Hello and welcome to my blog, Author Interviews. My name is Fiona Mcvie.
Let’s get you introduced to everyone, shall we? Tell us your name. What is your age?
My name is Kate Forsyth and I am 52 years old.
Fiona: Where are you from?
I was born in Sydney, Australia, and have lived here all my life.
Fiona: A little about your self (ie, your education, family life, etc.).
I went to school in Sydney, and then on to university here too. I have a BA in Literature from Macquarie University, a MA in Writing from The University of Western Sydney, and a Doctorate of Creative Arts from UTS. I worked as a journalist through most of my 20s and my first novel was published when I was 30. I’ve been a full-time author ever since, and have published more than 40 books, ranging from picture books to poetry, children’s fantasy to historical fiction for adults, and a collection of essays and articles. I am married, and have three children aged 20, 17 and 14, plus a cool and aloof black cat and a huge, rambunctious Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy. I loved to read and cook and garden and travel the world having adventures.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news.
I have so much news!
I just delivered a new historical novel to my publishers at Penguin Random House. It is called The Blue Rose, and is set in France during the French Revolution and Imperial China. It was inspired by the true story of the quest for a blood-red rose, and will be published in late July 2019.
I’m now working on a new historical novel set in Crete during World War II. It will be called The Crimson Thread, and draws upon the myth of Ariadne and the Minotaur. It’s very early days. I’m still plotting and planning and daydreaming and reading and playing with ideas, one of my favourite stages of any novel.
I am also writing a bibliomemoir with my sister Belinda Murrell (who is also a writer) inspired by the life of our great-great-great-great-grandmother, who wrote the first children’s book published in Australia. It will be published in 2021 to celebrate the 180th anniversary of her book.
And I’m also working on a new collection of little-known fairy tales featuring strong female protagonists who don’t wait around to be rescued. This will be the third in a series. The first, entitled Vasilisa the Wise & Other Tales of Brave Young Women, came out last year and has won an enthusiastic audience. The second, entitled The Buried Moon & Other Tales of Bright Young Women, will be launched in March 2019. The new collection doesn’t yet have a name, but will be launched in 2020.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing. My mum has boxes of stories I wrote when I was four and five. I wrote my first novel when I was seven, and have never stopped since.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I always wanted to be a writer. It was my only life dream. I was being published all through my teens and twenties – poems and short stories and articles – but I wanted to be a novelist. Signing my first book contract was the moment when all my dreams came true.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
My first written book or my first published book?
The one I wrote when I was seven was inspired by an Enid Blyton book I had just read. It was about a boy called Julian (I know, I know, a bit of a rip-off) and his sister Fiona who run away from home and have adventures on their way to find a new home.
My first published book was called Dragonclaw and it was inspired by a dream I’d had when I was sixteen. Thirteen years later, I saw a notice in the NSW Writers Centre newsletter about a magazine calling for fantasy stories, and decided to turn this vivid and magical dream into a short story. By the end of the day, I realised I was writing a novel, and ten years later I had written a six-book fantasy series that became an international bestseller. It was just a series of serendipitous discoveries.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
My heroine Isabeau grew up in a valley beneath a mountain named Dragonclaw.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
Well, I’ve had 40 books published and they are all very different in genre and age market. It’s obviously difficult to compare a picture book that is 220 words long to a historical novel that is 160,000 words long or to a collection of essays and articles.
In general, though, I would say my writing is limpid and lyrical, and my stories are driven by the desire to challenge as well as to console. My stories are mostly set long, long ago and far, far away, rather than in the here and now, and my most recent novels give voice to true-life forgotten women. Bitter Greens, for example, was inspired by the true-life story of Charlotte-Rose de la Force, a French noblewoman who wrote the best-known version of ‘Rapunzel’ while locked up in a convent against her will. The Wild Girl tells the story of Dortchen Wild, the young woman who told the Grimm brothers many of the world’s favourite fairy tales, against the backdrop of the Napoleonic wars in Europe. And The Beast’s Garden is set in the German underground resistance to Hitler in Berlin, a story that is very little known.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
I might talk about Beauty in Thorns, which is my most recently published novel. All of the events are realistic, as it is inspired by the true-life stories of the women of the Pre-Raphaelite circle of poets and artists, working in mid-nineteenth century Britain. I have woven together the voices of four women. Georgie Burne-Jones, who was married to Edward Burne-Jones, one of the most famous artists of his time. Lizize Siddal, the muse and wife of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, which aimed to shake up Victorian art and life. Jane Morris, the wife of poet and designer William Morris who had a passionate and ultimately destructive affair with Rossetti after his wife’s death. And Margot Burne-Jones, the face of the Sleeping Princess in her father’s most famous quartet of paintings.
