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INTERVIEW: Liane Moriarty, author of The Husband's Secret

Monday, January 26, 2015

I have long been a fan of Jaclyn Moriarty's wonderful books, but I had not ever tried reading a book by one of her sisters, Nicole or Liane. I decided to dip my toe in by reading Liane Moriarty's New York Times bestselling novel The Husband's Secret!

The Husband's Secret is a funny, sad, suspenseful and utterly surprising book that has sold over 2 million copies worldwide and is set to be translated into over 35 languages. CBS Films has acquired the film rights.

I loved it, and so begged Liane to talk to me about some of her creative inspirations and techniques.

Are you a daydreamer too?


Have you always wanted to be a writer?

Yes, my sister, Jaci and I had always wanted to be authors. When we were children, our Dad would commission us to write novels for him. However, it was Jaci who achieved our childhood dream first. At the time her first novel Feeling Sorry for Celia was accepted for publication, I was working as a freelance advertising copywriter, writing everything from websites to TV commercials. Although I occasionally wrote short stories and first chapters of novels that didn’t go any further, I’d let my childhood dream slide. My sister’s news was the inspiration I needed to get me back to the keyboard.  In a fever of sibling rivalry I wrote a children’s book which was enthusiastically rejected by every publisher in Australia. I calmed down, and two years later, my first novel, Three Wishes was published

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

I was born in Sydney and I’ve lived in Sydney all my life. I love reading, DVD box sets (my husband and I are the only people left in the world who obediently wait for the box sets rather than downloading them), snow-skiing, chocolate, champagne, coffee, hot baths, sleep, restaurants with flattering lighting, old friends, but also new friends. I’m also quite fond of my two children. I have a six year old son and a four year old daughter.     

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

 I came quite late to motherhood and as a result I tend to look at the world of parenting with the wide eyes of a tourist. Last year I became a ‘school mum’ for the first time when my little boy started kindergarten.  It was a brand new experience for me, and I wanted to write about this ordinary, extraordinary world of parenting.  I came up with the premise for the book when I was touring with another author (the lovely Ber Carroll) who was spending every spare moment searching for the perfect necklace to wear to a school trivia night. She and her friends were all planning to dress up as Audrey Hepburn. For some reason the image of those mothers with their Audrey Hepburn hairstyles and outfits stayed with me long after the tour.  I thought imagine if all the mothers were dressed as Audrey Hepburn and the fathers dressed as Elvis Presley? Then I thought, imagine if there was some sort of argument between all those Elvises and Audreys? Then I thought, why not a riot? After that I was hooked.

How extensively do you plan your novels?

I just tend to come up with a premise and dive in and hope that an ending will come to me. It means there is a sense of anticipation because I think, I wonder what’s going to happen? 

Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?

No. Never. My dreams are awful. I always have exactly the same dream: I suddenly remember that I’ve forgotten something EXTREMELY important and the consequences are catastrophic. They were particularly bad when my children were babies and I’d wake up screaming, “The baby, the baby! Where did I put the baby?”  Actually, maybe I do need to write about this and that might cure me of this awful dream.

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

No, not really, but what a lovely phrase, “an astonishing serendipitous discovery!” I will hope for an astonishing serendipitous discovery with my next book.

Where do you write, and when?

I write in my home office when my children are at school or pre-school or when they’re playing outside my door with their lovely babysitter.

What is your favourite part of writing?

I love the final twenty thousand words or so of a novel when I can see the end in sight and I know my characters and I finally know what’s going to happen and where I’m going and I’m writing exciting climatic scenes that I’ve been looking forward to writing and everything is coming together, and the writing feels lovely and flowing, rather than awkward and stilted, as it always does when I start a book, and I can’t quite find my voice, and I’m missing the characters from my previous book and I often find myself thinking, Who are these people?   

What do you do when you get blocked?

A walk helps. So does a long shower. Also chocolate.

How do you keep your well of inspiration full?

Conversations with friends seem to give me the most material.

Do you have any rituals that help you to write?

My best ritual is to turn on ‘Freedom’ – a little software programme that turns off Internet access for a specified period of time. Just the act of clicking that little button really does give me Freedom to write. 

Who are ten of your favourite writers?

Elizabeth Berg, Anne Tyler, Maggie O’Farrell, Jaclyn Moriarty, Nicola Moriarty, Dianne Blacklock, Ber Carroll,  Karen Joy Fowler, Kate Atkinson, Lionel Shriver – I could go on, but I see I’ve used up my quota.    

What do you consider to be good writing? 

When I don’t notice the writing at all, I’m so lost in the story.

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

 To think of nothing else but the story – not the world of publishing, or what makes a best-seller, or should you self-publish or not, or should it be double-spaced (yes), or should you make it more erotic (probably, if you can! Wish I could) or how will you make sure nobody else steals your ideas (they won’t) – just lose yourself in the pleasure of writing your story. Then edit, edit, edit.  THEN and only then should you think about all that other stuff

What are you working on now?

I’ve decided to set my next book on a tropical island, and I feel that I need to do a lot of research to get this book right. A lot of meticulous research. Editors, publicists, agents and various friends are all generously offering to help out. 

On Liane's website, she says to anyone wishing to email her: 

"If you have just read The Husbands Secret and wish to tell Liane that Easter takes place in spring, not in autumn, please note that this book is set in Australia, where the seasons are upside down.
Easter takes place in the autumn here. It’s true." 

I love that !

Liane's most recent novel, Big Little Lies, was the first by an Australian author to debut at number one on the New York Times bestseller list. Film and television rights have already been snapped up by Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon - how cool is that!

Australia's first Historical Novel Society Conference 20-22 March 2015

Monday, January 19, 2015

2015 Historical Novel Society Australasia Conference 

On the weekend of 20-22 March 2015, the Historical Novel Society Australasia (HNSA) is holding its inaugural conference at the historic Balmain Town Hall, Sydney, exploring the theme of ‘The Historical Novel in Peace and War’. The conference will be a celebration of the historical fiction genre in a weekend of talks, panels, debates, book launches and readings.

Balmain Town Hall

The opening night reception will be held at the prestigious State Library of NSW on Friday 20 March where a lively round table debate will be conducted on the topic: ‘What can historical novelists and historians learn from each other?’ 

