Due to recent events, many Australian authors have had to cancel book launches and festival appearances. For some, this means new novels, series continuations and debut novels are heading into this scary, strange world without much publicity or attention. The good news is, you can still buy books – online or get your local bookstore to deliver if they’re offering that service. Buying these books, talking about them, sharing them, reading them, reviewing them – are all ways that for the next six months at least, we can ensure that these books don’t fall by the wayside.
Over the next few months, a lot of us will be consuming some form of art – entertainment, movies, TV, radio, music, books – the list goes on. It is something we will be turning to take our minds off things and to occupy vast swathes of free time. One of the things I will be doing to support the arts, and specifically, Australian Authors, will be reading and reviewing as many books as possible, conducting interviews like this where possible, and participating in virtual book tours for authors.
Kate Forsyth has written over forty books for all ages. Lorena Carrington is an illustrator, who works with photographic mediums and digitally to create her fabulous illustrations for the Lost Fairy Tale series, published by Serenity Press. The third book, Snow White and Rose Red, is published today, the first of May 2020. I decided I wanted this interview to appear on release day, and will be posting my review as close to it as possible. Kate and Lorena, like many authors, had launches, bookstore appearances, art gallery appearances and other events cancelled in the wake of COVID-19. As a result, much of this publicity is moving online at this time. I’ve read Kate and Lorena’s previous books and have a special edition of Lorena’s art – and they are much treasured books. Kate and Lorena have appeared together for this interview.
Hi Kate and Lorena, and welcome to the Book Muse!
- First of all, how did you two meet each other and was Vasilisa the Wise the first project you collaborated on?
KATE: We first met when I wanted to buy myself a piece of fairy tale art as a present to myself for having completed my doctorate in fairy tales. A writer friend of mine Allison Tait sent me a message on Twitter with a link to Lorena’s website, essentially saying ‘Kate, have you seen this? I think you’d like it’. It was a complete coincidence – Allison didn’t know I was actively looking to buy some art, she just thought I’d like what Lorena creates. And I did! I loved it! I bought one of her pieces at once, and we began to communicate via social media, and just found we had so much in common. After a while, we realised that we were both working on very similar projects, quite independently of each other, and we decided to collaborate. We worked in secret for quite a long time, exchanging stories and images, and slowly Vasilisa the Wise came together.
LORENA: I think our serendipitous meeting is an example of the good that social media can do. At its best, social media create communities in which extraordinary connections can be made. Without that one tweet from Allison to Kate, my work life today would be completely different, and I’m so grateful for it!
- Snow White and Rose Red comes out at the end of April – did you have any launches or events planned for this book, and if so, what were they?
KATE: Lorena and I have done a tour together with every book so far, and we had so much fun planned for this book! A launch, art gallery showings, school visits, and so on. It was heart-breaking that everything had to be cancelled. Apart from anything else, it means we won’t get to see each other! We live so far away from each other, our launch tours were always a lovely excuse to get together, drink champagne, throw around ideas, and talk for hours. Now we shall just have to do it all virtually.
LORENA: I desperately miss the chance to sit on Kate’s balcony with a glass of champagne this year! But that time will come again, and for now we’re having a fabulous time putting together videos and plotting our online book launch on May 1st. There will be champagne involved.
- Are there any future Lost Fairy Tale anthologies planned for the two of you, and will the series hit the magic fairy tale number of seven?
KATE: We are working on Book 4 right now! We chose the stories together, and I have re-written them, and now Lorena is creating the art for them. The book will be called ‘The Gardener’s Son, the Golden Bird & Other Tales of Gentle Young Men.’ And, yes, we like to imagine seven …
LORENA: At least seven! I just started work on The Gardener’s Son this week, and I’m reminded (as I always am) of how much fun it is working with Kate, and with her incredible words.
- Do you have a favourite tale that you have worked on?
KATE: All of them! We don’t retell a story if we don’t love it. Though of course (speaking very quietly) some are more beloved than others. It’s made me very happy to bring the beautiful stories of Mary de Morgan to a wider audience, and I particularly love the Grimm stories ‘The Singing, Springing Lark’, ‘Six Swans’ and ‘Snow White & Rose Red’. ‘Tam Lin’ is one of my favourite stories to retell in an oral performance, while ‘Katie Crackernuts’ is another old Scottish tale I just adore.
