carol Anne Duffy’s ‘Little Red Cap’: ‘the breath of the wolf in my ear…’ & ‘he held a paperback in his hairy paw…’ Duffy’s words are so fitting for the pieces I couldn’t imagine anything better.

One of my favourite quotes from Jack Zipes:

"Inevitably they find their way into the forest. It is there that they lose and find themselves. It is there that they gain a sense of what is to be done. The forest is always large, immense, great and mysterious. No one ever gains power over the forest, but the forest possesses the power to change lives and alter destinies.”

My next exhibition is a group show called Silhouettes - Red Gallery, Fitzroy. September 24 - October 11 2014.

The works for this exhibition are inspired by the fiction subgenre ‘urban-fantasy’; where folk tale creatures dwell in city streets, where a sliver of magic stands out like a rainbow on a rainy day, a glimmer of elusive enchantment. The outline of the silhouette, like a folktale offers us just enough clues to fire up the imagination and then asks us to fill in the detail from our own store of memories and dreams. 

Charles De Lint is one of my favourite authors in this genre. I always loved his character Jilly Coppercorn who paints fae folk in city streets. In my early 20's I wanted to be just like Jilly. Does anyone else have a fictional role model?


Friday, August 22, 2014


I've spent the past few years studying the 'Rapunzel' fairy tale for a Doctorate of Creative Arts. As part of my work of the doctorate I wrote an imaginative retelling of the tale - my novel BITTER GREENS


I also wrote a mythic biography of Rapunzel, that looked at the history of the tale from its oldest roots all the way down to Tangled (check out my deconstruction of the Disney film). As a consequence of my fascination with fairy tales, I've been talking all over the place about them, including a series Fairy Tales Reimagined with Natasha Mitchell on ABC Radio National's Life Matters show. 

Aya Kato 'Rapunzel' 

History of the Tale

‘Rapunzel’ is one of the best known stories in the classic Western canon of fairy tales. It tells the story of a young woman - named Rapunzel – who is locked away in a tower by a witch. The heroine is named for a plant which her father stole from the witch’s walled garden. The only access to Rapunzel is via her own impossibly long hair. A prince climbs the ladder of hair and falls in love with her, setting in motion a chain of events which results in the expulsion of the maiden from her tower, the blinding and subsequent healing of the prince, and the coming together of maiden and prince in the essential ‘happy-ever-after’ ending. 

Most readers of the Western canon of fairy tales are familiar with ‘Rapunzel’ thanks to its inclusion by the Grimm brothers in their famous collection of fairy tales, first published  in 1812 and then edited, emendated, and embellished in later volumes, culminating in the final 1857 imprint. 

However it is a much older story. 

It seems to have its roots in ancient oral tales of a Great Goddess who manifested herself in three faces. The first was the Maiden, the goddess of spring and new growth. Her realm was the heavens, the high places (the tower). The second was the Woman, the goddess of summer and fertility. Her realm was the earth and all living things upon it (the walled garden). The third was the Crone, a wintry goddess of death. Her realm is the Underworld, where all living things must travel and be transformed before they can return once more to the light (darkness, blindness, cutting of hair). 

It seems the first recorded ‘Maiden in the Tower’ tale appeared in ancient Greek mythology, in the story of ‘Danaë and the Golden Shower’. Danaë is locked in a brazen tower by her father, King Acrisius of Argos, following a Delphic prophecy that he would be killed by his daughter’s son.  However, Zeus visits her in a golden shower of rain and she falls pregnant. Her son, Perseus, grows up to accidentally kill his grandfather. Other similar tales in Jewish and Islamic traditions, the French troubadour tales, and Christian legend. 

In the early 1600s, a Neapolitan courtier named Giambattista Basile (1566-1632) included a tale named ‘Petrosinella’ (meaning ‘Little Parsley’) in a collection of bawdy stories aimed at amusing the highly educated crowd in which he moved. He was arguably familiar with many of earlier ‘Maiden in the Tower’ tales and drew upon them to create a new tale of a girl who escapes from her tower with the help of her princely lover and three magical acorns. 

Sixty-three years later, in 1697, a French noblewoman called Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de La Force (1650-1724) created a new collection of fairy tales that included the story ‘Persinette’ (also meaning ‘Little Parsley’. 

