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SPOTLIGHT: Interview with Kate Forsyth about writing THE WITCHES OF EILEANAN

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Twenty years ago, my first book DRAGONCLAW (called THE WITCHES OF EILEANAN in the US) was published!

To celebrate, I'm running a couple of vintage posts about the writing of The Witches of Eileanan series.

Today I thought I'd run an interview I gave to SFFWorld in 2000 (yes, all the years ago). 

Q: Your books seem extremely well researched. Not only in the history of the culture, but in the magical elements and practices as well. Could you explain to us the importance of this research, or how you went about it?

I do a great deal of research into every aspect of the books. I like to make sure everything is right and besides, I find the research itself often sparks off ideas which I would not have had otherwise. It helps make the world seem real and alive, and gives an extra punch to the writing. Generally, I borrow piles of books from the library and read through them, making notes on all that interest me. I often find the junior section of the library the most helpful because the books there have illustrations and diagrams, and describe things simply and concisely. For example, if I'm writing a battle scene I want to know everything about armour, weapons, siege machines, tactics, logistics - a book on mediaeval warfare from the adult section would be too long and heavy, but a selection of books from the junior library give me just about everything I need to know. As well as that, I browse a lot through second-hand bookshops and so have picked up heaps of books on all sorts of different subjects, all of which give me ideas and allow me to check facts when I need to. I have everything from a 16th century herbal to a dictionary of angels, all of which I've referred to at some point in time. 

Q: Have you noticed, or have readers commented, that your story, while not a sad story and definitely containing the "good" vs. "bad" elements in it, leaves one feeling unsure whether to laugh or to cry?

I really like this question and am glad to know this is how the books make you feel. I certainly wanted to make my readers laugh and cry and gasp and sigh at different points in the story, and I also wanted to express something about the complexity of good and evil and how sometimes there is a very high price to pay. None of my characters or creatures are entirely good or entirely evil - sometimes evil is done by those who are really struggling to do what is right. I get a lot of e-mail from readers and this is one of the things people comment on the most - a particular scene makes them want to get up and shout a warning, or makes them cry, or makes them very frustrated with the characters in question - all of which makes me a very happy writer!

Q: Do you have a favorite character in the books?

Many. I love them all. Isabeau is of course my protagonist and I love her dearly, though sometimes I wish she would think before she acted, particularly in the early books. I find Iseult rather a puzzle sometimes, and am rather glad Lachlan is beginning to grow into his manhood, for he exasperated me greatly at times with his bad moods and his self-focus. I love Meghan, of course, and have very tender regard for Lilanthe and Dide and Finn. In fact, I don't think there is really a character I don't have a soft spot for, unless it's Margrit who gives me the shivers and Renshaw, of course, who was very nasty.  

Q: How long do you see this story continuing? Is it only to be a three part series, or will you go on with it?

Oh dear. It was MEANT to be a trilogy but the epic scale of my imagination surprised even me! I have great pleasure in informing you that 'The Witches of Eileanan' is now a sextet, with six big fat books all brimming over with action, romance, intrigue, magic and mayhem! I am very lucky that my publishers like me because otherwise I could've been in trouble. 

Do the religious and political ideas embedded within your story have any specific relevance to your views, or to current events in our world today? If so, could you explain those elements as you see them?

This is a difficult question to answer in many ways. Yes, of course they have relevance to our world and express many of my deeply felt beliefs and philosophies. I have a great deal of sympathy for the pagan pantheistic religion of my witches. I am troubled by the effect of strict fundamentalist religions, in whatever form they take, and I am troubled by the effects of colonism and the long-reaching shadows it has cast. I think religion and patriotism have caused a great deal of evil in this world, even though I understand the deep, instinctive desires that such beliefs satisfy. I also understand there are no easy answers and that history has a way of repeating itself. I hope all these ideas are implicit in the books but I do not want to pontificate too much upon them, for the books should stand alone, speaking for themselves. They are not allegories or even vehicles for my concerns, and should not be read as such. 

Q: Can you give us a mouthwatering hint for the Americans as yet unable to read the fourth book?
Gladly! Of all the books so far, 'The Forbidden Land' is the simplest and most complete in itself. It moves very quickly and has less introspection than the others. The primary focus in this book has moved to Finn the Cat, the cat-thief who discovered she was a banprionnsa and heir to the throne of Rurach. She feels stifled and unhappy at Castle Rurach and when Lachlan the Winged, Righ of Eileanan, calls upon her own peculiar talents, she gladly sets off on an adventure that takes her beyond the Great Divide and into the heart of the Forbidden Land itself ... 

Q: What has the Internet meant for you as an author?

Lots and lots and lots of e-mails from all over the world. I am constantly being amazed at how far my books have travelled. I have had reader responses from South Korea, Chile, Germany, and Saudi Arabia, as well as from all the more usual places. I reply to every e-mail personally - even though, since I had my little boy two years ago (he is now 17 and in his final year of school!), my writing time is more precious than ever. I'm really glad to have this contact with my readers. Being a writer is a solitary sort of life and once the book is published, it disappears into a black hole so that you have no idea whether anyone has understood what you are trying to do or been moved by it. I always want to know if anyone has picked up on any of the little details or jokes or poignant moments, or been made to feel or think the way I want them too. My e-mails let me know they have!

The cover of the first Australian edition: 

SPOTLIGHT: The story behind how I first got published

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Today (1 June 2017) marks twenty  years since my first novel was published!

