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THE 50/50 PROJECT: Celebrating Midsummer's Day at a circle of stones

Monday, March 20, 2017

Something I have always wanted to do is celebrate the summer solstice at an ancient circle of stones like Stonehenge or Avebury.

It’s actually No 9 on my list of things I want to do one day – I call this list my 50/50 project

I was actually in England for the summer solstice last year, and only half an hour’s drive away from the Rollright Stones which is – so far – my favourite circle of stones. 

But I was too scared to go out in the dark by myself! I didn’t know anyone else who was going and I didn’t want to intrude on the celebrations of anyone who might be there. So I didn’t get to see the sunrise over the stones, as I’d hoped.

I did, however, go the next day. 

And it was such a beautiful & magical experience I thought I’d share it with you … even though it’s not quite making that particular dream come true. 














I went with Krys Saclier and Martina Smythe, two of my students from the 2016 History, Mystery & Magic retreat in the Cotswolds, and Martina took most of these dreamy photographs (thank you for letting me use them!)


Maybe one day I’ll be back in the UK at midsummer and will have the courage to go and see the sun rise over a circle of stones (or at least, have some friends to go with me!)





THE 50/50 PROJECT: Flying in a helicopter

Thursday, February 23, 2017

It was my 50th birthday last year & so I set out to fulfill as many items on my 50/50 project as possible.

You may not know about The 50/50 Project – it’s simply a list of dreams and plans and ambitions that I hope to make come true. There’s no deadline, and I probably will never achieve all of them, but it is fun trying!

No 25 on my list is to ride in a helicopter, and so my lovely husband organised a secret adventure on the day of my birthday (which is 3rd June – sorry, it’s taken me a while to post about it!)






June is winter in Sydney and it was a cold, wet, blustery day. 

My husband thought it was a shame, because Sydney is so beautiful when it sparkles in the sunshine, but I didn’t mind at all. 

In fact, it was so exciting and atmospheric seeing the raindrops hit the glass and feeling the wind rattle the rotors. 








Then we went out for lunch, and my husband gave me another wonderful surprise - some gorgeous ruby earrings!




So I was very spoilt on my 50th birthday ... and I can cross another thing off my bucket list!

WIN! Signed hardback copies of BITTER GREENS & THE WILD GIRL!

Friday, November 04, 2016


Whenever I finish a novel, like I did last week, I have a long list of things to do ... including updating my website.

One thing I've been meaning to do for a long time is have a page of endorsements from people who have done a creative writing workshop with me, or heard me speak, or tell a story. I know authors who very cannily hand out forms to students at the end of every class or session, then have them displayed on their website within hours.

I'm afraid I'm not so canny.

So I'm reaching out to anyone who has ever ever heard me speak or teach to be so kind as to give me a line or two that I can quote on my website. It'd be great if you can also say what course you did, or whether it was a storytelling session or an author talk that you heard.  

In thanks, I am offering a chance to win a signed hardback copy of  BITTER GREENS and THE WILD GIRL to anyone who endorses me (I will put all the names in the hat & draw one out on December 5.) 

You can leave your endorsement in the Comments below, or on my Facebook page, or tag me on Twitter - and each new endorsement will get you another chance to WIN!

Thank you all in advance!





BEAUTY IN THORNS: Writing the first draft

Thursday, October 20, 2016

THE WRITING OF BEAUTY IN THORNS 

This week I delivered the manuscript of my novel Beauty in Thorns to my agent and publisher, and now I am gnawing my fingernails to the knuckle waiting for their response. It's always hard, delivering a book. I've laboured away on it so long, dreaming about it, planning and writing and re-writing, polishing each sentence still it shines, cutting, putting back in, cutting again ... 



The book is not finished yet. In a few weeks time, I'll be getting back my editorial report and then I'll be working away on the book again, listening to the advice of people I trust and trying my best to make the book as good as I can get it. I love the editorial process (many writers hate it!) - but it is long, hard, finicky work and sometimes it is difficult (but necessary) to cut or change things you loved writing.

So these next few weeks are a space of calm for me, a chance to rest and recover after the last few exhausting months, and a chance to reflect on far I have come. 

My books often have a very long gestation phase. This is partly because ideas come to me when I'm deep in the writing of another story and so I need to wait till I am free to concentrate on them. And this is partly because I like to wait until the book is as fully realised in my imagination as possible, so that I can write as swiftly and freely and powerfully as possible. 

I first got the idea of doing something with the Pre-Raphaelites in June 2013, when I was researching the chapter on William Morris for my study of 'Rapunzel' for my Doctorate of Creative Arts, which was later published as The Rebirth of Rapunzel: A Mythic History of the Maiden in the Tower. William Morris wrote the first creative response to the 'Rapunzel' fairy tale when only a young man. I'd always loved the Pre-Raphaelites, and my research for my doctorate reminded me that they had always been fascinated by fairy tales and mythology, just like me. 

Around eighteen months later, on 1st August 2014, I was looking back over my diaries, wondering what novel I should write next, when I came across the scribbled note in my diary. It said: 'Ideas for Novels - Pre-Raphaeltite fairytales ...' Then after a few other ideas, I listed some of my favourite old stories. One of them was Sleeping Beauty.