Although she was clearly influenced by Basile, La Force’s version is the first to contain the interlocking chain of causes and consequences, motifs and metaphors, which is widely recognised today as the memeplex of ‘Rapunzel’  – the theft of forbidden food; the surrender of the child named for the plant; the woman of mysterious magical powers; the maiden locked in the tower; the ladder of golden hair; the seducing prince; the maiden’s impregnation; her exile to the wilderness; the blinding of the prince; Rapunzel’s healing tears; and the final redemption of the witch. 

Charlotte-Rose de la Force is the heroine of my novel Bitter Greens

Motifs & Meaning Of The Tale

In ' Rapunzel', desire is the engine which drives the plot. The mother’s craving for parsley, the sorceress’s wish for the child, the prince’s lust for the imprisoned maiden, and her longing to be free.

It was never meant as a story for children!

It's a fairy tale replete with memorable and significant motifs and symbols. 

The most instantly recognizable is, of course, Rapunzel's' impossible long hair.

P.J. Lynch, an illustration of 'Melisande', a short story by Edith Nesbit

Hair is a symbol of life, strength, sexuality, and regeneration.

Hair is thus linked to the magical thread of life which is spun, measured, and finally severed by the Three Fates of ancient Greek mythology. The witch’s scissors are reminiscent of what Milton described as the “abhorred shears” of Atropos, the third of the Fates. 

The cutting of the girl’s hair can be seen to be symbolic of both the loss of her virginity and a kind of metaphoric wounding, or death.  However, the cutting of the braid can also be interpreted as the cutting of a symbolic umbilical cord, and Persinette’s expulsion from the small tower room as a kind of birth. 

The tower symbolizes anything which cribs and confines us - whether emotional or psychologival or physical. 

In the original versions of the tale, it was parsley which was stolen from the forbidden garden. 

Parsley is a symbolically significant plant, which has long been associated with death and sex. Legend says the plant first sprouted in the blood of Archemorus, the old fertility king, whose very name means ‘forerunner of death.’ Wreaths of parsley were laid on tombs, and the expression ‘to need only parsley’ was a euphemistic expression that meant someone was only a step away from death. In medieval times, it was believed that it was unlucky to transplant parsley, with sayings such as ‘plant parsley, plant sorrow’ persisting for many years. 

Parsley's long association with death led naturally to an association with evil. For example, virgins could not plant it without risking impregnation by the Devil, and its slow germination was because the seeds had to travel to hell and back two, three, seven, or nine times (depending on sources) before they could grow. 

Parsley was also associated with sexuality and fertility. Another old saying is ‘sow parsley, sow babies’, and it was believed that a garden in which parsley refused to grow was sign of barrenness in the house. 
Parsley contains the compound apiole, a uterine stimulant, and so the herb was an abortifacient if taken in the early stages of pregnancy, but would be given by midwives to hasten along a slow and difficult labour.
At the end of the story, Rapunzel weeps and her tears fall upon the blinded yes of the prince and heals them. 

Tears are seen as divine: ‘the eyes of the goddess are the source of life-sustaining water’.  Symbolically tears are linked to life-giving rain and the salty waters of life-endowing amniotic fluids, and to the ocean, cradle of all existence.


Bruno Bettelheim argues that Rapunzel and the witch are locked in an ‘oedipal conflict’ where Rapunzel longs for her father’s love but is stopped by the jealous mother-figure. 

Feminists usually see Rapunzel as the typical passive princess waiting patiently for her prince .- but I refute that vigorously! 

Mythological interpretations link Rapunzel to spring goddesses and themes of the cycle of life, seasons, birth, death, rebirth. 


Here are just a few of the hundreds I have collected.

Adult Novels

Kate Forsyth - Bitter Greens

Children and Young Adult Novels:

Cameron Dokey, Golden: A Retelling of ‘Rapunzel’
Adele Geras,The Tower Room
Nicholas Stuart Gray - The Stone Cage 
Sophie Masson The Crystal Heart,
Donna Jo Napoli - Zel 
Carolyn Turgeon - The Fairest of Them All. 


