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BOOK LIST: Kate Forsyth's Best Books of 2016

Sunday, January 08, 2017



In 2016, I read around 90 books (not including research books!) 

That’s an average of seven or eight books a month, and is actually less than I usually read. I had a lot of research to do this year, though!

For my own interest I’ve done two pie-charts to break down the gender of the writers and the genres of the fiction. 

Unsurprisingly, I read a lot more books by women than by men, and my favourite genre was historical fiction. 

I was surprised by how little fantasy and romance I read – it’s not like me. I obviously have some reading to catch up on! 









Here are my lists of the Best Books of the Year. Just click on the links to read my reviews of these amazing books.




Fiction



1. The Observations – Jane Harris



2. Fingersmith – Sarah Waters



3. All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr



4. The Last Painting of Sara de Vos – Dominic Smith  



5. Tower of Thorns – Juliet Marillier 



6. The Marvels – Brian Selznick



7. The Other Daughter – Lauren Willig



8. The Essex Serpent – Sarah Perry 



9. The Midnight Watch – David Dyer



10. The Lie Tree – Frances Hardinge



11. The Signature of All Things – Elizabeth Gilbert



12. The Good People – Hannah Kent



13. The Suspect – Michael Robotham



14. Wolf Winter – Cecilia Ekback 



15. The Wonder – Emma Donoghue


Non-Fiction/Memoir




1. H Is For Hawk – Helen Macdonald 



2. The Bayeux Tapestry: The Life Story of a Masterpiece - Carola Hicks



3. Peacock & Vine – A.S. Byatt



4. A Woman on the Edge of Time: A Son’s Search for his Mother – Jeremy Gavron



5. Rising Ground: A Search for the Spirit of Place – Philip Marsden



6. Victoria the Queen – Julia Baird



Wondering what were my Best Books of the past few years? Click here!

SPOTLIGHT: My Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2016

Saturday, January 07, 2017

1.1


    Every year I take part in the Australian Women Writers Challenge, in which readers all around the world do their best to read as many books written by Aussie women as possible. Last year I read only 10 books  by Australian women, and so I was determined to do better this year. I'm really rather proud of myself because I managed 28 books in total, and enjoyed them all.


     Here is my list (in the order in which I read them). Most of them have longer reviews that you can read by clicking on the title.


    I hope you are inspired to try the challenge for yourself in 2017. You can sign up here



1. 1. Wild Wood – Posie Graeme-Evans

WILD WOOD is a dual timeline narrative that moves between the Scottish Borderlands in the 14th century and an unhappy young woman in the 1980s who finds herself compelled to draw the same Scottish castle over and over again 


2.  Summer Harvest – Georgina Penney

A funny, romantic story with lots of heart, set in the Margaret River wine region and featuring engaging characters and light-hearted encounters. 



3. The Wife’s Tale  - Christine Wells 
The Wife’s Tale is a dual timeline novel that alternates between the point-of-view of Liz Jones, a young Australian lawyer whose ambition and drive to succeed have put her marriage at risk, and Delany Nash, who was at the centre of an infamous scandal in the 1780s.  




4. Tower of Thorns – Juliet Marillier 
Juliet Marillier’s books are an enchanting mix of romance, mystery and historical fantasy. Tower of Thorns is the second in her new series ‘Blackthorn & Grim’ which tells the story of the damaged and disillusioned healer Blackthorn and her faithful companion Grim. 




5. Our Tiny, Useless Hearts – Toni Jordan
The fourth novel by award-winning Australian author, Toni Jordan, Our Tiny, Useless Hearts is a clever, funny, wise-cracking novel about love, infidelity and divorce. 




6. Nest – Inga Simpson
Inga Simpson is an Australian writer and Nest is a rhapsody about the importance of being at one with the natural world.. 




7. Daughter of the Forest – Juliet Marillier
This is one of my all-time favourite books, that I like to re-read every few years. A retelling of the ‘Six Swans’ fairy-tale, set in ancient Ireland, it is a beautiful story of courage, love, peril and wonder set in a world where magic is only ever a hairsbreadth away from us all. 



8. The Lost Sapphire – Belinda Murrell
I always love a new timeslip adventure from my brilliant sister, Belinda. In The Lost Sapphire, a teenage girl Marli is reluctantly sent to stay with her father in Melbourne. Things began to get more interesting, though, when she discovers an abandoned house with a mysterious past, and makes a new friend, a boy with his own connection to the house. 





9. Hexenhaus – Nikki McWatters
Hexenhaus is a gripping story of three different young women at different times of history who all find themselves persecuted in some way for witchcraft. 




10. Enemy: A Daughter’s Story – Ruth Clare
A memoir of growing up in Australia with a brutal and domineering father who had been damaged by his experiences in the Vietnam war. 