The book was called DRAGONCLAW, and it was the first in the series of heroic fantasy novels called THE WITCHES OF EILEANAN.  


Here is the story of how THE WITCHES OF EILEANAN came to be published:

I’ve always wanted to be a writer – it’s the only thing I’ve ever wanted to be.

A novel I wrote when I was 15

All through my childhood I wrote many poems and novels, and sent out my first manuscript when I was sixteen – it was handwritten, in my very childish handwriting, on loose foolscap pages. I didn’t know any better! Well, I didn’t have a typewriter and computers were barely invented. It was rejected, of course, but came back with a lovely letter saying that I clearly had talent and must keep writing.

So I did. I laboured over a magic realism novel all though my early 20s, while working as a journalist, and began to have poems and stories published. I sent out my novel a few times, and it was almost published three times, but fell through every time, much to my despair.

Me in my 20s

At the age of 25 I had a quarter-life crisis. I decided to give myself five years, to pour all my energy into getting a book published, but that I’d have to reassess my life if I couldn’t get published by the age of 30.

I quit my job as a journalist and began freelancing to support myself, and I applied to do my Masters of Arts in Writing, using the magic realism novel I had been working on as my thesis.

I began writing the first draft of Dragonclaw while I was studying for my first year exams, probably in reaction to the “fictive discourses” we were told to construct in our writing classes. About 50,000 words into the first draft, I sent off a few sample chapters to Gaby Naher at Hickson Associates.

She came back the next day, saying she loved it, and when could I get her a complete manuscript? I wrote madly for the next few months (practically ignoring my studies and work commitments).

I finished the first draft, she put it up for auction, and I signed with Random House by the end of the month. This made me particularly happy, since it was two days before my 30th birthday.  

I made my deadline by a whisker!

Dragonclaw has gone on to be sold in the US, Germany, Russia, and Japan, and I have been a full-time writer ever since.


 Dragonclaw changed my life forever!

SPOTLIGHT: The World of Eileanan

Thursday, June 01, 2017



The land was settled by thirteen witches who fled persecution in their own land, invoking an ancient spell that folded the fabric of the universe and brought them and all their followers to Eileanan in a journey called the Great Crossing. 

The eleven great clans of Eileanan are all descended from the First Coven, with the MacCuinn clan being the greatest of the eleven. The thirteen witches were Cuinn Lionheart, his son Owein of the Longbow, Ahearn Horse-laird, Aislinna the Dreamer, Berhtilde the Bright Warrior-Maid, Fóghnan the Thistle, Rùraich the Searcher, Seinneadair the Singer, Sian the Storm-Rider, Tuathanach the Farmer, Brann the Raven, Faodhagan the Red and his twin sister Sorcha the Bright (now called the Murderess).

When the First Coven had arrived in Eileanan from their home on the other side of the universe, they had built the Tower of First Landing on a rocky crag near the ruin of their ship. Often called Cuinn's Tower, the ancient stone citadel was built around the body of the greatest sorcerer of them all, Cuinn Lionheart, who died in the Crossing. On the barren flats around Cuinn's Tower a rough settlement was built as the four hundred or so migrants struggled to survive.

Unfortunately, the settlers did not understand the wide seasonal swings of the tide, affected by the contrary pull of two moons. Their first winter saw the settlement drowned in the rush of the high tide, many lives lost with it. Only the Tower, built on what became an island, survived. Owein MacCuinn crammed the survivors into the Tower and sat out the bitter cold and isolation, sharing out the meagre rations and guarding against disease so that surprisingly many of the people managed to live through that first great test. When spring at last came and the sea began to flow back, expedition parties were sent into the hinterland, following the shining curves of the Rhyllster high into what would become Rionnagan.

In Rionnagan they found what they were searching for - fertile lands, a plentiful supply of fresh water, and a building site that could easily be protected. For the new settlers discovered that seasonal tides, unfamiliar food and homesickness were the least of their problems. The native inhabitants of Eileanan were not all pleased at the invasion of humans from another planet, particularly the Fairgean, who arrived at their spring pastures to find them occupied. A brutal, warlike race of sea-dwelling nomads, the Fairgean did not give up their hold on the coast of Eileanan easily, and for the next two hundred years the First Fairgean Wars raged. Lucescere was built on a great pinnacle of rock thrusting between two waterfalls that plummeted into the Rhyllster below. The city was never broken, holding off the Fairgean and their allies for over a thousand years.



‘Touch not the thistle’ – MacFóghnan motto 

Brooch – a silver thistle

Plaid: Heather & purple

The Tower of Mists

- ruled by Iain MacFóghnan (m. Elfrida NicHilde of Tirsoilleir, father of Neil)

- descended from Fóghnan of the First Coven. 

- Fóghnan was depicted with a falling star above her head, symbolising her great prophecy which had led them to this world. Another showed her leaving the wrecked ship upon arrival, her face stern and proud, while Owein MacCuinn wept like a child over the dead body of his father and shook his fist after her as she refused to bend to his authority. In the background a tidal wave was beginning to gather, looming over the crowd of frightened migrants - the great tide that would kill so many of those that had braved the Crossing. All of those who went with Fóghnan survived, and thereafter no-one dared doubt the truth of her prophecies.

- Other tapestries showed the magical summoning of Tur de Ceò on an island in Murkmyre, deep within the shifting maze of the fenlands, and Fóghnan’s death at the hands of Owein MacCuinn's youngest son, Balfour. 