Monday, August 18, 2014

There are many different versions of ‘Snow-White’- one scholar has counted as many as 400!
The oldest seems to be the medieval Norse saga written by the 12th century poet Snorri Sturluson, which sets the tale in the time of Harald Fairhair in the 9th century. 

The story is called ‘Snow Beauty’, and tells the story of how, one snowy winter’s day, Harald Fairhair fell in love with the most beautiful woman in the world and married her. When Snow-Beauty died, however, her body did not rot and her cheeks were as rosy as they had ever been. The king sat beside her, thinking she would soon come back to life. He sat so for three years, neglecting all his kingly duties, until his wise councillor bade him lift up the dead queen so they could change the bedclothes below her. As soon as she was lifted up, a rank smell of rotting rose with her, the body turned blue, and worms and adders and frogs and toads crawled out. So she was burned, and the king returned to his wits. 

Another tale with similar motifs is ‘The Young Slave’ by the Neapolitan writer Giambattista Basile, written in the early 1600s and published in his ‘Tale of Tales’ collection in 1634. 

A young woman became pregnant after swallowing a rose petal. She sent her daughter, named Lisa, to the fairies to give her good luck charms. However, the last fairy slipped and twisted her foot as she was running to see the child, and uttered a curse against her - when the child was seven, her mother would leave a comb in her hair, from which the child would perish. 

At seven, the child died in this manner. The mother lamented bitterly, and encased the body in seven caskets of crystal, each one within the other, which she put in a distant room and locked, keeping the key in her pocket. When she was dying, she gave the key to her brother, begging him to never open the last room in the house.

The brother was faithful, but when he left on a hunting party, he gave the keys to his wife, telling her not to open the last room. The wife grew suspicious, and opened the forbidden chamber. Lisa had grown into a woman in her sleep, the caskets lengthening with her, and the wife found a beautiful woman hidden in the caskets. Convinced she was her husband's mistress, she opened the caskets and dragged Lisa out by the hair, causing the comb to drop and Lisa to awake. The jealous wife began to beat Lisa, tearing her hair and clothes, giving her bruises all over, and kept her as a slave.

One day the husband was going out of town again, and asked everyone in the household what presents they would like him to bring them, "even the cats." The wife became furious when the husband asked Lisa as well, but the husband insisted it was only courteous to offer Lisa a gift. Lisa demanded a doll, a knife, and a pumice-stone, and added that if the husband forgot them, he would be unable to cross the first river he came to on his return.

The husband did initially forget the gifts, but upon being unable to cross water on his way home, he remembered, and bought the gifts for Lisa. When Lisa had her doll, she began to tell the doll her story, which the husband overheard. Lisa was weeping and sharpening her knife, telling the doll, "Answer me, dolly, or I will kill myself with this knife." The husband, her uncle, kicked down the door and snatched the knife away. He then drove his cruel wife away and gave Lisa a husband of her own choice. 
Of most interest here, in regards to Snow-White, are the poisoned comb and the seven crystal caskets - motifs which later appear in Snow-White. However, this story also shares motifs with Sleeping Beauty (the fairy's curse), Bluebeard (the forbidden room), Cinderella (the girl used as a slave), Beauty and the Beast (requests for gifts) and even the Goose Girl (telling her tale to an inanimate object). 

The tale ‘Little Snow White’ was first recorded by the Grimm brothers in 1808, and sent to a friend in 1810 (the poet Clemens Brentano) (source unknown – but in my novel about the Grimm Brothers - THE WILD GIRL - I give it to the Wild family’s housekeeper Old Marie to tell). 

In this version, there is no huntsman – the Queen takes her daughter into the forest to gather roses and then abandons her there. 

A fuller version of the tale was then collected by the Grimm Brothers from three sisters – Marie, Jeannette and Amalie Hassenpflug - who lived near the brothers in the small town of Cassel. Their version was published in the first edition of tales in 1812. 

The story begins with a queen who sits sewing by the window in winter. She pricks her finger with her needle, causing three drops of blood to fall on to the snow on the black windowsill. Admiring the beauty of the colours, she says to herself, "Oh how I wish that I had a daughter with skin as white as snow, lips as red as blood, and hair as black as ebony". 