The two day informative and interactive weekend program on 21-22 March will showcase 40 speakers discussing craft, research, inspiration, publishing, social media and personal histories. 

I'll be there, as well as other internationally acclaimed historical novelists such as Colin Falconer, Felicity Pulman, Toni Jordan, Juliet Marillier, Sophie Masson, Belinda Murrell and Jesse Blackadder – and many, many more.

Felicity Pulman 

The Day One sessions conclude with a ‘First Pages’ competition where aspiring historical novelists will have their submissions read aloud to industry experts. The session will also provide other attendees with a chance to learn what attracts agents and publishers when seeking new historical fiction. 

There are three skills-based super sessions that are being run concurrently with the main conference program. Manuscript assessments will be conducted by industry expert, Irina Dunn. Dr Gillian Polack is offering two small group workshops focussed on how to weave research into compelling and authentic historical fiction. The third session will focus on how to use social media to build an author platform with author Elisabeth Storrs and review blogger, Margaret Bates.

There will also be some exciting social events. The conference will be launched at the Friday opening night reception where attendees will also celebrate the launch of Felicity Pulman’s Unholy Alliance. At the conference dinner on Saturday, attendees will have opportunities to mingle with leading authors and join us for the launch of Sherryl Clark’s, Do You Dare – Jimmy’s War.
I am opening the conference on Saturday 21st March and also giving the after-dinner talk at the conference dinner that night. On Sunday 22nd I am appearing on two panels. The first is entitled Historical Fiction Sub-genres: Intrigue, Mystery, Fantasies and Time-slip where I'll be joined by Posie Graeme-Evans, Sulari Gentill, Belinda Murrell and Felicity Pulman. To round off the entire conference I'll be sharing some of my racier scenes with Jesse Blackadder and Colin Falconer in our panel entitled In Bed with History: Sexy, Saucy and Sizzling Bedroom Scenes – A Romp!

The HNSA is offering some great deals! 

The first 30 ticketholders to purchase a Standard Whole Conference Ticket will receive a free copy of either The Lace Balcony  by Johanna Nicholls, The King’s Shadow  by Barbara Gaskell Denvil or The Island House  by Posie Graeme-Evans. 

The first 50 fully paid ticketholders to the conference dinner will receive a free copy of Sherryl Clark’s, Do You Dare – Jimmy’s War. 

And all ticketholders to the opening night reception will receive a free e-book bundle of Felicity Pulman’s Janna Mysteries!

So why not register for the HNSA Conference now! You can buy tickets here!

More information about the conference program and speakers can be found at the HNSA website.

Recently the HNSA has also conducted a crowd funding campaign to ensure our participating authors are remunerated. A big shout out to some of our more generous supporters: Pamela Rushby, Lauren Chater, Laura Rahme, ID Roberts, Kathryn Gauci, Bronwen Jones, Paula Armstrong, Elisabeth Storrs, Danks Design Group, Wendy Dunn, Felicity Pulman and Helen Hollick. Many thanks!

And thank you to the wonderful Elisabeth Storrs for putting all this information together for me and for generally being an all-round star! I know the first-ever HNSA conference is going to be a huge success thanks to all the hard work of Elisabeth and her team.

SPOTLIGHT: Fairy Retellings

Thursday, December 04, 2014


A few weeks ago, I gave a speech on fairy tales at the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne. I've had a lot of queries from people who were unable to make it for various reasons (including vast distances) and so I've summarised my speech into a couple of blogs so everyone may enjoy.  Here is a brief rundown on fairy tale retellings and ways to use them in your own creative work ...

A fairy tale retelling is a story which retells or reimagines a fairy tale, or draws upon well-known fairy tale symbols and structures.

Fairy tale retellings deal with personal transformation - people and creatures change in dramatic and often miraculous ways. Many fairy tales hinge upon a revelation of a truth that has been somehow hidden or disguised. 

Fairy Tale Retellings are most often written as a fantasy for children or young adults.


Some of my favourite fairy tale retellings for young adults

Not all, however. In recent years, there have been a number of beautiful, powerful and astonishing fairy tale retellings for adults too. 


Some of my favourite fairy tale retellings for adults

My own novel BITTER GREENS is a sexy and surprising retelling of the 'Rapunzel' fairy tale, interwoven with the true life story of the woman who first wrote the tale, the French noblewoman Charlotte-Rose de la Force . It moves between Renaissance Venice and the glittering court of the Sun King in 17th century Versailles and Paris, imagining the witch of the tale as a beautiful courtesan and the muse of the Venetian painter Titian. 


There are many different ways to draw upon fairy tales in fiction. Here is a brief overview: 

“Pure” Fairy Tale Retellings
A retelling of a fairy tale in which few changes are made to the best-known or ‘crystallised’ sequence of action and motifs. Changes tend to be small and subtle, such as adding dialogue or rhymes, naming characters, describing the setting more vividly, or smoothing out any inconsistencies. My picture book TWO SELKIE TALES FROM SCOTLAND, beautifully illustrated by Fiona McDonald, is an example of a "pure" fairy tale retelling. 

Fairy tale Parodies
Stories in this genre parody fairy tales for comic effect – they are usually done in picture book form, though sometimes writers do so in longer fiction also. 

Fairy Tale Pastische
A pastiche is a work of literature which celebrates the work that it imitates i.e. it is a new work which copies or mimics the style of an older literary form. A fairy tale pastiche therefore sounds like it comes from the ancient oral tradition, but is entirely new 

Sequels, prequels and Spin-Offs

Many fiction writers take a well-known fairy tale, and then create new stories that tell of the events which happened before or after the pattern of action in the 'crystallised' tale. 

Fairy Tale Allusion & Intertextuality

Some novels can draw upon fairy tale motifs, metaphors and plot patterns in more subtle ways. 

A girl may wear a red hoodie, or red dancing shoes. 

A young woman may be poor and under-valued, yet still win the heart of the most eligible bachelor

A dark forest may be a dark city … a tower may be a hospital …

My novel DANCING ON KNIVES is a contemporary romantic suspense novel set in Australia, yet it draws upon Hans Christian Andersen's well-known fairy tale, 'The Little Mermaid'. My heroine Sara is not at home in the world. She feels as if she cannot breathe, and every step causes her pain. She is haunted by the ghosts of the past, and must learn to be brave before she can begin a new life for herself. The fairy tale elements are used only as allusion and metaphor, and as a structural underpinning of the story. 

