I am so incredibly excited to welcome Kate Forsyth, award winning author and incredible speaker. I had the lovely opportunity to meet and speak with Kate on a panel at the Historical Novel Society Conference in 2017 and I was so excited to learn she was publishing another Victorian novel and I just had to have her on the blog.
Kate lives and writes in Australia. While the majority of Kate's work is also published in the US and the UK, Kate's publisher has not yet released Beauty in Thorns in other countries and Amazon currently reports that it cannot be delivered to the US. Likewise attempts to get it via ebook and audio seem to be just as difficult.
Let's share this interview and get her some US and UK attention so her publisher will reconsider! ;)
And Because it's hard to come by outside of Australia, Kate is generous enough to be giving away one copy to a lucky winner! Visit Facebook to enter!
Competition runs 3/10/18-3/17/18. If you missed the giveaway, sign up for my newsletter or follow me on Facebook, Instagram & Twitter so you always know when to enter.
Kate Forsyth wrote her first novel at the age of seven, and has since sold more than a million copies around the world.
Her books include Bitter Greens, a retelling of Rapunzel which won the 2015 American Library Association Award for Best Historical Fiction; The Wild Girl, the story of the forbidden romance behind the Grimm Brothers' famous fairy tales, which was named the Most Memorable Love Story of 2013; and The Beast's Garden, a retelling of 'The Singing, Springing Lark' set in the underground resistance to Hitler in Nazi Germany.
Recently voted one of Australia's Favorite 15 Novelists, Kate Forsyth has been called 'one of the finest writers of this generation'. She has a BA in literature, a MA in creative writing and a doctorate in fairy tale studies, and is also an accredited master storyteller with the Australian Guild of Storytellers. Read more about her at www.kateforsyth.com.au
About Beauty in ThornsThe Pre-Raphaelites were determined to liberate art and love from the shackles of convention.
Ned Burne-Jones had never had a painting lesson and his family wanted him to be a parson. Only young Georgie Macdonald - the daughter of a Methodist minister - understood. She put aside her own dreams to support him, only to be confronted by many years of gossip and scandal.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti was smitten with his favourite model, Lizzie Siddal. She wanted to be an artist herself, but was seduced by the irresistible lure of laudanum.
William Morris fell head-over-heels for a 'stunner' from the slums, Janey Burden. Discovered by Ned, married to William, she embarked on a passionate affair with Gabriel that led inexorably to tragedy.
Margot Burne-Jones had become her father's muse. He painted her as Briar Rose, the focus of his most renowned series of paintings, based on the fairy-tale that haunted him all his life. Yet Margot longed to be awakened to love.
Bringing to life the dramatic true story of love, obsession and heartbreak that lies behind the Victorian era's most famous paintings, Beauty in Thorns is the story of awakenings of all kinds.
Fairy Tales & Magic
A unifying element in your work is the fairy tale – can you tell us how that came to be such a defining aspect of your work?
I always loved fairy-tales and fairy-tale retellings as a child, and grew even more fascinated by them when I studied their history and meaning in my undergraduate degree. In time, this led me to do a doctorate of creative arts in fairy tales studies. I was interested in exploring the ways in which stories survive and adapt over long periods of time, helping to shape the human psyche. The more I studied myth and fairy-tales, and the more they worked their way into my writing, the more I loved them.
How do fairy tales, magic and or fantasy play a role in Beauty in Thorns in particular?
Beauty in Thorns tells the story of the Pre-Raphaelite painter Edward Burne-Jones’obsession with the ‘Sleeping Beauty’ fairytale, which he drew or painted many times over his long career. The story is told from the point of view of the women in his life, in particular his wife and daughter who were both, at various times, models for the sleeping princess. So the novel is not a fairy-tale retelling, as we normally define them. It is rather a novel about art and love and death and rebirth, and about the way that myths and fairy-tales express and release some of the deepest human fears and longings.
How do you create that magical atmosphere, not only in your work but in your public speaking? (I had the pleasure of hearing Kate speak at HNS 2017, and hearing her talk was quite magical in of itself!)
Thank you so much! I’m so glad you enjoyed it.
When I am writing a story, or telling a story, I want to create an atmosphere of intense focus and intimacy, so that the reader (or listener) is drawn so deeply into the tale that, for a space of time, they forget who they are. The real world fades away, and the world of the story takes its place, alive and true. The audience must be entranced, spellbound, amazed. They must care so deeply for what is happening in the story that their breath comes short, their pulse quickens, their mind’s eye and ear are totally engaged. To create this feeling – an almost out-of-body experience – I need to establish a strong empathetic connection between me and my audience and my characters. And I do that by making them feel something. Fear, hope, anger, amusement, sorrow, joy.