- The blood ran bitter between MacFóghnan and MacCuinn, who had learnt one did not touch the thistle without pain. Balfour too had died soon after, of a mysterious ailment that saw him frothing at the mouth, his body arching backwards in agony, his drumming heels tearing the earth up in great clods. Fóghnan’s twelve-year-old daughter, named Margrit as many NicFóghnans would be, had taken up her mother's staff and knife and assumed the duties of the Tower.

- Many years later, when Aedan MacCuinn had united the warring lands and peoples of Eileanan under the rule of the Lodestar, only Arran, Tìrsoillier and the Fairgean had refused to accept his authority. Years of war had followed, but not even the Lodestar could pierce the mysteries of Murkmyre and the ever-hungry marshes had swallowed up the armies sent against her. The Clan of MacFóghnan had survived, as it always would.

- the delicate spires of Tur de Ceò - the Tower of Mists - its sharp-pointed, scrolled towers rose out of the bank of mist like a palace out of a faery tale

ASLINN - deeply forested land ruled by the MacAislin clan. 

Motto: Grow and flourish.

Badge: the Summer Tree. 

Plaid: Dark green crossed with pale green.

The Tower of Dreamers

- ruled by Madelon NicAislin 

- The wild and bonny forests, where dreamers wander.

- fur-trappers, charcoal-burners, foresters and miners - base metals to make ploughshares and charcoal for whisky vats and timber for the building of new crofts and ships

- Great mountain ash trees towered above the floor of the valleys, with crystal waterfalls splashing down from the mountains to form meandering streams and pools below. Song birds darted through the clear air, trilling madly, and once Lilanthe saw a bhanais bird flying through the canopy, trailing its crimson and gold tail which was more than three feet long. She travelled more slowly, but could not find her perfect clearing. Small lochan abounded, and on a clear day the backdrop of snow-tipped mountains and green hills was as beautiful as any daydream.

- the Tower of Dreamers was made of white stone. Once it would have been topped with delicate spires and a crystal dome. Now only two spires remained, and the entire west wall was tumbled down, littering the hill with blocks of marble. Enough of the original grandeur remained to move her - delicate columns holding up arched ceilings, walls carved in intricate patterns, with here and there the design of a flowering tree. The staircase was wide enough for seven men to walk up it abreast.

- a stone shield emblazoned with stars and faint runes of writing, and below it a device of two masks, one weeping, one laughing. 

BLÈSSEM – The Blessed Fields. Rich farmland ruled by the MacThanach clan

Carry the Yoke – MacThanach slogan

Badge: scythe and wheat sheaves.

Plaid: green and yellow. 

The Tower of Blessed Fields

- ruled by Melisse NicThanach (has four daughters and a son, Fymbar)

- She knew the laird of the MacThanach clan was concerned about how he was to sell the yields of his rich fields after he harvested in late autumn. Traditionally, the land of Blèssem shipped its grains and fruits round Eileanan's coastline to the other countries and across the eastern seas to their neighbouring islands. Eileanan had a monopoly on grains such as wheat, corn and barley because, according to the old stories, the seeds for such crops had been brought to this planet by the First Coven, and were not native to the islands.

The Tower of Blessed Fields was more of an agricultural college than an initiator into arcane mysteries

CARRAIG – Land of the Sea-Witches, ruled by MacSeinn clan

I die singing – MacSeinn slogan

Badge: crowned Harp.

Plaid: dark blue crossed with pale blue. 

The Tower of Sea-Singers

- ruled by Douglas MacSeinn (daughter Nathalie NicSeinn)

- The Yedda of Carraig had been for centuries the only weapon the islanders had against the Fairgean, having the power to mesmerise the sea people with song. However, the destruction of the Tower of Sea-Singers in Carraig had meant there were no Yedda left to sing the trading ships to safety.

CLACHAN AND RIONNAGAN – ruled by The MacCuinn Clan 

Wisely and boldly – MacCuinn slogan (Sapienter et Audacter)

Brooch - a leaping stag carrying a crown in its antlers (stag rampant)

Tartan - blues and greens, red running through like a line of fire.

The Tower of Two Moons

The Tower of First Landing 

- the most powerful family of witches in the land.

- live at Lucescere Palace

- descended from Cuinn the Wise, who died in the first crossing

- succeeded by Owein MacCuinn, he o' the Longbow. He was the first Keybearer. He wrought the Key in the sacred symbol of the Coven - a star contained within a circle.

- The Key: worn by the Keybearer, meant to be the strongest and bravest and most compassionate of all the Coven. Its history is no' all kind or true, however. No' all the Keybearers were the witch they should have been. Like many in a position o' power, some abused their trust, and battles were occasionally fought over the right to wear it. Nonetheless, the Key is an artefact o' great power, having been wrought by Owein MacCuinn and always worn by those with exceptional Talent.'

 - Owein’s youngest son Balfour murdered Fóghnan of Arran 

- Aedan MacCuinn, called Whitelock, united all of Eileanan under his rule – he forged the Lodestar at the time of the two moons crossing.

- Lodestar: whoever holds the Lodestar shall hold the land …’

The heritage of all the MacCuinns, the Inheritance of Aedan. When they are born their hands are placed upon it and a connection made. Whoever the stone recognises is the Rìgh or Banrìgh of Eileanan. A glowing white stone, about the size of an apple, only perfectly round, that responds with the sound of music when touched. 