Illustration by Charles Santore from a gorgeous picture book of Snow White 

Soon after that, the Queen gives birth to a baby girl who is named her 'Snow White' for her rare colouring. As the child grows her beauty makes her mother jealous. When Snow-White is seven years old, the queen orders her huntsman to take her daughter into the forest, murder her, and bring back her lungs and her liver to eat. The huntsman is moved by the child’s beauty and terror, and kills a wild boar instead. Snow-White seeks shelter in the house of seven dwarves.

The queen consults her magic mirror:

Mirror, mirror, on the wall,
Who in this land is fairest of all?
The mirror answered once again:
You, my queen, are fair; it is true.
But Little Snow-White is still
a thousand times fairer than you.

The queen makes three attempts to kill her daughter: once with by lacing her bodice too tight, once with a deadly hair comb, and finally with a poisoned apple. 

The dwarves cannot revive her the third time and so they put her in a glass coffin. The prince comes by and falls in love with the dead girl, and insists on taking her everywhere with him. After a long while, one of his servants grows angry and opens the coffin, lifted Snow-White upright, and said, "We are plagued the whole day long, just because of a dead girl," and hit her in the back with his hand. ‘Then the terrible piece of apple that she had bitten off came out of her throat, and Snow-White came back to life.’  

The prince and Snow-White are to be married, and send her mother an invitation to the wedding. 
Wondering who this new princess is, the queen asks: 

Mirror, mirror, on the wall,
Who in this land is fairest of all?

The mirror answered:

You, my queen, are fair; it is true.
But the young queen
Is a thousand times fairer than you.

The queen was horrified to hear this, unable to believe that Snow-White could still be alive. She goes to the wedding to see for herself, and the prince and princess ‘put a pair of iron shoes into the fire until they glowed, and she had to put them on and dance in them. Her feet were terribly burned, and she could not stop until she had danced herself to death.’ 

The Grimms noted there were a few variations to this version. In one, it is a count who wishes for a girl with this combination of colours, and his love for the child makes his wife jealous. In another tale, it is three ravens who fly over who provide the colour black. 

In the next Grimm brothers’ edition, Snow-White’s mother dies at birth and so it is her step-mother that tries to kill her; and the piece of poisoned apple is dislodged when the prince’s servant stumbles over a root. 

When the story was translated into English by Edgar Taylor, he softened the cruelty and violence of the tale, taking out the queen’s desire to eat her step-daughter’s liver and lungs, and changed the ending so the queen choked in her rage rather than being made to dance in red-hot iron shoes. And although Snow-White (called Snow-drop) is still only seven years old, Edgar Taylor describes her lying in her glass coffin ‘a long, long time’ with the inference, perhaps, that she grows up before the prince comes along. 

Illustration by Charles Santore

In 1912, the story was made into a comic Broadway play called Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The dwarves were named for the first time: Blick, Flick, Glick, Snick, Plick, Whick, & Quee (the youngest of the seven, at nearly ninety-nine years old) 

Famously the story was then made into Walt Disney's 1937 film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Dwarves’ names changed; Dopey, Grumpy, Doc, Happy, Bashful, Sneezy and Sleepy. 

Instead of her lungs and liver, as written in the original, the huntsman is asked by the queen to bring back Snow White’s heart. Snow White is no longer a little girl (though she is still very young-looking). The evil queen tries to kill Snow White only once (by a poisoned apple). Disney also added the famous awakening by the prince’s kiss, while the queen dies by falling down a cliff, after being hit by lightning.

Interestingly, in 1994 a German scholar Eckhard Sander published Snow White: Is It a Fairy Tale? He wonders whether the story of Snow White was in any way inspired by the life of Margarete von Waldeck (1513-1534), whom he suspected was poisoned by her jealous step-mother.  

Motifs & Meaning Of The Tale

Snow-White is a resurrection tale, and thus in mythological terms her ‘sleeping death’ can be linked to the idea of the coming of spring and the rebirth of life after the dead of winter.  

The use of the three colours is very striking. Snow White has skin white as snow, lips as red as blood and hair as black as ebony.

Each of these colours has significant symbolic implications and represents a time of life. 

White, representing birth, is for purity, virginity, and innocence. 

Red, representing life, symbolizes blood, in the menstrual flow and the breaking of the hymen and childbirth.

Black, symbolizing death, connotes the absolute and eternity. 