'The Rose Bower' by Edward Burne-Jones


I began to play with the idea in November 2014, which was when I first read about Edward Burne-Jones and his lifelong obsession with the' Sleeping Beauty' fairy tales. I knew at once I had found my story. I bought a new silver filigree notebook, and began my research. Boxes of books about the Pre-Raphaelites began to land on my doorstep, and I began to build my timeline and cast of characters (always the first thing I do). 



I pitched the idea to my publisher in March 2015, and work got underway in earnest. I was reading, wondering, daydreaming, playing and beginning to plan.

On 8 April 2015, I got the first inkling of my first line (I cannot write a word until I have my first line and, hopefully, my last line).



In June 2015, I did my first research trip to the UK. I went to art galleries, libraries, museums and visited places like Red House, Kelmscott Manor and Buscot Park, where the penultimate quartet of Sleeping Beauty paintings are hung. 

I wrote the first chapter on 5th January 2016 - almost a year after first beginning to work on the novel. I always wait to start writing until I have a very strong sense of my characters and their voices and inner lives, and until I have the story arc planned. 

This is not to say that my story does not change and develop as I go on. My plan is ever-evolving.

For example, I had initially planned to have thirteen points-of-view, to reflect the thirteen fairies in the Grimm brothers' tale 'Briar Rose.' However, within a few weeks I knew that was far too many and so I chose eight points-of-view, which is the number in the Perrault version of the tale, 'The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood'. 



By the end of March, I had written 73,000 words - and knew that I had to re-think my strategy else the book would end up being far too long.   So I spent a few days re-assessing my plan and, with much regret, reducing the number of viewpoints in the book. This is the wonderful thing about having a plan - it helps you know when you need to stop and group and rethink your ideas, before you write 100,000 words you will need to cut later (I still had to cut a great many words!)   

I wrote steadfastly, and my story slowly grew. I continued to read and research and adapt my plan as needed, and in June 2016 I travelled to the UK again for my final research trip. Among other things, I visited Lizzie Siddal's grave in Highgate Cemetery and in the Bodleian Library in Oxford, I read Dante Gabriel Rossetti's love poems to Janey Morris, handwritten in a small leather-bound notebook for her.    

I finished the first draft on Saturday, 1st October - the day of my deadline - with a massive manuscript of 186,814 words. 



I then spent the next few days reading it through, editing it and cutting it back. I ended up making the difficult decision to lose one more character (the funny and earthy Fanny Cornforth), to deliver a much more reasonable manuscript of 165,000 words. 

And now I'm letting my imagination lie fallow for a few weeks, while I wait for my editorial report!

I've made a little video about my creative  process that I hope you'll enjoy - two years of hard slog reduced to four swift minutes;

 


If you liked this blog post you may also be interested in:





BEAUTY IN THORNS: Edward Burne-Jones's Sleeping Beauty paintings

Friday, October 14, 2016

My Work-in-Progress: an update!

Beauty in Thorns is an historical novel for adults which tells the astonishing true story behind the famous 'Sleeping Beauty' painting by the Pre-Raphaelite artist Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones. Told in the voices of five very different women - his wife, his daughter, his mistress, his best friend's wife and his best friend's mistress - Beauty in Thorns is a story of love, desire, art, and awakenings of all kinds. 

Burne-Jones painted the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale many times over the forty-odd years of his career: 




In May 1856, Burne-Jones drew a pencil sketch of his betrothed, Georgie Macdonald, as the Sleeping Beauty to amuse her little sister Louie on her birthday. He was 23 years old and Georgie was sixteen. I believe this is the sketch, though it has not been officially confirmed. 





In 1862, Burne-Jones designed a series of 'Sleeping Beauty' tiles for a client of the Morris & Co decorating firm, of which he was a partner. The princess looks very much like Lizzie Siddal, who had died a few months earlier of a laudanum overdose, and the prince kneeling to kiss her awake looks very much like her grieving widower Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The peacock (featured on the wall of the boudoir) is a symbol of immortality and rebirth.  This tile is one of nine in a sequence that begins with the baby in her cradle and ends with the marriage of the prince and princess. The tiles can be seen at the V&A Museum in Kensington.




In the 1870s, Burne-Jones had a tempestuous affair with one of his models, the sculptor Maria Zambaco, and he painted a very sensual version of Sleeping Beauty with his mistress modelling as the princess. The affair ended badly, with Maria attempting to drown herself in Regent's Canal.  At one point, Ned planned to run away with Maria but he ended returning to his wife and family so they would not be besmirched by the scandal. 

This painting - now in Puerto Rico - was the final in a sequence of three paintings that showed the prince in the briar wood, the king and his councillors asleep in the council chamber, and the princess asleep with her maids.




This beautiful drawing is a chalk study of his daughter Margaret that Burne-Jones made in 1881, when he was planning another sequence of painting inspired by the fairytale. Margaret was then fifteen, the age of the princess in the story.





And this exquisite painting of his daughter Margaret as Sleeping Beauty was created by Burne-Jones in 1884-1887,  as the final in a sequence of four enormous painting which now hang in Buscot Park, in Oxfordshire. Margaret was aged in her late teens and early twenties, and had fallen in love with a young poet and scholar named John William Mackail, much to her father's distress. 

The four paintings - called 'The Legend of Briar Rose' - caused an absolute sensation when they were first exhibited in 1890, with queues of carriages along Bond Street and crowds of people returning again and again to view them. Burne-Jones sold the quartet of painting for fifteen thousand guineas, the most money a British artist had ever been paid, and he was subsequently knighted by the Queen. 