Retelling well-known tales from another Point of View

Another way to reinvigorate a well-known fairy tale is to tell the story from an unexpected point of view. I was always interested in the motivations of the witch in 'Rapunzel', and so knew right from the beginning that she would be a major point of view in BITTER GREENS. Here are a few other books which make the villain the protagonist of the story: 


Retelling well-known Fairy Tales in unexpected settings

Another way to revitalise a well-known fairy tale is to set it somewhere startling or unexpected. I have spent the last year working on a retelling of the Grimm Brothers'version of 'Beauty & the Beast', set in Nazi Germany.  THE BEAST'S GARDEN will be released in late April 2015.

Books About Fairy Tales & Their Tellers

As I noted earlier, BITTER GREENS is a retelling of the ' Rapunzel' fairy tale interwoven with the true life story of the woman who first wrote the tale, Charlotte-Rose de la Force. As an author and oral storyteller, I am very interested in the tellers of the tales. In my novel, THE WILD GIRL, I tell the story of the forbidden romance between Wilhelm Grimm and Dortchen Wild, the young woman who told him many of the world's most famous fairy tales, against the dramatic background of the Napoleonic Wars in Germany. 


Retelling Little Known Fairy Tales

You do not need to only drawn upon the best-known fairy tales. There are many hundreds of beautiful, romantic and beguiling fairy tales that are not as well-known as they should be. In THE GYPSY CROWN, I retell some old Romany folk tales. In THE PUZZLE RING, I was inspired by Scottish fairy tales and history. In THE WILD GIRL, I shine a light upon some of the forgotten Grimm tales. In THE IMPOSSIBLE QUEST, I play with old Welsh tales. 

The only limits are your own imagination!


SPOTLIGHT: A Brief History of Fairy Tales

Thursday, December 04, 2014


A few weeks ago, I gave a speech on fairy tales at the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne. I've had a lot of queries from people who were unable to make it for various reasons (including vast distances) and so I've summarised my speech into a couple of blogs so everyone may enjoy.  Here is a brief history of fairy tales ....

Myth, Legend & Fairy Tale

The differences between myth, legend, fairy tale & fable can be can simply described as:

Myths: narratives about immortal or supernatural protagonists
Legends: narratives about extraordinary protagonists
Fairy Tales: narratives about ordinary protagonists
Fables: narratives with animal protagonists which convey a moral

History of Fairy Tales

Fairy Tales have their roots in ancient oral storytelling traditions.
All cultures have their own myths & legends. Many fairy tales wear ‘the easy doublet’ of myth.
A.D. 100-200, Ancient Greece – “Cupid and Psyche” written by Apuleius 

A.D. 850-860, China - The first known version of “Cinderella” is written

C. 1300 – Troubadours and travelling storytellers spread tales throughout medieval Europe 

C. 1500 - One Thousand and One Arabian Nights is first recorded 

1550 & 1553, Italy - Gianfrancesco Straparola publishes The Pleasant Nights - he has been called the 'grandfather of fairy tales'

1600s, Italy - Giambattista Basile writes The Tale of Tales – published posthumously in 1634. This contains 'Petrosinella', the earliest known version of 'Rapunzel' 

1690-1710  - The French Salons invented and played with fairy tales - Marie-Catherine D'Aulnoy invented the term 'conte de fées'

1697 France - Charles Perrault's Mother Goose Tales is published in Paris 

1697 – Charlotte-Rose de la Force publishes her collection which includes the tale we now know of as “Rapunzel”

1740 France - Gabrielle de Villeneuve writes a 362 page version of “Beauty and the Beast”

 1756 France – Jean-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont publishes much shorter version of “Beauty and the Beast” - first tale written specifically for children.

1812 Germany - Jacob & Wilhelm Grimm publish Vol 1 of Childhood and Household Tales

1823 Great Britain - Edgar Taylor publishes the first English translation of the Grimms' tales in German Popular Stories. The book is illustrated by George Cruikshank

1825 Germany – Grimms’ first edition for children - known as The Small Edition - illustrated by Ludwig Grimm

1835 Denmark - Hans Christian Andersen's Fairy Tales Told for Children

1889 England - Andrew Lang publishes The Blue Fairy Book -  the first multicultural fairy tale collection 

1890 Russia - Tchaikovsky's “The Sleeping Beauty” premieres in St Petersburg 

1893 Great Britain - Marian Roalfe Cox publishes her book, Cinderella: Three Hundred and Forty-five Variants of Cinderella, Catskin, and Cap O' Rushes’- the first fairy tale scholarship

1910 Finland - Antti Aarne publishes ‘The Types of the Folktale’. Later, Stith Thompson translates and expands it into English in 1961

1937 United States - Walt Disney's first feature length animated film is released, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Now – fairy tales have never been hotter! They dominate our TV and movie screens, and influence advertising, music, and fashion. Plus of course ... fairy tale retellings ...

Fairy Tale Tropes
Pure distillation of plot

Setting is anywhere and nowhere

Traditional sentences & archaic language: Once upon a time ... Long long ago … Once, twice, thrice …. 
‘Abstract style’  - dark forest, brave youth, golden bird

Fairy tale numbers and patterns: the numbers 3 & 7 & 13 i.e. the third sister, the thirteenth fairy

Magic & metamorphosis – talking mirror, prince into frog, girl into bear

Binary oppositions i.e. good & evil, rich & poor, beautiful & ugly, strong & weak

Memorable language i.e. rhythm, rhyme, repetition, alliteration, assonance, onomatopoeia 

Motifs & metaphors: ‘the language of the night’

Structure – a series of trials & tribulations (often three)

The Fairy Tale ‘happy ending’ .. 

