Welcome to Sunday Spotlight. Today it gives us great pleasure to bring to you a conversation with Kate Forsyth about her exciting new book, Vasilisa the Wise and Other Tales of Brave Young Women.
I read on your blog that Vasilisa the Wise and Other Tales of Brave Young Women was born out of a mutual interest in art, fairy-tales, gardens, and books, as well as a common dream of putting together a beautifully illustrated anthology of little-known fairy-tales featuring strong, brave heroines, between yourself and artist Lorena Carrington.
How did you go about selecting which fairy-tales to include in the book?
When I first met Lorena online, she had already been working on illustrations for three stories: ‘Vasilisa the Wise’, ‘A Bride for Me Before A Bride for You’ and ‘The Stolen Child’ (I had begun to communicate with Lorena after I bought one of her artworks for this latter story as a gift to myself for having graduated from my doctorate). We thought it’d be nice if I contributed some favourite stories too and we decided to work on seven stories in total, as it is such a fairy-tale number. I knew at once that I wanted to include ‘The Singing, Springing Lark’ as it is a tale I’ve told many times as an oral storyteller, as well as drawing upon it for my novel The Beast’s Garden. I was also keen on including ‘Katie Crackernuts’ as I had already retold it for The Pigeonhole, an online publication, and so it was ready to be sent to Lorena to work on. I was at that time researching my novel about the Pre-Raphaelites and had, as a consequence, discovered the work of the Victorian fairy-tale teller Mary de Morgan. I sent ‘The Toy Princess’ to Lorena and her imagination was at once fired by the tale, so we decided we had to include it. ‘The Rainbow Prince’ was the last story chosen for the collection, after we had tossed a few other ideas around for a while. It had to be a story that I wanted to retell and Lorena wanted to illustrate and which was not too similar to any of the other tales already chosen. Luckily we like the same sort of thing so it was never a problem!
What came first with each fairy-tale, the words or the art or a combination of the two?
After Lorena’s initial work (before we connected online), I would generally rewrite the story and send it to her and she would then work on the illustrations.
You are now well known for your re-imagined fairy-tales for adults. What prompted you to write this book for a younger audience?
I just always thought it a shame that most people only know such a few of the many wonderful fairy-tales in the world … and that so many of the tales that were well-known were ones that featured a passive female protagonist. I often wished to myself that I could do something to change this. And then Lorena and I met, and talked about it, and realised how much we both wanted to work on a project like Vasilisa the Wise, and so we just did it. We had no idea if anyone would want to publish it, or read it, but we did it anyway. And so it’s such a joy that the book has been so well-received.
It was so thrilling. I love Lorena’s artwork so much, and we worked together with such ease and comfort. Not once did we have any kind of disagreement or misunderstanding. We have actually been contracted to do another collection, to be called Molly Whuppie & Other Tales of Clever Young Women. We’re both so pleased and excited.
How has working with a small boutique publisher differed from working with a large international one?
There are differences, of course, in that a small-press publisher is much more hands-on and looks after a multitude of details that tend to be looked after by a team of people at a big publishing house. They don’t have marketing departments and sales teams and vast distribution networks, for instance. However, what they lack in size is usually made up for with vision, passion, and commitment. And Lorena and I were so lucky to be picked up by Serenity Press, who love what we are doing so much and have poured so much energy and enthusiasm into creating a really beautiful book.
For any writers out there dreaming about a project combining writing with another creative medium, what advice would you give to them in terms of seeking the right collaboration?
Wait for the right person. I had thought about this project for years, but it was not until I discovered Lorena and her exquisite work that I knew it was time to make the dream a reality. Then Lorena and I slowly and steadfastly worked away on the project together, trusting in the universe to bring us the right publisher … and then we discovered Monique Mulligan of Serenity Press. We all knew at once it was the perfect fit, and the three of us then worked together to bring the book to life. It was just a really beautiful serendipitous process, and a testament to our faith and commitment to the project.
For many young women, the only fairy-tales they know are the ones that have been retold by Walt Disney Studios.
Once upon a time, these stories of magical transformation were meant for young women as they grew away from childhood and towards adulthood. They were told by their mothers and grandmothers and the wise women of the clan as they spun and wove and stirred their pots and made their potions. The heroines of these old tales set out on a difficult road of trials to discover their true destiny. And, contrary to popular opinion, marrying a prince was not the only goal. These ancient tales of wonder and adventure are about learning to be strong, brave, kind and true-hearted, and trusting in yourself to change the world for the better.
Meet the brave young women from tales of yore …
Vasilisa who must try to outwit the fearsome witch Baba-Yaga.
Katie Crackernuts who sets out to save her sister from dark magic.
Flora, the gardener’s daughter, who marries a giant serpent to save a prince.
Fairer-Than-A-Fairy, a princess who is kidnapped by an evil one-eyed enchantress.
Lullala, in love with a prince cursed to be a lion by day and a man by night.
Rosemary, a Scottish lass whose baby is stolen by the wicked faery folk of the Sidhe.
Ursula, a princess replaced by a walking, talking automaton.
These are not your usual passive princesses, waiting forlornly for their prince to come …
RETOLD BY KATE FORSYTH
ILLUSTRATIONS BY LORENA CARRINGTON
A SERENITY PRESS PUBLICATION released 14th December 2017.