His final painting is a small circle, entitled 'Wake Dearest' which he painted for his ever-loving and faithful wife Georgie in the final year of his life (1898). I believe she was the model for the princess. This tiny masterpiece - along with 37 other tiny glowing circles - were left to Georgie in his will, and later published as 'The Flower Book'. 

My novel Beauty in Thorns tells the story behind the creation of these exquisite drawings and paintings - a story of love, betrayal, heartbreak, death, and awakening of all kinds.  


It will be released in Australia in August 2017. 

INTERVIEW: Kim Wilkins interviews Kate Forsyth about THE BEAST'S GARDEN

Sunday, June 05, 2016

KIM WILKINS INTERVIEWS KATE FORSYTH 

On the Writing of The Beast's Garden





Historical fiction is usually defined as fiction that takes place before the author's birth. Usually you write about pre-20th century history, but this book is very much within our parents' lifetimes. Were there extra challenges in writing "modern history"?


Although THE BEAST’S GARDEN was a very challenging book to write, it was not because it was set in the ‘modern history’ period of the 20th century. Apart, of course, from having to write about Hitler and the Gestapo and concentration camps!

All historical fiction – regardless of the time period – has a certain set of challenges. I feel that my job as an author is to bring the world of my story vividly to life upon the page, allowing the reader to experience that world with all of their senses and all of their understanding. To do so, I have to slip inside the skins of all my characters, trying to understand at a deep cellular level how a person of that time thought and felt and perceived the world. To achieve this level of understanding, I spend a long time reading and researching and thinking and imagining. I don’t start writing my story until I feel I understand the inner and outer worlds of my characters.

Much of the challenge of writing historical fiction, therefore, has to do with the reading and research involved, and the absorbing and internalising of all that I read. 

So - in a way - the life of a young woman in Berlin during World War II was much easier than other places and times I’ve worked with, simply because life at that time has been so widely recorded and scrutinised. 

However, each book throws up new problems and new challenges, each unique to that story. I think the great challenge for me was trying my best to do justice to the amazing true stories of courage, strength of spirit, and compassion that I discovered. And – I must say – not allowing my own spirit to be darkened by all the horror and cruelty of the times.




You've made a name as a fantasy writer, the book relies very heavily on fairytale structure and ideas, and there is a strong element of romance in it. Given the way that all these things are often seen as trivial or "light", did you have misgivings about writing about a topic that is so relentlessly associated with the serious and weighty?

Well, I was constantly plagued by misgivings and doubts and fears. I always am. It's the cost of creativity.

However, I never doubted my story, or the importance of writing it, or the rightness of creating a story of love and steadfast courage and salvation in the midst of such darkness and terror. What I doubted was my own ability to tell the story as well as I wished to tell it. But I simply trusted in my story, trusted that it was a story that needed to be told, and trusted that I would find the way to do it. It was not easy. THE BEAST’S GARDEN was by far the most difficult book I have ever written. It took me a while to find the right form and structure for the story, and I am someone who needs to see the narrative shape clearly in my mind’s eye. I also struggled with the research that I had to do. Spending months and months reading about Hitler and the horror of the Holocaust was just soul-harrowing, and I needed to be careful not to allow that to overwhelm me, or my novel. 

I was aware, at all times, that THE BEAST’S GARDEN was a love story, and a story of courage and resistance and redemption, and so – rather than being a source of anxiety and misgivings – knowing what my story was actually gave me a light to steer by. I never forgot what I was truly doing in my heart, and that helped me overcome any apprehensions. 



There are many beasts in this story. There were people in it that I simply and absolutely despised. Who do you think was the beastliest beast (and let's remove Hilter from the pool so you don't have to consider him)?

Adolf Hitler is, of course, the most obvious manifestation of beastliness in the book, and I found it fascinating that he identified so strongly with wolves, one of the traditional beasts of terror in fairy tales (he liked to be called Herr Wolf, for example, and many of his headquarters were given names such as the Wolf’s Lair).



Then, of course, we have Heydrich Reinhard, who was head of the Gestapo for a good many years. He was nicknamed The Butcher of Prague and The Blond Beast. Of all the Nazi monsters, he was the one I always found the most chilling, perhaps because he was known to play the violin exquisitely. The violin is the instrument that plays my soul’s music. I find it almost unbearable that a man could, without hesitation, order the death of millions of people and then pick up a violin and play music of heartbreaking beauty. It seems so wrong, in a way that I find difficult to articulate. I think perhaps its because I think music and poetry and art and stories are so often expressions of beauty and love and healing, and a man like that should not be able to create it, or appreciate it. I know this is foolish and untrue. An appreciation of beauty and cruelty of heart have gone hand-in-hand for centuries. I just want it to be true.



But Reinhard is like Hitler and the rest of the cogs in the Nazi death machine – they are obvious villains, almost cartoonish in their virulence. And I was concerned, in the main, with more subtle kinds of beastliness – the ordinary people who betrayed their friends or families, or who looked the other way and so allowed evil to happen. 