(Though not all fairy tales end happily. Many of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales are very sad, for example) 


BOOK REVIEW: The Tudor Vendetta by Christopher Gortner

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Author: Christopher Gortner 
Publisher: St Martins Press
Age Group & Genre: Adult Historical
Reviewer: Kate Forsyth

The Blurb:
Winter, 1558: Elizabeth I has ascended the throne but the first days of her reign are already fraught with turmoil, the kingdom weakened by strife and her ability to rule uncertain.
Summoned from exile abroad at the new queen’s behest, Brendan Prescott arrives in London to face his shattered past. He soon finds himself pitted in deadly rivalry with his life-long foe, Robert Dudley, but when a poison attempt overshadows the queen’s coronation, Elizabeth privately dispatches Brendan on a far more dangerous assignation: to find her favored lady-in-waiting, Lady Parry, who has vanished in Yorkshire.

Upon his arrival at the crumbling sea-side manor that may hold the key to Lady Parry’s disappearance, he encounters a strange, impoverished family beset by grief, as well as mounting evidence that they hide a secret from him. The mystery surrounding Lady Parry deepens as Brendan begins to realize there is far more going on at the manor than meets the eye, but the closer he gets to the heart of the mystery, the more he becomes the quarry of an elusive stranger with a vendetta— one that could expose both his own buried identity and a long-hidden revelation that will bring about Elizabeth’s doom.

From the intrigue-laden passages of Whitehall to a foreboding Catholic manor and the prisons of the Tower, Brendan must risk everything to unravel a vendetta that strikes at the very core of his world, including his loyalty to his queen.

The Tudor Vendetta is the third book in Gortner’s Elizabeth I Spymaster Trilogy.

What I Thought: 
I’ve enjoyed this book hugely, as I’ve enjoyed every book in Christopher Gortner’s Spymaster series. He has a beautiful, easy writing style and each book is a fast-paced, action-packed, rollercoaster ride that still manages to bring the world of Elizabethan London roaring to life. 

The characters are absolutely spot-on, and the historical background is leavened into the dough of the story with a light, sure touch. The young Queen Elizabeth is made human in these books – an intelligent yet vulnerable woman who must fight to survive and rule. I also love the characterisation of the story’s protagonist, the illegitimate Brendan Prescott who is torn between love and duty in a way that rings very true. 

I’m hoping that Christopher will write many more books in this series – as long as he writes them, I will buy them. 

I interviewed Christopher a couple of years ago - you can read it here or read my reviews of his other books here. Or check him out on the web: 

Christopher's website 


SPOTLIGHT: Lorena Carrington & her exquisite fairy tale photography

Friday, November 14, 2014

Tonight I am talking about Respinning the Magic of Fairy Tales at the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne, and so it seemed a perfect occasion to celebrate the exquisite fairy tale art of photographer Lorena Carrington. Her words are so full of the beauty and mystery of fairy tales, and the hidden power of women. I am buying myself one as a present to myself for finishing my doctorate on fairy tales!

Please welcome Lorena!

Have you always been interested in fairy tales?

I grew up in a library of several thousand books on classical studies, myths & folk tales, and theological theory. I was read The Arabian Nights, Grimm, Anderson and many world tales at a young age, and at bedtime my mother would snuggle in and tell me stories that she made up, sometimes spanning several nights. These stories usually contained (probably by request) variants on dragons, apples that gave three wishes, and girls who went on exciting adventures.

I was drawn back to fairy tales on having my own children, Mari (11) and Rosa (9), and now read them for myself more than I do to them.

What first drew you to re-creating these old tales through a photographic medium?

My interest was first sparked in 2009 when I was part of an exhibition based on the Willow Pattern story; the English-created Chinese ‘myth’ to go with the now infamous crockery design. Layering the willow pattern design onto the landscape was the beginning of my silhouette work. It wasn’t a great leapt to get from the blue of the willow pattern, to the black silhouettes of fairy tales illustrations. A couple years later, I was part of another exhibition themed around the concept of ‘journeys’. Many fairy tales are based on the journey, and every tale is a journey into another world, so I used that exhibition to focus my developing interest in exploring fairy tales through photography. I haven’t looked back.

I’ve always been a photographic artist, but my technique has polarised over the past fifteen years or so. As a student, I was dedicated to the medium as a pure form. I used a large format camera, created my own developers from their base chemicals, and the term ‘over my dead body’ was my response to digital photography. Now, it’s all I use. 

Can you explain your creative process?

The process starts with a lot of reading, which is lovely. My works are sometimes inspired by the feel of a certain story, or by an imagined tale that makes its way into my head, but lately most of my works have been illustrations for specific fairy tales.

In some ways, my process is like painting or drawing, or even theatre. I begin with a blank page, and arrange the figures and landscape like actors and scenery on a stage. The figures perform the narrative, and the natural forms elaborate emotions and generate the ambience. 

Once I decide on the part of a story I’m representing, I usually begin with a sketch (if I’m organised) or at least a firm idea in my mind of what I want the final artwork to look like. With that image comes a list. For example, I might need a background image reminiscent of the sky, two walking figures, foreground landscape details, overhanging trees, some extra plant life, enough twigs (all photographed separately) to build a house, smoke for the chimney… I then head out into the wild to photograph, and also bring objects back into the studio. If I need silhouettes (almost always I do) I will backlight the subjects to get them as close to black as possible. This is the collection stage. I then sort through them in Adobe Bridge, and enhance their contrast to make a strong silhouette. I then save the images as separate files.

To create the artwork, I open up a blank image file in Photoshop, and start layering elements together. If the background image is integral to the composition, I will drop it in first, but there have been times when I’ve arranged all the silhouettes, and only then searched through my image collection for a background. I have a folder of ‘useful background images’ that I collect for this purpose. 

At this point I stand back from the screen with a cup of tea or glass of wine, ducking back in to adjust the position of a leaf by several pixels, or lighten and darken parts of the background. This part of the process seems to take the longest. A lot of my life is taken up with moving something five pixels that way, then three back, but I’m convinced it does matter. 

Once I’m relatively happy with an image, I save a flattened version (the originals can be made of more than 50 layers and be a few GB in size), and get an 8x10 inch test print done. I can then compare the screen version to the print, and make any further tonal adjustments necessary. 

What tales have you re-worked and why? 

