where the writers are
On Inspiration: An interview with Kate Forsyth
Woman at mirror.jpg

My guest today is Kate Forsyth, the bestselling and award-winning author of more than twenty books, ranging from picture books to poetry to novels for both children and adults. Her list is so extensive it's best to take a look at Goodreads to see all her books!

Since the Witches of Eileanan was named a Best First Novel in 1998 by Locus Magazine, Kate has won or been nominated for numerous awards, including a CYBIL Award in the US and is the only author to win five Aurealis awards in a single year, for her Chain of Charms series.

Kate's books have been published in 14 countries around the world, including the UK, the US, Russia, Germany, Japan, Turkey, Spain, Italy, Poland and Slovenia. She is currently undertaking a doctorate in fairytale retellings at the University of Technology, having already completed a BA in Literature and a MA in Creative Writing.

Her most recent book for adults is Bitter Greens, a retelling of the Rapunzel fairytale interwoven with the dramatic, true life story of the woman who first told the tale, the 17th century French writer, Charlotte-Rose de la Force.


What or who inspired you to first write?

I don’t remember! It feels like I’ve always wanted to write. I always loved to read and I guess at some point I realised people wrote the books I loved so much and so that is what I wanted to do. Certainly I’ve been writing poems and stories from the time I could first hold a pencil. 

What is the inspiration for your current book?

My latest novel, ‘Bitter Greens’ is a retelling of the Rapunzel fairy tale, which has haunted me since I first read the story when I was a little girl in hospital. A savage dog attack had destroyed my tear duct and I spent most of my childhood in and out of hospital, suffering chronic infections and fevers. I felt such a strong connection to that girl in the tower, alone as I was alone, whose magical tears had healed the blinded eyes of the prince. I wished for my own tears to heal me. As I grew to adulthood, and read many fairy tale retellings, I thought more and more about doing my own retelling of Rapunzel.

The problem with retelling such a well-known tale is that it’s difficult to surprise the reader, or to create suspense. I began to wonder who first told the tale … and then I stumbled on the extraordinary life story of Charlotte-Rose de la Force, a scandalous 17th century noblewoman who wrote the best known version of Rapunzel while locked away in a convent. When I discovered she had once dressed up as a dancing bear to rescue her much younger lover, I simply had to write about her!

Is there a particular theme you wish to explore in this book?

I think the main theme in the book is that of having the courage to deal with whatever life throws at you.

What period of history particularly inspires or interests you? Why?

The book is set in two of my favourite historical periods. The first narrative strand – the story of the witch and the girl in the tower – is set in Renaissance Venice which has always fascinated me. The second narrative strange –dealing with Charlotte-Rose’s life - is set in France in the late 17th century, another turbulent and intriguing era.


'Flora' - Titian

Is there a particular photo, piece of art, poetry or quote that strikes a chord with you? Why?

Each book will be different. For ‘The Starkin Crown’, my most recent children’s book, it was a quote from Goethe: ‘Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.’

For ‘Bitter Greens’, it was the paintings of Tiziano Veceill, better known in English as Titian. I had been wondering how to bring the life of my witch-character, Selena, to life. I knew she was a red-haired courtesan in Venice, and that she had used blood magic to preserve her youth and beauty far beyond what was natural.

One day I was looking on my art shelves for a book on William Blake to help my son with a school project. Another book fell out of the shelf on to my lap. It was a book on Titian and it opened at a page that had his famous painting ‘Woman with a Mirror’ on one page, and ‘an Allegory of Vanity’ on the other. I was struck by the similarity in the faces. Turning the pages of the book, I saw the same face appear again and again over the course of more than half a century.

I was intrigued, and read up on Titian. I found out that scholars had once believed he was painting his mistress, thought to be a courtesan, but now think he was simply painting an idealised view of feminine beauty, since her face never changed or aged.

It was such an extraordinary serendipitous discovery. My skin rose in goose-bumps, I shivered with amazement and joy … and rushed straight to my notebook. Now, of course, Tiziano is a key character in the book and so are his series of paintings of this mysterious muse. You may like to look at my Pinterest page on the subject.


