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INTERVIEW: Katherine Clements author of The Crimson Ribbon

Friday, April 25, 2014

Please welcome Katherine Clements, the author of the utterly beautiful and brilliant THE CRIMSON RIBBON to the blog as we chat about life, inspirations and reading loves. 

Are you a daydreamer too?

Yes, absolutely. 

Have you always wanted to be a writer?

I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was young. I used to write stories and create imaginary worlds as a child, and co-wrote my first novel when I was about twelve years old (a Lord of the Rings rip off, complete with terrible illustrations). But I lost my way for a while and didn’t start writing again until my thirties.

How did you get the first flash of inspiration for THE CRIMSON RIBBON?

I became interested in the 17th century after reading Rose Tremain’s wonderful novel Restoration. I began reading history about the period and was fascinated by the English Civil Wars. It was in a biography of Oliver Cromwell that I first encountered Elizabeth Poole, a mysterious woman who gave evidence of providential visions to the Army Council in an attempt to influence the trial of Charles I. 

Something about her intrigued me and this led to more research about women’s history during the period. After that it was a process of finding a story that allowed me to explore some of the themes and experiences that interested me. Using a relatively unknown figure gave me some factual structure but a lot of freedom to do this. I recently picked up my copy of that same Cromwell biography and found the bookmark I used back then – it was a train ticket stub, dated almost ten years ago, so Elizabeth has been hanging around for a long time!

How extensively do you plan your novels?

For The Crimson Ribbon I didn’t do much planning at all. I had characters, a beginning, and I knew where I wanted to end, but not how I was going to get there. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this, as it took me ages. For my second book, I’ve had to plan more thoroughly, though I find that, despite my best intentions, things change as the characters develop and they begin to misbehave.

Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?

Not yet, although my characters sometimes inhabit my dreams.

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

Not really. I made a lot of small discoveries that influenced the direction of the story. One of the things I love about writing historical fiction is taking the facts and then creating a story around them – filling in the gaps, if you will. It’s like solving a puzzle.

Where do you write, and when?

I prefer to write at home or somewhere quiet. I’m experimenting with public spaces at the moment – libraries mostly – but it has to be peaceful. I can’t work with distractions like music or TV. I prefer to be near a window with a view of trees and sky. I dream of having my own study. I write best first thing in the morning, and in the evening, but I’m hopeless in the afternoon. 

What is your favourite part of writing?

I love rewriting and revising. For me the first draft is about finding out who the characters are and getting the shape of the story down. My first drafts are nearly always bad, but after that the fun begins. I love taking a scene and polishing it, finding exactly the right words or right image to make it work. And I love the moments when something just clicks – the perfect research fact turning up at the point you need it, or the times when a character comes alive and does something unexpected but somehow inevitable. My very favourite thing is when I’m completely inside a scene, seeing it, hearing the characters speak – utterly lost in the world I’ve created because it’s so real to me. Those are the moments that make writing a joy. 

What do you do when you get blocked?

Sometimes I need to step away from a piece because it isn’t working, or I’ve tangled myself in knots.  I take a walk, go for a swim, go dancing or call a good friend; anything to take myself outside of my own head. It’s been said many times, but the answers nearly always come eventually, if I just stop worrying about it.

How do you keep your well of inspiration full?

Reading mostly, both fiction and non-fiction. Every time I read a history book I find more ideas. I watch a lot of costume drama too. I like to visit historical houses, castles, museums, art galleries etc. Time off is important. Thinking time even more so. I always remember, some years ago, hearing Rose Tremain talk about the importance of just sitting and staring out of the window. It’s important to remember that this can be essential work too. 

Do you have any rituals that help you to write?

Lots of tea. 

Who are ten of your favourite writers?

This changes all the time but for today I’ll go for some of my favourite ladies: Sarah Dunant, Hilary Mantel, Jane Austen, Sarah Waters, Rose Tremain, Charlotte Brontë, Rosemary Sutcliff, Susan Cooper, Elizabeth Gaskell and George Eliot.

(Kate: Oooh, many of these are among my favourite writers too!)

Rosemary Sutcliff

What do you consider to be good writing? 