In some interpretations, the bodice-laces, the comb, and the apple are all seen as erotic symbols. 

Certainly, the red apple has always had connotations of sin and the loss of innocence, with its links back to Adam & Eve and the fall. 

The mirror can be seen as a projection of the queen’s unconscious. 

Most Freudian interpretations see the story of Snow-White as the playing out of Oedipal conflicts (called the Electra complex by Jung). Both female characters try to gain the father's affection (although he is absent from the tale). The father raises an unconscious conflict between mother and daughter, because the daughter’s beauty makes her more desirable and so arouses the mother's jealousy which makes her wish to get rid of the daughter. This has been called the Snow White complex. 

Feminist readings of the tale also focus on the difficulties of the mother-daughter relationship, with some seeing Snow-White as an image of patriarchy’s ideal female (beautiful, youthful, passive, silent) contrasted against the vigorous, strong-willed, outspoken and vain mother. 

Finally, it can simply be seen as a parable for the dangers of vanity. 
Modern Retellings (films)

Snow White (1988). Michael Berz, director.
With Diana Rigg as the Evil Queen and Sarah Patterson as Snow White. 

Snow White and the Huntsman (2012, Rupert Sanders (director), With Charlize Theron as the Evil Queen and Kirsten Stewart as Snow-White. 

Mirror Mirror (also in 2012), stars Julia Roberts as Evil Queen and Lily Collins as Snow White (directed by Tarsem Singh)

Modern Retellings (novels)

Jane Yolen - Snow in Summer: Fairest of Them All. 

Carolyn Turgeon - The Fairest of Them All

Gregory Maguire - Mirror, Mirror

Tanith Lee - White as Snow

Gail Carson Levine - Fairest

Adele Geras - Pictures of the Night

If you enjoyed this post you may also enjoy my posts on The Little Mermaid and Sleeping Beauty 

You can also listen to me talk about Snow White with Natasha Mitchell on Radio National


SPOTLIGHT: Diana Wynne Jones

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Yesterday would have been the 80th birthday of the great children's writer, Diana Wynne Jones, if she had lived to see it. 

When I heard - three years and five months ago - that Diana Wynne Jones had died, I grieved as deeply as if I had known her. Part of my sorrow came from the thought that there would be no more Diana Wynne Jones books ... no more funny, wise, magical stories that never fail to enchant and surprise.

I was 11 years old when I read Charmed Life, which has remained my favourite book of hers ever since. It was published in 1977, and was commended for a Carnegie Award and won both the Guardian Award and the Preis der Leseratten in Germany.

The hero of Charmed Life is a boy called Cat Chant. Her and his sister Gwendolen are sent to stay at Chrestomanci Castle after their parents are drowned in a steamboat accident. The castle is the home of the Chrestomanci, a powerful enchanter with nine lives whose job is to manage and control the use of magic in all the many worlds. 

Cat thinks he is a very ordinary sort of boy, but his sister Gwendolen is a talented witch. However, as the story progresses we learn that Cat is indeed a very special boy, with strong magical powers of his own which his sister has been using for her own gain.   

Diana Wynne Jones has gone on to write a number of other books about Cat, the Chrestomanci and the castle, all of them with her own particular brand of warmth, charm, wit and unpredictability. 

Diana Wynne Jones wrote: ‘Why do I write for children? There is one good reason. I would hope to encourage some part of one generation at least to use their minds as minds are supposed to be used. A book for children, like the myths and folktales that tend to slide into it, is really a blueprint for dealing with life. For that reason, it might have a happy ending, because nobody ever solved a problem while believing it was hopeless. It might put the aims and the solution unrealistically high – in the same way that folktales tend to be about kings and queens – but this is because it is better to aim for the moon and get halfway there than just to aim for the roof and get halfway upstairs. The blueprint should, I think, be an experience in all the meanings of that word, and the better to make it so, I would want it to draw on the deeper resonances we all ought to have in the other side of our minds.’

(I originally wrote this blog post for Michael Pryor's wonderful blog Narrative Transport - check it out there, or read this brief review of one of my favourite SWJ's books Cart & Cwidder)


INTERVIEW: Kelly Gardiner, author of Goddess

Friday, August 15, 2014

Please welcome Kelly Gardiner, the author of the brilliant new historical novel Goddess!