- the heir has always needed to be favoured by the Lodestar, which responds to the inner character o’ he who holds it. Civil war once when the youngest son was named as heir by the Lodestar and the eldest son challenged him for the throne. He was a cold, ambitious man, no’ concerned with the welfare o’ the people the way the Rìgh or Banrìgh should be 

- The Tower of First Landing on a rocky crag near the ruin of their ship. Often called Cuinn's Tower, the ancient stone citadel was built around the body of the greatest sorcerer of them all, Cuinn Lionheart, who died in the Crossing. On the barren flats around Cuinn's Tower

- The Tower of Two Moons - Only at Two Moons was there training in all different facets of witchcraft, and research into magic's many manifestations. Even those with minor abilities found themselves a place at Two Moons, and there an increasing diversity of Talents was explored and celebrated.

- salt was one of Clachan’s principal exports, used to cure fish and pickle vegetables, preserve hides, and make glass and enamelled jewellery. It had even become fashionable for fine ladies to add seasalt to their baths in imitation of Maya, and so had been sold at the markets in little canvas bags, with rose petals or sweet herbs mixed through.

RAVENSHAW: deeply forested land, ruled by the MacBrann clan, descendants of Brann the Raven. 

Motto: Sans peur (without fear).

Badge: the Raven

Plaid: black and green

- ruled by Dughall MacBrann, with an adopted heir Owen

- live at Ravenscraig

RURACH: wild mountainous land, lying between Tìreich and Siantan. Ruled by MacRuraich clan, descendants of Rùraich, one of the First Coven of Witches. 

Motto: I find and I hold. 

Tartan: black crossed with green and gold. 

Shield: black wolf guardant. 

Tower of Searchers

- ruled by Anghus MacRuraich of Rurach (m. Gwyneth NicSian, have 3 children: Fionnghal, Aindrew and Barney)

- Tabithas the Wolf-Runner had a wolf as her familiar, a great grey beast that, like his mistress, had been more comfortable in the forests and mountains of Rurach

‘The MacRuraich clan find anything they search for. That is their Talent.'

SIANTAN: north-west land of Eileanan, between Rurach and Carraig. Famous for its weather-witches. Ruled by MacSian clan, descendants of Sian the Storm-rider. 

Plaid: Blue and grey crossed with white. 

Badge: a tower struck by lightning. 

Tower of Storm

- ruled by Brangaine NicSian 

- Sian the Storm-rider: one of the First Coven of Witches. A famous weather witch, renowned for whistling up hurricanes.

- from Siantan, a wagonload of rare timbers, sacks of charcoal, and luxuriant snow-lion furs

TÌREICH: land of the horse-lairds. Most westerly country of Eileanan, ruled by the MacAhern clan. 

Motto: Nunquam obliviscar (I shall never forget).

Plaid: brown, red and yellow. 

Badge: a rearing horse. 


- ruled by Kenneth MacAhern 

- the famous flying horses. It was a deep-chested, honey-coloured animal, with rainbow-tinted wings and a pair of spreading antlers. The MacAhern rode without saddle or bridle, as all thigearns did.  One did not tame a flying horse with such constraints.

TÌRLETHAN: Land of the Twins; once ruled by Faodhagan and Sorcha, twin sorcerers. Called the Spine of the World by Khan’cohbans. 

Motto: Those who would gather roses must brave the thorns.

Plaid: white crossed with red and blue. 

Badge: the dragon rampant, surrounded by roses and thorns. 

The Towers of Roses and Thorns

- ruled by Khan’gharad Dragonrider (m. Ishbel) two children Heloise and Alasdair (19)

- Lachlan, had arranged for five hundred refugees to accompany Khan’gharad and Ishbel back to the Towers of Roses and Thorns. These included stonemasons and carpenters to help rebuild the ruined towers; gardeners and farmers to plant the land about with grains and vegetables; weavers, seamstresses, cooks and house servants to help in the running of the castle; scribes and apprentice-witches to study in the library; and miners to look for lodes of precious metals in the mountains. There was also a retinue of the younger sons of the nobility eager to carve out a life for themselves in service to the newest of the prionnsachan.

TÌRSOILLIER – ruled by the MacHilde Clan

The Bright Land or the Forbidden Land. Northeast land of Eileanan, once ruled by the MacHilde clan, descended from Berhtilde, one of the First Coven of Witches. However, the Tìrsoilleirean rejected witchcraft and the ruling family in favour of militant religion. 

Motto: Bo Neart Gu Neart (From Strength to Strength)

Plaid:  Red crossed with yellow and black; 

Badge: hand holding a sword; 

The Tower of Warriors

- ruled by Elfrida NicHilde (m. Iain of Arran, one son Neil)

- the Tìrsoillierean had rejected the philosophies of the witches, believing in a stern sun-god that punished them mightily for any digression. Unlike the witches, who thought that all gods and goddesses were different names and faces for the one life-spirit, the Tìrsoillierean believed in one god with one name. They thought their beliefs were the only true faith, and that other people must be forced to worship as they did. Many times they had tried to convert their neighbours. When missionaries and travelling preachers failed to win the people to their religion, they tried force. 

- no-one from the western lands had been near the Tower of Warriors since the warrior-maids had closed their borders four hundred years earlier. Tìrsoilleir had been a land of mystery ever since.