I think the character in THE BEAST’S GARDEN who disturbed me the most was Stella Goldschlag, a real-life woman in 1940s Berlin. She was a beautiful young Jewish woman who became one of the infamous ‘catchers’ for the Gestapo. This meant that she was paid to find and point out other Jews to the Nazi police, so that they could be shipped off to their deaths in Auschwitz. Stella Goldschlag betrayed many of her old school-friends and neighbours, and was so hated the Gestapo gave her a revolver to protect herself against assassination attempts. She later said she had become a ‘catcher’ to save her parents from the concentration camps, but the truth is her activities only intensified after both were sent to Theresienstadt.  Nicknamed ‘Blonde Poison’ for her pretty Aryan looks, Stella Goldschlag was paid 300 reichsmarks for each Jew she ‘caught’, and it is estimated she was responsible for the deaths of up to 3,000 people. Her own husband ended up in Auschwitz, and yet she continued to work for the Gestapo right up until the fall of Berlin. Of course she was motivated by fear (she had been tortured by the Gestapo before she agreed to work for them), but also I think by greed and a desire for a soft and easy life. It is the fact that she knew her victims, and knew what was going to happen to them, that make her actions so horrifying to me. 



I loved the way you wove in the stories of real people among the fictional. I was amazed to find out that people such as Libertas, the Admiral, and Heydrich were real; and that Ava, Jutta, Rupert, and Leo stood alongside them just as three dimensional. Were there challenges in weaving the real and the fictional?

Absolutely! It would have been much easier to have had everyone in the book (except Hitler and Heydrich, of course) being made-up characters whose speech and actions and motivations I could control. 

However, a key concern for me in my most recent books has been this idea of giving a voice to forgotten women. In BITTER GREENS, I tell the story of Charlotte-Rose de la Force, the 17th century French noblewoman who wrote the best-known version of ‘Rapunzel’. In THE WILD GIRL, my heroine was Dortchen Wild, the young woman who was the original oral source for many of the Grimm brothers’ most beloved fairy tales. THE BEAST’S GARDEN differs from the previous two books by not being inspired by the true lives of forgotten fairy-tale tellers. However, it is galvanized by the true lives of people who risked everything to stand up to Hitler, and whose stories are now largely unknown. Libertas Schulze-Boysen, Mildred Harnack and their friends were ordinary women, with hopes and dreams and talents that the world will now never see fulfilled. I find this very sad, and so I felt a strong desire to honour the truth of their actions, and to celebrate their courage and strength of spirit. Their true stories were so astonishing, so powerful, so heartbreaking, and so inspiring, I did not want to take their actions and give them to fictional characters with made-up names and backgrounds.

There was one character who began as a fictional creation of mine, only for me to find that she really – in one sense, at least – existed. The thought of it still raises all the hairs on my arms. 

In the original fairy tale of ‘The Singing, Springing Lark’, there is an evil enchantress who curses the hero so he is trapped in the shape of a beast. When I was planning my novel, I called this character ‘the Gestapo woman’ and decided that she would be a young woman who admired and worked for the Nazis, and is in some way responsible for the arrest and imprisonment of my hero, Leo. 

I chose to call this character ‘Gertrud’, because I don’t like that name, and because it means ‘spear-maiden’, thus tying her back to the Valkyries of Norse and Wagnerian myth. 

Many months later, I am working on the chapters in which the Gestapo arrests Ava’s friends, Libertas and Mildred. I read Libertas’ heart-rending letter she wrote to her mother on the eve of her execution (a letter which I reproduce in the book), and realise – with an electric shock of nerves – that Libertas was tricked into betraying her fellow resisters by a young woman working for the Gestapo … and that young woman’s name was Gertrud. 





Let's talk about some of your characters. Ava is described in the book as somebody who "would not keep her head down and her mouth shut". 
How important was that for the story?

Extremely important! 

Ava needed to be headstrong, courageous and far too outspoken for the plot to work. The story begins with her rushing through the darkness on Kristallnacht in order to try and save her best friend and his family, who are Jewish. She runs into a stranger, and in the intensity of the moment, speaks from her heart about her fear and hatred of the Nazi regime. She does not realize that the stranger she has met is an officer in the Abwehr, the German secret service. She risks her life, and that of her family, by speaking out so frankly, and her impulsiveness could have ended very badly for her. Instead she changes her life and that of the Nazi officer. 

Later in the book, she joins the underground resistance movement, something that no sensible German hausfrau would do, and she speaks out through anti-Nazi graffiti and leaflets. Her outspoken character drives the whole plot of the book, right up to her unwitting betrayal of her husband towards the end. 

Ava is also a singer, and her musical voice plays a very strong part in the whole narrative too. 

I have a lot of bird symbolism throughout the book, inspired by the key motif of ‘The Singing, Springing Lark’, the Grimm fairy tale that first sparked this book. Symbolically, the lark is seen as a messenger from God, the carrier of news, the herald of light and joy and the new day. So Ava is my messenger of light, my lark. Her name even means ‘bird’ and ‘life’ – I chose it very carefully. (Do you remember? We were in Oxford together when I found it.)


Ava is also described as almost synaesthetic. She sees music and colours in everything. Is that something taken from your own life or someone you know?

Yes, that’s me. I have always had the ability to see images, or stories, in sounds. When I listen to music, if its something that moves me or excites me, I will get a series of little moving coloured images in my mind, like a snippet of a film. Every time this happens to Ava in the book, I describe something that I have seen myself, in response to the same piece of music or the same word or name. I have been told it's a form of synaesthesia but I don’t believe it is, simply because it does not happen to me all the time. Not all names spark an image in my mind’s eye, and not all music tells me a story. Sometimes, if I concentrate hard, I can conjure an image. Synaesthesia, however, is said to be both involuntary and constant i.e. the same colour is always seen at the sound of a particular note of music.

