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INTERVIEW: Anne Girard, author of Madame Picasso

Thursday, July 30, 2015

On the blog today, I am very pleased to welcome Anne Girard, the author of Madame Picasso, a historical novel inspired by the little–known life of Eva Gouel, one of Pablo Picasso’s most enigmatic models and muses. I loved the book (you can read my review here) and I hope you will too!

Are you a day dreamer too? 

I certainly spend a lot of time dreaming up fanciful things to write about! It doesn’t take much for inspiration to strike and when it does I find myself imagining scenes, dialogue, characters. I guess that does make me a bit of a day dreamer.


Have you always wanted to be a writer?

I wrote my first novel (which was awful!) when I was in high school, 178 hand-written pages. Back then, it was a hobby for me, the way kids today play video games. That being said, I didn’t believe that I could make writing a career so after earning my bachelor’s degree in English literature, I went to graduate school and now hold a master’s degree in clinical psychology intent on going into private practice. But no education is a waste. I like to believe my background in psychology helps me with my character development at least.


Tell me a little about yourself—where were you born, where do you live, and what do you like to do?

I was born in Santa Barbara, a coastal town in California, which I left to attend UCLA. I’ve been married for 30 years, we have two amazing children and we still live in Southern California. When I’m not writing, we love to travel which I do extensively for research. Both of our kids were raised in a suitcase, so to speak, and have been with us to France, England, Italy, Ireland and Spain, as I researched my stories.


How did you get the first flash of inspiration for this book?

I’m fascinated by artists and writers, and what makes them tick. I love art museums and in New York I saw Picasso’s painting Ma Jolie, which was inspired by an early lover. It was so entirely different in my mind to his previous work I knew I had to learn a little bit about it, and about her. From there, I was hooked! The story of their love affair became Madame Picasso.


How extensively do you plan your novels?

Fairly extensively. While I like to leave room each time for the characters themselves to have a ‘say’ in plot and dialogue, I outline the novel fully before I begin. Then I travel to whatever location in which the book will be set so that I am able to see what my characters saw. That was advice I received many years ago from the legendary novelist, Irving Stone when we met. It was advice I very much took to heart. I can’t expect my readers to be transported to places I have never actually seen. After that, I binge on biographies, maps, history books about the times, food, and clothing. Most of that needs to be in place before I begin writing.


Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?

Frequently, yes. I keep a paper and pen at my bedside just in case!


Did you make an astonishing, serendipitous discoveries while writing this book? 

By having the privilege of interviewing one of Picasso’s last living friends, I did discover that, contrary to public perception, Picasso could be incredibly gentle, loving, and very generous. For whatever reason, he chose never to defend himself publicly against the accusations several of his former lovers made, or at least explain his side of things. In Madame Picasso, I therefore tried to offer up another side of the artist. I hope I succeeded.


A painting of Eva Gouel by Pablo Picasso

Where do you write, and when?

I write five days a week, and in the morning when I’m fresh creatively. I have an office in my home where I write either at my desk or in a big comfy chair I have there.


What is your favorite part of writing? 

I love when my characters do something unexpected, or take me in a direction which I had no planned for them to go.  That’s when I know I am really connecting with them and with my story.


What do you do when you get blocked?

If I’m blocked, I know it’s time for me to walk away for a few hours, or a day or so. It means I’m trying too hard or forcing the story. For me, that’s usually all it takes and I can get back to it.


How do you keep your well of inspiration full?

I’m always seeking, researching, reading which helps me come upon new subjects, or new potential storylines, and that is inspiring to me. I love the idea of a new book yet to be written, a new angle on an old story. All of that is inspiring to me.


Do you have any rituals that help you write?

I like to be centered mentally and focused before I begin, so my habit it is to go into my office, go through my social media obligations and email, and get those all off my plate. I don’t want to be pulled away by any of that once I start writing. Then I turn off the laptop I use for that and focus exclusively on my fiction computer. I guess that is a ritual.


Who are ten of your favorite writers?

Edith Wharton, Karleen Koen, Irving Stone, Oscar Wilde, Alison Weir, Ian McEwan, Philippa Gregory,  Rosalind Miles, Lynn Cullen, Margaret George


What do you consider to be good writing?

For me, good writing makes me feel something, and it must carry me away. Different styles of writing and types of books can do that but both of those things must happen for me to think it’s really good.


What is your advice to someone dreaming of being a writer too?

Stop dreaming and write your story! I have long loved the saying, “The purpose of the first draft is not to get it right but to get it written.”  Get your story onto the page and then go to work making it into the story of your heart.


What are you working on now?

That’s still “top secret” for a bit, but I can tell you that it’s a story that will be leading me back to France later this summer, which I’m thrilled about.

Check out Anne's gorgeous website 

BOOK REVIEW: Madame Picasso by Anne Girard

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Madame Picasso 

Anne Girard 

Publisher: Harlequin Mira 

Age Group & Genre: Histroical Fiction for Adults 

Reviewer: Kate Forsyth 

Source of Book: I bought it on my e-reader

The Blurb (from Goodreads):

The mesmerizing and untold story of Eva Gouel, the unforgettable woman who stole the heart of the greatest artist of our time. 

When Eva Gouel moves to Paris from the countryside, she is full of ambition and dreams of stardom. Though young and inexperienced, she manages to find work as a costumer at the famous Moulin Rouge, and it is here that she first catches the attention of Pablo Picasso, a rising star in the art world.