11. The Good People – Hannah Kent
Dark, poetic, and intense, The Good People is a fascinating and atmospheric tale of the ancient fairy lore of Ireland and how it shaped the people who believed it. One of my best reads of 2016.



12. The Summer Bride – Anne Gracie
The last book in Anne Gracie’s delightful Regency romance quartet, ‘The Chance Sisters’. 



13. The Ties That Bind – Lexi Landsman
An engaging and heart-warming read that moves between the story of a modern-day woman’s desperate search for a bone marrow donor for her son, and the hidden secrets of the past.



14. Den of Wolves – Juliet Marillier
The final book in Juliet Marillier’s latest magical historical trilogy, Den of Wolves wraps up the story of Blackthorn and Grim beautifully. A wonderful mix of history, romance, and fairy-tale-like enchantment. 



15. Where the Trees Were – Inga Simpson
A beautiful meditation on the Australian landscape and the Aboriginal connection to it, Where the Trees Were is a must-read for anyone who has ever swung on a tyre over a slow-moving brown river or lain on the ground looking up at a scorching blue sky through the shifting leaves of a gum tree. 



16. On the Blue Train – Kristel Thornell
This novel was inspired by the true-life story of how Agatha Christie disappeared for eleven days in 1926. A slow, melancholy, and beautiful meditation on failed love. 




17. The Dry – Jane Harper
Set in a small Australian country town, The Dry is a tense, compelling and atmospheric murder mystery, as well as an astonishingly assured debut from English-born novelist Jane Harper. 



18. Castle of Dreams – Elise McCune
A gorgeous cover and intriguing title drew me to Castle of Dreams by Elise McCune, described as an ‘enthralling novel of love, betrayals, loss and family secrets.’  



19. The Family with Two Front Doors – Anna Ciddor
Inspired by the real-life stories of Anna Ciddor’s grandmother, The Family with Two Doors is a charming and poignant account of the life of a family of Jewish children in 1920s Poland. 



20. Beyond the Orchard – Anna Romer 
A story that moves between the past and the present, with intrigue, passion, betrayal and the metafictive use of a dark fairy-tale – it’ll be no surprise to anyone that I loved Beyond the Orchard, the first novel of Anna Romer’s that I have read. 



21. The Locksmith’s Daughter – Karen Brooks
An absolutely gripping page-turner of a novel set in Elizabethan times. 




22. The Waiting Room – Leah Kaminsky
Set in modern-day Israel, The Waiting Room tells the story of a single day in the life of a female Jewish doctor who is haunted by her parents’ tragic past. 



23. Rose’s Vintage – Kayte Nunn
A warm-hearted and very readable contemporary romance set in an Australian vineyard, Rose’s Vintage throws failed-British chef-turned-au-pair Rose into the midst of a range of lovable, eccentric characters including two adorable children and their brooding, difficult but gorgeous father. 




24. The Anchoress – Robyn Cadwaller
Set in England in 1255, the story begins with 17-year old Sarah being enclosed within her cell. Her door is literally nailed shut. Yet the world is not so easy to lock away. Sarah sees and hears glimpses of the life of the village, and is threatened by desire, grief, doubt and fear just as much as any other woman. 



25. Kumiko and the Dragon – Briony Stewart
26. Kumiko and the Dragon’s Secret – Briony Stewart
27. Kumiko and the Shadow-catchers – Briony Stewart
A trilogy of charming fantasy books for very young readers, inspired by the tales that Briony Stewart’s Japanese grandmother used to tell her. 



28. Victoria the Queen – Julia Baird
Described as ‘An intimate biography of the woman who ruled an empire,’ Victoria the Queen busts open many of the myths about both the woman and the era. 


Want more? Read my list of Books by Australian Women Writers in 2016 

BOOK REVIEW: Daughter of The Forest by Juliet Marillier

Saturday, November 26, 2016



BLURB:

Lovely Sorcha is the seventh child and only daughter of Lord Colum of Sevenwaters. Bereft of a mother, she is comforted by her six brothers who love and protect her. Sorcha is the light in their lives, they are determined that she know only contentment.

But Sorcha's joy is shattered when her father is bewitched by his new wife, an evil enchantress who binds her brothers with a terrible spell, a spell which only Sorcha can lift-by staying silent. If she speaks before she completes the quest set to her by the Fair Folk and their queen, the Lady of the Forest, she will lose her brothers forever. 

When Sorcha is kidnapped by the enemies of Sevenwaters and taken to a foreign land, she is torn between the desire to save her beloved brothers, and a love that comes only once. Sorcha despairs at ever being able to complete her task, but the magic of the Fair Folk knows no boundaries, and love is the strongest magic of them all...