Writing that transports the reader. Writing that is convincing and emotionally engaging in some way. Really good writing contains truth, or reveals something, and does it with beautiful, pleasurable, perfectly chosen words. 

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

Read a lot. Write a lot. Write anything. Then rewrite. The craft and the magic are in the rewrite.

What are you working on now? 

I’m working on my second novel – as yet untitled – which is a re-telling of the legend of The Wicked Lady. (You might know the 1945 film with Margaret Lockwood and James Mason that was loosely based on the same story). The legend tells of a noble-born highwaywoman who terrorized Hertfordshire in the 1650s. I’m bringing together research on the real life figure to whom the legend has traditionally been pinned, and the myths surrounding her, to create something entirely new.
Kate: it sounds wonderful - I'll be looking out for that!

You can follow Katherine on Twitter at @KL_Clements


BOOK LIST: Favourite Books set in the 17th Century by Katherine Clements

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Today on the blog, please welcome Katherine Clements who wrote THE CRIMSON RIBBON, a historical novel set in the tiem of Oliver Cromwell which I absolutely loved. I thought it was brilliant! 

Katherine has drawn up a list of her favourite books set in the 17th century - many of her favourites are favourites of mine too but there's a few I hadn't read and have gone straight on to my to-be-read list!

Over to Katherine: 

Restoration by Rose Tremain

This is one of my favourite novels and the one that first got me interested in 17th century history. Set during the early years of Charles II’s reign, it tells the story of Robert Merivel, an ambitious young medical student, seeking advancement in Restoration London. Finding favour with the King, Merivel is at first thrust into a life of opulence and dissipation, only to have everything taken away when he incurs Charles’s wrath. Meticulously researched and utterly convincing, the book perfectly captures some of the concerns of the age and is a great story, but the real triumph is in our leading man. Merivel is a fascinating character; fallible, self-centred and dissolute but always likeable, he’s a man of his time but also relevant and sympathetic to a modern reader. The ending of this novel is perfect. Tremain’s recent sequel Merivel is also excellent.

(Kate: I have not read this in many years - maybe I'd better dig it out and read again ...)

As Meat Loves Salt by Maria McCann

Anyone interested in the political background to The Crimson Ribbon should read As Meat Loves Salt. Set in the 1640s it follows the story of Jacob Cullen, a servant in a Royalist household (and possible murderer) who is forced to flee justice on the eve of his wedding day. We follow Jacob through a stint in Cromwell’s New Model Army, the printing trade in London, a forbidden love affair and his time as a member of an idealistic Digger community. A very rich read, dense with period detail and ideas, it’s a fantastic evocation of Civil War England through the eyes of one very troubled man. I also enjoyed McCann’s second novel The Wilding, which is set later in the 17th century and is a more intimate book, dealing with the lingering impact that the Civil Wars had on individuals and communities.

(Kate: I've heard of this before - its going on my to-be-read list!)

An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears

The action in this novel is set in Restoration Oxford, and centres on a murder trial and the woman who stands accused. Told through the eyes of four narrators the truth is gradually revealed and completely gripping. I adored the depth of detail this book, the evocation of Oxford in the 1660s (a time of scientific, religious and political ferment), the strong, believable characters and the flawless writing. The amazing research here is evident as Pears brings to life some little known real-life characters and gives us insight into the 17th century mindset. It’s dark, fascinating and seductive. One of the books I wish I’d written.

The Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

Brooks mixes fact, popular belief and fiction in this brutal retelling of the story of the inhabitants of Eyam, a small Derbyshire village, who chose voluntary quarantine in an attempt to stop the spread of the Plague in 1666. Told through the eyes of Anna Frith, a young wife and mother, the novel recounts the harrowing events that follow. I read this while working on The Crimson Ribbon and it has many similarities. It deals with some of the same themes: a young, female protagonist dealing with injustice and prejudice, blurred boundaries in a close female friendship, religious zealotry, herb lore and accusations of witchcraft. I had high hopes and wasn’t disappointed. Brooks’ writing is beautiful and evocative. The story is one of grief, love, hardship and hope in adversity. I was thinking about this book long after I put it down.

(Kate: This is one of my all-time favourite books too!)

John Saturnall’s Feast by Lawrence Norfolk.

