With her meticulously researched stories, captivating characters, intricate plots and a touch of magical fantasy, Kate Forsyth’s rich, evocative novels have made her one of the best-selling and most-beloved of contemporary Australian authors. Her historical novels Bitter Greens and The Wild Girl have fairytale connections, and her children’s series The Chain of Charms is steeped in fantasy and has won numerous awards.
Kate recently released Vasilisa the Wise and Other Tales of Brave Young Women — a collection of feminist fairytales, retold from the originals, with exquisite photographic artwork by Lorena Carrington — through those brave women at Serenity Press, and it is already garnering significant positive reviews. I anticipated that her responses to my Shelf Aware questions would be fascinating — and I was right. For this first guest blog post of 2018, I hope you’ll sit back, relax and enjoy learning more about the latest works, and favourite authors, of Kate Forsyth. And wait until you see her book shelves!
Q. Kate, how would you describe the work that you do and how you do it?
A. I’m a spinner of stories. Some are immense and complex, like a tapestry, and some are delicate as cobwebs, but all are spun from words. Most days I’m hard at work on the big projects, which are usually historical novels for adults, but I always like to have a few small things to play with on the side – poems, essays, picture books and collections of stories like Vasilisa the Wise and Other Tales of Brave Young Women.
Q. What can you tell us about your latest writing project/book release?
A. This year I will have had three books published. The first is Beauty in Thorns, a reimagining of Sleeping Beauty set among the passions and tragedies of the Pre-Raphaelite circle of artists and writers in Victorian England, and told from the point-of-view of the wives and mistresses and muses of the famous male artists.
The second is The Silver Well, a collection of short stories centred around a sacred spring in the small village of Cerne Abbas in Dorset, and co-authored with my dear friend Kim Wilkins. The stories move backwards in time from the modern-day to the time of the Roman invasion, and each feature a wish made at the well and their unexpected results.
The third is Vasilisa the Wise and Other Tales of Brave Yong Women, a collection of feminist fairy tales, retold by me and illustrated by Lorena Carrington. Our aim was to find seven little-known fairy tales which featured clever courageous female heroes who would be strong role models for our daughters and other girls on the cusp of womanhood.
Q. Where are the main bookcases in your home or office? Do you also keep books in other places at home (or elsewhere)?
A. It might take less time to list the rooms that do not contain books!
I have a library that has several thousand books in it, plus a fireplace and comfortable couches to curl up in to read. I also have floor-to-ceiling bookshelves in my study, containing many of my reference books.
My collection of old children’s books is on a dresser in my front hall, and all my cookbooks and gardening books are in the living room. Children’s books published after the 1960s are on a bookshelf at the top of the stairs, plus each of my three children have bookcases in their rooms displaying their favourite books.
I have a bookcase in my bedroom which shelves all the books I have not yet read (I buy books faster than I can read them!) Once they’ve been read they get shelved in the appropriate place.
Q. How are your books organised/arranged?
A. My fiction books are divided into genre i.e. classics, contemporary, crime, fantasy, historical fiction, and romance, and then alphabetically by author’s name within that genre. My children’s books are divided into classic (ie published before I was born) and contemporary, and then alphabetically by author’s name. My non-fiction books are divided into genre i.e. poetry, biography & literary criticism, fairy tale & folklore, and history. Then every non-fiction genre is arranged alphabetically by author’s name, except for history which is arranged alphabetically by country i.e. Australia, Britain, France, Germany, and then chronologically. I have more than 6,000 books and I like to put my hand on whatever book I need straightaway!
Q. What sorts of books predominate?
A. In fiction, I have a lot of books in the crime, fantasy and historical genres, and a lot less in the contemporary. In non-fiction, most of the books are biographies, memoirs, academic treatises into folklore, fairy tale, and literature, and historical non-fiction about times and places in which I have set books.
Q. Describe your favourite reading place.
A. It depends on the season and the time of day. In the morning, I love to read in bed, looking out at my beautiful view of the harbour and the ocean. I have a chair in my study where I sit and read research books, and in the evenings I like to either sit by the fire in the library or in the sitting room. I also love to read in the bath at night, and in bed before I go to sleep – and on a glorious day I sometimes take a book out into the garden. I guess all reading spots are happy spots!
Q. What book/s are you reading right now? Why did you choose that book/those books and what do you think of it/them so far?
A. I’m reading The Night Watch by Sarah Waters and Captivated: J.M. Barrie, the du Mauriers and the Dark Side of Neverland by Piers Dudgeon (I always have a fiction & a non-fiction book going at the same time. I normally read a few chapters of the non-fiction, then a novel, and then a few more chapters of the non-fiction).
I’m a big fan of Sarah Waters and had not yet had a chance to read The Night Watch so I grabbed it when I saw it in a bookshop. I’m loving it so far. I ordered Captivated online, as I’ve been re-reading all of Daphne du Maurier’s books in recent months and I’ve always been interested in the story of J.M. Barrie’s strange relationship with the du Maurier children. Piers Dudgeon’s account of it is absolutely fascinating and I’m racing through it.
Q. What are your favourite books and/or who are your favourite authors?
A. This is my least favourite question! I read so much and admire so many authors in so many genres, and hate having to choose one over another. I’ve actually got a list on my website with dozens of names on it.
But, since you insist, my favourite authors include Geraldine Brooks, C.J. Sansom, Sarah Waters, Tracy Chevalier, Sarah Dunant, Philippa Gregory, Michael Robotham, Georgette Heyer, Juliet Marillier, Kate Morton, Kate Quinn, Emma Donoghue, Mary Stewart, Daphne du Maurier, Hannah Kent, Kimberley Freeman, Jesse Blackadder, Eowyn Ivey, Garth Nix and Rosamund Lupton.
Q. In the event of an emergency, if you could save just three books from your collection, which books would they be – and why would you choose them?
A. I would try and save my diaries and early hand-written novels as they are irreplaceable. I’ve been writing a diary since I was 11 years old and there are about 60 volumes of it, so I’m not really meeting your criteria – but I’d save as many as I could carry.
Q. If you could sit down for afternoon tea with your three favourite characters or authors, who would they be, what would you serve them, and what would like to talk to them about?
A. I think I’d like to meet the Bronte sisters. I’d serve them tea in fine bone china cups and the most delicate finger sandwiches and cakes, and we’d talk about love and death and poetry and writing until the sun had gone down, and then we’d move to champagne and hors d’oeuvres, and finally on to a fine brandy by the fire and they would share all their secrets with me but I would promise to never tell …
Kate Forsyth and Lorena Carrington will be at the Perth Festival Writers Week to talk about their fairytale collection Vasilisa the Wise and More Tales of Brave Young Women. You can learn more about the Writers Week program here.
You can find out more about Kate Forsyth on the following links: