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SPOTLIGHT: My notebooks for my novel BITTER GREENS

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

My novel BITTER GREENS (a retelling of Rapunzel interwoven with the true life story of the woman who first told the tale) is being studied this semester at the University of Queensland. The class tutor (and one of my all-time favourite writers) Kim Wilkins asked me if it was possible to show the students some of the pages from my notebooks. 

I realised I had never posted about my working techniques for BITTER GREENS, and so this seemed like the perfect opportunity to do so. 

            


I buy a new notebook whenever I begin a new book. Normally, I try and buy something really beautiful and special, but for BITTER GREENS I had been given a pile of plain black notebooks and I thought I had better use those first. 

To make them pretty and special, I stuck images on the front:


       


These are the covers for the notebook devoted to the story of Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de la Force, set in 17th century Paris and Versailles and the abbey of Gercy-en-Brie in the French countryside. The paintings are not of Charlotte-Rose herself, but of anonymous 17th century French ladies that spoke to me somehow. This is the only image I was able to find of Charlotte-Rose de la Force:



This is the cover of my notebook for the scenes set in Renaissance Venice, which tell the story of Margherita (my maiden) and Selena Leonelli (my witch). The image is one of Titian's most famous paintings of the mysterious women who was his muse. It is called 'Woman with a Mirror' and you can see the original in the Louvre (I did!) 

       

The opening pages of my notebook - the pink stick-it note was from a dinner party where I met some Germans who told me the perfect place to set my Rapunzel scenes in the tower - Sirmione in Lake Garda.  I ended up setting this scenes a few miles away at Rocca del Manerba:


       

Some early pages from my notebook.


It is always very important to me that I plan my key turning points as early as possible in the writing process. I try and find the underlying pattern in the story, which is a process I find very exciting and liberating - it helps me know my key emotional beats, and the scenes which I wish to foreshadow early in the story. BITTER GREENS was a complicated story, so I created a graph like this for each of my major characters - seeing where their stories intersected and how many words each section should be. I often change my graph as the story develops and I learn more about my story - in which case, I draw this diagram again and again, as I try to understand the key underpinnings of the story's architecture.  

These are the opening lines of BITTER GREENS, written longhand in my notebook. I often write key scenes longhand first, to slow myself down and think through what I want to say. Typing is an amazing technological breakthrough for writers, but it can lead to quick and facile writing. I like to write slow and deep and thoughtful at times - usually for my most important scenes or when a line or paragraph is causing me trouble and always, always, always, when I am writing poetry.

         

I have a very visual imagination, so I like to be able to "see" things before I describe them. Consequently I am always sticking in maps, diagrams, and photos into my notebooks, or drawing little maps for myself (this sketch is of Margherita's tower)

An early chapter outline

  

Lists of characters

              

Random pages I thought you might find interesting

     

My notebooks are not particularly pretty - my handwriting is awful and my drawings even worse. They are, however, a record of the creative process from the earliest ideas through to the finished product. I date my pages, keep a record of my word counts, and say where I am when I am working on that page (Paris, Venice, Florence and the south of France all feature in these pages.) 

Writing BITTER GREENS was an extraordinary experience for me. No book I have written has ever dug so deeply into who I truly am. 

 I have written a lot on my blog about Bitter Greens - I hope you will go and explore further! Or take a look at my Pinterest pages on Titian's paintings of his muse, Rapunzel  or my inspirational pinboard for BITTER GREENS

But - most of all - I hope you love the book!

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!


KATE FORSYTH'S Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015

Friday, January 08, 2016

Every year I try and take part in the Australian Women Writers Challenge, in an attempt to read more books written by Australian female authors.

I only managed ten in total this year, much to my disappointment. It may have been more – I’ve had such a busy year that I was not as good as usual in writing down all I’ve read! Also, a lot of my reading was taken up in research books for the new novel I am working on, which is set in Victorian England. 


I will do better in 2016!




1. The Light Between the Oceans - M.L. Stedman

A compelling and beautifully written novel set in a lighthouse in Australia, and telling the story of a lost child, and how one small choice can break apart many lives.  



2. Daughters of the Storm - Kim Wilkins

A historical fantasy set in a world much like the Dark Ages, with an absolutely brilliant kick-ass heroine and lots of brilliantly drawn characters to love and hate.




3. The Soldier's Wife - Pamela Hart

A moving historical novel set in Sydney during the First World War, The Soldier's Wife tells the story of the women left at home, who must struggle on as best they an.  





4. The Husband’s Secret – Liane Moriarty

A gripping and utterly original psychological thriller set in a Sydney suburb much like my own ... unputdownable!






5. The Forgotten Garden – Kate Morton 

This is one of my favourite books by one of my favourite writers - entwining the story of a Victorian fairy tale teller, a secret garden, and a murder ... so much to love! 





6. The Tide Watchers – Lisa Chaplin

An intriguing historical novel set during the Napoleonic wars and inspired by the fascinating true-life story of a a British female spy.





7. The Spring Bride – Anne Gracie

Anne Gracie's Regency romance novels are an utter delight! Funny, warm-hearted, and adventurous - I buy them as soon as they are released! 





8. Big Little Lies – Liane Moriarty 

Another intriguing novel that looks at the dark secrets that can lurk under the surface of even the shiniest of lives, this was so good I gave it to my husband to read!




9. Small Acts Of Disappearance: Essays on Hunger  - Fiona Wright

A collection of interconnected essays inspired by the author's struggle with anorexia nervosa, written with crystalline prose.    





10. The Lake House – Kate Morton

I pre-ordered this book and read it as soon as it landed on my doorstep. Another compelling historica/contemporary tale of secrets and mysteries. Loved it!


WRITING ADVICE from Kimberley Freeman

Friday, May 08, 2015

To celebrate the launch of Kim Wilkins's wonderful new book Daughters of the Storm, I'm running a vintage post from her with some very useful writing tips. Enjoy!



As you will know, Kim Wilkins is the author of  some of my all-time favourite books, including 'Angel of Ruin' and 'The Autumn Castle' - books which entwine history and the supernatural with intoxicating results.




In recent times, she has been writing books with a greater emphasis on romance and suspense rather than magic, under the name Kimberley Freeman, using her beloved grandmother's surname. I love these books just as much as I do her earlier books. Although they do not have that chilling supernatural twist, they are still books that utterly refuse to be put down - utterly compelling  and readable.

Her most recent novel, 'Lighthouse Bay' was one of the Best Books I Read in 2012, while I can also strongly recommend her previous book, 'Wildflower Hill'. 




Born in London, Kim grew up in Brisbane and has degrees in English Literature and Creative Writing. I first met her in Melbourne when both of our first books were short-listed for the Aurealis Prize for Excellence in Speculative Fiction. Kim won, drat her.  

Since then we try and see each other whenever we can. We always talk long and hard about the craft of writing, something we both feel very passionately about. 



Here are Kim's top writing tips:


Look to your verbs. If you read a page back and it seems lifeless and flabby, find every verb on the page and see if you can improve it. Make a point of collecting great verbs every time you read or watch a movie or have a conversation. Verbs like gasp, surge, quiver, and drench work so hard. Verbs are the muscle of a sentence, and can punch up dull writing in a moment.

Chillax on chapter one. Easily the most common writing problem I see is the writer trying far too hard to impress in the first few pages of a story. Many stories warm up and get fantastic after page five, but by then the publisher has already put you on the "reject" pile. Often your first chapter is so overworked that it's uncomfortable to read. My advice is to finish the book, then scrap the first chapter all together and write it again without looking at the original.

Don't write all your fun scenes first. Write in order. If you give a child her custard first, she's probably not going to be all that interested in her Brussels sprouts.