There are many joys in this masterful novel but one of the best has to be the luxurious, mouthwatering descriptions of 17th century cooking. Beginning in the reign of Charles I and running through the Civil Wars, Interregnum and into the Restoration, the political upheaval provides an influential backdrop for the story of John Sandall, a young runaway looking for sanctuary after the untimely death of his mother. He finds it in the kitchens of Buckland Manor, where his talent for cooking thrusts him into the path of aristocratic love interest Lucretia. I loved the way that Norfolk deftly mixes meticulous research with myth and invented history to create a totally believable story with a sense of otherworldliness. It captures the contradictions of the age in an unequal, changing society, from the sumptuous banquets of the rich to the horrific poverty and struggle caused by the wars. And it’s a great love story too. A beautiful read.

(Kate: this sounds wonderful - I must pick this one up!)

If you enjoyed this list you may also enjoy my BEST BOOKS SET DURING THE TIME OF CHARLES II

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

BOOK REVIEW - The Crimson Ribbon by Katherine Clements

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Crimson Ribbon

Author: Katherine Clements

Publisher: Headline Review, part of the Hachette Group

Age Group & Genre: Historical Fiction for Adults

Reviewer: Kate Forsyth

Source of the book:  I was sent an advance reading copy by the publisher – and very glad I was to receive it too as I loved the book!

The Blurb: 

England 1646. The Civil War is raging and society turned upside down. 

What should be a rare moment of blessing for the town of Ely takes a brutal turn and Ruth Flowers is left with little choice but to flee the household of Oliver Cromwell, the only home she has ever known. On the road to London, Ruth sparks an uneasy alliance with a deserting soldier, the battle-scarred and troubled Joseph. But when she reaches the city, it’s in the Poole household that she finds refuge. 

Lizzie Poole, beautiful and charismatic, enthrals the vulnerable Ruth, who binds herself inextricably to Lizzie’s world. But in these troubled times, Ruth is haunted by fears of her past catching up with her. And as Lizzie’s radical ideas escalate, Ruth finds herself carried to the heart of the country’s conflict, to the trial of a king.

Based on the real figure of the extraordinary Elizabeth Poole, The Crimson Ribbon conjures a mesmerising story of two women’s obsession, superstition and hope.

What I Thought: 
I was utterly enthralled from the very first line of this novel: ‘Sometimes death comes like an arrow, sudden and swift, an unforseen shot from an unheeded bow.’ 

THE CRIMSON RIBBON is set in England in 1646, in the midst of the English Civil War. Oliver Cromwell leads the army of the people against a tyrannical king, witches are hunted down, the skies are full of evil portents. A young woman named Ruth Flowers is on the run, trying to find a safe place for herself. She is helped by an enigmatic young soldier named Joseph, but – bruised by the encounter - takes refuge in the house of an extraordinary young woman named Elizabeth Poole. Her beauty and kindness ensnare Ruth, and she uses an old charm to tie herself to her new mistress. But Elizabeth is as troubled as she is charismatic, and – as the King of England finds himself imprisoned and on trial for his life - Ruth finds herself drawn into danger, intrigue, witchcraft, and treason. 

I found myself utterly unable to put this book down, constantly surprised, and constantly rewarded. This is an astonishingly assured debut title from Katherine Clements, and I’m really hoping she has more stories like this one up her sleeve!

Katherine Clements on Twitter: @KL_Clements


SPOTLIGHT: My Creative processes

Monday, March 24, 2014

I was recently tagged by the lovely Belinda Landsberry to take part a worldwide blog meme on creative writing processes. Each week, authors post their answers to four questions, then tag someone else to play along the following week.

You can read all about Belinda and her creative processes here.
And you can read all about mine here! 

What am I working on?
At the moment I’m in the final throes of writing the last book in a five-book fantasy adventure series for children aged 9+. Called The Impossible Quest, it’s classic high fantasy, with quests, witches, magical beasts like dragons and unicorns, and a battle to save the land. I’m hoping it will be a rollicking good read with lots of unexpected twists and turns.

In the meantime, I’m finishing off my doctorate on fairy tale retellings and doing the research for another historical novel for adults. Tentatively called The Beast’s Garden, it’s a retelling of Beauty & the Beast set in Nazi Germany. 