Perhaps it is simply because I have such an over-active imagination!



Rupert (Ava's "almost-twin") was my favourite character. His poetry was sublime. I wondered if you wrote it or if it was actually poetry found secreted around the Jewish prison camps?

I’m glad you loved the poetry. I wrote it all. Most of it was written at fever-pitch, late at night when I was exhausted, and appears in the book virtually word-for-word as I first wrote it down. I did, however, read quite a lot of poetry when I wrote THE BEAST’S GARDEN. Mainly Rainer Maria Rilke, who I quote extensively through the narrative, but also Holocaust-driven poetry by writers such as Primo Levi, Elie Wiesel, Czeslaw Milosz, Lotte Kramer, and Chaia L. Heller, unbearably sad and moving poems.




Let's turn to research now: Berlin, which is a city I love, is always changing. After the allies had taken it, it was described as "a pile of rubble next to Potsdam". How did you go about reconstructing the brilliant, beautiful pre-war Berlin?

It was important to me to bring Berlin of the late 1930s as vividly to life as I could, to deepen the sense of waste and desolation following the city’s fall in April 1945. 

So I had to do a lot of research. Pre-war travel guides were useful to me, especially one in which I found a map! History books, memoirs, old photographs and news-reels, descriptions in pre-war German literature – these were all useful to me. I travelled to Berlin, and went to all the places that still existed or had been rebuilt. I particularly loved the Tiergarten, and walked in it every day. In my mind’s eye I carried all the old photographs I had studied, in which nothing was left of the Tiergarten but a few burnt sticks and acres of ash.

And because I found Berlin so inutterably moving, this crucible of 20th century history, I think I managed to pour all that empathy and connection into my descriptions of how the city once was (or, at least, how I imagined it once was). 




Some of the details of your research were captivating. I need to know: was there really a woman who ate the gravel Hitler had stepped upon?


Yes, there was. Not just one. Many.

At least according to Friedrich Reck-Malleczewen, a German novelist of the time who kept a secret diary between 1936 and 1944. He hated Hitler with an absolute passion, and most of the diary is a record of that hate. He wrote: 

‘My life in this pit will soon enter its fifth year. For more than forty-two months, I have thought hate, have lain down with hate in my heart, have dreamed hate and awakened with hate. I suffocate in the knowledge that I am the prisoner of a horde of vicious apes, and I rack my brains over the perpetual riddle of how this same people which so jealously watched over its rights a few years ago can have sunk into this stupor …’ His diary is a reminder that not all Germans adored Hitler to the extent of literally eating the ground he trod on!

David Pryce-Jones, one of Unity Mitford’s biographers, repeated the anecdote about the swallowed gravel while discussing Hitler’s extraordinary charismatic pull over young women such as Unity and her sister Diana, and that is where I first read it. 




You wrote about Unity Mitford and her obsession with Hitler. Why do you think women felt that way about him?

I think it has to do with the giddy dangerous allure of power, especially absolute power, and also with Hitler’s own personal charisma. He had a way of fixing his eyes on someone with unswerving intensity that made many people – both men and women – feel a strong physiological reaction. Their temperature rose, sweat broke out on their hands, their collars felt too tight, they would feel light-headed and unsteady. Many did faint in his presence, in much the same way that people swoon over pop stars. Films of the time show women rushing the barricades, arms held up to touch him, trying to kiss him, and being dragged away by his bodyguards. It was more than his personal charisma, however. Unity was in love with him before she even met him. She moved to Munich in the hope that she might meet him, and spent days hanging round his favourite restaurant until at last he noticed her. In some way, Hitler’s words – both his promises and his threats – filled some hunger or need in the hearts of Unity Mitford and other young women like her. Freud would have called it a death impulse. 




The fear of the oppressive fascist regime pervades everything in this story. It adds so much pressure to the characters that you're sure they can't survive.
You show a side of Germany during the war that isn't often shown: that of the German people. Did you ever reflect, while writing this, on whether you would be like Ava, or if you would keep your head down and your mouth shut under such circumstances?

Oh yes! All the time. I kept thinking: what would I have done? Would I have had the courage to try and resist? 

It was very important to me to show that Ava was just an ordinary young woman, led step-by-step into extraordinary acts of bravery and kindness (and so too, by extension, Libertas and Mildred and the other real-life women of the story). They were not spies, trained to kill a man with their hat-pins. They did not have guns, or shoe-phones, or skeleton keys. They had to work and queue for food and try and find warm clothes for their children and spend their nights in air-raid shelters, struggling simply to survive. And yet somehow they found the courage to surreptitiously pass food to starving prisoners, to hide Jews and try to help them escape, to keep records of the atrocities they saw … all at the risk not only of their own lives but – under the Nazis’ sippenhaft law – of their whole families as well. 

I like to think that I would have been so brave. Yet I find it hard sometimes simply to stand up for what I believe in. 

And would I risk my children’s lives, my parents’ lives, the lives of all my dear beloved ones, to do so? I don’t know. I hope so. For one thing I have realized acutely since writing this book is that each one of us must stand up for what is right. Some things really are worth fighting for, and dying for. 





How implicated are those who do just keep their heads down when such awful things are happening?

In a way, this was one of the questions that tormented me the most while researching and writing THE BEAST’S GARDEN. 