MY THOUGHTS:

Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier is one of my all-time favourite books, that I like to re-read every few years. A retelling of the ‘Six Swans’ fairy-tale, set in ancient Ireland, it is a beautiful story of courage, love, peril and wonder set in a world where magic is only ever a hairsbreadth away from us all. 


BOOK REVIEW: TOWER OF THORNS by Juliet Marillier

Thursday, July 28, 2016


Juliet Marillier’s books are an enchanting mix of romance, mystery and historical fantasy. Tower of Thorns is the second in her new series ‘Blackthorn & Grim’ which tells the story of the damaged and disillusioned healer Blackthorn and her faithful companion Grim. Both have been badly hurt and betrayed in the past, and they carry the scars deep inside them. In this episode of the series, the two friends are asked to help a noblewoman who has a strange and uncanny problem – a creature has taken up residence in an old tower and howls all day, driving the people of the land mad. Bound by the fey to help anyone who asks, Blackthorn has no choice but to do what she can – even though the task will tax her to the limits of her strength. As always, Juliet Marillier’s prose is luminous, and the story both powerful and poignant. The books in this series can be read and enjoyed on their own, but I’d recommend beginning with Book 1: Dreamer’s Pool.


SPOTLIGHT: Fairy Retellings

Thursday, May 07, 2015

FAIRY TALE RETELLINGS

A few months 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!

FURTHER READING:




Why I Love Fairy Tale Retellings

Sunday, August 31, 2014



I have loved fairy tales since I was a little girl. 

I was first given a book of ‘Grimm’s Fairy Tales’ when I was seven, and in hospital. I had been cruelly savaged by a dog as a baby and spent the first ten years of my life in and out of hospital, suffering high fevers and seemingly endless operations to repair a damaged tear duct. 

Reading that book of fairy tales were such an escape for me, and yet, also a comfort.
I could imagine myself riding a winged horse, soaring free of my narrow white hospital bed, escaping to have marvellous adventures somewhere else. 

The world of fairy tales was filled with beauty and mystery and romance and strangeness, all the things my hospital ward was lacking. In fairy tales, blinded princes were healed as I wished to be. In fairy tales, imprisoned maidens won their way free. 

I read that collection of fairy tales to tatters, and was always hungry for more. 

One day, when I was about ten, I discovered a book called The Glass Slipper by Eleanor Farjeon on my school library bookshelf. I began reading it as I walked home from school and was instantly entranced. It’s a retelling of the Cinderella fairy tale and is full of charm and whimsy. I was so engrossed I walked straight past the end of my street and could possibly have kept on walking for miles, if a neighbour had not driven past and honked me back to the real world. 



That book has been such a talisman for me all of my life that I named my own daughter Eleanor (after the writer), nicknamed Ella for short (after the heroine). 

That book began my love of fairy tale retellings. A year or so later, I read The Stone Cage by Nicholas Stuart Gray, a retelling of ‘Rapunzel’ told from the point of view of the witch’s cat. Of all the fairy tales I loved, ‘Rapunzel’ one resonated with me the most – perhaps because I too had been a young girl locked away from the world, longing for escape, perhaps because the injuries to my eye meant that for long periods of time, I was half-blind and in pain, as the prince had been.


I began to imagine writing my own retelling of Rapunzel before I had even finished reading the book. I love The Stone Cage, and Nicholas Stuart Gray is, I think, one of the greatest children’s writers ever. Nonetheless, I needed my own retelling of the tale to be from Rapunzel’s point of view, and to give some sense of the terrible loneliness, fear and despair she must have endured. 

When I was twelve or thirteen, I read When We Have Faces: A Myth Retold, by C.S. Lewis. I had found it on my great-aunt’s bookshelf while staying there one summer, and I read the whole book, cover to cover, while lying on the floor on my stomach behind her over-stuffed tapestry armchair. It was an utter revelation. Dark and strong and full of anger, it showed how well-known tales – in this case, the story of Cupid and Psyche – could be turned utterly inside-out when told from the point of view of the supposed villain of the tale. 


I began to imagine writing part of my own Rapunzel retelling from the point of view of the witch. She had always puzzled me. Why had she wanted to lock Rapunzel in the tower? What happened to her after the story ended? 

As I grew up I devoured the work of Robin McKinley, reading her wonderful retellings Rose Daughter, Spindle’s End, Beauty and Deerskin. I also loved Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, North Child by Edith Pattou (also published as East), and Briar Rose by Jane Yolen. 



Then I read Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier, the first time I had read a retelling of a fairy tale written for adults. I knew at once that was what I wanted to do – write a retelling of ‘Rapunzel’ for an adult audience.


For me, it was always a story about sexual desire and power. I never understood how it could be told as a pretty bedtime story for little children, with pictures of a smiling girl combing her hair in a tiny tower wreathed with roses. I knew, gut-deep, that Rapunzel was a far darker story.