The Victorian Period
Your books are all historical but not all Victorian, what do you focus on in your research and what do you incorporate into your writing to specifically evoke the time period in which each story is set?
It is always a delicate balance between creating a strong sense of time and space, and not weighing down the prose with too much detail. I try and find what I call ‘the telling detail’ – one small detail that really helps bring the world of the story to life.
In regards to research, I like to read as much as I can – both fiction and non-fiction, memoir and biography, books written now and books written then. I don’t think there’s such a thing as too much research as long as you are not tempted to laden the story with too many facts.
How did you tackle the issue of Victorian language and dialogue?
I always spend quite a long time thinking about my various characters and how they might have spoken, and build what I call an ‘idiom dictionary’ i.e. a list of terms and phrases and swear words that each individual character might have used.
For example, in Beauty in Thorns my character Lizzie’s family comes from Sheffield and so she uses a few Yorkshire phrases such as ‘nowt for owt’. My character Janey, however, lives in Oxford and so I used old Cotswolds dialect for her –wonderful words such as ‘slosheting’ which means to walk through snow, or ‘maundering’ which means to daydream.
I want my reader to understand every word my characters speak, however, and so I use the slang of the time sparingly and only when the meaning is clear.
Any resources in particular you found the most helpful for Victorian atmospheric details?
Reading the work of Victorian writers such as George Eliot or Charles Dickens is always a help. Newspapers of the day. Historical non-fiction, biographies and memoirs. Books about social history (I love these! Some examples: The Victorian House by Judith Flanders, Victorian London by Liza Piccard, How to Be A Victorian by Ruth Goodman, and What Jane Austen Ate & Charles Dickens Knew: Fascinating facts About Life in the Nineteenth Century by Daniel Pool.
Beauty in Thorns
Tell us about the Sleeping Beauty paintings and how they are connected to the fairy tale we all know.
Tell us a little bit about the artists and poets known as Pre-Raphaelite and what made them bohemian.
In September 1848, a group of rebellious young artists created a secret brotherhood that aimed to shake up and challenge convention-bound Victorian England. They believed in free love and feminine beauty, and created an aesthetic that still influences our world close on 170 years later. They called themselves the Pre-Raphaelites, because they were inspired by the art of the late medieval and early Renaissance period (i.e. before the time of the Italian painter Raphael). The key artists in the Pre-Raphaelite circle were William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who then inspired and mentored such artists and designers as Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris.
The women who inspired them included the delicate red-haired Lizzie Siddal who posed as the drowning Ophelia for John Everett Millais, the sultry dark-haired Jane Morris who gazed out of so many canvases painted by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, strong-willed Effie Gray, who charged her husband with incurable impotence and left him in a storm of scandal, and Maria Zambaco, the fiery Greek sculptress who shocked Victorian society by posing nude for her lover.
My novel is told mostly through the point-of-view of Georgie Burne-Jones, the shy daughter of a Methodist minister who married Edward Burne-Jones, and their daughter Margaret.
The ‘Sleeping Beauty’ fairy tale haunted the imagination of the Pre-Raphaelite painter Edward Burne-Jones. He drew or painted it many times over the course of thirty years. For him, it was a story of resurrection and triumph over death – his mother had died when he was just six days old and his father never recovered from his grief, forcing the little boy to pray on his mother’s grave every Sunday.
When his daughter Margot was fifteen, Burne-Jones began to paint her obsessively as the Sleeping Princess. She fell in love with a poet but dared not tell her father for fear of his reaction. Eventually, in 1890, his quartet of paintings, ‘The Legend of Briar Rose’, was exhibited in London. It was greeted by the public with ‘enthusiasm amounting to ecstasy’, was sold for 15,000 guineas, the largest amount ever paid for an artwork in Britain, and consequently Burne-Jones was knighted.
How did this lead to your story?
I have always been fascinated by the Sleeping Beauty story as well, perhaps because I was savaged by a dog when I was a toddler and spent more than six weeks in a coma. I have also always loved the art of the Pre-Raphaelites and shared their interest in myth, fairy tale and poetry. I am interested in why certain fairy-tales can have such a powerful shaping experience on the psyche, and Edward Burne-Jones’s long obsession with ‘Sleeping Beauty’ – and the extraordinary art it produced – connected with my own preoccupations.
Why did you decide to tell the story of multiple women involved with this bohemian circle instead of just the one involved with Ned Burne-Jones?
I wanted to tell the story of more of the women of the Pre-Raphaelite sisterhood, but then my book would have been far too long! Their lives were just so fascinating, filled with desire, scandal, thwarted ambition and tragedy. Also, these women had been for so long the object of the male gaze, I wanted a chance to let them speak in their own voices (or at least, in what I imagined as their voices.)