It is very easy to become absorbed in your own busy life, hardly aware of what is happening outside our own small circle of influence. Wars and famines and atrocities can happen in the world, and barely make a dent in our consciousness. Sometimes, we are dreadfully sorry for what is happening. We wish there was something we could do. Other times, we know, but experience a kind of compassion fatigue, and a diffusion of responsibility. Someone else will help, we think. I’ve got a lot on right now. 

I can understand such thoughts and feelings because I have been guilty of them all. 

We can look back in time and be horrified that a Jewish refugee ship was shot at when it tried to land in Florida in 1939. The 900-odd refugees on that ship were forced to return to Europe, where many later died in concentration camps. It seems a shameful failure of compassion. Yet similar scenes of pragmatic cold-heartedness are happening on our own shores now.  

In future years, will we be trying to excuse our leaders’ actions by saying ‘I’m sorry, we didn’t know’? 



And, at this point in time at least, we do not have to fear our doors being smashed down by the Gestapo, and our loved ones being dragged off to concentration camps. We do not have to fear torture, slavery and a slow cruel death. 
If we do not like the way our country is run, we can vote to change our government and make our displeasure felt in protests, strikes, and by raising our voices. 

I would do almost anything to save my children from harm. I can understand how so many people turned their faces away, and pretended not to see. I can understand how tongues would be turned to stone, and hearts would be padlocked shut. 

Yet to understand such behavior is not to condone it. 

I’ve been telling people – only half joking – that writing THE BEAST’S GARDEN triggered an existential crisis in me. I have always thought deeply about the big ontological questions, and explored them in my fiction (its one reason why I love fantasy, a narrative form that embraces Big Thinking.)

But the tragic story of the German underground resistance has made me think a lot about the nature of good and evil, and what it means to be one or the other. And that old adage that the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing is true.

So I want to make sure I do something. 

Since writing THE BEAST’S GARDEN I have tried hard to be braver and more outspoken, and to stand up for what I believe to be right. I am trying to do more to help others who are in need and suffering. I am trying even harder to be a good person.

Because I know now that evil does exist – and that we must always fight against it. 

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


SPOTLIGHT: The 50 Authors Who Shaped Me

Friday, June 03, 2016


THE 50 AUTHORS WHO SHAPED ME 

Today is my 50th birthday! To celebrate, I thought I would share with you the 50 authors who have been most important to me in my life.

It took me a long while to compile this list  – it was so difficult to choose only fifty from the thousands of authors whose work meant so much to me. 

When I began, I realised that many of the books that I had originally chosen were my favourite childhood books. Of course this makes sense, as the books we read when we are children make such a deep impression upon our psyche. However, I wanted to see how favourite books in each decade of my life worked to change and direct me. 

In the end, I made strict rules. I could only choose fiction; and I had to name the ten authors in each decade of my life whose work had transformed my life in some way. I have also chosen only one book from each author to highlight, though most of these authors have written many, many books which I love. 

I call the novels on this list my “touchstone’ books.  

It is part of my 50/50 Project to re-read all of these books again - and slowly, one by one, I am doing so. Any book which I have re-read has a link to my review on it - and if I have reviewed other books by that author, then the authors' name carries the link. 

Over time, it is my hope to have re-read and reviewed every book on this list.  




0-10 (1966-1976)



1. C.S. Lewis – The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe
2. Enid Blyton – Five Go to Treasure Island
3. Eleanor Farjeon – The Glass Slipper
4. Elizabeth Goudge – The Little White Horse
5. Nicholas Stuart Grey – The Stone Cage
6. Joan Aiken – The Wolves of Willoughby Chase
7. J.R.R Tolkien – The Hobbit
8. Frances Hodgson Barnett –The Secret Garden
9. Susan Cooper – The Dark Is Rising
10. Geoffrey Trease – Cue for Treason




11-20 (1977-1986)


1.     Ursula le Guin – A Wizard Of Earthsea
2. L.M. Montgomery – Emily of New Moon
3. E. J. Oxenham – New Abbey Girls 
4. Anne Frank – Diary of a Young Girl 
5. Dodie SmithI Capture The Castle
6. Georgette Heyer – These Old Shades
7. Mary Stewart – The Moon-Spinners 
8.     Mary Webb – Precious Bane
9. Jane Austen – Persuasion
10. Charlotte Bronte – Jane Eyre


21-30 (1987-1996)



1.     Emily Bronte – Wuthering Heights
2.     Daphne du Maurier - Rebecca 
3.     Harper Lee – To Kill A Mockingbird
4. Jane Yolen – Briar Rose 
5. Marion Zimmer Bradley – The Mists of Avalon
6. Robin McKinley – Beauty
7. Isabel Allende – The House of Spirits
8. Alice Walker – The Color Purple
9. E.M. Forster – A Room With A View
10. Tad Williams – The Dragonbone Chair


31-40 (1997-2006)



1. Jeannette Winterson – The Passion 
2. Barbara Kingsolver – The Poisonwood Bible 
3. Susan VreelandGirl in Hyacinth Blue
4. Juliet Marillier – Daughter of the Forest
5. Kim Wilkins – Angel of Ruin
6. Tracy ChevalierFalling Angels
7. Joanne Harris – Five Quarters Of The Orange
8.     Sarah Dunant – The Birth of Venus
9. Geraldine Brooks – The Year of Wonders
10. Carlos Ruiz Zafon – The Shadow of the Wind




41-50 (2007-2016)



1. Marcus Zusak – The Book Thief
2. Phillipa Gregory – The Queen's Fool
3. C. J. Sansom – Dissolution

4. Mary Ann Schaffer – The Guernsey Literary & Potato
              Peel Pie Society
5. Kate MortonThe Forgotten Garden 
6. Ken Follett – The Pillars of the Earth
7. Karen Maitland - Company of Liars
8. Eowyn Ivey – The Snow Child 
9. Sarah WatersAffinity
10. A.S. Byatt – Possession 



Are any of the books on this list touchstone books for you too?