Tell me about your new book:
Goddess is based on the life of the extraordinary Mademoiselle de Maupin, also known as Julie d’Aubigny. She was born in 1673, and grew up (I think) in the stables at Versailles, where she learned to ride and fence. She dressed as a boy from a young age, ran away to Marseille and became an opera singer, and her life was a dazzling series of escapades: duels, crimes, affairs with famous men and women, stardom on the stage of the Paris Opera, and sheer celebrity. She was flamboyant and courageous and astonishing. 

And I’m not making any of that up!

She has been portrayed many times over the centuries in print and on screen, but I think this is the first novel in English based on her life. I had to learn a great deal about her and her world, to get into her character and her voice, and it’s been a joy to spend the past five years writing about her.

What was the first flash of inspiration for it?
I fenced when I was young, so I’ve always been interested in the history of fencing and duelling (I even collect historical swords). Julie is in all the books on the history of duelling and of opera, and once a figure like that is in your head, believe me, she won’t let go.

What do you love most in the world?
Exploring the natural and historic wonders of the world with my partner. (I admit that I can get a little carried away peeking into the historic nooks and crannies of any place we visit.) We recently sailed along the Kimberley coast and it was truly amazing.

What do you fear most in the world?
Sharks. And we saw some there! Very large, very close. And I was very brave.

What are your 5 favourite childhood books?
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Smith by Leon Garfield
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
Hill End by Ivan Southall
The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliffe.

What are your 5 favourite books read as an adult?
War and Peace Leo Tolstoy
The Passion by Jeanette Winterson
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantell
The Dreams of Scipio by Iain Pears

What books might we be surprised to find on your shelves?
I have an awful lot of military history books but I promise they will come in handy one day.

How would you describe perfect happiness?
There’s a thing that happens sometimes when you’re writing, when you are right there – where you need to be – with the characters’ voices sounding clearly in your head, and the setting, the furniture, the clothes all perfectly visible to you; and yet you also know that nobody else can see what you’re seeing unless you do your job properly. And some days it just seems to come out as if it that’s the only thing on earth you should be doing, and you’re the only person on earth who can tell that story.

Want more? Read the interview I did with Kelly last year 


SPOTLIGHT: Warrior Women of History

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Please welcome Kelly Gardiner, author of Goddess, to the blog today, to celebrate true life warrior women of history! 

So many historical novels are written about real and remarkable women in history – queens and would-be queens, empresses, noblewomen, inspiring leaders, and, more and more, scientists, thinkers, musicians, and inventors. Of course, some of our favourite historical fiction is about ordinary but equally remarkable women who get caught up in the happenings of their day, whose lives are affected by war or revolution or politics or the machinations of people more powerful than they are.

My most recent novel, Goddess, is my first about a real historical character – my previous characters have all been imagined, even if they were inspired by the idea of real people. She was Mademoiselle de Maupin, also known as Julie d’Aubigny, a seventeenth century French swordswoman and opera singer. She fought duels, had affairs with both men and women, starred on the stage of the Paris Opera, committed one or two crimes, and was a celebrity in her lifetime and ever since. 

In researching her life, and my earlier pirate stories for children, I delved into a fascinating tradition of women who went to war or fought in combats of various kinds. You might have read about Boudicca, the famous early Briton who took on the Roman conquerors, or Joan of Arc and her campaign to save France. But how about these amazing women?

Artemisia was the world’s first female naval fleet commander – or, at least, the first we know about. Many women commanded ships and even fleets in antiquity and throughout history, but she is one of the few whose deeds were documented – in her case, by Herodotus. Artemisia ruled over the kingdom of Halicarnassus (known as Bodrum today, one of the most beautiful of the fortified Turkish ports), as a vassal of the great Persian emperor Xerxes. After the famous battle with the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae in 480BC, Xerxes decided to attack the Greeks by sea. Not a good idea, warned Artemisia. 

But Xerxes wouldn’t listen. He attacked the Greek fleet in what became known as the Battle of Salamis. Artemisia and her ships fought with skill and courage, while all around them the Persian fleet was smashed to pieces. But all her efforts were in vain. The battle was lost, and at the last minute Artemisia managed to rescue Xerxes’ family and take them to safety. So amazed was he by her courage, that Xerxes announced, ‘My men have become women, and my women, men!’