In addition, it was their lives which inspired Edward Burne-Jones. Without telling their stories, I could not have told the full tale.
How did you overcome the challenge of having multiple central characters?
I tried to make each of the four women have a strong individual voice, and I tried to make sure that each of their stories was as vivid, compelling and intriguing as possible.
Did you incorporate any other historical events into the story?
The action in Beauty in Thorns takes place over several decades, so it was impossible not to draw on what was happening in the wider world. I was most interested in the early suffragette movement and Georgie Burne-Jones’s political awakening, but other events include the Crimean War and the Indian mutiny, for example.
The Writing Life
In one or two sentences each, tell us about your creative process.
Brainstorming story ideas: I like to play with lots of ideas in the early stages of a novel – I find mind mapping a really useful tool, plus asking and answering all kinds of questions about character, plot, setting etc. I work longhand in a notebook, so that I record my creative processes.
Research: I do a great deal of research. I like to immerse myself as deeply as possible in the period, and have a strong sense of place and time. I read everything from letters, diaries, memoirs, newspapers and novels written at the time, to historical non-fiction and novels written in later years.
Outlining & Plotting: I like to outline my novel and plan its key scenes before I start. The story grows and changes as I write, but the underlying architecture rarely alters once I’ve planned it.
Character Development: Character is very important to me and so I spend a long time thinking about their motivation, their hopes and fears and desires, their goals, the journey of transformation they must travel. Once I have their voice speaking in my mind’s ear and their face clear in my eye’s mind, I can start writing their story.
Writing First Drafts: I call my first draft my ‘discovery draft’ – its when the shape of the story becomes clear to me and new ideas and inspirations push the novel to places I had not imagined. It’s my favourite part of the creative process.
Editing: I always cut and edit hard. I try and remove a minimum of one-third of my first draft, and everything is rewritten and rewritten until I am happy with the rhythm and pace.
Fine Tune Editing: The final stage of the novel is probably my least favourite part. This is realizing I’ve over-used a word or phrase, checking every single fact, examining every single sentence and trying to make it better. It has absoluelyc rucial, however. I would never stint on it.
How long does it take you to produce a book and how have you become so prolific?
It really depends on the length of the book I am writing, and how many problems it throws my way. I try to be very focused and disciplined with my writing, but there is always so much else to be done.
Usually I have one big project that takes me a year or so to research and write, and then another year or so to edit and publish. I will always have a few other smaller projects bubbling away in the background, however. It might be a collection of short stories, essays or retold fairytales, or a picture book, or something else entirely. I tend to work on those projects when I am seizing a free moment in my day, or on the weekends. Or if I’m stuck in the novel!
Your Career as an Author
How has the following changed throughout your career:
|Kate teaching at her Cotswolds Writer's Retreat|
Finding time to write while supporting yourself and having a life:
My first novels were written when I was in my late twenties, and I worked as a freelance journalist to support myself. I also got married and began having babies around that time. So right from the very beginning, I was juggling family, freelance work and creative work. As my novels began to find a market, I was able to cut back on the freelance writing, though to tell the truth I still do a great deal of it by writing blogs, book reviews, interviewing writers and other related activities. It was hardest when all my children were small. Once all three were at school I was able to write virtually full-time, as I could then afford to get some help in the house and with the boring administrative tasks. Keeping work and life in balance is always a challenge, however. I need to make time to spend with my friends and family, to work in my garden, and cook, and go to art galleries and the ballet and theatre, else I feel as the writing is taking up too much time and energy, and I’m missing out on other things that bring me pleasure. The closer I get to deadline, the less of these things I do!
As a former journalist and magazine editor, I have a good understanding of how marketing and publicity works, which I think has been a great help to me. I tend to write a handful of feature articles for newspapers and magazines when a new book comes out, and do quite a lot of press and radio interviews. I blog about my creative processes, as well as about the books I am reading, and I write reviews for several Australian media outlets. I’m also fairly active on social media, though mainly I just post about books, and food, and gardens, and my puppy.
Your perspective of the art of writing:
To me, good writing is subtle and lyrical and almost indiscernible. I want my readers to forget that they are reading, but to be swept away by the story. So I’m constantly reining myself in, subduing any authorial flourishes, and seeking clarity, harmony and rhythm.
Your perspective of the professional side of authorship:
Be professional. Work hard, meet your deadlines, listen to your publishers and editors, be prepared to make cuts and changes if needed. Build bridges, don’t burn them.
In one or two sentences, what advice (artistic & professional) do you have for writers who:
Are just starting out? Be brave, and take risks.
Have just broken in? Be kind and respectful to everyone.
Are starting to gain some success? Keep going!
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions and appear on my blog. It is a real honor to have you!