My main project at the moment is an anthology of fairy tales about strong girls and women in pre-golden age fairy tales. So many stories of adventurous and independent women were lost to history; some as far back as when Anderson, Perrault, Grimm(s) et al were collecting tales, but particularly in the Victorian era when fairy tales were in their golden age. Victorian times meant Victorian values, and good girls were certainly not brought up for adventure and independence! 

I think it’s so important for children (girls and boys) to understand that we have traditional stories that were far more balanced than the rescued princess stories we have been lumped with. There is a lot of wonderful contemporary literature that addresses the gender imbalance in fairy tales now, but at the moment my interest lies in traditional stories of strong girls that have been passed down within their own cultural context. 

The story I’m working on right now is 'The Stolen Bairn and the Sidh'. It was reported to be an old Scottish tale in the 1912 book in which it was published, but I’m in the process of hunting for other versions for verification, as there seem to be strong elements of Celtic and Cornish mythology tied up within it. The story centres around a single mother, whose child is stolen by the fairies. She uses her own resources, and the magic held within a mother’s love, to rescue her son. It’s one of my favourites.

What (or who) inspires you, in your life and in your work? 

When I began working with fairy tales, I was very much inspired by golden age illustrators, particularly their use of silhouettes layered against rich colours; Arthur Rackham, Kay Nielson and Edmund Dulac. Jan Pienkowski too, was a slightly more recent inspiration. As I’ve delved deeper into the genre I’ve found many more fabulous artists, including many women illustrators. I recently collated a few into a post on my blog

I’m inspired by the fairy tales themselves, naturally, and also by the wonderful community of contemporary re-tellers and re-imaginers of fairy tales. Kate Forsyth (hello!), Danielle Wood (another incredible Australian writer), Angela Carter, Neil Gaiman… I could go on. It’s a fabulous genre, with so much to explore.

And of course I’ve been very much been inspired by my two daughters, who are my biggest fans, and most honest critics. 

Is your work for sale? If so, how much?

Yes, absolutely it is for sale! Where to start… Actually, I just wrote a long and tortured spiel about pricing, and deleted it. As with many artists, I think talking money is the hardest part. If anyone reads this and would like to purchase work, here’s a list of straight up artworks. For these and anything else, do please get in touch. All prices are in Australian dollars, and don’t include postage.

Limited Edition 20x16” (60x40cm) unframed print: $250
Limited Edition 20x16” (60x40cm) framed print: $500* 
Artist Proof 10x8” (25x20cm) unframed print: $95
Artist Proof 10x8” (25x20cm) framed print: $120
Postcards $2 each, or six for $10. 

*For overseas purchases, I would recommend an unframed print, and getting it framed yourself. The freight alone would be more than the cost of the frame!

I am also happy to print to a requested size, and take commissions, so feel free to get in touch to discuss options.

Email me at for any queries, or just to say hello. It always makes my day. If you would like some ways find me on the internet, my website is at I blog at Oh, and please do connect on Twitter - I’m @lorena_c, and tweet about fairy tales, art, literature… all and sundry.

Thanks Kate, for the wonderful thought provoking questions, and for profiling my work on your fabulous blog. I feel very lucky to have met you online, and hope to catch up in real life one day!

BITTER GREENS in Best Books of 2014 by Library Journal

Thursday, October 23, 2014

I've just had some very exciting news!

BITTER GREENS has been named one of the Best Historical Novels of 2014 by Library Journal in the US. This is really thrilling news for me - I was one of only two Australian authors named (the other was Liane Moriarty for BIG LITTLE LIES). 

BITTER GREENS has been out in the US for a month now and has been getting some absolutely wonderful reviews. 

Here are just a few: 

'I've never quite come across a book like BITTER GREENS and I highly doubt I will find something quite as magical and heartbreaking in the near future.' Scott Reads It

"You know those books that feel written just for you? It’s as though the author looked deep into your soul and wrote a tale with you in mind. Meet Bitter Greens. It really is as though Kate Forsyth peeked into my heart and crafted a story for me and me alone ... this really is a perfect novel." The Pretty Good Gatsby 

There is so much to this novel that there's no way possible for me to talk about it all in one review. This is the first book I've read by the author, and I was blown away. There is so much depth and life in the novel - with the intertwining story lines, beautiful imagery, and incredibly realistic characters, among many other things - that it can easily be called a masterpiece of fiction.' A Dream Within A Dream

I'm so glad that US readers are loving BITTER GREENS so much, because I poured my heart and soul into this novel. 

In the meantime, please forgive my recent silence! I'm travelling & touring & trying to finish my next historical novel for adults (a retelling of the Grimm Brothers' Beauty & the Beast, set in Nazi Germany).

BITTER GREENS: Juliet Marillier interviews me about the writing of my novel 'Bitter Greens'

Thursday, October 09, 2014

When BITTER GREENS was first published, Juliet Marillier interviewed me on Writers Unboxed - here is that interview for your reading pleasure:  

Kate, congratulations on this wonderful new novel and thanks so much for agreeing to talk to Writer Unboxed. Bitter Greens is one of those books that breaks out of recognised genre moulds – it’s part historical novel, part fairy tale, and part serious examination of gender roles, power and cruelty in 16th and 17th century France and Italy. What would you like our readers to know about the story ?

I began wanting to retell the Rapunzel fairy tale, which has fascinated and puzzled me ever since I first read it as a child. I’ve always loved both fairy tales and retellings of fairy tales, but it seemed to me that most reworkings of the Rapunzel story sidestepped the biggest problems in it. For example, why did the witch want to lock her in a tower. Why was Rapunzel’s hair so impossibly long? Why didn’t Rapunzel ask the prince to bring a rope so she could climb down and escape? 

The other big problem with fairy tale retellings, I think, is that they can lack surprise and suspense, the two ingredients I consider the most important in creating a compelling narrative. The stories are so well-known that it’s difficult to build suspense, or create switches and reversals, when the reader knows the story so well. Most writers solve this problem by subverting the tale, but this usually fails to surprise as well. I wanted to be faithful to the haunting, beautiful feel of the familiar tale, while still writing a gripping, unputdownable novel. 

JULIET: I loved the complexity of the novel, especially the way you intertwined the stories of three very different women.  Each thread is told in a different voice and each is distinctive in style. Did you plan from the first to structure the book that way? How did you go about putting the three threads together ?