A brilliant but eccentric artist, Picasso sets his sights on Eva, and Eva can't help but be drawn into his web. But what starts as a torrid affair soon evolves into what will become the first great love of Picasso's life. 

With sparkling insight and passion, Madame Picasso introduces us to a dazzling heroine, taking us from the salon of Gertrude Stein to the glamorous Moulin Rouge and inside the studio and heart of one of the most enigmatic and iconic artists of the twentieth century.

What I Thought: 

I have always been fascinated by the lives and loves of famous painters, and Pablo Picasso is no exception. Well-known for his many destructive relationships with women, whom he loved and painted and left, Picasso’s romantic entanglements make for fascinating reading. Up until now, I’ve only read biographies and memoirs. Madame Picasso by Anne Girard is the first novel I have read that has sought to bring the mesmerising power of the great Spanish artists to life. 

Most of the action takes place in Paris, on the streets, in the artists’ studios and backstage at the Moulin Rouge, all of them vividly brought to life. The character of Eva herself is bright and appealing, and her romance with Picasso is deftly and subtly wrought. I particularly loved the scenes in which Picasso talked about his aims and inspirations – it really brought him to life. 

I did not know Eva Gouel’s tragic story before I read Madame Picasso. (I must have read about her in the biographies of Picasso I have read, but that was so long ago, I had forgotten her story). So the story was new and surprising to me, and very moving. 

A really lovely, sensitive and rather sad story of a woman who helped inspire artistic genius.

Anne's website



INTERVIEW: Kate Forsyth author of THE WILD GIRL

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

To celebrate THE WILD GIRL being RELEASED IN THE US, I'm going to share some vintage posts this week - I hope you enjoy!

This interview was originally published by SUNDAY LIFE Magazine in April 2013

SL: Explain your fascination with fairy tales

Kate: I first began to read fairy tales as a little girl in hospital, after suffering a savage dog attack when I was little more than a baby. As a result of my injuries, I was in and out of hospital for most of my childhood. Everyone who visited me knew that they had to bring me books - they were my only shield against fear and pain and loneliness. My mother gave me a beautiful, red-leather edition of the Grimm’s Fairy Tales when I was about seven. I read that book to absolute rags. The stories in it both bewitched and troubled me. They were so full of beauty and mystery and danger. I felt as if they spoke to me on some deep and secret level, like something heard in a dream and only half-remembered after waking. I loved the whole atmosphere of the fairy tale world – this was a place where anything could happen, a place where girls could defeat witches and frogs could turn into princes and bones could sing to accuse their murderers. I’ve been trying to recreate that sense of wonder and strangeness in my own writing ever since. 

Me when I was about 7

SL: Where does this book take us?

Kate: ‘The Wild Girl’ tells the true, untold love story of Wilhelm Grimm and Dortchen Wild, the young woman who told him many of the world’s most famous stories. Dortchen grew up next door to the Grimm family in Hessen-Cassel, a small German kingdom that was one of the first to fall to Napoleon. It was a time of war and tyranny and terror, when the collecting of a few old half-forgotten tales was all the young Grimm brothers could do to resist the cultural dominance of the French. Dortchen told Wilhelm such well-known tales as ‘Hansel & Gretel’, ‘Rumpelstiltskin’, ‘Six Swans’, ‘The Frog King’, ‘The Elves and the Shoemaker’, ‘All-Kinds-of-Fur’, ‘The Singing Bone’, and many, many more. They fell in love but were forbidden to marry, and had many obstacles to overcome before they could at last be together. It’s a very beautiful, dark and dramatic story, a true-life fairy-tale.


SL: Why are we still so fascinated by fairy tales? Why do they continue to resonate with us?

Kate: I think it's because fairy tales operate on more than one level. On the surface, they are magical adventures filled with wonder, enchantment, beauty, romance, danger, and the consolation of a happy ending.  On a deeper level, however, they are serious dramas that reflect, symbolically and metaphorically, problems and pitfalls that are can be very real in people’s inner lives. They offer a stage where the reader can act out universal fears and desires, and so resolve deep, subconscious tensions that they are, perhaps, not even aware of. 

SL: What is your understanding of how they have evolved over 200 years?

Kate: Once upon a time, our ancestors used to crouch about the fire in their cave, telling tales of heroes and monsters and quests and enchantments in an attempt to keep the terror of the night at bay. The tales they told taught the young about the dangers of the perilous world in which they lived, and gave them some clues as to how to survive it. 

As language evolved, and symbols were created to express meaning, these tales began to be written down. People took the tales they had heard and retold them, transforming them into new tales. Then those tales were read – both silently and aloud – and told and retold again, constantly changing, constantly finding new forms. The printing press was invented, and the old stories were remade and retold again and again, like a shapeshifter constantly shedding its skin. Sometimes they were told for the entertainment of adults, sometimes for the enthrallment of children, sometimes to teach, sometimes to warn, sometimes to amuse. New technologies brought new ways to tell the tales – yet the vital metaphors and motifs still endure and shall as long as humans tell stories. 

SL: Do you have any favourite retellings?

Kate: I love fairy tale retellings! I have a whole shelf of them in my library. It’s hard to pick only one so I’ll list my favourite seven:

The Glass Slipper by Eleanor Farjeon (published 1955)
Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold by C.S. Lewis (published 1956)
The Stone Cage by Nicholas Stuart Gray (published 1963)
Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast by Robin McKinley (published 1978)
Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier (published 1999)
North Child by Edith Pattou (published 2003)
Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth (published 2012)
(Yes, I included my own novel – a retelling of Rapunzel - but then I do love it with all my heart.)