LORENA: I’m with Kate. Every story I’m reading or illustrating at the time is my favourite. I do have a soft spot for some too though: ‘The Stolen Child’, ‘A Mother’s Yarn’ and ‘Strawberries in the Snow’… And ‘The Pot Who Went to the Laird’s Castle’ is so much fun to read aloud.
- Lorena, when did you start illustrating, and what was the first medium you experimented with?
LORENA: Before I moved into illustration, I was a photographer and photographic artist. I began as an absolutely purist to the photographic form: I formulated my own photographic chemistry, printed from large format negatives onto fibre-based paper, and only in black and white of course… This all came crashing down when I had children! I suddenly couldn’t justify locking myself in the darkroom for days at a time. So, I moved slowly into digital, but if I was going to adapt to this new medium, I wanted to take full advantage of it. I began montaging photographs together in Photoshop, and having young children inspired me to start thinking more deeply about fairy tales and the stories we tell them. It. was a natural progression then to move into illustration.
- When did you decide the photographic layering method you have used in Vasilisa the Wise, The Buried Moon, Wiser than Everything and Snow White and Rose Red was the most effective method for this series of books?
LORENA: The layering method works so well because I’m working with a world reflected in but different to our own. Photography captures what is it front of the camera, but with digital montage I can build something new from it. I can create lions and griffins out of sticks and leaves. A girl can sprout a mermaid’s tail, or tight rope walk over a single hair. I can make a forest from blades of grass, and the ocean from a fish tank. It feels magical, even as I sit at my messy desk with a rapidly cooling cup of tea.
- Of all the illustrations you have created so far, Lorena, which have you had the most fun with?
LORENA: The most fun are probably the illustrations where I have to build a creature from scratch. I really enjoyed creating the goblin getting tangled in a fishing line for Snow White and Rose Red. He’s just so delightfully wicked and cranky! I had a fantastic time finding tangles of hair and wigs to make his ridiculous beard.
- Kate, you’ve loved fairy tales for a long time – your whole life. What was it about fairy tales that attracted you to them, and was there one in particular that you loved?
KATE: I spent quite a lot of time in hospital when I was a little girl, and so books and stories were enormously important to me, offering me an escape from the physical constraints of being so sick and afraid and alone. My mother bought me a copy of Grimm’s Fairy tales when I was seven, and I read it to absolute tatters. There was something about the darkness in the tales that spoke very powerfully to me. The heroes of fairy tales have to face profound dangers – being turned into toads, being fattened up to be eaten – and that sense of peril resonated with me in a way that most sugary-sweet children’s stories did not. I too was in danger. I too was facing insurmountable odds. Fairy tales gave me hope that I too could triumph, just like the young men and women who defeated the witches and ogres and dragons of their world.
Of all the tales I read, ‘Rapunzel’ was the one that resonated with me most powerfully. This is because my lonely hospital ward was a metaphorical tower, I realise now; and also, because Rapunzel’s tears had magical healing powers, while I was in hospital because I had lost my tear duct in a savage dog attack. I ended up writing a whole novel inspired by ‘Rapunzel’, and a poem, and did my doctorate on the history of the tale, so you can say a great deal of my life has been shaped by seeking to understand this one story’s magnetic pull on my imagination.
- Your love of fairy tales is evident in your novels – whether it is the themes or tropes, or the use of a particular fairy tale infusion to tell a story from history – such as the Singing, Springing Lark in The Beast’s Garden – how do you go about choosing which fairy tales work with which historical events?
