Kate Forsyth is the internationally bestselling author of more than twenty books, including The Witches of Eileanan and Rhiannon’s Ride series for adults, and The Puzzle Ring, The Gypsy Crown, and The Starthorn Tree for children. She has won numerous awards and her books have been published in 14 different countries. Kate is currently undertaking a doctorate in fairytale retellings at the University of Technology. Kate’s books have been consistent favourites in the Australian Women Writers Challenge, especially her historical novel Bitter Greens.
Did you grow up in a bookish house/ What was your early relationship to books?
I grew up in an extremely bookish house. All of my family are big readers, and my mother and aunt and grandmother read to me and my siblings from a very young age. I could read fluently by the age of four – I distinctly remember my first day in kindergarten. When the teacher discovered I could read, she put me in a beanbag in a corner with a pile of books and I sat and read all day while the other children were taught their alphabet. I went home in high delight, telling my mother I loved school. She was called in and reprimanded for teaching me to read, but simply said, ‘how could I have stopped her?’ I had learnt to read by simply following her finger as she pointed out the words as she read to me. As a child growing up, I always had my nose in a book – its always been my favourite thing to do.
When did you begin writing in a serious way, and what motivated that?
I wrote my first poem at 5, my first story at 6, and my first novel at 7. I always knew I wanted to be a writer, and I’ve never changed my mind. I think I wanted to write because I loved reading so much, and I loved playing imaginary games – making things up, acting them out, telling a story through play. I know I was always writing as a child – poems, plays, stories, a diary. I’ve kept a diary since I was 12 years old, and still write in it most days.
How did your debut novel Dragonclaw come to be written and published?
I first tried to have a novel published when I was 16. Although it was not accepted, the publishers wrote me a lovely rejection letter encouraging me to keep on writing. I went to university, then began to work as journalist and in PR – but I kept on writing and I kept on trying to be published. In my 20s, I quite full-time work and freelanced so that I could have time to write. I undertook a Masters in Writing, and was halfway through that degree when I began a new story that was ultimately my first published novel, Dragonclaw.
What was the inspiration behind your latest novels?
I write for both adults and children, and tend to alternate between them. My latest children’s books are a 5-book series of fantasy adventure novels for children, and were inspired by the books I read and the games I played as a child. My latest novel for adults is a retelling of the Grimms’ Beauty & the Beast set in Nazi Germany, due to be published in August. The idea for this book first came to me while I was working on The Wild Girl, my novel about the Grimm brothers and the young woman who told them many of their most famous fairy tales. I was lying in the shadowlands between sleep and wakening, and my mind was turning over the fairy tales I’d been reading and the knowledge that the Allies had banned the Grimm tales after the end of World War II, and suddenly the idea just came to me, like a jolt of blue electricity. I don’t know why, or where it came from – like all inspiration, it’s mysterious to me.
Have you had any surprising or unusual reader responses to your books?
I have had quite of few babies named Isabeau after the heroine of my Witches of Eileanan books. I’ve also had people turn up at signings dressed as characters from my books.
What are your writing habits? Where do you write? What does a typical day look like for you?
I’ve always built my writing around my children so over the years my habits have changed. Now that all three are at school, I work a full day. I drop my daughter at school before 9am, walk for an hour or so, then make a cup of tea and turn my computer on. I answer important emails and other chores first, then turn off my emails and social media and settle down to writing. My husband normally makes me lunch at 12.30 (he works from home too), and I will glance at my emails etc then, or read the newspaper, or a literary magazine. I have a small walk around my garden, hang out the washing, then I’m back at work at 1.30pm. I work through until my children get home at around 4.30pm, and will have a short break to chat with them, then its back at my computer until 6pm, when I stop to cook dinner and help with homework and so on. If I’m getting towards the end of a novel, I’ll usually get back to work at 7.30pm and work through to 10.30pm, but otherwise I’ll do some reading or research in the evenings. I tend to catch up on emails and blogging and so forth on Sundays, but I try and have Saturday off as often as I can (which is not very often!).
What do you do when you feel creatively stuck?
I go for a walk, or swim in the ocean, and I’ll do some reading or research. Sometimes I read poetry, I find that helps. If I’m really stuck I’ll work on a different part of the book, or I’ll re-read and edit earlier parts of the story.
What are you working on now?
I am on the final edit of Book 5 of The Impossible Quest, my fantasy adventure series for children, and then I will be editing The Beast’s Garden, my novel set in Nazi Germany. Then I’ll update my website, catch up on administrative chores, and start thinking about the new book …
What’s your favourite book by an Australian female author?
Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks
Dancing on Knives, reviewed by Sam Still Reading and The Opal Octopus
Stories as Salvation, reviewed by Whispering Gums
Bitter Greens, reviewed on The Australian Bookshelf, Chris White Writes and Karen Has Things to Say
Great interview. The Beast’s Garden sounds fascinating! I love anything to do with fairy tales and this one has a really intriguing premise. Look forward to seeing it hit the shelves!
It does sound fascinating doesn’t it? Have you read Danielle Wood’s latest: Mothers Grimm? Also fairytale retellings. Have heard great things.
Haven’t yet but I featured her about 6 weeks ago and was intrigued after hearing her discuss it so definitely on my list. Was interesting as I was thinking of Angela Carter at the start of Danielle’s interview and then she mentioned loving her work. I think it’s wonderful that fairy tales are such a rich treasure trove for artists to keep visiting and re-inventing in so many new and exciting ways!
Absolutely. Lately I’ve been enjoying Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes with my son, stories I enjoyed myself as a child, gross and silly takes on some classic fairy tales.
Thank you so much for the interview Annabel. She is amazing isn’t she. Bitter Greens is on my list to read and as I love reading about WWII The Beast’s Garden is possibly higher up the list!
Yes, she is! Her output is so prolific and diverse. I am really looking forward to Bitter Greens.