SL: Will fairy tales endure? And why?
Oh yes, fairy tales shall endure – happily ever after. They’ll endure because they seem simple and fanciful, but are in fact very deep and very old and very true. 

SL: Do new fairy tales emerge, or are they all derived from the same originals?
Kate: Jane Yolen says that stories are like cities; they are built on the stones and bones of the past. I think this is absolutely right. We can never escape our narrative past. It is encoded into our brains and our imaginations. We can all, however, create new stories, all of them as different from the old as a butterfly is from a caterpillar. 

SL: Which is your favourite of all of them?
Kate: My
all-time favourite fairy tales are ‘Rapunzel’, ‘Six Swans’, and ‘Beauty and the Beast’. 

SL: What role do fairy tales play in our modern day society?
Kate: Fairy tales play the same role they have always played – they entertain and educate, while also disrupting the known world to make space for marvellous alternatives. Fairy tales teach us that anything may be possible if we just try hard enough, and encourage us to have courage and compassion and to trust in our own cleverness. What more beautiful and necessary life lesson can we learn?

SL: Why do we all still want to be in a fairy tale – swept up by a prince etc?
Kate: Fairy tales are stories of true love, triumph and transformation. They arise out of the deepest longings of the human heart, and offer us some hope that these dreams may one day come true. We need dreams, we need to imagine what kind of world we want, we need to have hope that goodness and love can triumph over evil and hatred. Fairy tales both console us and compel us; they give us a star-map for the future. 

Please leave a comment - I love to know what you think!



Monday, July 27, 2015

My novel THE WILD GIRL has just been released in the US, so to celebrate I thought I'd share some of my inspirations for the novel. 

The first thing I do when I start a new novel is build my library. 

I order in hundreds of books – some new, some old, some good old-fashioned hardbacks, some in electronic form. I begin to read. I want to know everything there is to know about the time and place my book is set. I want to utterly immerse myself in the milieu. 

My novel The Wild Girl tells the untold story of the forbidden love between Wilhelm Grimm and the young woman who told him many of his most beautiful and haunting fairy tales. Her name was Dortchen Wild and she grew up next door to the Grimm family in the old town of Cassel, in the small kingdom of Hessen-Cassel (now in the very centre of Germany and spelt Kassel.)

They were both young – Wilhelm was in his mid-20s and Dortchen was 18 – and they fell madly in love. But Dortchen was forbidden to see the handsome yet impoverished young scholar. She had to sneak out to meet him behind her father’s back. 

Parental disapproval and poverty was not the only thing keeping them apart. Wilhelm and Dortchen lived through the bloody turmoil of the Napoleonic wars. Hessen-Cassel was one of the first countries to fall to the French, and Napoleon mashed it together with another dozen or so countries to create a new Kingdom of Westphalia. He set his dissolute younger brother Jerome up as a puppet-king. Jerome at once hired all his friends and set about bankrupting the treasury with his balls, masquerades and many mistresses.

I had first read about Wilhelm and Dortchen’s romance in Clever Maids: A Secret History of the Grimm Fairy Tales by Valeria Paradiz, which examines the oral sources of the famous tales. Her considerable contribution was analysed, along with many others, and then – in the final chapter – it was mentioned that Wilhelm and Dortchen eventually married. I was amazed by this story – both by the beauty and romance of their love affair, and by the fact that no-one had ever written about it before. It was just a footnote in history. I knew at once I had to turn it into a novel. 

But there was so much I needed to know! I began my reading everything I could find about the Grimm brothers (at least a dozen books on their lives have been published – I collected and read them all.) I also read many academic articles examining individual fairy tales and other related information. The best books I read (apart from Clever Maids) were The Brothers Grimm: Two Lives, One Legacy by Donald R. Hettinga, The Hard Facts of the Grimm’s Fairy Tales by Maria Tatar, and The Owl, the Raven and the Dove: The Religious Meaning of the Grimms’ Magic Fairy Tales by G. Ronald Murphy.

I knew absolutely nothing about Napoleon when I started! I’d studied history at school, but we stopped after the French Revolution and then started again at the First World War. Napoleon’s rise from an upstart Corsican peasant to the Emperor of France was right bang in the middle of that lacuna in my knowledge. 

So I read everything about him I could get my hands on. The best non-fiction books were Napoleon and Josephine: An Improbable Marriage by Evangeline Bruce and 1812: Napoleon’s Fatal March on Moscow by Adam Zamoyski (though I read many more). I also read a great deal of fiction set during those times, from Lauren Willig’s comic romantic romps featuring English and Napoleonic spies in love and war (start with The Secret History of the Pink Carnation) to The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1997. 

My primary touchstone was Jane Austen. Pride & Prejudice was published in 1813, one year after the first edition of the Grimms’ Children’s and Household Tales. Jane Austen was actually ten years older than Jakob Grimm, twelve years older than Wilhelm. Her heroines were the same age as Dortchen (in THE WILD GIRL, we follow Dortchen’s life between the age of 12 to her early 30s). Dortchen was therefore a contemporary of Jane Austen’s heroines, and so I re-read most of novels in order to gain insight into Dortchen’s inner life, her thoughts, her voice, her longings, her fears. I read Persuasion particularly closely, since it is a novel about a young woman who must find the courage to speak out, and that is what I felt was the key narrative arc of The Wild Girl too.