Why do I write what I do?
I don’t know. Mystery is at the heart of all creativity. People ask me all the time: why don’t you write a werewolf romance’ (or YA dystopia, or steamy erotica, or whatever else is hot at that time), and all I can do is shrug and say, ‘that’s not what I write’. 

The story chooses me, I don’t choose the story.  

An idea will come knocking on the door of my imagination, and I open the door and let it in. The story tells me what it needs to be. Sometimes I wish that story would leave me alone. It’s not what I want to write at all! Yet it bothers me and bothers me until I give it a voice and a shape. Of course, what I’m doing is writing the sort of stories I like to read … but it’s more than that. It’s an imperative I cannot ignore. 

How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Mmm, an interesting question. I know that my life as a writer differs from most others writers in that I write across genres and age groups. 

For example, I write picture books, and essays (one of which was selected for The Best Australian Essays 2013, edited by Robert Manne), and novels for all age groups (I like to say that you can read me from birth to death), plus I’ve had a collection of poetry published. 

Some of my books are fantasy, some are historical fiction, and several are something in between. In all of my books, I think I am mingling history, mystery, magic and romance to create a book that will, I hope, transcend genre boundaries. When I use the word ‘romance’, I’m using it in its widest definition, meaning a foregrounding of emotion and intuition and imagination. 

How does my writing process work?
I spend a long time thinking about the story, and scribbling ideas down in a notebook. I call this ‘daydreaming the story to life’. To an outsider, it must look like an awful waste of time as I spend so much of it staring into space.  I also compile my library, as I begin my reading and researching. A children’s fantasy novel does not need anything like the number of books an historical novel for adults needs! 

I take notes as I research, and begin to build timelines and maps and other ephemera that will help me see the world of the story in my mind’s eye. I usually don’t start writing until I have a strong narrative arc visualised in my imagination. 


Once I start writing, I usually write swiftly in spurts, with periods in which I need to stop and daydream and plot some more. I write freely, allowing my imagination to run with the story, and then I edit hard. I love the editing process, this idea of making an uncut gem sparkle and shine.  

Who’s up next Monday, 31 March: 
Jesse Blackadder is an internationally award-winning author of both adult and children’s fiction, including The Raven’s Heart and Chasing the Light: A Novel of Antarctica for adults and Stay: the last dog in Antarctica and Paruku The Desert Brumby for children. 

Pamela Freeman is an Australian author of books for both adults and children. Most of her work is fantasy but she has also written mystery stories, science fiction, family dramas and non-fiction. She won the NSW History Prize for Young People in 2006 for her fictional biography of Mary MacKillop. 

SPOTLIGHT: Dortchen Wild, fairy tale teller

Sunday, March 02, 2014

THE WILD GIRL has been named The Most Memorable Love Story of 2013 by Australian readers ... here's the story behind the story ...


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.

INTERVIEW - Carolyn Turgeon, author of Fairest of Them All

Friday, February 28, 2014

Please welcome Carolyn Turgeon, the author of the gorgeous  fairy tale novel FAIREST OF THEM ALL to the blog!

Are you a daydreamer too?
Yes, I always have been.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Yes. We moved a lot when I was a little kid—from Michigan to Illinois to Texas to Michigan to Pennsylvania—and I was super shy and dreamy and basically never spoke to anyone at school, where I was always the new girl. I couldn’t wait to leave each day and get lost in some other world! The library was a magical place to me, and I read everything I could. I especially loved Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy-Tacy-Tibb series, which was set in the early 20th century in the American Midwest. The main character, Betsy, wants to be a writer and she’s always scribbling furiously in notebooks and hanging out in trees wearing long skirts and imagining a future writer’s life. If I didn’t want to be a writer before that, I definitely did after—it seemed the most romantic thing in the world to me, the best thing to be. I wrote my first book when I was 8, called The Mystery at the Dallas Zoo, about a group of kid detectives trying to figure out who stole the missing tapir. They figure it out when they find a handwritten note on the floor from one zookeeper to another, using their full names and spelling out their next crime. 