Be in a viewpoint, always. At the start of every scene make sure you know exactly whose viewpoint you are going to be in, and write the scene from inside their head. A story details a relationship between characters and events. The most impact is always achieved from describing that relationship from the inside.

Plan your story in advance, even if it's only loosely. It will save you so much time and heartache and, contrary to popular belief, it's actually MORE fun to do it this way. When you know that an exciting turning point is approaching, the scene and the ones around it can play out in your mind over and over as you think them through, becoming richer the more you anticipate it.

Most important of all: keep going. This is a tough craft, and it's an even tougher business. Dream big if you want, but your dreams can't sustain you on a day-to-day basis. The only thing that can sustain you is the work. Do it because you love it; because not to write hurts. Do it because you are mad about your story and obsessed with your characters. Don't make it another chore to fit into your busy day: make it the special place you go when your day has been rubbish. Keep going and keep going, and then keep going some more.
 

INTERVIEW: Kim Wilkins, author of Daughters of the Storm

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Please welcome Kim Wilkins, one of Australia's finest writers, to the blog today!

Kim and I have known each other for many years! Our first novels were published in the same year and were both shortlisted for the Aurealis Award. Although Kim won, I forgave her and we've been friends ever since. 

Kim is here to talk about her new book Daughters of the Storm, a magical action-packed epic fantasy set in a world much like Anglo-Saxon England.



 

Kim, what is your latest novel all about?

It's about five daughters of a tribal warlord, in a world based on Anglo-Saxon England. Their father falls gravely ill and Bluebell—the eldest daughter and the hard-arse, smashed-nosed, tattoo-covered soldier—is convinced it's an enchantment. The five of them start out on a journey to find their long-lost aunt, who is rumoured to be a powerful undermagician, to help save him. But they find more than they bargained for along the way, and betrayals and bad magic split them apart.

How did you get the first idea for it?
I am borderline obsessed with Anglo-Saxon literature, but it's never about women. So I began to make character sketches about possible interesting female characters, and I particularly wanted to write about a female soldier who was complex and interesting and not the typical "strong female warrior", so I made her ugly and tall and sweary and fiercely loyal and I fell in love with her and decided to write a book about her. Along the way, I came to love all her sisters too: Ash with her terrible burden of magic, Rose who thinks with her downstairs parts, Ivy who is a silly coquette with no idea of how dangerous her ideas are, and the slightly unhinged pious Willow, who hears voices in her head and tries to do what they tell her.



What do you love most about writing?
Everything! Coming up with story ideas, talking about story ideas, writing down story ideas! I feel as though at birth I got the full complement of human emotions—love, anger, fear, wonder—and this extra one called story. Writing makes me feel story and it's the best feeling! Though story also means you always worry when your loved ones are ten minutes late, because you can too easily imagine scenarios where they are horribly killed.

What are the best 5 books you've read recently?
I loved Bitter Greens by you, Kate. So much so that I set it on my undergraduate creative writing course, where my students are currently falling in love with it too. I loved Jo Walton's My Real Children, which is kind of like "light" alternative history but refracted through the very personal and intimate journey of a single woman through the late 20th century. I recently read Jon Ronson's nonfiction book So You've Been Publicly Shamed, which is a very clear-eyed examination of social media culture and mob mentality. I finally got around to The Hunger Games over summer. I usually don't read YA, and I feared it was going to be like Twilight, but it was brilliant. Genius plot, fabulous main character. And over summer, too, my husband read The Lord of the Rings out loud to me. I hadn't read it since I was a teenager and it was amazing to revisit it, but also to hear the rhythms of the language allowed. One of my all-time favourite stories.



What lies ahead of you in the next year? 
I am just in the starting phases of the sequel to Daughters of the Storm, tentatively titled The Sea of Wings. I will be writing large portions of it in the west of England in the second half of the year. Very excited!