- the Fealde and the General Assembly 

the Fealde and the Kirk

Deus Vult: war cry of the Bright Soldiers, meaning ‘God wills’.

LETTER FROM A FAN: How books can change a life

Friday, June 05, 2015


Sometimes, a writer can begin to lose heart. 

The literary industry is not always an easy one to work in. Terrible novels can become major blockbusters, while wonderful novels languish on bookshop shelves. One or two authors can win every award in the country, while others are passed over again and again. It’s hard at times to maintain faith in yourself and your work.

At times like this, it can really help for a writer to be reminded that what we do has value. Books can inspire, invigorate, comfort and console.

And so can letters from readers. 

This e-mail came at a time when I was overwhelmed by the difficulties of juggling work and family, weighed down by impossible deadlines, and disheartened by the struggle to have my voice being heard in the great clamour of the international publishing scene.

I’d like to share it with you.

Sent: Saturday, 1 September 2012 9:12 AM
Subject: About time I sent this

Let me start by introducing myself. My name is Mitchell, and I was born in Brisbane. I lived much of my young life in a small town called Coppa Bella, and later moved to yet another small town, Keppel Sands. I am now 23 years old, and I have been living in Rockhampton since I was 19. Because of the distance between my home and school life, I found myself very isolated from people my age. I didn't like the people I lived with, and I never had much chance to make a lasting connection with the people I went to school with. I was also in special education for high functioning Autism, so I felt even more isolated from everyone else.
Your books helped me through this time, and I'd like to thank you. I'm sorry for the length of this email, but I'd like to explain how 'The Witches of Eileanan' changed my life.
When I was 14, my teachers were concerned I was dyslectic. I still couldn't read or write. I could draw, and when I'd get frustrated in class, not being able to follow the page with everyone else, I'd draw dragons, monsters, winged heroes, horned demons. Sometimes I got so depressed with being 'stupid' that my drawings became horror stories instead of adventures. 
One day, my stepdad came home and dropped a book on my work desk while I was drawing. It was ‘Dragonclaw’. 


I didn't understand at the time, but now I see just how perceptive the guy had been, and I feel very silly for only just now realizing it. He put the dots together and realized that my 'learning disability' was just a lack of interest. Books for my age were boring to me, and class subjects were worse. All my teachers stumped and my stepdad the simple train driver had figured it out.
I still had trouble reading, since I hadn't done it much, but I learned pretty quick. A lot of the words escaped me for a few years, especially the Scottish stuff. I tried putting in placeholder words, like King instead of Righ, and plenty of times I put the wrong face to a person, and didn't realize it until years later when I reread them. Hell, Margrit of Arran ended up looking like one of the Yugioh villains, which was on after school at the time. And when Rhiannon's Ride came around, Lord Fettercaine somehow materialized as "John McCain in a sweater vest". 

Eventually, I was asking my stepdad for the second one. Then the third. And when they didn't arrive fast enough, I'd check the school library. And that was soon tapped out, so I was so excited to see a box in the back of the library labeled 'Fiction'. When they told me it wouldn't be on the shelves for a few days, I was restless. And when those were all read, my mum would take me along to the public library when she went to get her hair done, and just leave me there for an hour while she was across the street, so I could pick out a dozen or so books to take. She never minded paying. And while some of my teachers felt the books were too violent for a 14 year old, they would let me read in class if I finished my school work. It was the best way to get me working.

There was one problem though. I could never get The Heart of Stars. I was so excited when I found out there was a trilogy after the Witches of Eileanan, and I'd reread all 6 books every year or so. 

I was an adult at this point, and didn't see my mum or stepdad as often as I'd have liked. But one day I randomly ran into my mum in town, and we drifted about all day, wasting money, doing some menial shopping and almost getting in a car accident because of her horrid red jeep. Before we separated, she got ‘Rhiannon’s Ride’ out of her purse, just now remembering. I loved my mother so much, and I was closer to her that day then I'd ever been. 

Three days later, my stepfather picked me up, drove me to their home, and told me and my brother she had died of a heart attack. I had the book in my hands when I found out, and I didn't open it for a whole year afterwards. 

When I finally finished it and tracked down ‘The Shining City’, Lewen being turned against Rhiannon while she awaited trial hit me so hard I put the book away again, and tried 3 more times over the years to finish. Each time, I couldn't. It was too sad, but those books were so close to me, I just couldn't leave them unfinished. 

I took a 10 hour train ride to visit family and forced myself to finish the book, and I remember turning the last page and closing it just as the speakers announced my stop. I felt lighter then I had in years as I stepped out of the train. I had gotten on when it was dark and empty outside the station, and had spent the entirety of the trip alone, in an empty cart, without a single sign of life outside the dark window. When I arrived, it was to the very beginnings of a cloudless sunrise, with the train station workers and early passengers just now seeming to rouse. It had felt like a literal journey for me, finishing this book, and leaving that dark and silent train to call a taxi felt a lot like leaving behind all that ickiness that had kept me from reading for so long. I felt like Isabeau returning from The Spine of the World, stronger now for facing myself, but knowing my quest wasn't over. 
‘Heart of Stars’ would continue to allude me. It was the last book. I couldn't stop now. It was never in stock, even online, and when it was, it wouldn't ship here. I tried audio book stores online, e-books that I couldn't even use since I had no smart phone, and every garage sale and second hand store I came across would get raided. After a while, I gave up. 