Tell me a little about yourself – where were you born, where do you live, what do you like to do?
I was born in Michigan but moved around a lot. I went to school at Penn State, then went to grad school at UCLA (I studied medieval Italian poetry) and then lived in New York City for a bunch of years before returning to Pennsylvania. Now I travel a lot and spend a month every year in Alaska, where I teach at UAA’s Low-Residency MFA Program. I love travelling, seeing new places. Last summer I visited Barrow, Alaska (350 miles north of the Arctic Circle) and looked at polar bear tracks; last month I swam with dolphins in Tortola. I love ocean stuff now; after writing my novel Mermaid (2011), I started a mermaid blog and ended up going to mermaid camp at legendary mermaid attraction Weeki Wachee Springs in Florida (and swimming with a wild manatee who crashed the camp) and then, a few months later, getting scuba certified in Nicaragua. So I like oceans and travel and movies and long road trips and films and hanging out with friends, and I like working on Faerie Magazine, which I’m doing now, and assembling beautiful stories and photos and articles, and I like photography. The minute I started writing full time I took up the accordion, dark room photography, and bellydancing, but I don’t really keep up with any of those things, though in my heart I do. Oh, I also like writing. Sometimes.

How did you get the first flash of inspiration for this book?
Usually it’s a specific image or mood or feeling that grabs hold of me and everything builds from that. My first two novels probably both stemmed from the film Wings of Desire and those images of the woman swinging back and forth on the trapeze, white feathered wings on her back, everything in black and white. It’s so beautiful and so sad (because she’s about to get off the trapeze, and the carnival is over). I ended up writing a novel about a trapeze girl (Rain Village) and another about a woman with white-feathered wings (Godmother, about the fairy godmother from the Cinderella story), that image was so rooted in me and so packed with melancholy beauty. With Mermaid, I had sold a book about a mermaid before writing it, and my agent was pushing me toward the original fairy tale, but it was only when I imagined the opening scene, where the princess (the one who marries the prince in the original tale) stands on a cliff, looking out over the icy sea, and witnesses the mermaid arriving at the shore with the nearly-drowned prince in her arms. I thought of what a gorgeous, sad, strange moment that would be, how it would change both women forever. Once I could see and taste that image, the entire book unfolded from it. 

How extensively do you plan your novels?
My first two I sort of figured out as I went along, and ended up writing tons of pages I cut later and taking years to write the books. Since Mermaid, I’ve gone in with a full synopsis, which makes things much easier (and quicker)! I was partly forced to do that, once I was writing full time, but it makes things so much easier. I’m not sure I could have written the first two books from a detailed outline though; I sort of had to learn how to plot and structure a book by doing it, I think. As you can see from my Dallas zoo story, plotting wasn’t the thing that came naturally to me.

Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?
Not really. More the feelings of dreams, that weird half-real feeling when you wake up and long to be back in a world you’re already starting to forget. I like my characters to dream a lot; I like the way that dreams sort of cut in and change your mood and sense of the world in these sneaky, mysterious ways. 

Did you make any astonishing serendipitous discoveries while writing this book?
When I was planning The Fairest of Them All, I took a look at all my favorite heroines and villainesses from popular fairy tales and started noticing how well their stories matched up with each other, and I started feeling like I was reading the same woman’s story over and over. Rapunzel is spectacularly beautiful, it’s her beauty that attracts the prince, and she was raised by a witch… so she’s probably a witch herself, and probably won’t deal too well with aging and the loss of the thing she’s most valued for (her beauty). Especially if she married a prince who already had a daughter named Snow White. I started to think that the evil queen from Snow White (and all the other evil queens and witches) are the same gorgeous heroines who end up getting the prince ... after a few years have passed and happily ever after doesn’t quite hold up. I was astonished at how easy it was to meld these two stories, Rapunzel and Snow White, together!

Where do you write, and when?
I used to think that I needed all kinds of specific conditions in order to write, but I eventually realized that this was just an excuse to never write. So I carry around a lightweight laptop and write whenever and wherever. I wrote for an hour this morning at the car dealership while my car was getting serviced. I tend to write in spurts, though—nothing for days and days (or weeks and weeks!), and then just writing obsessively.