I also read the work of the German Romantic poet Novalis (the hero of Penelope Fitzgerald’s novel), the letters of Bettina von Arnim (who married the Grimm brothers’ best friend, Achim von Arnim and was a fine writer herself), and countless books on life in Germany in the early 19th century.



Sunday, July 26, 2015

Whenever I begin daydreaming about a new novel, I buy a notebook.

Sometimes I search everywhere for the perfect notebook. Other times, I’ll be impatient and grab one from the local stationary store. If I do this, then I’ll make a cover for it. I’ll search out a photo that speaks to me and print it out and stick it on the cover. As you can see, it can get very tattered:


THE WILD GIRL is a very big and complicated book. It was a two notebook novel. So was BITTER GREENS. Most novels, though, only need a single notebook.

I begin by writing a brief outline of the book and what I think it’s about:

I stick photos and maps and drawings in my notebook. I scribble down questions, ideas, timelines, research notes, list of things to do, and problems to be solved. I draw myself narrative arcs, and think about where to put scenes for maximum impact. I play with the shape and structure of the novel. If I jot down a thought to myself on a sticky-note, or a paper napkin, or an old receipt, that gets stuck into the book too.   

It’s not a pretty notebook. It’s a chronological record of ideas and inspiration. Sometimes I doodle in it. Sometimes my writing is indecipherable and my sketches appallingly bad. It doesn’t matter. Everything is recorded. 

I usually put the date and often the time in the top of the page. This way I know I began thinking about THE WILD GIRL on 1/2/08. I wrote the first draft of the first line on 26/8/11 – a considerable time later. I spend a long time thinking about my novels before I begin to write them. I planned the first chapter on 12/10/11. In July 2012, I wrote a list of problems to be fixed in the editing stage. I began to edit the book at 11am on 13/11/12. 

Once I begin writing, I keep a record of my word count too. One of my pages tells me that I began writing at 3am on 1/5/12 and wrote 1,700 words by 5.40am (I often can’t sleep towards the end of a book). 
I’ll also record where I am if I’m away from home. So on 20/4/12 I was in Sababurg in Germany, and had written 104, 426 words in total. That day I wrote 8 pages in my notebook; the next day I pushed my word count to 107, 042.

Why do I do this? I find it interesting. I like to record every step in the creative process. I like to imagine some future scholar blowing off the dust on this notebook and finding my process as fascinating as I do. My notebooks are paired with my diaries, in which I record my thoughts and feelings and discoveries. One is the key to the other. 

Whenever I am stuck or stymied, I can go back through my notebook and read my notes and find new inspiration. I can keep track of what needs to be done and draw up lists for myself. I can see the whole messy process of writing a book, from the first idea to the last word. I can remind myself, when I first start writing a novel, that I never really know where I am going or what amazing serendipitous discovereis are yet to be made. 

When I'm on tour, I keep my notebook in the hotel safe (even fi that emans there is no room for my laptop). 

When I go on holiday, or on a research trip, it travels with me (which helps explain why it gets so tattered).

Then, when I’m finished writing and editing the novel, it gets put away.

And I will go in search of a new notebook, filled with excitement and joy at the infinite possibilities presented by its pure white pages. 

WRITING: is Romance Fiction an easy beginning for aspring Authors?

Friday, July 24, 2015

Is Writing Romance an Easy Beginning for Writers?

Lisa Chaplin reveals the truth about the widely held belief that writing a romance novel si the quickest and easiest way for an aspiring author to be published.

All my writing life, I’ve heard these comments: “Oh, I’ll write a romance novel when I have a free weekend” or “I’m starting with romance novels and building my way up to mainstream” or “I’ll build my name/fan base and take it to mainstream. What I really want to write is X (crime, historical, mystery etc).”

Have you ever thought that way – that it’s dead easy to write a romance novel, or that it’s the easy way to sell to mainstream later? So many people seem to think that romance novels are a jumping-off point, a weigh station to something better.

I respectfully disagree. You see, that’s what I did – at least in the publishing stakes. Having sent my completed mainstream saga to a reputable Sydney agent back in the late 90s, I was very, very lucky that she called me a few weeks later. The upshot of the call was that she wouldn’t represent me – yet – but she wanted me to write a few romance novels. 

I was taken aback. Why, I asked (for I’d tried and failed at writing romance 5 years before) – for the ease of selling to mainstream later? Because romance is so easy to write? The agent’s answer to both questions was an emphatic no. She wanted me to write romance novels for two purposes. One: she said I needed to learn closer focus on human relationships, which good romance novels are expert at doing; and two: to quote her, “Romance writing is the best editing discipline in the world.”

She went on to say that I’d overwritten the book – I’d been, in her words, too self-indulgent in my writing, using far too much narrative exposition and not enough dialogue and action. She said it was a very common failing of mainstream writers; they won’t discipline their work (her words, not mine). She said, “I hope you’ll take this advice – very few writers do when I tell them this. Romance writing will help you focus on the core story, will make your characters’ relationships deeper and stronger, and hopefully, the best lesson of all, you’ll be able to do it all in fewer words.” She went on to advise me to join RWA. I had to ask what that was. She said, “The Romance Writers of Australia. There are also counterparts in New Zealand, America and the UK. I think, if you go into this venture with the respect it deserves, you could learn a great deal about focused, disciplined writing from these groups.”