None of it is inspired by events in my own life, though naturally it reflects my love of art, poetry, myth, fairy tale and history.
Fiona: Is there anything about your style or genre that you find particularly challenging?
It is an incredibly challenging job, bringing the lives of women who once lived and loved and grieved and suffered and desired to life in fiction. It’s not just a matter of researching the events in their lives. You also need to try and understand the forces that drove them to do what they did, and try to express some kind of psychological truth in their inner lives.
Fiona: To craft your works, do you have to travel? Before or during the process?
Because so many of my books are set in real places, and inspired by the lives of real people, travel for research is absolutely crucial to what I do. I like to have the book planned and mostly written before I go, so that I know what I am searching for.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
The cover designer of Beauty in Thorns was Nikki Townsend. Kathleen Jennings designed the cover of both The Silver Well, a collection of inter-connected short stories co-written with Kim Wilkins, and The Rebirth of Rapunzel: A Mythic History of the Maiden in the Tower which puts my doctoral exegesis together with various essays on fantasy, folklore and fairy tale. Lorena Carrington is the artist that I worked with on Vasilisa the Wise & Other Tales of Brave Young Women, and the creator of its exquisite cover. That’s three amazing different creative artists just for my last few books! I’m very lucky.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Oh, yes. My books are all about the redemptive power of love and compassion, and the necessity of finding courage. My protagonists walk a dark road down into darkness and back up into the light, like the one taken by Psyche in the old Greek myth (psyche means the human soul or vital spirit).
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest? Who is your favorite writer, and what is it about their work that really strikes you?
Writers whose work I have had such joy discovering in the last year or so include Sarah Waters, Emma Donoghue, Hannah Kent, Jesse Blackadder, Hannah Richell, Holly Ringland, Lauren Chater, Katherine Arden and Frances Hardinge.
Writers whose work I have loved for a long time include Daphne du Maurier, Tracy Chevalier, Joanne Harris, Kim Wilkins, Juliet Marillier, Geraldine Brooks, Barbara Kingsolver, and Elizabeth Kostova. There are , of course, many many more whose work I love and admire!
Fiona: Outside of family members, name one entity that supported your commitment to become a published author.
The NSW Writers Centre was an incredible resource and support for me. I went to every single workshop and festival and conference I could afford, and made many lovely writing friends there.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
Absolutely. I’ve made my living from my writing for most of my adult life.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
No. I did the very best I could.
Fiona: Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
To keep my word count under control! The first draft of Beauty in Thorns came in at a massive 185,000 words and it hurt a lot cutting it back.
Fiona: Any advice for other writers?
Make writing a natural art of your life, and allow yourself the freedom to make mistakes and learn as you go. Be brave!
Fiona: Anything specific you want to tell your readers?
Thank you so much for reading and loving my books! Without your support, I would not be able to do what I love most in the world.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
Helen Jukes’s beekeeping memoir, A Honeybee Heart has Five Openings. It’s brilliant!
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
- My puppy
- Just about everything. Books, films, TV shows, the nightly news, people who tell me their life stories.
Fiona: Is there one person, past or present, you would love to meet? Why?
Emily Dickinson. Her life was so narrow, so small, and yet her poetry is so astonishing.
Fiona: Do you have any hobbies?
I love to cook! I and a dear friend of mine called Sarah Mills have set up a Youtube show called Word of Mouth TV in which we celebrate reading, writing, cooking and eating, my favourite things to do. I also love my garden, art galleries, museums, and music, particularly jazz.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
My daughter and I are currently binge-watching Criminal Minds – and I love British crime TV. My daughter calls them Mummy’s murder shows. I also love to watch ‘Escape to the Country’ while I do the family’s folding, which only other fans will understand. I’m not a big TV watcher, though. Most nights I read.
Fiona: Favorite foods, colors, music?
My favourite colour is blue.
My favourite food is what my daughter calls ‘fancy’– homemade pâté with fresh baguette, smoked salmon and salmon roe, lobster, caviar, roast chicken with fennel and lemon, zucchini flowers stuffed with goat’s cheese, that sort of thing. I’m always experimenting with recipes to fancy them up. For example, if I’m making apple pie, I’ll cook the apples with fresh thyme and honey. If I’m making roast lamb, I’ll cook it with fresh rosemary and lemons plucked from the garden and anchovy infused-oil.
Fiona: Imagine a future where you no longer write. What would you do?
I don’t want to imagine such a thing. It means I’d be dead.
Fiona: You only have 24 hours to live how would you spend that time?
Cooking a meal for my loved ones, dancing to music, filling my space with flowers and sweet-scented candles, talking and laughing.
Fiona: Do you have a blog or website readers can visit for updates, events and special offers?