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THE IMPOSSIBLE QUEST: Eight-year-old readers tell me what they think

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Never be too shy to write to an author you love - I promise you, it will make their day!

I just received the loveliest mail from a teacher in New Zealand who read my children's fantasy series THE IMPOSSIBLE QUEST to her students - I will treasure their notes to me forever. 
Here they are:

Dear Kate 

I am the teacher of a year 3-4 class in a small rural school, just outside Hamilton, in New Zealand. 

I picked up a copy of Book 1, The Impossible Quest - Escape from Wolfhaven Castle at a literacy conference in 2013. I returned to school and immediately read it to my class. The children were totally engaged and enthralled with the story, so much so I actually stopped reading one day as they were so still and silent (this doesn’t often happen!) 

The following year I read books 1-3 to my class and they were hanging out to read book 4 & 5. This year I was lucky to have the same group of children (small school!) and so we have read book 4 & 5. 

I had purchased book 5 online and so displayed this on the screen for the children to read along with me. What an experience that was for both myself and the children. We were all hanging out to get to the end of book 5 and what an ending. It was very satisfying! 

Many of the children have independently read the book again. We had several hypothesis regarding the sleeping heroes, who Jack might be and of course the realisation that Quinn was in fact a queen. The whole way through the series we were kept guessing, just like the children in the novels. The children have written some comments about the novels that they wanted to share with you. They were also wondering if there was any chance that this might be made into a movie. These children are all 8 years old. 

What I liked most about your books are that they’re all rescue missions which I think is the awesome part. That’s what I think is extraordinary about your books – Prue 

Your books are awesome. It was great in the Battle of the Heroes, when the Mortlakes were captured in the cages - Chase 

I liked your books because they have really good words and the action is very exciting. Kloey 8 years 

I really like Quinn. I also liked the very last sentence in Book 5… They all laughed knowing that none of them believed anything was impossible any more. Lacy 

Your books are interesting. I like your titles of the books. Drayden 

I love your Impossible Quest series. They are so unique and extraordinary. I’ve read the whole series myself! I especially like Book 5. It’s got so much drama. I love all of the fantasy animals. When I grow up I want to be an awesome author like you. Ashlee 

What I liked about your story is how you made people fight and I also liked Fergus. Khaled 

I like most about the Impossible Quest is the adventures in the book. I liked Fergus. Brad 

I liked the characters and the weapons in your books. Luke 

I like your books because they are very good and they excited me when I when I read the first one. Phoenix 

I really liked how you wrote book 5 because it really excited me with all the scary parts. Phoebe. 

I really liked the adventures that the children had. Saige 

What I liked most about your Impossible Quest book 5 was that I thought it was very extraordinary. My favourite characters were Quinn, Wolfric and Beltain. Your books blow my mind. Jessica. 

I like the Impossible Quest books because there are adventures in each book. My favourite characters are Quinn and Quickthorn. The first book was absolutely astonishing. They had to escape Wolfhaven castle. Book 3 was epic because they found Beltain the dragon. Thank you for making the Impossible Quest series. Alexa 

I liked Impossible Quest 5 because of the heroes. The heroes are extraordinary and Quinn, Eleanor, Tom and Sebastian and the other characters are all awesome. Micaiah 

I liked the adventures the children had and their animals. My favourite one was the unicorn, Quickthorn, Wolfric and Fergus. Cassie 

Once again, thanks for writing such an appealing, engaging and enthralling series of books that are appropriate for our younger readers. 
Kindest Regards 

Leanne Adam Class 
Teacher Rukuhia School, Hamilton, New Zealand

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

LETTER FROM A FAN: How you saved my life

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Every now and again I get an email or letter from one of my readers that reminds me why it is writing is so important to me - and to others. I'd like to share this  email about my novel The Puzzle Ring with you.

Hi Kate,

My name is Emily. I honestly cannot express the importance of the role you have played in my life so far. Your book, The Puzzle Ring, is a book I read as a young child - it honestly has changed my life, and I'll tell you why. 

From a very, very young age, I loved books and adventures, and often visited my town's library. I read many books as a child, but there was one book in particular that I happened to pick up from the library. I couldn't put said book down, and this book was THE book that led me to writing my first story. After returning the book, I kept writing and I soon discovered that writing was what I wanted to do with my life. It became my passion, a passion lasting to this day and forevermore. 

Unfortunately, after returning the book, I forgot what it was called, who it was written by and even what it was about. I was just beginning school at this time so everything left my mind as I cleared it to start learning what was necessary to learn. During my primary school years I was outcast and bullied relentlessly, and could often be found curled up on the floor of my room staring at the calendar and wishing the days would move faster. 

Sadly, they didn't, but somehow I made it through the dreadful years and reached high school. If I was under the impression that things were going to get better here, it didn't last for long as the bullying continued and other things began to change. The one true friend I had gained during primary school got cancer and I sunk into an unbreakable depression. I hated everyone, including myself, and found new ways to deal with unhappiness; I injured myself and almost committed suicide. 

But I had a purpose to my life; writing. I vowed, after reading the aforementioned special book and discovering writing, that I had to write a book before I died, and that vow, that dream and that book - your book - saved my life that day. A little while after that incident I visited the library (as I did regularly) and was walking down the children's aisle when I picked out a book. The Puzzle Ring, it was called. Suddenly, I remembered everything; the special book I had read as a child that had shown me my passion and saved my life, this was it, this was the book! I shed a tear or two right there in that aisle, which gained me a few odd stares and mutterings, but I didn't care - I HAD FOUND THE BOOK! 

This book is sitting on my desk in front of me right now as I write to you. I suppose the purpose of this email is to say thank you, thank you, thank you. I I hope you realise how you have affected my life, how you have saved it. Thank you, sincerely, thank you Kate Forsyth. I owe my life to you.

Thank you so much, Emily, for writing to me and letting me know - your email moved me to tears. I'm so very glad that The Puzzle Ring inspired you to want to be a writer, as the books that I read when I was a child inspired me, and I am so glad that your longing to write, your compulsion to write, helped save you. 

Maybe one day a book that you write will be a source of strength and consolation to somebody else in trouble - and so I shall have passed on the torch to you, and you shall pass it on to someone else, and we shall be part of a chain of storytellers stretching back into the darkness of the unknown past, all of us passing on all that we have learned about compassion and courage and wisdom and endurance - from our lives and from the stories we have shared. 

If you loved this email, you may also like this earlier letter from a reader: How Books can Change A Life 


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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