Her final words were that she believed I’d go on to be published in romantic fiction, and when I’d written 5 or 10, I’d “know what to do” with my mainstream books.

I called the Romance Writers of Australia that day. When I discovered there was a conference in Sydney only two weeks ahead, I talked my husband into paying the fee to join the organization and attend the conference. In one weekend I found my first critique partner, met my first and still current writers’ group, and learned more about writing discipline than I believed existed. I also learned about writing contests (I really was in the wilderness back then – I wasn’t even on the internet yet!). For the next three years, romance writing became my focus – and my writing improved a great deal. At the end of that time, I’d won my first contest, finalled in others, and signed my first and second contracts. One company went belly-up, sadly, but the second was with international giant Harlequin. 

I wrote 20 books, novellas or online reads for 3 different lines of Harlequin, and most of them sold well. I was happy. 



Then, reading a biography on early Napoleonic Europe, I got the kernel of an idea that excited me. Before long my focus began to change: I knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my writing life: to write historical mainstream novels. It took 8 years to complete the book that would sell – and not because my romance career hindered me or cheapened my work. Writing romance gave me the focused writing and central relationship, as Sophie had promised, but I discovered I still had a lot to learn about writing quality historical mainstream fiction. 

Lucky for me I have a very patient agent, and I attended two excellent courses: The fabulous 5-day Popular Fiction MasterClass with Fiona McIntosh, and the excellent History, Mystery and Magic with Kate Forsyth. I believe those courses have helped me write stronger, more intense historical fiction. The advice I received completed my education to the degree I needed. I completely rewrote The Tide Watchers in 8 weeks (and got my title, thanks to Fiona), and it sold to my absolute dream publisher, William Morrow (a mainstream imprint of HarperCollins New York). 

I will always bless that agent for her advice. Because I took what she said on board, The Tide Watchers will be my 21st release with a major publishing house. 

But I do not now, nor have I ever believed that writing romance was “easy”, or some kind of quick intro for me to sell to mainstream. Romance taught me the editing and self-disciplinary skills I needed to write a tight, focused historical mainstream. Though I admit it was easier to write contemporary romance (less intensive research than historical mainstream, though writing about PTSD, racism, anorexia and bulimia, child rape and the other issues in my contemporary romances demanded fairly thorough research), the lessons the genre taught me, and the excellent skills that I took with me when switching genres, will ensure that I will always treat this much-maligned genre with the respect it deserves.


SPOTLIGHT: Sources of the Grimms' fairy tales

Thursday, July 23, 2015


To celebrate THE WILD GIRL being released in the US tis week, I'm going to share some vintage Wild Girl posts this week - I hope you enjoy!


Everyone has heard of the Grimm brothers.

Everyone has read some, at least, of their famous fairy tales.

What few people know, however, is who originally told the stories to the Grimm brothers. The names of the original tellers has been lost to all but those fairy tale scholars that have painstakingly pieced together clues taken from the brother’s notes and diaries to name the sources of the some of the world’s best loved fairy tales.

For example, ‘Aschenputtel’, (better known today as Cinderella), was told by an old woman in a poorhouse in the small medieval town of Marburg where Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm went to university. Her name is thought to be Frau Creuzer.

‘Hansel and Gretel’ was told to Wilhelm in the house of the local apothecary, Herr Wild, which was next door to where the Grimm brothers lived. It was most probably told by Herr Wild’s second youngest daughter, Dortchen. She most certainly provided the famous rhymes, usually translated into English as ‘Little mouse, little mouse, who is nibbling at my house?’ with the children replying, ‘it’s the wind so wild, the heavenly child.’

‘Little Red Cap’ was told by Jeannette and Marie Hassenpflug, young women in their late teens and early 20s, who also told ‘The Robber Bridegroom’ and ‘Brier Rose’ (better known as ‘Sleeping Beauty’), as well as many others. Their brother Louis married the Grimm brothers’ younger sister, Lotte. 

‘The Worn-Out Dancing Shoes’ (sometimes called ‘Twelve Dancing Princesses’) was told to Wilhelm Grimm by Jenny von Droste-Hülstoff, the niece of a university friend. She had a warm and tender friendship with Wilhelm, so that many thought they might marry, but the wedding never came to pass.

‘The Bremen Town Musicians’ was told to Wilhelm by Jenny’s aunts, the sisters of Werner von Haxthausen, who studied law with the Grimms at Marburg University. 

‘The Goose Girl’ was told to the Grimm brothers’ by Dorothea Viehmann, a poor old woman, widow to an innkeeper, who came to the Grimms’ house selling vegetables and butter.

‘Snow White’ was originally thought to have been told by the Wild family’s housekeeper, Marie Müller, better known as Old Marie. Now many scholars believe it was told by Marie Hassenpflug instead (though the Grimms had not yet met the Hassenpflugs when this story was first recorded). It is likely that a number of different variants were told by different tellers, and that the Grimm brothers blended the best elements of them together.

