Friday, June 13, 2014

Aussies 'n' Fairy Tales Week: Kate Forsyth, Author and Enchanting Word Weaver

I read recently this interesting quote (source sadly unknown)...
Words cast spells.
That's why it's called SPELLING.
Words are energy.
Use them wisely.
... and it immediately made me think of Kate Forsyth, because that's what this amazing author does: she captivates you with her words and shows you worlds - ours and that of fairy tale, woven together - that you never knew existed. And when she sets about to tell a fairy tale, people start to realize just how real these stories can be.

Ms. Forsyth is an award winning and internationally best selling author and much in demand so we'll have to wait for another time when we can ask her some questions for fairy tale folk here, but the AFTS conference was privileged to have her speak about Rapunzel, which she wrote her recent PhD on (the title of the talk was Rapunzel in the Antipodes), discuss her book based on the story (Bitter Greens) and to also have her on the panel for Cultural Editing: How Some Fairy Tales Get Lost in the Woods. (We are hoping for video eventually but I've yet to hear if all went according to plan for the recordings. Keep your fingers crossed!)

The one thing you should know, apart from being the recipient of many awards over many books for her writing (she is also the author of numerous lovely fantasy novels), when it comes to fairy tales Ms. Forsyth has as tendency to delve into the history behind the tales and weaves them together with the tales themselves. (Her newest adult novel, Dancing on Knives is more contemporary novel, set in Australia and it has a murder...)

Her books have been released one after the other in quick succession this year, with UK version not far behind the Australian ones and now, finally US versions are appearing as well. (So many lovely covers!)

Here are some of her recent books interweaving fairy tales and history with the magic of her words, as well as a new children's fairy tale retelling "duet" and her latest release which puts a little mystery into a very different Little Mermaid story. You'll note she's also been gifted with some of the prettiest book covers out right now.
A retelling of Rapunzel, interwoven with the story of the real life woman who first told the story, Charlotte-Rose de la Force.
(Released in Australia March 3, 2013)
A lovely stew of sex, fairytales and, well, sex really. THE AGE. An exquisite rendering of the story behind the Rapunzel fairy tale. 
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 1512 and still inspiring him at the time of his death, sixty-four 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 that someone will hear her. One day, a young man does ... 
Three women, three lives, three stories, braided together to create a compelling tale of desire, obsession, black magic and the redemptive power of love.
From Kate Forsyth:
I began by wanting to retell Rapunzel as a historical novel ... as if it had really happened. So I began to wonder about the source of the tale ... who first wrote it?  
I began to research the sources and and so stumbled upon the life of Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de la Force, one of the most fascinating women ever forgotten by history. Her story was just a gift to a novelist. It had everything ... romance, intrigue, drama, black magic ....  
I ended up doing my doctorate on Rapunzel, all my research was so interesting and no-one had ever really looked at it in so much depth before. 
The untold true love story of Wilhelm Grimm and Dortchen Wild that lies behind the tales of the Brothers Grimm. It also weaves in many of the Grimm tales throughout.
(Released in Australia on March 3rd, 2014)
One of the great untold love stories - how the Grimm brothers discovered their famous fairy tales - filled with drama and passion, and taking place during the Napoleonic Wars.
Growing up next door to the Grimm brothers in Hesse-Cassel, a small German kingdom, Dortchen Wild told Wilhelm some of the most powerful and compelling stories in the famous fairy tale collection. 
Dortchen first met the Grimm brothers in 1805, when she was twelve. One of six sisters, Dortchen lived in the medieval quarter of Cassel, a town famous for its grand royal palace, its colossal statue of Herkules, and a fairytale castle of turrets and spires built as a love nest for the Prince-Elector's mistress. Dortchen was the same age as Lotte Grimm and the two became best friends.
In 1806, Hesse-Cassel was invaded by the French. Napoleon created a new Kingdom of Westphalia, under the rule of his dissolute young brother Jérôme. The Grimm brothers began collecting fairy tales that year, wanting to save the old stories told in spinning-circles and by the fire from the domination of French culture.  
Dortchen's father was cruel and autocratic, and he beat and abused her. He frowned on the friendship between his daughters and the poverty-stricken Grimm Brothers. Dortchen had to meet Wilhelm in secret to tell him her stories. All the other sisters married and moved away, but Dortchen had to stay home and care for her sick parents. Even after the death of her father, Dortchen and Wilhelm could not marry – the Grimm brothers were so poor they were surviving on a single meal a day.  
After the overthrow of Napoleon and the eventual success of the fairy tale collection, Dortchen and Wilhelm were at last able to marry. They lived happily ever after with Wilhelm's elder brother Jakob for the rest of their lives.
A retelling of the Scottish fairy tales, The Selkie Bride and The Seal-Hunter and the Selkie
(Released in Australia in May 2014)
Illustrated by Fiona McDonald (Children's)
You can read a lovely guest post from Ms. Forsyth HERE on creating the book and on her ancestry which, apparently, might just involve a selkie!