Then, one day, I was walking down the street, after stashing my broken bike in some bushes, not caring what happened to it. I was broke, looking at a long walk home, the humidity was dragging me down and it was already starting to rain. It was everything you'd picture from one of those soul crushingly bad days, where absolutely everything that could go wrong did. I went into a random store to wait and see if the rain would stop and to hide in the air conditioning, and ended up talking to the clerk for about 20 minutes. 

It was a tiny second hand book store, and the entire time, I never noticed the copy of ‘Heart of Stars’ behind the woman, right in my sights. It was 15 dollars, and I felt my heart about to implode when I saw about 8 bucks worth of silver coins in my wallet. I felt like this was the last cruel joke that today would throw at me to end it's fun. The Coup De Grace. As if I weren't already so low, now fate dangles this just out of my reach, and if my luck held like this, it wouldn't be here when I get paid in a week. I was ready to just sulk off out into the rain, trudge into my place and collapse with the bottle of bourbon I keep in the pantry. 
I guess the nice woman who owned the store knew the feeling, because she bagged it for me and asked for 5 dollars. 

Kate, you're books introduced me to reading, and they helped make me the person I am today. Finally completing the series after all this time feels like a very deep, very important part of me has also been completed. Thank you so much for helping me grow up and discover myself Kate. You loaned me your Muse until I could make one for myself, and I'll always cherish the memories these wonderful books gave me. You are a wonderful writer, and I'm glad I had your works in my life.
Just a fan from Rockhampton

This was my answer:

Dear Mitchell
I had a big lump in my throat reading your message, and my eyes were stinging with tears. Thank you so much! I don’t know if you realise how much a message like yours means to a writer. We spend our time labouring in the dark, hoping to strike a spark, hoping we can kindle some kind of light for others … and your message shows me so clearly that for you, at least, I succeeded. I have printed your message out – I will treasure it always.
I wonder if you would allow me to post your message on my blog? It just seems so special, so beautiful, that I want to share it --- perhaps even boast about it  a little. I feel it’s so deeply heartfelt and personal that perhaps you will not wish to share it with others, and, if so, I perfectly understand. 
Either way, I just wanted to thank you for taking the time, and for reminding me why I keep struggling on, trying to write the stories I want to write. I hope you’ll go on and read more of my books – and many other books too.
Wishing you all the best, with all my heart


Thursday, June 04, 2015

This week I'm celebrating the fresh new faces of my first-ever-pubished books, THE WITCHES OF EILEANAN. It's 18 years this week since my first DRAGONCLAW came out - I can scarcely believe it!

To commemorate my anniversary, I thought I'd republish an edited version of one of the first interviews I ever did with Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine
about the writing of THE WITCHES OF EILEANAN. 

  1. Where are you currently living? I live in Sydney, Australia – the most beautiful city in the world!
  2. How do you spend your time when you’re not writing? Reading, playing with my boys, gardening, cooking, cleaning the house, catching up with friends …

  3. Who is your favourite author and why? This is an impossible question to answer. I love so many different writers and all for different reasons. I read across all genres and age groups, and would find it very difficult to name a favourite author in any of those sub-groups!

  4. What is your favourite speculative fiction novel?  Again, I don’t have a favourite novel or author. I can name some of my favourites, however – C.S. Lewis and the Narnia books, Tolkien, Susan Cooper, Ursula le Guin, Elizabeth Goudge, Lloyd Alexander, Joan Aiken, Phillip Pullman, J.K. Rowling, Garth Nix, Jane Yolen, Robin Hobb, Katharine Kerr, Juliet Marillier, Kim Wilkins, David Eddings, Raymond Feist, George Martin – oh, there are just too many good writers around!

  5. What about other genres? I read a lot of crime fiction, and particularly enjoy Dorothy Sayers, Agatha Christie, Patricia Wentworth, Ellis Peters, Minette Walters, Kathy Reichs, Ian Rankin, and Elizabeth George. Among the classics, my favourite writers are the Bronte sisters, Jane Austen, Mary Webb, Harper Lee. My favourite contemporary literary writers are Barbara Kingsolver, Joanne Harris, Elizabeth Knox, Alice Hoffman, Margaret Atwood, A.S.Byatt, Jeanette Winterson. I also read heaps of children’s fiction, most of whom I included in my list of favourite fantasy writers – so much good fantasy is written or marketed as children’s fiction! I also read biographies, poetry, narrative non-fiction, thrillers, historical romance (I particularly love Georgette Heyer and Jean Plaidy). I do read an awful lot, you see!

  6. Who would you most like to read your novels/stories and why? Everyone!

My Australian first edition cover

  1. Have you a favourite quote you can share with us? ‘Exuberance is beauty’, William Blake. 

  2. Where do you see yourself in ten years time? Writing, reading, playing with my boys, gardening, cooking …

What made you decide to write? Don’t think it was ever a conscious decision – the desire was born in me! Certainly I don’t remember a time when it wasn’t the total sum of my ambitions.

What gave you the impetus to persevere to the publishing stage? True grit!