‘The Twelve Brothers’ was told by Julia and Charlotte Ramus, daughters of the local pastor

‘Rumpetstilskin’ was told to Wilhelm by his next door neighbour, Dortchen Wild. She also told him ‘Six Swans’, ‘The Frog King’, ‘The Elves and the Shoemaker’, ‘Sweetheart Roland’,   ‘Mother Holle’, ‘The Three Little Men in the Wood’. ‘The Singing Bone’, ‘All-Kinds-of-Fur’, and ‘The Singing, Springing Lark’. 
In fact, she told almost one quarter of the Grimm brothers’ first collection of fairy tales. 

Dortchen and Wilhelm fell in love during the collection of the fairy tales, but were unable to marry for many years thanks to her father's disapproval and the Grimm brothers’ poverty. It was not until a small collection, chosen especially for children, was published that the tales at last became popular and the two star-crossed lovers were at last able to marry. 

I tell the story of their star-crossed love in my novel THE WILD GIRL:  

Please leave a comment - I love to know what you think!

INTERVIEW: Lisa Chaplin, author of The Tide Watchers

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Today, on the blog, I welcome Lisa Chaplin, a friend of mine who has written an incredible historical novel inspired by the true story of British spies who sought to prevent Napoleon's forces from invading Great Britain in 1803. Here's my review of her novel THE TIDE WATCHERS if you'd like to know more about her book, but today we're exploring Lisa's dreams and inspirations. Please give her a warm welcome!   

Are you a daydreamer too?

I always have been, always will be. It was the reason I got in trouble at school – but by year 3, teachers and school counselors were telling me to aim at becoming a writer. I still dream on walks, on trains and in cars, working my fictional characters into real-life situations. A lot of my best work comes from those daydreams!


Have you always wanted to be a writer?

No, not at all. Though I loved to dream and make up stories as a child, I was completely focused on becoming a nurse. Nothing anyone said changed my mind. I did nursing until I got pregnant with our first child. I only began writing after our second child, when my husband came home with an article about writing and said I should try it. I did, and was soon wondering why I’d never listened to anyone before!


Tell me a little about yourself – where were you born, where do you live, what do you like to do?

I was born in Darlinghurst, Sydney. After a childhood in Sydney, both east and west, we moved to the Central Coast five years after I married. We’ve owned a house there ever since, raised our three children there. I’m afraid I’m a complete history nerd – I love to research, to find out more about “hidden history” that the victors never tell. Apart from that, I love to read, and walking the dog and jogging on the local beach. I do a swim class that I really like, as well.


How did you get the first flash of inspiration for THE TIDE WATCHERS?

That’s a story! Short version: I took an American friend and her family around Sydney in 2006, and at the Sydney Maritime Museum, picked up a book that completely ignited my dormant love of history. I stood there so long, reading the book, my friend had to remind me that her family were hungry! So I bought the book, and 9 years later, it’s still with me on my travels. I found an untold story in that book, one I had to tell…but because it was a hidden history, I had to piece it together over time. 24 books, 3 DVDs and a trip to France and the UK later, The Tide Watchers finally grew from a story kernel to a full-blown story.


How extensively do you plan your novels?

Before I began historical writing, not nearly so much as now. As Melissa James (my contemporary romance pseudonym), I could make up stories and let my imagination play. However, I always did plan the deeper story beneath the romance. I wrote about issues: PTSD, anorexia, bulimia, missing family members, etc; so that part was always plotted, as were my three espionage books, the Nighthawks series; but the rest was my imagination basically running free. Now it’s a different story, because so many of my characters were real people. I need to know where they were at any given time, what they wrote, said, or did, so I can weave my fictional characters in without jarring the well-read historical fiction reader with any inaccuracy. I have currently in front of me more than 50 pages of timelines, plot points, and information about every living character I use. I’m on a research trip now so have folders full, and books filling my suitcase! They’re my “American Express card”: I never leave home without them!


Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?

In a strange way. My dreams are usually vivid, frightening things that tell me when I haven’t used my imagination enough lately. Quite often I’ll wake very early with a dream, get up and write, and quite often on a similar subject to my nightmares. I wish I did dream about my characters, but alas, I don’t. I think it’d be much easier if I did!


Did you make any astonishing serendipitous discoveries while writing this book?

Oh, definitely! The book I mentioned earlier talked about a fleet of French ships that sank eight miles out to sea, and that Britain, who had been conciliating France until then, declared war ten weeks later; but there was nothing more. Researching that led to amazing discoveries, some that fellow history lovers said never happened – but they did. The realization that “history is told by the victors” led me to France, to a small town and some villages that held a history few know about. Discovering the part Lord Camelford, (“The Mad Baron”) played in world events of the time, really changed the book. Then a friend from my writers’ group gave me a book (an out-of-print book worth far more than I knew when she gave it to me) that had the real-life code-names of British spies, and the French spies working for and against Britain. That book changed everything! Without those serendipitous discoveries, THE TIDE WATCHERS wouldn’t be what it is.


Where do you write, and when?

I still have two grown children at home, and their friends often drop in, so I tend to write whenever I can. My family is really understanding of my work, including my nieces where I’m staying right now. When I’m at home, if the house is too noisy (there are dogs galore in our street, and few owners at home) I go to my favorite café, an eclectic little place with kitschy furniture and great food, and set myself up there for hours. They look after me beautifully there!


What is your favourite part of writing?

I think for me it’s the whole finding out astonishing facts, and dreaming up ways to work it into the story and characters. Often it means changing whole chapters and even more to make it work. Lucky for me I have a very patient agent, and a fabulous editor who not only goes along with my changes, but she gets excited when I tell her why. She’ll call me to discuss it if she doesn’t understand, and we work out storylines together sometimes. So I’m one of those annoying writers that love revisions. I take every chance to improve the book, to do more research to make the book bigger, faster-paced, more exciting.