What is your favourite part of writing?
When you get so lost in the world you’re creating that you forget you’re writing at all and it doesn’t feel like work. But usually for me it feels like work! 

What do you do when you get blocked?
Usually I’m not blocked in terms of not knowing what to write—like right now I have three different novels going and there’s always something clear-cut to write in one of them—but I do get blocked by sheer laziness or by travelling or doing too many other things. I just try to force myself to write and remember the lesson I’ve had to learn over and over: that you just do it one sentence, one page, at a time, until you have a book. Retreating to a cabin in the woods is always good, too!

How do you keep your well of inspiration full?
I carry around a notebook and make notes a lot, and I love to sit and brainstorm new ideas. And I read and watch movies and watch television and go to plays and go to storytelling events and just really pay attention to those moments when I get transported/fascinated/mindblown and try to use those moments as jumping off points. 

Do you have any rituals that help you to write?
I aspire to have rituals! I fantasize about being someone who wakes up at the same time each day, makes myself a cup of tea (which I don’t actually drink except in this fantasy) and writes for a set number of hours each and every morning at my lovely big desk with inspirational things hung all around me and birds tweeting outside my window, But I’m usually writing on a bus or in a car dealership.  

Who are ten of your favourite writers?
More than anything I love gorgeous magic realist writing and dark, twisted crime fiction.
Some writers are: Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Italo Calvino, Isabel Allende, Alice Hoffman, Joanne Harris, Patricia Highsmith, Raymond Chandler, Natsuo Kirino, James M. Cain, Gillian Flynn, etc etc! 

What do you consider to be good writing? 
I love writing that’s beautiful and/or stylish, that transports me fully into the world it’s creating, and that is incredibly moving in some way. As a teacher of writing, I tend to always push students to write more clearly and vividly and emotionally. 

What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?
To write as much as possible, to read as much as possible (and read good stuff!), to find some writing peers/take classes/join workshops to get feedback on your writing and develop writing relationships that will last throughout your career, and to not be discouraged by rejection, discouragement, or the blank page. There’s so much discipline and so much rejection (usually) involved, you have to have an amazing amount of faith and confidence to keep doing it and getting better and finishing projects, one by one. I’ve seen too many talented writers not get anywhere because they lacked that faith, and I’ve watched less talented writers just push through because they had that ferocious determination every writer needs.

What are you working on now? 
A twisted crime novel, a historical novel based on my graduate studies, and a big sweeping epic fantasy!

You can find out more about Carolyn at her website


BOOK LIST: 5 Books that influenced Carolyn Turgeon, author of 'Fairest of them All'

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Today Carolyn Turgeon, the author of 'Fairest of The All', shares with us five books that helped influence her as a writer. Please welcome her! 

Five Books That Influenced Me

1. The Girl of the Sea of Cortez, Peter Benchley
I loved a lot of books when I was a kid—the Bobbsey Twins series, the Little House books, Nancy Drew, the Betsy-Tacy-Tibb series, the Encyclopedia Brown books, anything by S.E. Hinton, the shocking Clan of the Cave Bear—but The Girl of the Sea of Cortez stands out as one of the most vivid and magical. My grandparents lived in this tiny retirement community in the middle of Florida with a tiny volunteer-run library, and that’s where I found this sweet book in which a girl has a deep relationship with the ocean and swims with a manta ray. I described a scene from the book in a recent article I wrote for Allure, and was shocked when the fact-checker discovered that I’d completely conflated two scenes: one where the girl gets a leg cramp as bull sharks circle below and one where the manta ray comes and lets her ride on its back to safety. But it’s been burned that way in my head for over 30 years now! 

2. One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
I first read One Hundred Years of Solitude in an honors class in college. I remember how so many of the other books we read that semester were a chore to get through and then I opened this one and plunged into one of the most wonderful, beautiful and entrancing worlds I could imagine. It’s so sweeping and massive and yet feels like a story you’d hear while sitting around a fire under the moon. Pure pleasure. I love the very first page: the idea that the gypsies bring ice to Macondo and it’s the most astonishing thing anyone’s ever seen. It’s the kind of book that makes the everyday world seem brand new, and to this day I see magic in ice that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise.