  1. What inspires you? Tricky question. I don’t truthfully know. Ideas just come, who knows where from. 

  2. Describe for us your typical writing session? How I write depends very much on what stage I’m at with a novel. The first 20,000 words and the last 20,000 words are very different. However, generally, I make a cup of tea, sit down at my computer, read over what I’ve written the day or week before, edit and correct it, maybe develop it a little further and then, when I’m fully connected with the work again, I began to push on. Ideally, I like to finish a scene or chapter in one working session, so I can think over where to go next while I’m cooking, gardening, cleaning the house, and so on. This rarely happens, though, my writing time depending very much on my sons’ schedules. While they sleep, I write, in other words! If I finish a chapter halfway through the session, I read over it again, edit it, and then begin to plan the next chapter. Often I do this longhand, in my notebook. I cannot begin writing the next chapter until I have the first line, which often takes as long to come up with as the next 30 paragraphs!

  3. I’m a big fan of well written characters in stories.  How do you create your characters?  Where do they come from? Again, who knows? I cannot write unless I know my characters well. Once they have some sort of vivid independent life, the writing always comes very easily because I’m simply recording their lives. Getting to know your characters can sometimes take a little time. Often I’m watching a show or reading the paper and I’d think, ‘Mmmm, so-and-so would like that’ or ‘that sounds like so-and-so’. I often keep newspaper clippings to remind me!

  4. I loved the implication that the world you created was a colony of Earth.  What made you decide to create a world based around this premise?  I was searching for some way to root my world into the real and the known, primarily because I had grown tired of so many fantasies being set in a pseudo-medieval world. Both my grandmothers are from Scottish stock, and I was brought up with all the old tales about ‘the Auld Country’. As a result I have always been interested in Scotland, and read many books about it. Although there is a grand tradition of ‘second sight’ among the Scots, I did not think to use the Scottish tradition in my books until I was quite a way into the first draft of Dragonclaw. I was searching for some way to link my world’s culture to human culture, while still being free to indulge my imagination, and just happened to watch a documentary on witchcraft one night. On this documentary they told the story of how King James VI of Scotland brought the savage witch-hunts of Europe to Britain after he married Anne of Denmark. On the way home from his wedding, a turbulent storm almost wrecked his ship and he became convinced it was caused by satanic witches aiming to undermine his throne. There was, of course, a strong tradition of paganism and occult lore in Scotland that persisted long after King James VI had become the first Scottish king of England - just think of Shakespeare’s Macbeth which was written around this time. It was only after the death of the real Macbeth in 1057 that Christianity really began to have any sway in Scotland, and in the 12th century, the ancient Celtic religion was still practised widely if secretly. Three hundred years later, when James VI inherited the throne from Mary, Queen of Scots, the Protestant movement under the stern leadership of John Knox had driven the old beliefs even further underground. I wove my world around the idea that a group of ‘witches’ fled the savage witch-hunts of Scotland in the late 16th century, enacting a spell that took them to another world where they could practise magic and worship their pantheist, pagan religion in freedom, much as the Puritans did a hundred years later. Of course, they went to a different planet, as opposed to merely crossing the oceans to a new continent. Consequently, I tried to imagine how this history would shape the new society - its language, political structure, religion, mores and folklore, and that is why so many of the words, names, speech patterns  and  so on have a Scottish feel to them.


  1. What is your favourite moment in your writing career to date? Probably the first time I ever got published. Oh, the joy! I was literally struck dumb (something that does not happen often!)

  2. Any truly spectacularly miserable moments you’d like to share with us? The life of a writer is one of deep sloughs of despair and high peaks of joy and long days of contentment and creative satisfaction. I go through these stages with each and every book, though I must admit as my career grows more stable, both financially and creatively, I have far less of the depths of despair. I do remember one occasion, though, in my early days of sending out poems and stories, when I got six rejections in the letter box at once. That caused a few tears!

SPOTLIGHT: Spike Dean & her fairy-tale-inspired art

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Spike Deane is a friend of mine who does the most exqusite fairy-tale-inspired art - she is exhibiting her work at the moment and I just had to share some of it with you. It is so beautiful.

Spike says:

My inspiration comes from stories, particularly those of folk and fairy tales, and I like to read them all! I can’t say enough how reinterpretations and retellings inform my visual arts practice. 

Collecting different impressions of a story, from old tales and new, academic papers, poems, short stories, comics, novels and of course lots of images of illustrations and sculpture (hello Pinterest) assists in critically examining the tales and feeding the creativity well.  All the words and ideas bubble around in my head until one particular concept comes forward, demanding to be made. 

In my work I focus on the narrative elements of metamorphosis and becoming, for folk and fairy tales for me encourage us to believe that change and transformation are essential aspects of the human condition. That is why, I think that Kate’s character Isabeau/Khan’tinka from the ‘The Witches of Eileanan’ series is a favourite of mine, she very much embodies the power of transformation and personal growth.

Whilst many of my glass pieces draw on the magic of the woods and forests my newest body of work is based on the shape changing Selkie. It was Margo Lanagan’s novel ‘Sea Hearts’ which rekindled my interest in Selkie tales. 

From that point I read every Selkie retelling I could get my hands on, though it was an article on Midori Snyder’s blog (on the Swan Maiden’s feathered coat) that really got me thinking about the role that the ‘Selkie’s Coat’ plays in the tales. The skin/coat then became in my interpretation, the symbolic core of the myth. It signified change, transformation or becoming within the story. The shed seal skin, rendered someway in glass was the image in my head, demanding to be made. That was the beginning to these works in glass and textiles.

Thank you to all the folk and fairy tale writers and researchers. Know that your words and ideas have an ongoing effect on my arts practice.