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BOOK REVIEW: Daughters of the Storm by Kim Wilkins

Monday, May 04, 2015




Title: Daughters of the Storm
Author: Kim Wilkins
Publisher: Harlequin Mira
Age Group & Genre: Fantasy Fiction for Adults
Reviewer: Kate Forsyth
Source of Book: An advanced readers copy from the publisher


The Blurb:
The first passionate, magical book in a compelling new series from award-winning author Kim Wilkins.

Lying in a magic-induced coma, the King of Thyrsland is on the brink of death: if his enemies knew, chaos would reign. In fear for his life and his kingdom, his five daughters set out on a perilous journey to try to save him, their only hope an aunt they have yet to meet, a shadowy practitioner of undermagic who lives on the wild northern borders.

No-one can stand before the fierce tattooed soldier and eldest daughter Bluebell, an army commander who is rumoured to be unkillable, but her sisters, the loyal and mystical Ash, beautiful but unhappily married Rose, pious Willow and uncertain Ivy all have their own secrets to keep from her — the kind of secrets that if revealed could bring disaster down upon not only them, but the entire kingdom.

Waiting in the wings is stepbrother Wylm whose dealings with Bluebell's greatest enemy, Hakon the Raven King, would end Bluebell's dreams of revenge on his mother and propel his own desperate grasp for power.

Daughters of the Storm is a richly drawn historical fantasy full of passion, magic and fire, an intimate epic that traces the lives of five complex women as they pursue a quest upon which the fate of a kingdom — as well as their own destinies — rests. 


What I Thought: 
Kim Wilkins has always been one of my favourite writers, and I’ve been eagerly waiting for this book. An early chapter was included in her collection of short stories The Year of Ancient Ghosts, for which I wrote the foreword. 

Most of Kim’s earlier books moved between contemporary times and the past, with a supernatural edge, and so Daughters of the Storm is a new departure for her – an epic fantasy set in what seems like an alternative Anglo-Saxon world. It’s a vividly rendered world, with characters that just leap off the page (I particularly loved the eldest daughter Bluebell, a fierce warrior with a broken nose that does not like people who try and stand in her way!) The story follows Bluebell and her four sisters as they try and discover who has cursed their father, who lies in a deep coma. The writing is superb, the pace just as quick and fluid as you could hope for, and the story twists and turns in all sorts of unexpected ways. Very excited to read Book 2 now!

Kim also writes wonderful non-fantastical fiction under the name Kimberley Freeman – read an earlier interview with her! 


Kim’s website: Hexebart’s Well 

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INTERVIEW: Kimberley Freeman, author of Evergreen Falls

Friday, August 08, 2014

Today I am very happy to welcome one of my all-time favourite writers to my blog. A new Kimberley Freeman book is something to grab joyfully with both hands. They weave together two narrative threads - one in the present and one in the past - and never fail to delight and move me.  Today Kim is talking about her new book, Evergreen Falls.




Tell me about your new book:

Evergreen Falls is set in the 1920s in a luxury hotel in the Blue Mountains. A forbidden love affair precipitates a great tragedy as the snow moves in. When the snow melts none of those involved ever speak of it again. In the present, a young woman fleeing her own family tragedy finds a bundle of old love letters and tries to find out what happened in 1926.



 What was the first flash of inspiration for it?

I read my grandmother's memoir, which she wrote before she died. In the 1920s she had worked in posh hotels in Sydney including the Wentworth, and she wrote all about it. She wrote about colourful characters, famous people of the time including opera singers and beauty queens, and of course many beautiful frocks she wore in rich detail. There is a story in her memoir about two young people, a brother and sister from a rich farming family, who are at dinner one night. The sister's pearl necklace breaks and my grandma found herself scrabbling on the floor helping her find pearls, when the brother climbed down onto the floor to do the same. In grandma's memoir, that's the end of the story. In my novel, it's just the beginning.


What do you love most in the world?
I love being immersed in a story, whether reading it or writing it. All the better if that story has mystery, history, or a sense of the mystical or the divine. I love sunny windy days and rainy nights and tea brewed properly in pots and being with my loved ones and pets. I'm a very simple woman.