I am a fervent believer in the importance of planning the internal architecture of a story. I think structure is the invisible underpinnings of the narrative, and any book which fails usually does so because of a poor internal structure. So I always think very carefully about how I’m going to build my narrative. 
My initial plan was to have the three narrative threads being equal in length, and braided together like a plait, so that the structure of the novel symbolically reflected the key motif of the Rapunzel fairy tale, the impossibly long plait. 

Usually I write in third person multiple POV, but I felt very strongly that the frame narrative, the story of Charlotte-Rose and how she came to write her fairy tale, should be told in first person. I had never written in first person before, but I really enjoyed it, and I found Charlotte-Rose’s voice came to me strongly right away. I wrote the entirety of Charlotte-Rose’s story, from the beginning to the end, indicating where I thought I would intercut with my other two narrative threads. 

I then told the story of Margherita (my Rapunzel character) in third person, and in a far more simple style, because this was a tale being told to Charlotte-Rose by another. Once I had finished the whole story, I then wove these two together, making sure I kept a fine balance between the two different tales. 

Only then did I turn to the third narrative thread, the tale of the witch Selena Leonelli, who is a Venetian courtesan, and muse to the artist Tiziano. Her story was much darker, and seemed to me to have a kind of potency or intensity, that would be dissipated if I broke it up to interweave with the other two tales. It woudl also mean too much chopping and changing. So I changed my plan, and made the witch’s tale the dark heart of the novel, the unexpected midpoint reversal which changed everything you thought you knew about Charlotte-Rose’s and Margherita’s stories. 

JULIET: You’re an extremely versatile writer, with a body of published work including award-winning novels for children and young adults, two best-selling fantasy series for adult readers, collections of poetry and an earlier literary novel. What drives you to keep challenging yourself as a writer?

I always think that the great dangers for any creative artist are smugness and predictability. Market pressures mean that writers are constantly being asked for more of the same, yet it is very difficult to keep writing the same storyline, with the same characters, and not start to feel stale and monotonous. 

I always want to write better than I have before, to keep pushing myself to create something fresh and unusual and exciting. I want my readers to know they will find a vivid, compelling, surprising and emotionally moving story every time they sit down with one of my books. It’s easier to win new readers than it is to win back dissatisfied readers. 

Of course, every time someone loves one of my books, they write to me begging me to write a sequel, or another just like it. I always tell them that I hope they’ll read my other books too, and love them just as much.

I know Bitter Greens was written as part of your work on a doctorate in fairy tale retellings at the University of Technology in Sydney (correct me if this is wrong.) How different was this experience from writing your earlier adult novels? Did the academic side of things put any constraints on the way you created the book? Was your process different?

I thought, when I first began to conceive and develop the idea of doing a retelling of Rapunzel, that it would make a fascinating doctoral project.  ‘Bitter Greens’ was a very research-intensive book to write, and it seemed a good way to maximise all those long hours reading through scholarly fairy tale articles.  I had actually written a novel before under university supervision – my novel ‘Full Fathom Five’ was written as my thesis for my Master of Arts in Writing. (Although I wrote it in my 20s, it was my eighth published novel).
I do not feel my doctorate put any constraints on me in a creative sense. My supervisor, the novelist Debra Adelaide, was more concerned in helping me find the voice of my protagonist, and to help me learn to be a better writer. 

I am always eager to learn, and so I was grateful to her for her close scrutiny of my work. I’m not used to showing my early drafts to anyone and so I did find that difficult, but she was very tactful.

I actually love writing articles and essays as well as poems and novels, and so I’ve been enjoying the theoretical aspect of the doctorate as well. I like to know everything I possibly can about a time or a place or a person or a subject before I write about it, and so I would have studied just as intensively for the novel as I am now doing for my exigesis. I am writing about the many different retellings of Rapunzel, from the earliest Maiden in the Tower tales right down to Disney’s ‘Tangled’ and the use of Rapunzel motifs in advertising and popular culture. It’s fascinating. 

JULIET: There must have been a huge amount of research behind Bitter Greens, though you use your historical material with a storyteller’s light touch – it’s never laid on too heavily. I understand you travelled to France and Italy with your children to do research. Tell us a bit about that.

I did! It was wonderful. I have always taken my children with me on research trips. They’ve been to London, Paris, Venice and Edinburgh, to the Isle of Skye, Sussex, Gascony and Lake Garda. They’re lucky children!

I feel it very important to actually go to the places I describe in my books. A writer doesn’t simply describe a mountain, or a lake, or a castle, or a city street. They need to imbue that scene with some kind of emotional significance. They need to know what the characters would hear, and smell, and feel. 

Kate writing in Florence

The book is beautifully structured. I particularly loved the Rapunzel poems by various writers that stand at the start of each section.  What do you think it is about this particular fairy tale that grabs people’s imagination?

Rapunzel is a tale about love, sex and power. Psychologically speaking, it is normally interpreted as a tale about a young girl on the brink of puberty who is kept locked away from the world by a mother-figure who seeks to protect her. Only by defying her mother, and coming to terms with her own sexuality, is the girl able to grow into maturity. However, like all fairy tales it is open to much deeper interpretations. 

JULIET: Some passages of Bitter Greens must have been exceptionally challenging to write. I’m referring in particular to scenes of sexual violence, part of your realistic depiction of the society those women lived in. I found parts of the book extremely disturbing to read. What were your reasons for choosing to present this material so openly?

It is true a few scenes were exceptionally difficult to write. In particular, the gang rape of Selena’s mother. I had to get up and leave the computer, and come back to it, only to flee again. Yet it felt important to me, both psychologically in the development of an understanding of what drove Selena to do what she did, and historically, to illuminate what life was like for women of that era. One of the things that most fascinated and disturbed me about the Rapunzel tale is that it is a woman who imprisons another woman. Why? What led her to do such a terrible thing?  Most retellings of Rapunzel never truly examine this, and yet it was one of the questions that first spurred me to explore the tale.

Although it was so awful to write, it seemed to have a ring of truth about it.

When you were first considering writing this, you said it would be ‘a dark gothic retelling of a dark gothic fairytale.’ It’s certainly a gritty and challenging story, revealing among other things the unsavoury reality behind the frothy and glamorous French court. Do you think most fairytales have that shadow about them, the darkness beneath the charming surface? 