Fragments of poems often become my titles, two pieces I named from Carol Anne Duffy’s ‘Little Red Cap’: ‘the breath of the wolf in my ear…’ & ‘he held a paperback in his hairy paw…’ Duffy’s words are so fitting for the pieces I couldn’t imagine anything better.

One of my favourite quotes from Jack Zipes:

"Inevitably they find their way into the forest. It is there that they lose and find themselves. It is there that they gain a sense of what is to be done. The forest is always large, immense, great and mysterious. No one ever gains power over the forest, but the forest possesses the power to change lives and alter destinies.”

My next exhibition is a group show called Silhouettes - Red Gallery, Fitzroy. September 24 - October 11 2014.

The works for this exhibition are inspired by the fiction subgenre ‘urban-fantasy’; where folk tale creatures dwell in city streets, where a sliver of magic stands out like a rainbow on a rainy day, a glimmer of elusive enchantment. The outline of the silhouette, like a folktale offers us just enough clues to fire up the imagination and then asks us to fill in the detail from our own store of memories and dreams. 

Charles De Lint is one of my favourite authors in this genre. I always loved his character Jilly Coppercorn who paints fae folk in city streets. In my early 20's I wanted to be just like Jilly. Does anyone else have a fictional role model?

INTERVIEW: Kate answers a reader's questions

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Today I answer a few questions from a reader who wrote:

I stumbled upon your novel - Bitter Greens - a few months ago and was immediately taken by the book. It was truly engrossing - to the point I had forgotten to get off my train station while reading the book and ended several stations after mine .. .

Bitter Greens is probably my favourite book of 2012. I absolutely fell in love with the characters, especially Selena. Words cannot articulate how your book has inspired me greatly. You're a role model to me as well - I'm currently living in Sydney, studying at the University of Sydney, though unfortunately not a course in literature. I would love to do another course after my degree, that is if I manage to survive it :) 

When I realised that you were Australian too, I couldn't help but feel proud that we have such a talented author. You probably get these often, but I hope you don't mind me asking a few questions about your writing process. I'm an aspiring writer but find it difficult to get started. 

Her questions:

1. How long did it take to write Bitter Greens? 

'Bitter Greens' has its roots deep in my own past. I first read the fairy tale as a child of seven and was utterly haunted by it, perhaps because I had lost my tear duct in a dog attack when only two, and so had spent my childhood in and out of hospital, made ill by my own tears. I felt such a longing to be like Rapunzel and have my tears a force for healing instead of them making me sick. Also, Rapunzel had escaped her incarceration in the tower while it seemed as if I would never be free of hospital.

Kate, aged 7

I first began to think about writing a retelling of ‘Rapunzel’ when I was about twelve, as I had just read ‘The Stone Cage’ by Nicholas Stuart Grey which is an absolutely wonderful retelling of the tale by a brilliant British children’s writer. I had a few months earlier read ‘The Glass Slipper’ by Eleanor Farjeon, which retells the Cinderella fairy tale. These two books ignited my love of fairy tale retellings. Much as I loved Grey’s version, I imagined the tale very differently and I used to daydream about how I would write my own retelling.

When I was studying my first degree at university, I took a few courses in fairy tales and that was when I learnt that the original version was much darker and sexier than the tale I had read as a child. This, along with authors I was reading at the time such as Robin McKinley re-animated my desire to write my own retelling.

I wrote a few notes and scraps and ideas, and began one version during my 20s, but was busy with another novel that ended up as the thesis for a Masters degree in Creative Writing. Then, during my university holidays, I began to write a fantasy series which became ‘The Witches of Eileanan’. That series of books is filled with motifs and themes inspired by my love of fairy tales – towers, impossibly long hair, shape-shifting, curses, imprisonment and escape.

Then, around seven and a half years ago, I found myself thinking about my Rapunzel idea all the time. In an attempt to exorcise the haunting, I began a notebook of ideas. It only made me think about the novel more. Then I began working on a children’s novel which features a princess with magical powers being kept locked up in a tower (‘The Wildkin’s Curse’) – I thought this was to be my Rapunzel book, but all the time I was writing it I was thinking about writing a ‘real’ Rapunzel story, a historical novel set in a real place and a real time. I knew it would have to be a book for adults because, for me, the fairy tale was always one about sexual desire and obsession.

I began to read as much about Rapunzel as I could … and then I stumbled upon the life story of Charlotte-Rose de la Force, the woman who first wrote the fairy tale as we know it. That was it! Her life was so full of passion and drama and intrigue that I felt it was such a gift to me. After that, I worked steadily on the book for about three years. At times I thought I’d never reach the end! Yet it was always a joy to write. I heard my character’s voices very clearly in my mind’s ear, and saw the story very clearly in my mind’s eyes … it just took a long time because of the research involved. 

2. How long was the research process?

It seemed to take forever! I was like a detective, following random clues, digging about in old papers, floating about in the vast ocean of the internet and trying to catch a wave, and buying endless old, out-of-print books. All up, it was about seven years, working at night because during the day I was working on other books and projects. I worked on the novel itself exclusively for three years.  

 3. What is your normal writing routine? 

I’ve always built my writing routine around my children, so when they were babies I wrote while they slept. Now they are at school I write all day every day, then again in the evening once they are in bed. (I do most of my reading & research at night, and write during the day). I try and only do a few hours a day over the weekend, as that it is meant to be family time. I’m always sneaking off to scribble a bit though. 

If you enjoyed this post, you may also love this amazing Letter From a fan: How Books Can Change a Life


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