What do you fear most in the world?
A life without imagination.


What are your 5 favourite childhood books?
Anne of Green Gables
The Magic Faraway Tree
The Adventures of Pippi Longstocking
The Hobbit
The Secret Garden



What are your 5 favourite books read as an adult?
Gone with the Wind
The Mists of Avalon
Beowulf
The Lord of the Rings
Jane Eyre





What books might we be surprised to find on your shelves?
 I don't know that it's particularly surprising, but I do read very eclectically. I love chick lit much as I love Old English poetry, and I read masses of non-fiction.


How would you describe perfect happiness?
 In bed with book, a cup of tea, and a sunbeam on my shoulder.

What are your dreams for the future?
I'm bristling with ideas for books that I want to write. I'd like time to write all of them, time to be with my loved ones, and time to walk barefoot on the beach as well.



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BOOK LIST: My Favourite Books by My Favourite Australian aUTHORS

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Get Reading! is running a search for the favourite Australian books of all time. I've given them a list of some of my favourite books by my favourite Australian authors - here are 16 books by my favourite Australian contemporary authors. I will compile a list of my favourite classic authors very soon. 

Vote for your favourites at the Get Reading! website

Jesse Blackadder -  THE RAVEN'S HEART


Geraldine Brooks - YEAR OF WONDERS


Alison Croggon - THE GIFT 



Kimberley Freeman - WILDFLOWER HILL


Pamela Freeman - BLOOD TIES


Kate Grenville - THE SECRET RIVER


Lian Hearn - ACROSS THE NIGHTINGALE FLOOR


Toni Jordan - NINE DAYS


Margo Lanagan - SEA HEARTS


Fiona McIntosh - THE LAVENDER KEEPER


Juliet Marillier - DAUGHTER OF THE FOREST


Kate Morton - THE FORGOTTEN GARDEN


Belinda Murrell - THE RIVER CHARM


Hannah Richell - THE SHADOW YEAR


Kim Wilkins - ANGEL OF RUIN



Marcus Zusak – THE BOOK THIEF


BOOK LIST: Books I Read in February

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

I read 10 and a half books in February, bringing my yearly quota to 24.5 books. There's a lot of romance in the list - my favourite was 'The Autumn Bride' by Anne Gracie - plus one of my all-time favourite children's classic, 'The Stone Cage' by Nicholas Stuart Gray, which I have read at least a dozen times (but it never wearies me). 

The two stand-out titles for me were 'Scarlet in the Snow' by Sophie Masson and 'The Year of Ancient Ghosts' by Kim Wilkins (both due to be released in May 2013 - lucky me got advance copies!) I also really enjoyed the medieval murder mystery, 'The Queen's Man'by Sharon Penham. 


1. The Lost Duke of Wyndham – Julia Quinn

A frothy Regency romance that was marred for me by being a companion book to an earlier title which I had not read, and so it contained lots of references to things I was obviously meant to know. A lesson in how NOT to write a sequel (or perhaps a lesson in making sure you read books in a series in the order in which they are published.)

2. Seven Nights in a Rogue’s Bed – Anna Campbell
A very sexy Regency romance with appealing characters and a dash of adventure. I enjoyed it hugely, and have ordered another by this author (who is Australian and so bolsters my reading of Australian Women Writers in the AWW2013 challenge - yay!)

3.  The Stone Cage - Nicholas Stuart Gray

A wonderful classic children's fantasy which retells the Rapunzel fairy tale from the point of view of the witch's cat. The book which first made me think about writing my own Rapunzel retelling, when I was only 12. 


4. The Autumn Bride - Anne Gracie

My favourite living romance writer, Anne Gracie never disappoints. This is beautiful, old-fashioned romance, driven by character and situation and dialogue, and, as always, is filled with wit and charm and pathos. Love Anne Gracie romances!