So I began to think seriously about my own retelling. It took me seven years to write Bitter Greens – a powerfully symbolic number in fairy tales – and the book ended up very different to how I had first imagined it. As well as telling the story from the point of view of the maiden in the tower, and the witch who put her there, I also tell the story of the woman who first wrote the tale – the utterly fascinating 17th century French writer, Charlotte-Rose de la Force.

So why do I love such retellings? Because they illuminated the dark and hidden depths of fairy tales, the most mysterious and magical of all narratives.  

INTERVIEW: Juliet Marillier, author of The Shadowfell trilogy

Friday, July 11, 2014

Today I'm very proud to welcome one of my favourite writers to the blog: JULIET MARILLIER!






What is your latest novel all about?

The Caller is the third and final instalment of the Shadowfell series. The land of Alban (a magical version of ancient Scotland) is ruled by the tyrannical Keldec, who controls his subjects through fear, with the help of an elite hit squad, the Enforcers. But a group of young rebels plans to challenge the power of the king, using a secret weapon: the reclusive Good Folk, the uncanny residents of Alban, who usually won’t cooperate with humankind. The key to success is Neryn, sixteen years old in this book and still learning to use her gift as a Caller, a person who can persuade the Good Folk out of their various boltholes and into action. Neryn visits the enigmatic White Lady to learn the magic of air, and is horrified by the dwindling of this powerful elemental being. Then disaster strikes and the rebel plans are thrown into confusion. Meanwhile Neryn’s beloved Flint, a rebel spy at court, is close to breaking point as the burden of maintaining his cover weighs ever more heavily on his conscience. The story builds toward a final confrontation at the king’s midsummer Gathering.




How did you get the first idea for it?
I had two main sources of inspiration for the Shadowfell series. I began writing the first book during the so-called Arab Spring, when we saw popular rebellions against repressive governments in several countries. When the Shadowfell rebels make the choice to fight for the cause of freedom, they stand to lose family, work, home, community, relationships. They know they may well be tortured or killed. The frightening thing is that while this is a fictional story, in many parts of the world that kind of risk is an everyday reality. I wanted to put my characters through that test and find out whether they were strong enough to endure it. And I wanted to know what happened afterwards!

The second inspiration was my love of Scotland. I grew up in Dunedin, a very Scottish part of New Zealand, and my ancestry is mostly Scots. I had a lot of fun creating Alban, which is sort-of-Scotland – the story does not fit into real history and I’ve taken liberties with the geography. I did include some uncanny beings from Scots folklore, such as an urisk and a trow. And I invented new ones, like the stanie mon, a gigantic rock creature who can only be summoned by reciting a particular kind of rhyming couplet. As soon as I began writing the series, the cast of Good Folk began talking in Scots, some broadly, some less broadly. Not historically accurate, but sometimes these things seem to write themselves.


What do you love most about writing?
Making a connection with my readers. That link can be so powerful it feels like magic. I’m sure I am not the only writer who has a sense of ancestral memory working through her, almost as if the stories are true, or were once true, and I am just writing down what those old, old storytellers whisper in my ears. 

I love hearing from readers that my books have got them interested in reading again; or that reading my books has inspired their own creative work, whether that is writing or painting or something else. And I love the messages telling me that one or other of my novels has helped a reader through a difficult time in her life. As a druid, I believe in the power of storytelling for teaching and healing, and those letters reinforce that belief for me.


What are the best 5 books you've read recently?
I really enjoyed The Blue Mile by Kim Kelly, a historical novel set in Sydney during the construction of the Harbour Bridge. I also liked Anne Gracie’s The Winter Bride, the second in her Chance Sisters Regency romance series – Anne’s novels evoke the period wonderfully, and the romance conventions never stop her from creating characters who are real individuals. 

I loved Following Atticus by Tom Ryan – a beautifully written memoir about a man, his dog and the remarkable connection with wild nature they made together. Then there was Donna Tartt’s 700-odd page novel The Goldfinch, which I raced through. Tartt has the winning combination of literary cleverness and fine storytelling. Last but not least, The One Plus One by a favourite author, JoJo Moyes, who writes both historical and contemporary fiction. This is a contemporary novel and I think it’s one of her best ¬– a love story, a family story, a road trip, all sorts of things. 


As you can see, I haven’t been reading much fantasy!


What lies ahead of you in the next year? 
Dreamer’s Pool, first book in the Blackthorn & Grim series, comes out in October here in Australia, and November in the US. The Blackthorn & Grim series combines history, fairytale and mystery, and features a pair of protagonists who are a bit older and more damaged than my usual – they were great to write. I’m currently working on the second novel in the series. Travel-wise, I’ll be in London for the Historical Novelists Society conference in September, and will have a week in Italy on the way home. I’m a guest at Supanova in Brisbane and Adelaide in November. 2015 will see me tackling the third Blackthorn & Grim novel and a children’s book for Christmas Press, which I’m very excited about. 


PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT - I LOVE TO KNOW WHAT YOU THINK

SPOTLIGHT: Juliet Marillier's top tips for writers

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Today on the blog I welcome Juliet Marillier, one of my all-time favourite writers. Her books are things to be treasured - so warm and beautiful and wise - and so I'm very eager to hear her tips on how to be a better writer. Please welcoem her with lots of virtual applause and comments, please!




Aspiring writers often hear the same snippets of advice: Show, don’t tell. Kill your darlings. Write what you know. But what do they actually mean, and are they essential?

Show, don’t tell: Excellent general advice for all of us – not only for fledgling writers. To improve the pace and flow of your story and to deepen characterisation, let your characters’ actions and reactions and their speech show the reader what they are thinking and feeling. Avoid loading down your prose with descriptive passages, and remember that your reader likes to give his or her imagination a workout, so leave it to him or her to fill in the gaps. Go easy on the adjectives and adverbs; think of other ways to paint a picture. Sometimes, of course, you will need to do a bit of telling, especially if you are writing a book of epic scale. But keep it to a minimum if you want your reader to stay engaged.

Kill your darlings: It can be tempting to hold on to something in your manuscript that you are especially fond of  – a lovely descriptive passage full of clever figures of speech, a funny dialogue between your two favourite characters, or scenes featuring a character whom you love above all others. But when it comes to the crunch, you may find these beloved sections are slowing the pace of your book and adding nothing much to the story. When you’re editing your own work, ask yourself whether a scene or passage is essential to move the plot forward, or necessary for the understanding of a character. If not, it should go. I love writing descriptive passages, usually about nature – the forest, the river, the mountains – and if I didn’t rein myself in, my language would get out of control. I am improving. My recent novels are much shorter than the doorstop-sized tomes I started out with. Mind you, some readers would like my books to be longer. But publishers like them streamlined!

Write what you know: this can be interpreted in different ways. It certainly need not mean a writer must only write about what is in his or her own personal experience, or must stick to writing about times, places and cultures in which he or she has actually lived. That would be to say goodbye to historical fiction and to all kinds of speculative fiction, not to speak of crime fiction and thrillers. However, writing about the familiar is a good exercise for beginning writers. A keen eye and ear, and an interest in the world about us, are essential for writers of fiction of all kinds. Learn to see the wonder in everyday things and to capture it on the page.

My love of traditional stories – myths, legends, folklore and fairy tales – certainly contributes to the content and style of my writing, as does my interest in history. But the core of a great story lies in real life. No writer creates believable characters without getting out into the world and learning what makes people tick. Great scenes and great plots develop from our observations of what happens from day to day, not only in our personal world, but in the world at large. I write historical fantasy mostly set in medieval Europe, which may seem far away from my everyday life in 21st century Australia. Yet the difficulties my characters face and the ways in which they solve them are often not much different from situations in today’s world. Here are some examples.

The Shadowfell series is about young rebels mounting a challenge to a tyrannical regime. The idea came from the popular uprisings in the Middle East that were taking place when I was planning the series. 

In the third book, The Caller, a fighter suffers a terrible head injury. He’s tended to by his comrades while the authorities decide whether he’s to be kept alive with perhaps little hope of returning to his old self. Here in Perth, Western Australia, we’ve seen a lot of young men suffer paralysis or brain damage as a result of ‘one punch’ assaults, often by strangers. I had been thinking about the fallout from such a situation, not only for the victim, but for everyone who cares about him. So this confronting situation made its way into a story set in ancient Scotland (or a place rather like it.) 



I’ve also been reading a lot about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, especially as experienced by soldiers on return from deployment to war zones. The military connection that exists in my family  increased my wish to find out more about PTSD, and I ended up including it in my story. I was fairly sure that even if the Shadowfell rebels were successful in their quest to topple the tyrant, those who had served the rebel cause long-term would suffer lasting psychological damage as a result of the actions they’d had to take along the way. 

In a sense, then, I am writing about what I know. I’m basing my stories on issues and themes that are important to me, and choosing to build them into a type of story I am confident I can write effectively. For the aspiring writer, my interpretation of ‘Write what you know’ is this: keep your characters psychologically true, and make your situations real to the reader. How? Go out and mingle with all kinds of people; experience and learn about the real world, because that world is bursting with great story ideas.  

I've reviewed the Shadowfell trilogy here and here is a link to an interview I did with Juliet a couple of years ago.

PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT - I LOVE TO KNOW WHAT YOU THINK!



BOOK REVIEW: The Shadowfell Trilogy by Juliet Marillier

Monday, July 07, 2014

Nothing makes me happier than a new Juliet Marillier book! She is best known for her gorgeous thick historical fantasy novels for adults, but she has also written smaller novels for young adults (no less gorgeous, however!) 

Today on the blog I am reviewing the three books in her YA fantasy trilogy SHADOWFELL. My review of the first book was published in The Sydney Morning herald, and the reviews of the second two on my blog: 




J.R.R. Tolkien once said, ''The realm of fairy-story is wide and deep and high and filled with many things. All manner of beasts and birds are found there; shoreless seas and stars uncounted; beauty that is an enchantment, and an ever-present peril; both joy and sorrow as sharp as swords''.

Of all the fantasy writers in Australia and, perhaps, even the world, I think Juliet Marillier best captures this view of the realm of the faerie as a place of beauty and wonder and danger.

Her latest fantasy novel for young adults, Shadowfell, is an exquisitely written tale of love, fear, faith and difficult choices. It is set in a world where the Good Folk - fey creatures with strange, magical powers - live hidden in the trees, rocks and shadows.

One young woman, named Neryn, has the gift of Canny Eyes, which allows her to see the Good Folk even when they wish to stay out of sight. But this gift puts Neryn in peril, for her world is ruled by a usurper-king who fears and despises any magic. The king's soldiers hunt down fairy creatures and any human who has a magical gift, subjecting many to the terrible practice of mind-scraping, which turns them into halfwits.

The king knows of Neryn and her gift, and has set his soldiers to hunt her down. A young man, Flint, helps her escape the soldiers, but his past is shadowed with mystery and Neryn must choose whether it is safe to trust him. Her journey towards the rebel stronghold of Shadowfell becomes a series of tests, in which she must prove herself worthy of an old prophecy for the salvation of the land.

Reduced to a few lines, the plot of Shadowfell seems familiar to anyone who has read a great deal of young-adult fantasy, but as with any novel, it is the execution of the story that makes it sing. Marillier is a consummate craftswoman.

The book is perfectly composed, and the writing is lyrical and full of grace. Fifteen-year-old Neryn's confusion and fear will speak to any girl of the same age, and the mystery around the true identity of her rescuer is handled masterfully.

Born in New Zealand but now living in Western Australia, Marillier has won numerous awards, including the YALSA 2007 Best Book for Young Adults for Wildwood Dancing, and in 2008 the Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best Young Adult Novel for its sequel, Cybele's Secret. She has also won numerous Aurealis Awards for her adult historical fantasy novels, including Daughter of the Forest and Heart's Blood.

In a lifetime of reading and study, Marillier has steeped herself in myth, legend and folklore, and her intuitive knowledge of the patterns and motifs of storytelling underpin the whole novel.

Marillier has said, ''Many fantasy stories … tap into the archetypal themes of mythology, which involve the highest stakes - defeating evil, saving the world, being happy ever after … [however] that need not involve slaying a dragon or saving the whole of Middle Earth, it can be an individual, personal journey to enlightenment''.

Since Shadowfell is both a heroic quest and a coming-of-age story with a gently handled romance element, it is bound to appeal to any girl aged 13 or above. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.


Raven Flight – Juliet Marillier
Juliet Marillier is one of my all-time favourite authors and a new book from her is always reason to celebrate. So when Raven Flight appeared in my mailbox, I gave a little jump of joy and read it straightaway. Raven Flight is Book 2 in the Shadowfell series. I loved Shadowfell and it made my List of Best Books 2012 - the books are classic old-fashioned high fantasy with a quest at its heart. The writing is beautiful and limpid, the setting is an otherworldy Scotland, and the story mixes danger, magic and romance - sigh! I loved it. This is YA fantasy at its absolute best.  



The Caller – Juliet Marillier
This is the third and last book in Juliet Marillier’s gorgeous YA fantasy Shadowfell trilogy. I have really enjoyed these books, which are, as always with Juliet’s books, filled with wit, warmth and wisdom. You must read them in order – Shadowfell, Raven Flight, then The Caller – as the books tell the story of the continuing adventures of Neryn and her journey to understand and control her magical talents as a Caller. Set in a land very much like ancient Scotland, with all manner of extraordinary faery creatures, the Shadowfell books weave together history, fantasy, folklore and ancient wisdoms to create a beautiful and powerful story. These books are a perfect read for a dreamy, romantic teenage girl – I love them now but oh! How I would have loved them when I was fifteen. 

You may enjoy an interview I did with Juliet Marillier a couple of years ago ... and later this week I'll be running a guest post from her on ways to improve your writing, plus another quick interview.

PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT - I LOVE TO KNOW WHAT YOU THINK! 

BOOK LIST: My Favourite Fairy Tales Retellings

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

I love fairy tale retellings ... here are a few of my favourites! 



'The Glass Slipper' by Eleanor Farjeon
I read this retelling of the Cinderella fairytale while walking home from primary school one day and was so entranced I walked straight past the turnoff to my street. I might have kept walking for hours if a neighbour hadn’t driven past and honked me back to reality. 

I love this book so much that I named my daughter Eleanor after the writer, with her pet name being Ella after the heroine. The Glass Slipper is full of wit and charm and whimsy and word play, the prose dancing like poetry. After I left my primary school, my one regret was that I hadn’t smuggled the book out of the library in my school bag and kept it. 

Years later, I found it in a second-hand shop and fell upon it with squeals of excitement. This is very much a classic children’s book, published in 1955 – the Prince does no more than kiss Ella’s hand – but it is so full of joy and innocence, it will always be one of the most magical books of my life. 


For 8+

'The Stone Cage' by Nicholas Stuart Gray
A beautiful retelling of the Rapunzel fairytale, told from the point of view of the witch’s cat, this is an absolute classic fairytale retelling. Reading this as a child is what first made me think of writing my own Rapunzel tale – I wanted to make my heroine a little feistier than Nicholas Stuart Gray’s sweet and loving Rapunzel. 

What I love most about this book is the personalities of the witch’s cat and the witch’s raven – one is arrogant, selfish and smart-mouthed, the other serious-minded and scholarly. 

For 8+


Cold Iron by Sophie Masson

Published as Malkin in the US, this is a retelling of the English fairytale ‘Tattercoats’, interwoven with elements of Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream’.  ‘Tattercoats’ is a Cinderella type story, about a persecuted heroine, but in this book it is not the sweet and maltreated Tattercoats who is the heroine, but the brave and feisty serving-girl Malkin, and her friend, the goose-boy Pug. Cold Iron is a small book, but packed to the brim with personality. Sophie Masson writes with a light, deft touch, lavishing attention on her minor characters and on the scenery, so that the book gleams like a little jewel.

I also love Sophie's most recent fairy tale retellings - Moonlight & Ashes and Scarlet in the Snow - gorgeous and romantic and surprising. 



Wild Magic by Cat Weatherill 
This is a wonderful fresh take on the Pied Piper legend, which explores why the Piper may have lured away all the children of the town of Hameln and what may have happened to them afterwards. The primary protagonists are Mari and her little brother Jakob, and the land they have been taken to is a place of wild magic, fearsome beasts, and an ancient curse than must be broken if they are ever to escape. The writing is beautiful, and the story itself gripping and suspenseful.  I’m surprised this wonderful book is not better known. 


For 8+ 


Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George 
I thought, from the title, that this must be a Cinderella- retelling, but it is in fact ‘The Twelve Dancing Princesses’ which Jessica Day George has re-told in this sweet and atmospheric novel. Even though Jessica Day George has done a classic retelling here, in a fantasy otherworld very much like Europe, and with the plot line adhering closely to the original tale, she has done it with a light touch, a sense of humour, and just enough twists and turns to keep the reader turning the pages.  A captivating fairytale retelling. 

For 8+


Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
Since being made into a movie with the beautiful young Anne Hathaway, Ella Enchanted is possibly the best known retelling of Cinderella. As always, though, the book is much better than the movie, being filled with humour and surprise and intelligence.

At birth, Ella is given the gift of obedience by a well-meaning but air-brained fairy called Lucinda. The gift is more of a curse for poor Ella, and so she sets out to find Lucinda and undo the spell. She has all sorts of adventures along the way, some of which include a prince, a pumpkin coach and a glass slipper, but Gail Carson Levine takes great delight in twisting the known elements of this most popular of tales to give it new life.

12+


The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale
The Goose Girl was Shannon Hale’s first book, and launched her career.  It is a retelling of the Grimm Brothers story ‘The Goose Girl’, which is one of the lesser known tales but still filled with a few gruesome touches, like a dead horse’s head that talks. 

Ani, a crown princess, can talk with birds and animals, but her talents are not appreciated in the royal family. When Ani is sent off to marry the prince of a neighbouring kingdom, her treacherous maid-in-waiting schemes to take her place. Barely escaping with her life, Ani disguises herself as a goose girl while she tries to find a way to reclaim her rightful palace. With some surprising twists and a satisfying ending, this is a lovely romantic retelling, suitable for children or adults. 

For 12+


North Child by Edith Pattou 
Known as East in the US, this beguiling book is a retelling of a traditional Norwegian fairytale ‘East of the Sun, West of the Moon’, which is an Animal Bridegroom type story. 