What do you do when you get blocked?

Research! For me, a block means I’ve forgotten something important. I go back to my books or my timelines. I have 13 whiteboards in my study covered in facts, plus cork-boards with maps and pictures. I took pictures of everything, printed it up and brought it with me on my travels, or the next book wouldn’t be written. I also tend to make soundtracks and create signature scents that trigger imagination. I also go for long walks if those things don’t help.


How do you keep your well of inspiration full?

One thing I constantly do is new writing courses, in person if possible. I find learning a continuous source of inspiration, and really revs me up to keep writing. Also, I’m constantly on the lookout for things I didn’t know. It’s the real history hidden beneath the story of the victors that excites me. Telling the tale from the perspective of those who lived with the consequences of the great political decisions: the ordinary people and the spies. I’m in contact with several historians, specialists in their chosen subject or person, all of who have been wonderfully eager to share tidbits with me. A really big thing is travelling to the places I write about. I can’t do it all via books and the internet. For real stories that brim with life, that take the reader to the places and times you write about, I have to walk it, smell it, feel it, taste it. I was lucky to live in Europe for four years, which made all the difference to THE TIDE WATCHERS; now I have friends and family living only a few hours’ travel from the places in my books.


Do you have any rituals that help you to write?

Very much so. The aforementioned whiteboards and cork-boards surround me in reminders. I’m a very visual person; if I didn’t have the reminders I’d forget vital pieces of the story. Even now while travelling they’re beside me, and I have blue-tack to put it on walls around me. I create soundtracks for each book, usually a mix of classical, modern opera and acoustic versions of popular songs. I also find a signature scent for each book, one that transports me to a place or a person. For The Tide Watchers, I don’t know how many L’Occitane Winter Forest candles I bought! Now it’s lavender water, made to the 18th century recipe, and ocean scent. I walk the dog, jog or go to the gym or pool before I get into writing. I find, as I get older, that it’s hard to write if my body’s uncomfortable. I also stretch quite a few times through the day.


Who are ten of your favourite writers?

I tend to go through phases of loving different kinds of writing, but authors I keep returning to for inspiration and beautiful writing, or just plain enjoyment of story are: J.R.R Tolkien; Sharon Penman; Elizabeth Chadwick; Markus Zusak; Carlos Ruiz Zafon; Paulo Cuelho; Jane Austen; Georgette Heyer; Agatha Christie, and L. M. Montgomery. I read widely of other, newer authors as well. I’m currently enjoying Tasha Alexander’s Lady Emily mystery series, and Charles Todd’s Bess Crawford mysteries. 


What do you consider to be good writing? 

I tend toward the lyrical and historical. Ever since reading Lord of the Rings at fifteen, I’ve loved the beauty amid danger, shimmering poetry in the frightening. The opening of The Shadow of the Wind by Zafon is amazing, as is the narrator of The Book Thief by Zusak. I’m not at that level, but would love to be one day. 


What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?

To quote Rocky Horror, “don’t dream it, be it.”  My biggest advice, though, is respect the craft. Writing is an ongoing apprenticeship and should be treated with respect. Don’t indulge in “writer’s block” – fight your way through it. Taking writing courses refreshes creativity (I took your History, Mystery and Magic course after I sold The Tide Watchers to refill the well when I felt a bit blocked, and it really helped me get my revisions done!). Publisher-requested revisions are part of making your book the best it can possibly be for the shelves. Taking courses and doing revisions is part of an ongoing journey; I never want to be arrogant about my writing, and think I know enough. Just as you wouldn’t go to an unqualified doctor or lawyer because they’re cheap, don’t do cheap courses, or buy self-published books simply because they’re cheap (or free). You wouldn’t do so with university courses or an apprenticeship; don’t cheat your writing. One final thing: try not to let anyone, even your family, treat writing as your self-indulgent hobby. I made that mistake. Trust me, you’ll regret it when you sell and it becomes your job!


What are you working on now?

BLIND WINTER is the second book in the series following The Tide Watchers. The more I researched the time, the more it became a real-life, four-way ‘game of thrones’ between leaders and spymasters, between countries and power struggles inside governments. It was also a time of rapid change with inventions being used in warfare. For The Tide Watchers, it was the infancy of submarine-torpedo warfare. Blind Winter has quite a few new, surprising kinds of inventions that were used at the time. Robert Fulton, an American inventor I fell in love with during The Tide Watchers, returns in Blind Winter with new and exciting ideas, while the games of kings and spymasters complicate the lives of all my main characters.

SPOTLIGHT: Dortchen Wild, fairy tale teller

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

To celebrate the US release of THE WILD GIRL, I am running a few vintage posts - enjoy!


Sometimes an idea hits you like a sizzling bolt of lightning, and you know that you have to write it.

That’s how the first idea for my novel THE WILD GIRL came to me.

I was reading a scholarly book about the Grimm Brothers’ when I discovered that one of the primary oral sources for their fairy tales was a young woman who had grown up next door to the Grimm family. Her name was Dortchen Wild, and she was only eighteen when she began to tell Wilhelm some of the world’s most beloved stories. 