A Woman With A Mirror - Titian

What resources do you use to research your book/s?

Books and the internet, mainly. I tend to start building a library as soon as I begin working on a novel. I like to own the key research books as I will read them again and again, and put sticky notes in them, and highlight key passages. I find the internet an utterly brilliant resource as well – when I was writing ‘Bitter Greens’ I pored over the Google map of Venice, for example.

Which authors have influenced you?

My favourite authors are Tracey Chevalier, Sarah Dunant, Juliet Marillier, Philippa Gregory, Georgette Heyer, Susan Vreeland, Kate Morton, Karen Maitland – I love a tightly spun story that combines history, suspense, romance and a twist of magic or the supernatural. 

What do you do if stuck for a word or a phrase?

I put down an approximation of what I want to say, put three question marks after it, then keep on writing. Later, I’ll search out all my questions marks and rephrase it, or check my facts, or look up my thesaurus. I never interrupt my flow when its happening!

What advice would you give an aspiring author?

Read a lot, write a lot, rewrite a lot.

And trust in the universe to bring you what you need for your book.

The Venus of Urbino - Titian

Tell us about your next book.

My next book will be ‘The Wild Girl’, published in Australia in March 2013, and in the UK a year later. It tells one of the greatest untold love stories of all time – the heart-breaking romance between Wilhelm Grimm and the young woman who told him many of his most famous stories. Her name was Dortchen Wild, and she grew up next door to the Grimm family in Hessen-Cassel, a small German kingdom that was one of the first to fall to Napoleon. It was a time of war and terror, when the collecting of a few old half-forgotten tales was all the young Grimm brothers could do to resist the tyranny of the French. I hope you all read and enjoy it!

Kate, thanks so much for sharing your sources of inspiration with us. I'm looking forward to reading The Wild Girl but will stock up on sleep first as I tend to stay up into the wee small hours when reading your books :) And I love the paintings you've selected - it would seem that Titian's muse was still weaving her magic when she inspired you to create your character of La Bella Strega.


Charlotte-Rose de la Force has been banished from the court of Versailles by the Sun King, Louis XIV, after a series of scandalous love affairs. She is comforted by an old nun, Sœur Seraphina, who tells her the tale of a young girl who, a hundred years earlier, is sold by her parents for a handful of bitter greens …

After Margherita’s father steals a handful of parsley, wintercress and rapunzel from the walled garden of the courtesan, Selena Leonelli, he is threatened with having both hands cut off … unless he and his wife give away their little girl.

Selena is the famous red-haired muse of the artist Tiziano, first painted by him in 1513 and still inspiring him at the time of his death, sixty-one years later. Called La Strega Bella, Selena is at the centre of Renaissance life in Venice, a world of beauty and danger, seduction and betrayal, love and superstition.

Locked away in a tower, growing to womanhood, Margherita sings in the hope someone will hear her. One day, a young man does …

Three women, three lives, three stories, braided together to create a compelling story of desire, obsession, black magic, and the redemptive power of love. 

A list of locations where you can buy Kate's books can be found at her website and here is is a link to her Amazon books. You can connect with her on Facebook and Twitter

This interview is part of the  AUSTRALIA DAY BOOK GIVEAWAY BLOG HOP as Aussies celebrate Australia Day this weekend! To give you a chance to share in the celebrations I'm  offering the chance to win an e-book of Kate Forsyth's Bitter Greens 

Make sure you visit Shelleyrae at Book'd Out and the girls at Confessions from Romaholics to find out other blogs who are participating in the Blog Hop - more chances for you to win books by great Aussie authors!

The AUSTRALIA DAY BOOK GIVEAWAY BLOG HOP is open for entries until Midnight January 28. Open internationally! Winners will be announced before the following Friday. To be entered into the raffle, VISIT my Triclinium blog, read Kate's interview, comment and name the painter whose paintings were the source of her inspiration for Bitter Greens.

Kate Foryth is also participating in the AUSTRALIA DAY BOOK GIVEAWAY BLOG HOP so visit her blog and possibly win another of her books :)

And don't forget to enjoy Australia Day on 26 January!

Elisabeth Storrs