Rose was born into the world facing north, and as a north child, superstition says that she will be a wanderer, travelling far from home. This prophecy is fulfilled when she rides away on the back of a white bear to a mysterious castle, where a silent stranger appears to her night after night. When her curiosity overcomes her, she loses her one true love, and must journey to a land east of the sun and west of the moon to save him.

For 12+

A Curse As Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce 
I love fairytale retellings that are set in the real world, at a real time in history – somehow they make the fairytale seem so much more possible. A Curse As Dark as Gold was one of my favourite reads last year – a beautiful, romantic retelling of the well-known Rumpelstiltskin fairytale, set in a British wool town during the Industrial Revolution. This story is really brought to life by the atmosphere of the mill, the heroine’s family home which is being threatened with closure. It also has a really charismatic and surprising villain, which helped add suspense and surprise to this well-known tale.


Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold by C.S. Lewis

I had adored C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series as a child and so one day, while staying with my great-aunts, I found this book on a bookshelf and sat down on the floor to look at it. The first line reads: ‘I am old now and have not much to fear from the anger of gods.’  

Entranced, I read on to the end, devouring the book in a single sitting. Till We Have Faces is a retelling of the Cupid and Psyche myth, which is not properly a fairytale, except in its obvious similarity to Animal Bridegroom tales such as ‘Beauty & the Beast’ and ‘East of the Sun, West of the Moon’. It is, however, still one of my all-time favourite retellings.

For 16+


Deerskin by Robin McKinley
This is a heart-rending retelling of ‘All-Kinds’-of-Fur’, the Grimm tale about a king who falls in love with her daughter and seeks to marry her. Known under different names in different cultures, it’s probably best known as Tattercoats, Catskin, or Donkeyskin. In some versions of the tale, the princess manages to outwit and escape her lustful father, before hiding herself in the skin of a wild beast and working in the kitchen of the king of a neighbouring country. In time, the second king comes to recognise the princess hidden beneath the filthy furs, and marries her. 

In Robin McKinley’s novel, the daughter does not escape until she has been raped by her father, making this one of the most powerful, and ultimately redemptive, novels ever written about incest. 

Robin McKinley has written many other beloved fairytale retellings, including Beauty and Rose Daughter (both retellings of ‘Beauty & the Beast’) and Spindle’s End (a retelling of Sleeping Beauty), which I adore as well. 




Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier
A retelling of the Six Swans fairytale, this was Australian author Juliet Marillier’s first published book.  Although she has written a number of gorgeous, spell-binding fairytale retellings since – including Heart’s Blood (‘Beauty & the Beast’) and Wildwood Dancing (Twelve Dancing Princesses), 

Daughter of the Forest is still my favourite. It is set long, long ago, in Ireland, and begins when Sorcha, the seventh child of the family and the only girl, is only a child. The whole atmosphere of the book is filled with romance, enchantment, beauty and danger, making it one of the best retellings ever written (in my humble opinion).



Other must-read fairy tale retellings by Juliet Marillier include Wildwood Dancing, Heart's Blood and Cybele's Secret - I love them all!


I also love Margo Lanagan's novels, especially Sea Hearts - a haunting tale of love, betrayal and selkies by one of Australia’s most extraordinary authors. 





Thornspell by Helen Lowe

New Zealand writer Helen Lowe reimagines the Sleeping Beauty story from the point of view of the prince in this beautiful, romantic fantasy for young adults. Prince Sigismund has grown up in a castle whose gardens and parklands are surrounded by a deep, tangled forest. He is kept locked away from the world, and so longs for adventures like the ones in the stories he loves so much – fantastical tales of knights-errant and heroic quests, faie enchantments and shape-shifting dragons. One day a beautiful and mysterious lady in a fine carriage speaks to him through the castle gates, and Sigismund's world begins to change. He dreams of a raggedy girl trapped in thorns, and a castle that lies sleeping … soon he is caught up in an adventure as perilous and strange as that of any story he had ever heard …


The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

What a wonderful, amazing, magical book! I just loved this and think it’s one of the best books I’ve read in a long while. I wish I’d written it. A retelling of the Russian fairytale, the Snow Child, set in Alaska at the turn of the 19th century, it seems far too accomplished to be by a debut novelist ... I can only look forward hopefully to many more books by Eowyn Ivey.


White As Snow by Tanith Lee

Tanith Lee has been called "the Angela Carter of the fantasy field" for her dark and sensuous prose. This is one of the strangest and yet most compelling fairytale retellings I’ve ever read. It is so filled with violence and despair, it is almost unreadable in parts. Yet somehow it haunts the imagination afterwards, giving new depths to the well-known story of Snow-White, and taking it very far away from Disney territory.


PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT, I LOVE TO KNOW WHAT YOU THINK


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