Vasilisa the Wise and Other Tales of Brave Young Women, illustrated by Lorena Carrington, written by Kate Forsyth, and published by my dear friends at Serenity Press, is a collection of re-told fairy tales in which young women save the day, in one way or another. It is inspiring, liberating, beautifully crafted and a must-have for tweenage and teenage girls, and women of all ages. It was also the second best-selling book at this year’s Perth Writers’ Week, and Kate, Lorena and Serenity co-director Monique Mulligan were among the most popular guests at the festival. So positive was the reception for Vasilisa that the trio of Kate, Lorena and Serenity will again join forces for the release of their recently announced second collaboration, The Buried Moon and Other Tales of Bright Young Women.
When Vasilisa was released, I interviewed Kate Forsyth for Shelf Aware, and I’ve been saving this interview with the exceptionally talented Lorena Carrington, waiting for the announcement of the second collection of fairy tales. I remain in awe of Lorena’s gift for creating beautiful, evocative and captivating images using found objects. If you look closely at some of the images in Vasilisa the Wise and Other Tales of Brave Young Women you might also spot images of daughters of Kate and Lorena. Each time I pick up my copy of the book, I find myself drawn to Lorena’s striking imagery, which perfectly complements Kate’s rich storytelling, and I’m definitely looking forward to buying a copy of The Buried Moon, when it is released.
For now, I am thoroughly enjoying reading through Lorena’s responses to my Shelf Aware questions, and gazing at the photographs of her enviable home library. She is one of my favourite Shelf Aware guests so far, for many reasons, and I’m confident you’ll also find much to delight you in her words and pictures.
Q. Lorena, how would you describe the work that you do and how you do it?
A. I’m a photographic illustrator. People often assume my work is made with ink or paint, but I actually photograph many separate elements; sticks, leaves, bones, people, and digitally montage them together to create the final image. My work mostly revolves around fairy tales, but I do work with other themes and genres. It’s wonderful fun, and I feel very lucky to have found my niche. I do write as well, but for now I’m focusing on book illustration.
Q. What can you tell us about your latest writing project/book release?
A. Vasilisa the Wise and Other Tales of Brave Young Women came out in December with the wonderful Serenity Press. Kate Forsyth has retold seven fairy tales of girls and young women who take the active role in their stories. It’s a project we’ve been working on together since 2015, so it’s wonderful to see it come to fruition! I have several more books lined up with Serenity Press, including a sequel to Vasilisa, and I’m also working on a collection of short stories with a local Castlemaine writer. I recently pinned up a three year planner next to my computer. It goes up to 2020. Shouldn’t we have flying cars by then?!
Q. Where are the main bookcases in your home or office? Do you also keep books in other places at home (or elsewhere)?
A. We have the wonderful luxury of a dedicated library in our house. It’s part of the main living area, but it’s tucked away so feels like its own little room. I love it. And other book places? Oh let me count them… There’s the floor to ceiling bookcase in each of our daughters’ rooms, the other floor to ceiling shelves for cookbooks in the kitchen, the overflowing mantlepiece in our bedroom, the stack(s) of books next to our couches, the smaller piles that congregate on our dining table, the back seat of the car, sometimes the bathroom…. I could go on!
Q. How are your books organised/arranged?
A. I’m afraid we rely on a combination of utter chaos, and whatever fits where… At least my fairy tale books are all together on a couple of shelves. And after years of staring at the shelves, I (mostly, vaguely) know where everything is. I do often fantasise about taking everything off the shelves and ordering them according to genre, or at least fiction/non-fiction, but so far I haven’t had anything I’ve wanted to avoid doing quite that much. Maybe I should start a PhD… or doing our taxes by myself.