I do indeed. It is one of the things that most intrigues me about fairytales. I love the haunting beauty of them, the magical strangeness, the joyous triumph over adversity. Yet I am also drawn by the darkness of them, the sense of a cost to be paid for that joy. 

JULIET: I understand you’re already well into a new project, a novel about Dortchen Wild, the Grimm Brothers’ ‘girl next door’. And it includes a retelling of a Grimm fairytale, ‘Allerleirauh’ or ‘All Kinds of Fur.’ Can you tell us about the new novel? 

KATE: Oh, yes, I’m completely obsessed with Dortchen Wild now, just like I was completely obsessed with Charlotte-Rose de la Force last year. I think I’m drawn to the forgotten, cobwebbed corners of history, particularly when it relates to extraordinary, neglected women.
A drawing of Dortchen Wild by Ludwig Grimm

Dortchen Wild was twelve when she met the Grimm Brothers. She lived next door to them, above her father’s apothecary shop, and was the source of some of their most compelling and unusual stories. She told Wilhelm Grimm ‘Rumpelstiltskin’, ‘Hansel and Gretel’, ‘The Frog King’, ‘Six Swans’ (a favourite of mine as you well know, Juliet!) and ‘The Singing Bone’ (about a murdered boy whose bones are used to make a harp that then sings to accuse his murderers). She told a very gruesome version of ‘Bluebeard’ called ‘Fitcher’s Bird’, the primary difference being that the heroine saves herself and her sisters, and a very beautiful version of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ called ‘The Springing, Singing Lark’. A key tale of hers was ‘Allerleirauh’ or ‘All Kinds of Fur’, better known as ‘Deerskin’ or ‘Catskin’ about a princess whose father wants to marry her. 

I’m interweaving the beautiful and rather tragic story of Dortchen and Wilhelm’s love affair with her tales, drawing upon ‘All-Kinds-of-Fur’ in particular (Dortchen’s father was a very stern and strict man who forbade her to see her one true love, and who may indeed have abused her). 

IN CONVERSATION: Kate Forsyth & Sophie Masson talk Fairy Tales (Part 3)

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Kate Forsyth and Sophie Masson are both award-winning and internationally published Australian authors whose novels are often inspired by fairytales. Although Kate and Sophie live six hours drive away from each other, they often meet at literary festivals and conferences, or, when their paths cross, for lunch or dinner. They share a love of fairy tales, gardens, cooking, reading, writing, and living the big life. 

Today they get together to talk about the craft of writing, and the challenge of rewriting fairytales. Kate's novel Bitter Greens is a retelling of the Rapunzel fairytale, interwoven with the dramatic life story of the woman who first told the tale, the 17th century French writer, Charlotte-Rose de la Force. Sophie’s novel Moonlight and Ashes, was inspired by Aschenputtel, the Grimm’s version of the well-known Cinderella tale. This conversation was first published on the wondrous fairy tale e-magazine ENCHANTED CONVERSATIONS.


Kate: What are the biggest challenges of retelling such a well-known tale as Cinderella?

Sophie: The biggest challenges of retelling such a well-known tale as Cinderella is that people have certain assumptions about the character and the way the story goes. But it's my story, and so I've made it very much my vision of the character and the story arc. In fact the challenges are what make the story so good to write as you are constantly open to the unexpected that will transform familiar territory into surprising discovery. 

Kate: I think the key word there is ‘surprising’.  Many fairytale retellings lose that sense of surprise and wonder that is so important in hooking in the reader, and keep them wanting to turn the pages till long past midnight. I saw that as one of the biggest challenges in writing Bitter Greens. I decided one way to reinvigorate the story was to tell it as if it really happened, in our own world. The Rapunzel sections of Bitter Greens are set in Renaissance Venice, and feature real historical personages, such as the painter Titian and the fairytale teller Giambattista Basile (who wrote one of the earliest known versions of the Maiden in the Tower tale). I also chose to interweave the fairy tale retelling with the story of Charlotte-Rose de la Force, a scandalous writer of the late 17th century who wrote the version of Rapunzel that we know now. By making the story seem real, and entirely possible, I hoped to give the story new energy, filling it with suspense and surprise and spectacle. 

Sophie: Oh, yes, I do agree. Setting the story in a real place, albeit transformed, as Ashberg is a transformed version of Prague, really helps with that as the usual fairy tale territory is rather vague--once upon a time in a land far away. That said, the story really took off when I started with 'Once upon a time'--only that too was transformed, as readers will see when they read the book!

Kate: How closely do you stick to the known story? Do you feel free to invert, subvert, or generally play around with it? 

Sophie: I start from that familiar territory; I just make the journey go into different directions. I certainly feel completely free to do what I want, only I don't like to invert or subvert just for the sake of it, there's got to be a good reason for it. There's also a good reason why fairy tales continue to resonate with us--they really feel like they describe human nature and if you do too much consciously-ideological 'subverting' of that, it doesn't feel satisfying. But there's lots of scope to play around, still!

Kate: Cinderella has been retold so many times – what have you done with the tale that makes your work different?

Sophie: Well, most of all, my Cinderella--Selena--is no meek, resigned character. She can be prickly, and tough, but she's also got great tenderness and great intelligence. I wanted her to really be the heroine of her own story. But I also wanted the love interest to be interesting and strong, and to bring the whole setting alive in an unusual and exciting way. 

Kate: Oh, I love a bit of romance in a novel. Though isn’t that one of the reasons why we all love fairy tales so much? They’re so romantic!

Sophie: There’s more than ‘a bit of’ romance in Bitter Greens, Kate! It’s very steamy in parts.

Kate: Oh, I know. But the original tale told by Charlotte-Rose de la Force was really very sexy. Her heroine Persinette was seduced by the prince and fell pregnant to him, and their love affair was betrayed by the growing size of her belly. Later, when the witch cast her out, Persinette bore twins by herself in the wilderness. The Grimm Brothers changed the story so that any hint of sex was taken out, to make it more suitable for a childish readership. 

Sophie: Charlotte-Rose de la Force was not the retiring type either, by your account.