What books should I read to to shape the next decade of my life?

PLEASE LET ME KNOW IN THE COMMENTS SECTION BELOW! 




SPOTLIGHT: Books That Haunt a Child Forever

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

BOOKS THAT HAUNT A CHILD FOREVER

Bertrand Russell said, ‘There are only two motives for reading a book: one, that you can enjoy it; two, that you can boast about it.’

Children, of course, rarely read a book for any other reason than enjoyment. And there really should be no other reason to read. 

Books give us entertainment and escape, refreshment and relaxation, and even, perhaps, wisdom. 

The best of them also bewitch us, giving us some sense of beauty and astonishment that stays with us all of our lives.

One of my favourite writers, Susan Cooper, wrote about one of her favourite writers, Walter de la Mare: 

“I’ve had my copy of this wonder for thirty years and must have turned to it at least as many times each year – 
sometimes for solace, sometimes for sunlight, always with an emotion that I have never quite been able to define. 

Come Hither is my talisman, my haunting: a distillation of the mysterious quality that sings out of all the books to which I’ve responded most deeply all my life –
and that I deeply hope as a writer I might someday, somehow, be able to catch.”

That quote says exactly what I feel most passionately about books and about my writing. I too want to write books that become talismans, 
to write books that have that “mysterious quality that sings”.

Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising is a book that has haunted me all my life. 



So too:

Philippa Pierce’s Tom’s Midnight Garden

Lucy Boston’s The Children of Green Knowe

Elizabeth Goudge’s The Little White Horse

Ursula le Guin’s The Wizard of Earthsea 

Joan Aiken’s The Wolves of Willoughby Chase 

 Diana Wynne Jones’s Charmed Life. 


There are, of course, others. 

These, however, are my magic seven, the ones I have returned to so many times 

their flimsy paperbacks are falling to pieces in my hands.


What all these books have in common is a sense of wonder and mystery, 

a feeling that adventure and magic is lurking just around the corner. 


They are also silver-tongued. 

The writing is vivid and supple and lucent. 

The characters are alive, dancing and joking and fighting and fearing 

and losing and sorrowing and prevailing at sometimes a great cost. 

They sing.


Lucy Boston once wrote: “

I believe children, even the youngest, love good language, and that they see, feel, understand 

and communicate more, not less, than grownups. 

Therefore I never write down to them, but try to evoke that new brilliant awareness that is the world.’



Me too!

Every book I have ever written is in homage to these writers – among others – 

and these books – among others. 


Yet it is the Gypsy books – the series that has driven me and my family close 

to madness these past eighteen months – that I hope will come to haunt its readers 

in the way that Walter de la Mare’s book haunted Susan Cooper, 

and Susan Cooper’s books haunted me.


The Gypsy Crown is the first in a series of six books that follow the adventures of 

two thirteen-year old Romany children, Luka and Emilia, as they set out on 

a perilous adventure to find six lucky charms that will, they hope, help them 

save their families from the gallows. 


The books take place in the last three weeks of Cromwell’s life, in August 1658, 

and move very quickly, each book taking place over a matter of two or three days.

In each book there is a challenge to be met and a price to be paid, 

before Luka and Emilia can win the lucky charm. 

They get tangled up with Royalist spies, smugglers, 

highwaymen, witches, and impoverished aristocrats. 

Every step of the way, they must out-run and out-wit 

a vindictive thief-taker called Coldham.


On this journey, they go to real places, like Amberley Castle in Sussex 

or the Mermaid Inn in Rye, and meet real people, 

like the Countess of Dysart who was a double agent 

for the exiled King Charles II. 


We have a map in each book that shows the journey Luka and Emilia take, 

and at the back we have a section entitled ‘The Facts Behind the Fiction’, 

crammed full of all sorts of fascinating information about the Rom 

and the seventeenth century, including a recipe for baked hedgehog 

and an explanation for why Cromwell banned Christmas.



The books are full of suspense, surprise, adventure and, I hope, humour. 

They can be read by children who love fantasy, 

and those who like to know about real things and true things. 


The last chapter of the first book is called ‘Magic or Not?’ 

and this is a question that is asked throughout the whole series. 

Emilia believes fervently that the charms she is collecting are magic. 

Luka, however, is a matter-of-fact boy who thinks their success 

is due to their own wit and cleverness. Readers can choose whom to believe.


I’m a passionate advocate of books which empower children - 

books which teach children they have the chance to choose 

what they become, and that their choice can change the world.


In fantasy books, hobbits can become heroes, ugly ducklings can become swans, 

and Romany children – universally believed to be thieves and tricksters – 

can change not only their own fortune, but the whole course of history.


Jane Yolen – another favourite writer of mine! – said: 

“A child who can love the oddities of a fantasy book 

cannot possibly be xenophobic as an adult. 