Q. What sorts of books predominate?
A. We have a pretty wide range, but fiction and art books tend to dominate. My partner is a Visual Arts academic (now happily out of the system) so the art books tend to lean toward the theoretical and philosophical: The Poetics of Vision, The Photographer’s Eye, that sort of thing. We have a lovely big collection of middle grade and YA fiction thanks to our 12 and 14 year old daughters, many of which I’ve bought for ‘them’, aka myself. I collect fiction, mostly by Australian women writers nowadays; partly because I know a lot of them through Twitter (or bumping into them at the supermarket — Castlemaine is pretty author-heavy), and partly because that’s just what I’m interested in reading. And of course my collection of books on fairy tales just keeps growing. It’s a lovely balance of story collections, theory, and a lot of related contemporary fiction, which I love.
I won’t tell you about 200+ cookbooks.
Q. Describe your favourite reading place.
A. Hands down, the couch. Specifically, in Winter with the fire going, and a cup of tea or red wine by my side. We have a bay window that looks out over our wild back garden. If I’m lucky I’ll catch a glimpse of the chooks wandering past and the dog rolling around in the sun.
Alternatively, and this is very specific, the trampoline – but only if it’s mild and sunny after a stretch of cold gloomy days, and little clouds are scudding across a brilliant blue sky, and the kids aren’t home! It’s not worth risking a Tigger-like bouncing.
Q. What book/s are you reading right now (at time of interview)? Why did you choose that book/those books and what do you think of it/them so far?
A. I’m afraid I’m a serial book starter, and a dreadfully unfaithful one at that. Right now (at time of interview) I’ve got several on the go. The following are a few at the top of the pile. A Feast of Sorrows by Angela Slatter, which is a fantastically dark collection of fairy tales that I’m loving and savouring. Mirror, Mirror, which is another collection, this time essays on fairy tales by women writers. If Women Rose Rooted, by Sharon Blackie, which is a manifesto at its core: a call for women to reach back to their roots (of landscape and story) to regain power in their contemporary lives. I tend to dip into non-fiction, which I’ve done before with Sharon’s book, but this time I’m consciously reading it from cover to cover. I’m about to start illustrating a collection of her stories, so I’m trying to get a good feel for her rhythm and style, the imagery she uses, and what’s important to her.
Q. What are your favourite books and/or who are your favourite authors?
A. Now that’s not fair! But I’ll tell you what I’ve enjoyed recently. Kate Forsyth’s Beauty in Thorns is a stunning novel about the women of the Pre-Rapahelite art movement. That’s my ‘total immersion’ pick for this year. I loved it. Hannah Kent’s The Good People was another huge standout for me. It’s incredible. When it comes to short stories, Cate Kennedy, Kelly Link and Carmel Bird cannot be beat. I’ve been reading a lot of fairy tale based fiction, and my list of favourites keeps getting longer: Kate Forsyth, Margo Lanagan, Jane Talbot, Angela Slatter, Neil Gaiman, Danielle Wood, Katherine Arden… and probably many more that I’ll wish I’d thought of as soon as I send this to you.
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. The good thing about books is that they’re mostly replaceable. But the first thing I would grab is a copy of Edmund Dulac’s Fairy Book that my mother gifted me, complete with a presentation box that she made. No doubt I’d throw in Fearless Girls, Wise Women and Beloved Sisters: Heroines in Folktales from Around the World, which had a lot to do with the direction I’ve taken with my work. And the last is maybe an incongruous pick… Graeme Base’s The Eleventh Hour. It was a childhood favourite, and I still look for tiny mice in the corners of books. It also inspired a few hidden secrets in the illustrations of Vasilisa the Wise and Other Tales of Brave Young Women…
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 might be one of the few people who have actually done it! When Kate Forsyth came to visit from Sydney late last year, I sent dinner invitations around to a few local authors I admire. To my utter delight, we had Kate Forsyth, Carmel Bird, Cate Kennedy, Susan Green, Martine Murray and Juliet O’Conor all drinking champagne around our dining table! We ate huge vegetarian salads, spanakopita, and a dense Middle Eastern carob molasses and aniseed cake. Everyone brought a bottle of wine, and we chatted late into the evening – about books, writing, art, our creative lives… It was a wonderful night.