5. Scarlet in the Snow – Sophie Masson 

I just loved this retelling of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale, told with flair, dash, and panache, by one of my favourite Australian women writers (yay! Another AWW2013!) Sophie Masson has really found her niche with these books ('Scarlet in the Snow' is set in the same alternative-world Prague as Sophie's previous novel, 'Moonlight & Ashes', which was one of my BEST BOOKS READ IN 2012.) This is YA fantasy at its best - filled with magic, adventure and just a touch of romance. Loved it!


6. All That I Am – Anna Funder

I am very ashamed to admit that I could not finish this book, the most awarded and lauded Australian book of 2012. And another AWW! Was I too tired? Am I too frivolous? Or was the book just too slow and self-aware for my tastes? It should have ticked all my boxes. Historical fiction - yay! Set in Nazi Germany - yay! About a brilliant, independent woman mostly forgotten by history - yay! I really, really wanted to love this book, but it just put me to sleep every night. I've left it on my bedside table and will hopefully return to it once I'm not so tired. Maybe in my next life. 


7. To Wed A Rake – Eloisa James

A delightful Regency romance novella, razor-sharp and not a word wasted. Bought it on my Kindle as I was waiting for my ferry and had read it by the time my ferry had come. Not a yawn in sight. 


8. The Scandalous, Dissolute, No-Good Mr Wright – Tessa Dare

Another Regency romance novella, not quite as light on its feet as the one by Eloisa James, but still light, amusing and a wonderful way to pass by ferry ride home. I enjoyed it so much I tried another by the same author:

9. A Night to Surrender – Tessa Dare

I really enjoyed this deliciously frothy and amusing Regency romance, with likeable characters and a great premise. A lovely way to while away and hour or two. 


10.  The Year of Ancient Ghosts – Kim Wilkins

I LOVED this book! Kim Wilkins is one of my all-time favourite writers, spinning together suspense, romance, history and mythology into books that are utterly unputdownable (is that a word?) However, she's been busy the last few years writing parallel historical/contemporary books under the name Kimberley Freeman (still uputdownable but with a greater emphasis on family drama than mythology and fairy tale -  read all about Kimberley Freeman's books HERE). 

So I was very excited to be sent an advance copy of her first Kim Willkins' title in a few years.  'The Year of Ancient Ghosts' is a collection of novellas and short stories - brave, surprising, beautiful, frightening and tragic all at once. I WANT MORE! 


11. The Queen’s Man – Sharon Penham

Sharon Penham is best known for her magisterial novels set during the Middle Ages - I haven't read any yet, though I hear they are utterly brilliant - I do plan to get to them eventually. In the meantime, I've started with Sharon Penham-lite. 'The Queen's Man' is the first in a series of mystery novels set during the time of Eleanor of Aquitaine, a figure who has always fascinated me. I enjoyed this a lot, and plan to read more - the world is vividly and accurately portrayed, the characters and the relationships ring true, and the mystery was satisfyingly mysterious. Lovely to find a new medieval mystery series to devour!   
(See my Spotlight on Ellis Peters, author of the Cadfaely medieval mysteries, and my interview with Karen Maitland, who writes brilliant medieval supernatural thrillers).



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INTERVIEW: Kimberley Freeman, author of 'Lighthouse Bay''

Friday, March 01, 2013

'Lighthouse Bay', by Kimberley Freeman, was one of the Best Books I Read in 2012  (as you will know if you've been following my blog).

Kim is not only a brilliant author, but she also teaches creative writing at the University of Queensland, plus has two children, and so she is a very busy women. So I was very pleased that she spared me some time to answer my questions: 



Are you a daydreamer too?
I'm a terrible daydreamer. I love to just lie down and think of things that might be nice, or remember things that I loved doing. I go to sleep imagining things and wake up imagining things.


Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Yes. My mum has the first "book" I wrote at age 5. 
 