I was fascinated by this, having always imagined the sources of the tales being hunchbacked old peasant women. Then I discovered that Dortchen and Wilhelm had fallen in love and - many years later – married. I knew at once that I had to tell her story! It was absolutely electrifying. I could hardly sleep that night for excitement.

Discovering Dortchen’s story was not at all easy. Very little of her life was known – only her birth, marriage and death dates (and people even argued about those). Of her own writing, there remained only a few letters and a brief autobiographical sketch that she dictated to her daughter on her death-bed. All I had to give me a sense of her inner life was the stories she told – and when she told them. 

Dortchen grew up next door to the Grimm brothers in the small kingdom of Hessen-Kassel. When she was in her teens and Wilhelm was twenty, Napoleon Bonaparte’s army invaded and the Hessian people were forced to live under French occupation for many years. Hessen-Kassel was mashed together with a number of other small countries to become the Kingdom of Westphalia. Napoleon put his dissolute young brother, Jerome, on the throne. He was only 22, and marked his ascension to the throne by playing leapfrog through the empty palace in his underwear. 

It was a dark and difficult time. Unable to find work, the two eldest boys in the Grimm family decided to collect and study the old wonder tales they had always loved so much. They were too poor to travel about and so asked friends and neighbours to tell them any old stories they knew. That was when they discovered - right next door - an absolute treasure-house of tales, all stuffed inside one young woman’s head.

Dortchen told Wilhelm almost one-quarter of all the stories in the first edition of the Grimm brothers’ ‘Children’s and Household Tales’, published in 1812. She told him ‘Hansel and Gretel’, ‘The Frog King’, ‘The Elves and the Shoemaker’, and ‘Rumpelstiltskin’. 

On one extraordinary day – 10 January 1812 – she told Wilhelm three stories back-to-back, while huddling about the stove in her sister’s summerhouse so her father would not know.

On 9 October 1812 – the day before the fairy tale collection was sent to the printers – Dortchen told Wilhelm another two tales.  The first was about a good sister who is given the gift of spitting gold coins, while her evil sister who is cursed to spit out snakes and toads. The second was ‘All-Kinds-of-Fur’, a dark and haunting tale about a king who falls in love with his own daughter. 

Dortchen’s own father disapproved mightily of Wilhelm Grimm, and prohibited them from seeing each other. She had to tell Wilhelm her tales in secret. Kept apart by war, poverty, and patriarchal domination, the story of their forbidden romance is as full of drama, heartbreak and triumph as any fairy tale she told. 

I do hope that you will all find her story as fascinating as I did. 

Please leave a comment - I love to know what you think.

BOOK REVIEW: The Tide Watchers by Lisa Chaplin

Monday, July 20, 2015




Age Group & Genre: Historical Fiction for Adults

Reviewer: Kate Forsyth

Source of Book: Lisa gave me a copy

The Blurb from the publisher:

In the tradition of Jennifer Robson, comes this compelling debut that weaves the fascinating story of a young woman who must risk her life as a spy to help stop Napoleon’s invasion of Great Britain in the winter of 1803.

Though the daughter of an English baronet, Lisbeth has defied convention by eloping to France with her new husband. But when he breaks her heart by abandoning her, she has nowhere to turn and must work in a local tavern. Her only hope for the future is to be reunited with her young son who is being raised by her mother-in law.

A seasoned spy known by his operatives as Tidewatcher, Duncan apprenticed under Lisbeth’s father and pledged to watch over his mentor’s only daughter while he searches the Channel region for evidence that Bonaparte has built a fleet to invade Britain. But unpredictable Lisbeth challenges his lifelong habit of distance.

Eccentric, brilliant American inventor Robert Fulton is working on David Bushnell’s “turtle”—the first fully submersible ship—when he creates brand-new torpedo technology, which he plans to sell to the French Navy. But when his relationship with Bonaparte sours, he accepts Tidewatcher’s help to relocate to the French side of the Channel, but he refuses to share his invention. With an entire army encamped in the region, blocking off all access, Tidewatcher must get that submersible, along with someone who knows how to use it, to uncover Bonaparte’s great secret.

When Lisbeth is asked to pose as a housekeeper and charm Fulton so she can learn to use the submersible before the invasion fleet sails, she will be forced to sacrifice herself for her country—but is she willing to sacrifice her heart when she’s already lost it to another…?

A fast-paced, deeply-researched, and richly imagined novel, The Tide Watchers explores a long-hidden, chapter of Bonaparte’s history.

What I Thought: 

The time of the Napoleonic wars is such a fascinating period and there are still so many stories to be told. Lisa Chaplin (who is a friend of mine) has discovered the intriguing untold story of a group of British spies working undercover in France in the early 19th century, trying to prevent the French invasion of Great Britain. At the heart of Lisa's tale is a young English woman, Lisbeth, and her determination to win back her baby son who has been taken by his violent French aristocratic father.   In order to gain the help of the British establishment, Lisbeth goes undercover in the house of the hot-tempered and brilliant American inventor, Robert Fulton (a real-life character), who is working on making the world's first submarine. How far is Lisbeth prepared to go to win Robert Fulton's trust and gain control of the submarine? This moral dilemma helps drive the suspense, as Lisbeth fights her attraction for one of the British agents yet knows the only way to get back her son is to win Robert Fulton's heart.

THE TIDE WATCHERS is a surprising and unusual historical thriller with a twist of romance that will appeal to anyone who loves books set in the 19th century.  

HARPER COLLINS Information page on The Tide Watchers


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