What is a different color, a different culture, a different tongue for a child 

that has already mastered Elvish, respected Puddleglums, 

or fallen under the spell of dark-skinned Ged, the greatest wizard Earthsea has ever known?” 


My Chain of Charms series are the first books I know of that feature the Rom – 

one of the most mysterious and maligned races of people in the world – 

as heroes, not just as highly-coloured background props.


In a speech I gave recently I found myself saying, 

‘I love writing for this age group – for children between 8  & 13. 

It was the age in which I first really discovered books and reading. 

It was the age in which I laid down my idea of the world and how it works. 

The books I read then are the books which I have carried with me all my life. 

At this age, I can still hope to surprise and enchant my readers. 

I can still hope to save them.’


Until I said this, I did not know that was what I longed for. 

Yet I do. 

To haunt my readers with beauty, to astonish them with the strange and the miraculous, 

to help them realise they have the power to change the world. 


This is what I, as a writer, deeply hope I might someday, somehow, catch and pass on.




Kate Forsyth’s books are bestsellers round the world, having been translated into German, Russian, Italian and Japanese, as well as sold in Australia, New Zealand, the UK, the US and Canada. To research her Chain of Charms series, she took her three children – all aged under eight – round south-east England, travelling in her footsteps of her Romany children. She still re-reads the most loved books of her childhood – sometimes to her children.


(This article was first published in Magpies in 2004)

A Rapunzel poem by Kate Forsyth

Thursday, February 11, 2016

BITTER GREENS, my imaginative retelling of Rapunzel, has won the ALA Award for Best Historical Fiction!

I also studied a Doctorate of Creative arts on the fairy tale, writing a thesis called 'The Rescue of Rapunzel: A Mythic History of the Maiden in the Tower tale,' and a poem, 'In the Tower': 




In the Tower


Walled in my old stone tower
the bitter taste of tears
always in my throat
only a slit to put my eye to
yet how full of change is that sky
I watch the stars wheel past
seasons turning and turning
the one tree on that faraway hill
once more bursts into life
green in the shadows
golden in the light 


Walled in my silent tower
how can I frame the words
to tell my story
my heart is a riddle
green sickness in my soul
loneliness the heaviest burden
how I long to slip free
of this empty shadowed tower
fly on muffled wings like the owl
white against the thorns
black against the moon


Walled in my cold stone tower
I conjure a steed from flame
An invisible cloak from ashes
A frail ladder from cobwebs
I make a dagger from ice
A key from bone and wishes
I spin a song from the silence
One day someone shall sing my refrain
Green in the shadows
Golden in the light


Free of my shadowy tower
We shall bind ourselves together
With tendrils of green
With tresses of gold
We shall build a castle of light and air
And banish silence with song
Together we’ll dance in the forest
White against the thorns
Black against the moon


by Kate Forsyth



SPOTLIGHT: The Starkin Crown by Kate Forsyth

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Today is Christmas Day, and I thought I would celebrate by giving away three signed copies of THE STARKIN CROWN, the children's book I most associate with the Yuletide season.

The Starkin Crown is a fantasy adventure for readers aged 12 and above, which tells the story of a boy who must overcome treachery, heartache and his own secret weakness in order to find the lost spear of the Storm King that will help him fulfill his destiny as the true king of all. 

Peregrine is the son of King Merry and Queen Liliana. With the blood of wildkin, hearthkin and starkin in his veins, he is heir to both the Erlqueen of Stormlinn and the starkin throne – except that the crown was seized before his birth by his grandfather’s cruel cousin Vernisha. Many prophecies have foretold that he is the one who will at last break the starkin’s ruthless reign and bring peace to the land, but his parents fear the prophecies and try to keep him safe. 

One day a starkin girl arrives with a warning. Queen Vernisha’s army approaches Stormlinn Castle under cover of a snowstorm, hoping to find the wildkin busy celebrating the midwinter solstice. Peregrine’s parents prepare to defend the castle, but send Peregrine to safety at the Erlrune of Evenlinn. Lady Grizelda, the starkin girl, begs to accompany him. They set out into the snowy forest with Peregrine’s faithful squire and food taster, Jack, an escort of soldiers, and the old wildkin woman Stiga, who can shapeshift into an owl and can sometimes see the future. 

Almost at once, a hunter with two bloodhounds is on their trail. Peregrine’s escort is killed defending him, and the three young people are on their own in the Perilous Forest, with no-one but Stiga to guide them. She does not take them to the Erlrune, however, but leads them towards the very danger they were meant to be fleeing. It is time, she says, to find the lost spear of thunder. 

Yet someone near them is a spy. Stormlinn Castle is betrayed and Peregrine’s parents taken prisoner, and Peregrine himself must overcome deceit, attempted murder, and treason. However, when he meets Molly, the lame daughter of the Marsh King, suddenly it seems as if his quest may succeed …

You can read about my inspiration for THE STARKIN CROWN here - if you'd like to win a copy, simply create a beautiful meme from one of my quotes and post it on Facebook or Twitter (don't forget to tag me so I can share!) The most beautiful and creative memes will win (for inspiration, look at my Pinterest page where past memes have been pinned).

The competition will run for twelve days, from 24th December 2015 to 4th January 2016, and is open to anyone in the world. The more you do to spread the word about my books, and the more beautifully and creatively you do it, the more likely you are to win! Email me your entries to kate@kateforsyth.com.au and i will post the winning entries on my blog.


GOOD LUCK!  



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