Kate: Oh, no, she was banished from the court because of her scandalous love affairs. One time she even dressed up as a dancing bear to gain access to her much younger lover, who had been locked away by his parents. It was this anecdote which first sparked my interest in her.

Sophie: one thing that draws many of us to re-writing fairy tales is the chance to give a voice and a sense of spirit to these fairy tale heroines who have been made so passive by re-tellers such as the Grimm brothers.

Kate: Okay, Sophie, let’s talk about craft. What’s your favourite part of writing a novel? And least favourite part?

Sophie: My favourite part of writing a novel is the beginning--so exciting, like being in love, an intense yet floaty feeling! Everything seems possible. And I love the end, when everything comes together in a kind of perfect symphony (hopefully!) I also love getting to know my characters, and also, in this kind of novel, creating magic.  My least favourite part is the middle--sometimes I have to push myself through it!  What about you, Kate, what's your favourite and least favourite part?

Kate: I love everything about WRITING the novel, even the times in the middle when the way forward seems unclear and you’re afraid you’ve lost the way. The only part I’m not fond of is the proofreading at the end, when I’ve read every sentence so many times it loses its freshness. However, I know it’s important, and it’s my last chance to make the book as good as I possibly can, and so I knuckle down and do the job. And it’s worth it when you finally get to hold the beautiful finished book in your hands ... now that’s a truly wonderful feeling! 

Sophie: Isn’t it? 

IN CONVERSATION: Kate Forsyth & Sophie Mason talk about Fairy Tales (Part 2)

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Kate Forsyth and Sophie Masson are both award-winning and internationally published Australian authors whose novels are often inspired by fairytales. Although Kate and Sophie live six hours drive away from each other, they often meet at literary festivals and conferences, or, when their paths cross, for lunch or dinner. They share a love of fairy tales, gardens, cooking, reading, writing, and living the big life. 

Today they get together to talk about their fascination with fairy tales. Kate's novel Bitter Greens, is a retelling of the Rapunzel fairytale, interwoven with the dramatic life story of the woman who first told the tale, the 17th century French writer, Charlotte-Rose de la Force. Sophie’s novel, Moonlight and Ashes, was inspired by Aschenputtel, the Grimm’s version of the well-known Cinderella tale. 

Kate: Do you have a favourite fairy tale, Sophie? Which is it?

Sophie: My favourite fairy tale is probably Beauty and the Beast--it is so romantic and exciting but also it has such a spirited heroine! And I'm currently writing a novel, Scarlet in the Snow, based on the Russian version of the story, ‘The Scarlet Flower’. But I also love many others, including ‘The Firebird’, ‘Puss in Boots’, and ‘Sleeping Beauty’ (I’ve written books based on these ones too), ‘The Wild Swans’, ‘The Goose Girl’ (there are elements of ‘The Goose Girl’ in Moonlight and Ashes too), ‘Ashenputtel’, and many, many others.  How about you?

Kate: I love Beauty & the Beast too! And Sleeping Beauty, and, of course, Rapunzel. The story of Rapunzel haunted me for many years, and of course was the inspiration for my latest novel Bitter Greens. I became so obsessed by the story I’m even studying it for my doctorate at the moment. It has so much in it that’s intriguing for a novelist – obsession, desire, madness, secrets, love ...

But I think Six Swans has always been the one for me. There’s something about that mute girl, weaving nettles into shirts for her enchanted brothers, not permitted to speak or laugh for six long years ... it just gives me the shivers. I’m actually written a novel about the girl who first told ‘The Six Swans’ to the Grimm brothers, as well as many more of their most compelling and powerful fairy tales. Her name was Dortchen Wild, and she ended up marrying Wilhelm Grimm. It’s the most beautiful, dramatic love story, with a lot of darkness in it, but also beauty ... which really sums up the power of fairy tales, in general, doesn’t it? (This novel is THE WILD GIRL)

Sophie: It does indeed! It sounds a most intriguing novel, Kate. And it seems to me as if you are just as fascinated by the tellers of fairy tales, as much by the tales themselves.

Kate: Yes, that’s true. When writing Bitter Greens, my retelling of Rapunzel, I became so intrigued by the life and character of Charlotte-Rose de la Force, who first told the tale as we best know it ... well, she ended up dominating the book. She was such an amazing woman, witty, intelligent, headstrong. Her life scandalised the court of the Sun King and she was locked up for her wild and wicked ways. Dortchen Wild is very different ... but I’m now as obsessed with her as I was with Charlotte-Rose.

Sophie: I think it’s impossible to write a novel unless you’re obsessed with the story. I know I’m the same!

Kate: Sophie, so many of your novels are inspired by fairy tales. What most fascinates you about these old tales?

Sophie: I think fairy tales are extraordinary because they are so simple, so clear: and yet so rich and complex. You can never get to the end of their meanings, and they are the most wonderful source of inspiration for writers that I know of. The enchanted world they portray is both utterly magical and yet utterly believable; they are so wise yet so funny; so brutal, yet so romantic. They are distillations of understanding and knowledge; they can be profoundly disturbing; and yet they are also enormous fun. Why do you think we can get so much from fairytales, still, Kate? 

Kate: I love the fact that fairy tales operate on two levels. On the surface, they are magical adventures filled with wonder, enchantment, beauty, romance, danger, and a satisfying happy ending. On a deeper level, 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 (or listener) can act out universal fears and desires, and so resolve deep, subconscious tensions that the reader  (or listener) perhaps is not even aware of. One more question in that vein: you've written a lot of novels inspired by fairy tales. Which is your personal favourite?

Sophie: Moonlight and Ashes, probably. I feel like I've said everything I wanted to say in it. It's very powerful and disturbing (and at heart, that story of the abused, neglected child is infinitely disturbing) but it's also gripping, exciting, romantic, magical and mysterious. I feel like everything came together perfectly in it, and that is very exciting. And I can't wait till it comes out so I can see if readers share my excitement!  But I do love my other fairy tale novels too, each in their own way. 

Kate: Although many of my books are rich with fairy tale themes and motifs, Bitter Greens is really my first true retelling.  I loved writing it so much, it is definitely my favourite. I love the way that these old, old tales still have so much mystery and beauty and power. 

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