Tell me a little about yourself – where were you born, where do you live, what do you like to do?
I was born in London but grew up in the northern bayside suburbs of Brisbane. I live in Brisbane's inner west now, where it's very hilly and leafy. I actually live at the bottom of a mountain, and that mountain is my gym. I walk up it or ride up it on my bicycle several times a week. As for what I like to do: I like to write, I like to hang out with my friends, I like to read but mostly non-fiction now (especially books about history and mythology). My favourite thing in the world is to sit in my garden with a notebook in my hand to catch my daydreams, while my kids draw or play nearby.


How did you get the first flash of inspiration for 'Lighthouse Bay'?
I was at the beach at Peregian, on Queensland's sunshine coast, in the early morning. The Noosa beaches still have their bushland verges, so you go through bush to get to the beach and there are no highrises either. So when you're on the beach alone, it could be anytime: the present, 1000 years ago, 100 years ago... Just the ancient sea and the bush and sand. So I was on the beach alone and I imagined what it might be like to be from a completely different environment--say English Victorian high society--and finding yourself the only survivor of a shipwreck on this deserted beach. It all came from there.





How extensively do you plan your novels?
Pretty extensively. The planning process for me is a process of big brush strokes, growing more and more narrow and fine as I proceed through the books. So I'll work out some key turning points, then work out a few ideas for scenes to negotiate my way between them. then write a bit, plan a bit, write a bit, and so on.


'Lighthouse Bay' is a parallel narrative, moving between the modern-day and the past. What particular challenges are there to writing in this structure? Do you write one strand and then the other, then weave them together, or are you continually moving back and forth?
I write the books in order, from page 1 to page 400-and-something. The two time periods allow me a break from each story line to think and replot etc. 


Why do you think parallel narratives are so popular?
Because it's two stories in one! And also because the present story usually has a connection to the past story, and that means there's a nice easy contemporary access point for the history, for people who find straight historical fiction a little bit daunting.


Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?
I have in the past, but only in my fantasy work that I write under my real name, Kim Wilkins.

 
Did you make any astonishing serendipitous discoveries while writing this book?
Yes! I had scenes where the main character had to get from the sunshine coast to Brisbane. I presumed there would be a train, but there wasn't. there was a PADDLE STEAMER!! I had no idea we had paddle steamer history in Queensland, and I was so excited. There's such a romance about paddle steamers.


Where do you write, and when?
When the kids aren't around/are sleeping. That's it. I can't be precious anymore.


What is your favourite part of writing?
Coming up with story ideas, imagining where the plot will go, getting those "ding!" moments when you see how two parts of the story are going to fit snugly together.


What do you do when you get blocked?
I don't. I just keep writing. I have bills to pay.


How do you keep your well of inspiration full?
I can't imagine it running dry. There are stories literally EVERYWHERE. Every place I go, every person I meet, I could get a story out of.


Do you have any rituals that help you to write?
I make a playlist of music for every book I write: music that somehow captures the spirit of the story. And I put it on every time I write. My all-purpose playlist is one called "Working in Bed" because I really do write so much in bed. That one has lots of quiet, melancholy songs on it.


Who are ten of your favourite writers?
J. R. R. Tolkien; Marion Zimmer Bradley; Alfred, Lord Tennyson; John Keats; Charlotte Bronte; Ann Radcliffe; Georgette Heyer; Marian Keyes; the Gawain poet; Astrid Lindgren! Just off the top of my head!


Georgette Heyer is one of my favourite authors too!
 
What do you consider to be good writing? 
Writing that makes the world go away. Writing that performs the magic trick of making the black marks on the white page disappear, and creates worlds in your head. 
 

What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?
It's very simple. Read a lot, work out what makes you love a story, then write a lot.


What are you working on now? 
I'm writing Kimberley Freeman number 5, 'Ember Island', which is a slightly gothic governess story set on two islands in 1892--one in the English Channel, and one in Moreton Bay. It's wrapped in a contemporary story, too.




 


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