3. CosmiComics, Italo Calvino

I love this whole collection but “The Distance of the Moon” is probably my favorite story, of any story I’ve read (you can read it here.) 

I love the mix of the absurd with the beautiful, and the crazy gorgeous melancholy and sense of loss that pervade the whole piece. From the moment it starts, we enter this beautiful world that’s already been lost irretrievably—a time when the moon was so close to us that we could row out to it in a boat, toss out a ladder and climb up. Before I read this story I’m not quite sure I realized that you could write something so silly, so fantastic, and yet do it so beautifully and with such intense feeling. The ending of the story kills me—so beautiful, so sad, so perfect.

4. The Decameron, Boccaccio 
I love the premise of The Decameron: that these are the stories told by a group of young people who’ve retreated to a villa outside of Florence to escape the plague. And that these stories are meant to delight and distract in the midst of such darkness (I always love that mixture of light and dark). The Decameron’s another classic that I was forced to read in college (I majored in Italian lit as well as English) and was surprised to find so full of life and humor and raunchiness and magic. Just wonder upon wonder, and stories that have been told and retold. I actually started my first novel at the same time that I had to write a report on the classic “three rings” story that appeared in several old Latin and Italian sources and made its way into The Decameron, too. The very first draft of my first novel incorporated that same three rings story; I loved the idea of stories so powerful that they survive for centuries.

5. Life in the Fields, Giovanni Verga
It was in an Italian literature class in college that I first read “La Lupa” (“The She-Wolf”) by the late nineteenth-century Sicilian writer Verga who was famous for his naturalist writing rooted to the harsh realities of peasant life in Sicily. I loved its drama: mothers crying over their dead sons; men losing their mind and crawling on their bellies in front of churches as penance; women stalking through the countryside in the burning afternoon, ravenous with lust; hot ax-wielding men covered in the grease of fermenting olives. I love that the title character Pina, “La Lupa,” is pure sensual ravenousness; I’ve often tried to imbue my characters with that same hunger. This story isn’t fantastic, but the emotions in it are so large that it feels fantastic, a world in which everything is heightened and strange and just a bit more wonderful, but still our own.

Carolyn's wonderful book THE FAIREST OF THEM ALL is on special at the moment as an e-book  - here are the links to Barnes & Noble and Kindle 



Tuesday, February 25, 2014

THE WILD GIRL has been named Most Memorable Love Story of 2013 by Australian readers 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 new 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.

BOOK REVIEW: Fairest of Them All by Carolyn Turgeon

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Fairest of Them All by Carolyn Turgeon 

Published by Touchstone

Source of book: I bought this one - loved the cover and title!

What if Rapunzel was Snow White’s evil stepmother? 
From the author of Godmother and Mermaid, The Fairest of Them All explores what happens when fairy tale heroines grow up and don’t live happily ever after.

Living in an enchanted forest, Rapunzel spends her days tending a mystical garden with her adoptive mother, Mathena. A witch, Mathena was banished from court because of her magic powers, though the women from the kingdom still seek her advice and herbal remedies. She waits, biding her time to exact revenge against those who betrayed her.

One day Rapunzel’s beautiful voice and long golden locks captivate a young prince hunting in the forest nearby. Overcome, he climbs her hair up to her chamber and they fall into each other’s arms. But their afternoon of passion is fleeting, and the prince must return to his kingdom, as he is betrothed to another.

Now king, he marries his intended to bring peace to his kingdom. They have a stunning daughter named Snow White. Yet the king is haunted by his memories of Rapunzel, and after the mysterious death of his wife, realizes he is free to marry the woman he never stopped longing for. In hopes of also replacing the mother of his beloved daughter, the king makes Rapunzel his queen.

But when Mathena’s wedding gift of an ancient mirror begins speaking to her, Rapunzel falls under its evil spell, and the king begins to realize that Rapunzel is not the beautiful, kind woman he dreamed of.(less)

What I Thought:
I’m in the final stages of a doctorate on Rapunzel, which means I simply must read every book ever inspired by the old fairy tale. 

Fairest of Them All is an interesting take on the well-known story, imagining: What if Rapunzel was Snow White’s evil stepmother?  