From Kate Forsyth:

My grandmother’s grandmother was Scottish. Her name was Ellen Mackenzie and she grew up on the Black Isle in the Highlands of Scotland. Ellen’s mother was called Margaret McPhee, and as everyone in Scotland knows, the McPhee clan was descended from Selkies. The name McPhee is derived from an older version of the name MacDuffie, which comes from the Gaelic term MacDubhSithe, meaning ‘son of the dark fairy’. Family legend says that the first McPhee took a Selkie as a bride!    

...I always loved the tales of selkies, who were seals in the water and humans upon the land. It seemed the best of both worlds. I loved wondering if I had Selkie blood in me, and if one day I’d find the way to transform into a seal. 
(See? Seriously. Go read!)

Using the fairy tale of The Little Mermaid and referencing The Red Shoes
(Just released in Australia on June 2nd, 2014)
A damaged family and their generations of dangerous secrets 
At twenty, Sara is tormented by terror so profound she hasn't left her home in five years. Like the mermaid in the fairytale her Spanish grandmother once told her, Sara imagines she is dancing on knives. She feels suffocated by her family, especially her father – the famous artist Augusto Sanchez – whose volcanic passions dominate their lives. 
Then one stormy night, her father does not come home. His body is found dangling from a cliff face. Astonishingly, he is still alive, but the mystery of his fall can only be solved by the revelation of long-held family secrets.
At once a suspenseful murder mystery and a lyrical love story, Dancing on Knives is about how family can constrict and liberate us, how art can be both joyous and destructive, and how strength can be found in the unlikeliest places.
You can see more information about Ms. Forsyth's books at the Random House Australia site HERE.

Ms. Forsyth's books have been reviewed all over the internet so there are plenty of opinions out there letting you know how much they love her work. She's been interviewed in a number of places as well so you can glean little bits of information about her research and process if you do a quick search but best of all, there's a video (though 46ish minutes, the time goes quickly listening to her!) in which Ms. Forsyth talks about Bitter Greens and The Wild Girl.

Have a listen (& a look):

She also just wrote a very interesting post on the history of Sleeping Beauty from Troylus and Zellandine (around 1300) to Matthew Bourne's recent ballet and the recent Disney revisioning in Maleficent, including a brief look at criticism of the tale. It's very comprehensive yet easy to read and includes her favorite novel versions of the tale. While I wasn't surprised to find Jane Yolen's Briar Rose there (with a WWII setting) I was pleased to find Adele Geras' Watching the Roses there (a lovely device throughout is including descriptions of various rose varieties that ultimately provide a subtle commentary on the story). You can find the post HERE.
Kate Forsyth

Ms. Forsyth can be found all over the place speaking on fairy tales these days. Whether it's with regard to her books and work, or discussing the importance of fairy tales with world renowned fairy tale scholar, Professor Jack Zipes, discussing the relevance of fairy tales in the 21st century on the radio, or being involved in a lively discussion panel for the Australian Fairy Tale Society, I have a feeling we will see even more fairy tale inspired work from her. With her enthusiastic fan following, including many among the young adult crowd (though her books aren't specifically YA), you know that she's doing a lot of good in having people consider fairy tales, their importance and their relevance.

I have a feeling... the best is yet to come.

Kate Forsyth's website and wonderful blog is HERE (she's also in the Other Fairy Tale News Sources blogroll on the right of the page here at OUABlog).
She can also be found on Twitter HERE.
And her Facebook page is HERE.

For Australian buyers, Booktopia is recommended. For the UK and US, Some of her many awards are listed below.

TWO SELKIE TALES - released May 2014
DANCING ON KNIVES - releaseD June 2014
THE WILD GIRL - voted the Most Memorable Love Story of 2013 by Australians
BITTER GREENS - shortlisted for the 2012 Aurealis Award, the Ditmar Award & the Norma K. Hemming Award, for which it received an Honourable Mention 
THE PUZZLE RING - shortlisted for 2009 Aurealis Award & named an Unsung Hero of 2009 
THE GYPSY CROWN - won the 2007 Aurealis Award & was nominated for a CYBIL Award
THE LIGHTNING BOLT - named a CBCA Notable Book in 2007
THE CURSED TOWERS - shortlsted for the 1999 Aurealis Award
DRAGONCLAW - shortlisted for the 1997 Aurealis Award


  1. What a great post! A real celebration of one of my faves, and a great introduction to Kate if you don't already know her work.

  2. I love Kate because of her way with words. I also love the way her covers are so minimalistic yet it still exhibits what a fairy tale book must look like.