Kenau Hasselaar was a timber merchant in the Dutch town of Haarlem, just near Amsterdam, in the years when the Low Countries were under the thumb of Spain. In 1567, a vast Spanish army arrived to quell unrest, and the Dutch people rose in rebellion. In 1573, 12,000 Spanish troops besieged Haarlem, assuming the town would fall to them in a week. But they didn’t reckon on the people of the town. 300 women joined the fight, and among them was Kenau Hasselaar. Whenever the Spanish army breached the city walls with their cannonballs, Kenau was there on the ramparts, helping to shore up the defences and mending the shattered walls with earth and timber from her warehouse. It is said (although accounts differ) that she organised care for the wounded and supplies for the artillery, helped get food and water into the city, and kept everyone’s spirits high. The siege lasted seven months, not seven days, but the town eventually had to surrender and its garrison was butchered. The name Hasselaar became a symbol of courage in defeat.

One of my favourite moments in history is the meeting between Queen Elizabeth I and Grace O’Malley (Gráinne Ní Mháille), the Irish pirate queen whose ships had plagued the English trading routes for decades. O’Malley had fought off English troops at her island castle, talked her way out of prison, attacked and beaten Turkish pirates in distant waters, raided castles, kidnapped a young baron, and was, according to Sir Richard Bingham, ‘nurse to all Rebellions in the province’. When Bingham arrested her sons, O’Malley petitioned the queen for their release, which led to the summit between two of the most remarkable, if now elderly, women of their time. 

It happened at Greenwich Palace on 6 September 1593, and before the meeting, the guards had to wrestle O’Malley’s dagger off her. We don’t know what these two wily warrior queens said to each other, but it appears they got on famously, and Elizabeth ordered Bingham to release Grace’s sons and granted her a pensions. O’Malley turned her pirate skills to the queen’s advantage, becoming one of Elizabeth’s privateers instead of her enemy.
There are so many fascinating stories like these. What are your favourite historical novels about women who take up swords or banners instead of (or as well as) sewing needles?

Here's my review of Goddess!


BOOK REVIEW: Goddess by Kelly Gardiner

Monday, August 11, 2014

Author: Kelly Gardiner 
Publisher: Fourth Estate (Harper Collins)
Age Group & Genre: Historical/Contemporary Novel for Adults
Reviewer: Kate Forsyth
Source of Book: An ARC from the publisher

The Blurb:
Versailles, 1686: Julie d'Aubigny, a striking young girl taught to fence and fight in the court of the Sun King, is taken as mistress by the King's Master of Horse. Tempestuous, swashbuckling and volatile, within two years she has run away with her fencing master, fallen in love with a nun and is hiding from the authorities, sentenced to be burnt at the stake. Within another year, she has become Mademoiselle de Maupin, a beloved star at the famed Paris Opéra. Her lovers include some of Europe's most powerful men and France's most beautiful women. Yet Julie is destined to die alone in a convent at the age of 33. 
Based on an extraordinary true story, this is an original, dazzling and witty novel - a compelling portrait of an unforgettable woman. 
For all those readers who love Sarah Dunant, Sarah Waters and Hilary Mantel.

What I Thought: 
I’m been a big admirer of Kelly Gardiner’s gorgeous historical novels for young adults, Act of Faith and The Sultan’s Eyes, both of which are set in the mid-17th century, one of my favourite historical periods for fiction. Goddess is Kelly’s first novel for adults, based on the fascinating true life story of Julie d'Aubigny, a woman out of step with her own time (The court of the Sun King, Louise XIV, in Paris during the 1680s) Raised like a boy by her swordsman father, Julie likes to dress like a man and will fight a duel with anyone who crosses her. One night she fights three duels back-to-back, winning them all. She elopes with a young nun and is sentenced to be burned at the stake, but escapes and becomes a famous opera star. The story of her adventures seems too incredible to possibly be true. The book is told in Julie’s voice – witty, intelligent and wry - and the whole is pulled off with wit and flair. 

Writer’s website:


Subscribe RSS

Recent Posts



Blogs I Follow