The story begins with a young Rapunzel living in a forest with her foster mother, Mathena, a witch who had been banished from court because of her magical powers. They live an idyllic life, tending the herb garden and helping the women of the village. 

One day Rapunzel’s singing attracts a young prince who was out hunting in the forest. He climbs up her hair into her tower bedroom and they have a brief afternoon of passion before the prince must return to his kingdom and his betrothed. 

Rapunzel loses the baby she carries, and is grieved to discover the king and his wife have a living daughter soon after hers has died. The girl is so beautiful she is named Snow White.

The tale then follows the familiar sequence of events known to us from the original Grimm tale – the mother dies, the king remarries, his queen has a magical mirror that tells her she is the fairest of all …
Written simply yet lyrically, this is a dark and powerful reimagining of two well-known fairy-tales and should appeal to the millions of fans of writers such as Donna Jo Napoli, Shannon Hale, Jessica Day George and Gail Carson Levine.

THE WILD GIRL - The story behind the Grimms fairy tales

Sunday, February 23, 2014

To celebrate THE WILD GIRL being named Most Memorable Love Story of 2013 by Australian readers, I'm going to share some vintage Wild Girl posts this week - I hope you enjoy!

The Story Behind the Grimm Brothers’ Fairy Tales
Once upon a time there were two brothers who lived in a small kingdom in the middle of a crazy patchwork of other small kingdoms, each with its own prince or archduke to rule it. Some of these kingdoms were so small the princes could fire at each other from their castle walls. 

The two brothers – named Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm – were the eldest of a family of six, all boys except for the youngest who was a girl named Lotte.

Next door to the Grimm family lived a family of six girls and one boy named the Wilds. They lived side-by-side on the Marktgasse in the medieval quarter of a town named Cassel, famous for its palace set in vast gardens and forests. 

Jakob and Wilhelm and their family were desperately poor. Their father had died, and the two elder brothers struggled to feed and clothe their siblings. 

One day a mighty emperor called Napoleon decided he wished to rule the world. On his way to seize the thrones of the other great kings and emperors of the world, he took over the Grimm brothers’ small kingdom and mashed it together with many of its neighbours to create the Kingdom of Westphalia. He set his young brother Jérôme up as king. In his first week, Jérôme played leapfrog in his underwear with his courtiers through the empty halls of the palace, then spent a fortune ordering new furniture from Paris. 

Life was very hard for the Grimms. Everything changed under French occupation – the laws of the land, the weights and measurements, even the language everyone must speak - and censors meant the newspapers only printed what Napoleon wanted people to know. 

Partly as an act of defiance, and partly in the hope of making some money, the Grimms began to collect old stories from their neighbours and friends, with the aim of publishing a scholarly book. 

The Wild girls who lived next door knew many stories, particularly Lotte’s best friend, the fifth daughter, who was named Dortchen. She told Wilhelm many tales, including ‘The Frog King’, ‘Hansel and Gretel’, ‘Six Swans’ and ‘Rumpelstiltskin’.  

Wilhelm and Dortchen fell in love, but the Grimms were so poverty-stricken they could only afford one meal a day. Wilhelm’s and Dortchen’s only chance to marry was if the fairy tale collection was a success.
Unfortunately, the book was a failure. It was criticised for being too scholarly, too unsophisticated, and filled with too much sex (some of the stories were indeed ripe with sexual innuendo).

It was a time of war and terror and tyranny. Napoleon marched on Russia. The fields of Europe were burned black, and many hundreds of thousands of people died.

Wilhelm struggled on (his elder brother Jakob was now busy with other scholarly undertakings). He collected more tales, from Dortchen as well as from other storytellers, and he rewrote the stories to make them more palatable to a middle-class audience. He added such terms as ‘once upon a time’ and ‘happily ever after’, and made sure the princess did not take the frog into her bed anymore. 

Slowly the war was won, and peace returned. Slowly the fairy tales began to sell. Slowly the Grimm brothers’ reputation grew. At last, thirteen years after they first fell in love, Wilhelm and Dortchen were able to marry. They lived together with Jakob happily until their deaths. 

This is the story that I tell in my novel THE WILD GIRL - a story of love, war and fairy tales.



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