KATE: That is a very hard question to answer, Ashleigh, because it’s never as mechanical as that. Each book comes to life in my imagination in a different way, and sometimes it’s the fairy tale that inspires the historical events. For example, the idea for The Beast’s Garden came to me in a kind of dream, as I was awakening from sleep. The dream showed me a girl in a golden dress singing to a room full of SS soldiers as she tried to save the man she loved. The setting and the fairy tale were fused together from the start (a golden dress is a key motif in ‘The Singing, Springing Lark’.) I draw upon a number of different fairy tales in The Wild Girl, but all of them were tales told to the Grimm brothers by Dortchen Wild, a real-life woman who was my protagonist in that book. What tales she told, and where and when, became the thematic structure of the book, and revealed to me her story. The Blue Rose is the only book of mine where I went out actively searching for a fairy tale to fit my story, and even then, I stumbled upon it most serendipitously and when I was not actually looking for it.
- Can you tell my readers anything about your next fairy tale infused historical fiction, Kate?
KATE: I’m working with an ancient Greek myth this time! The book I am writing is set in Crete, in contemporary times and during the Nazi occupation of 1941-1945, and it draws upon the story of Ariadne and the Minotaur. The novel will be called The Crimson Thread, which is a reference to the ball of red thread that Ariadne gives to Theseus, so that he may find his way out of the labyrinth after he has slaughtered the Minotaur. I’m only in the early stages, but I’m very much loving the writing of it!
- This is for both of you – do you have a favourite artist or style of art, and why?
KATE: I am a passionate lover of art, and artists feature in quite a few of my books. The Venetian artist Titian in Bitter Greens, for example, or the Pre-Raphaelite artists at the heart of Beauty in Thorns. I particularly love figurative art which has a story at its core – which is probably why I love the Pre-Raphaelites so much as they were inspired by myth, poetry and fairy tales, just like me.
LORENA: My early work was inspired a lot by modernist photographers like Imogen Cunningham, Tina Modotti and Edward Western, and I think I still keep a lot of those sensibilities, though it may not be immediately obvious in my work! I think they taught me that so much can be found in a single object, yet you can still hold onto its essence. More obviously, I adore the work of illustrators such as Arthur Rackham, Harry Clarke, Edmund Dulac, and Virginia Frances Sterret. The use of silhouettes and broadly coloured and textured backgrounds in Golden Age fairy tale illustrations were a launching point for my own illustration style.
- You both work in the arts sector – with recent events and the cancellation of launches and festivals, and booksellers closing temporarily or changing the way they operate for the next few months, how do you think the arts industry overall might be impacted?
KATE: Oh, Ashleigh, this is a terrible time for our creative artists! Our government does not value their work, and does not understand how variable and difficult our income is anyway. The sign of a rich and vibrant culture is always its art, and yet it seems as if we are to live on nothing – creating out of a void. I am so afraid for the young artists, and those that are working outside the norm, and those that come from Indigenous or migrant backgrounds, and those who have staked everything on their creative work. Stories and art are so important! We are not human without them.
- Supporting the arts, and in this series, Australian authors and illustrators across the board is something I am passionate about. What is the most important thing about the arts for both of you, and how should Australians support the arts and local bookstores in these times?
KATE: Thank you, Ashleigh, it’s so heartening to know that there are people like you in the world, working tirelessly to help and support our creative artists. What can I say? We should all read more Australian authors, and listen to home-grown music more, and watch more Australian-made films and dramas and dance and theatre and buy Australian art to make our homes beautiful. I do my best, particularly with Australian authors. I buy them, I read them, I post pictures of their book covers on social media, I review them on my blog and for Booktopia, I began a light-hearted book show on YouTube with one of my best friends, I like and share the posts of as many writers as I can, and when they are overcome with hurt and despair, I try and send them loving support and reassurance. I do all this every single day, because it’s all I can do.
LORENA: I second everything Kate says in the last two questions. We need art and books more than ever, and those who make them it haven’t been properly supported, certainly not in our lifetimes, and far less so in times of crisis like these. Our industry will survive: it’s a many faceted thing, but we need to remember that the industry wouldn’t exist without the many individuals that make it. We can all support the arts: by buying a book, chipping in a few dollars a month to an artist on Patreon, purchasing handmade locally made gifts… and by constantly reminding those with money and power that the society they profit from would not exist without the arts.
- Do you have a favourite local bookseller, and how are they getting books to customers at this time?
KATE: My local booksellers are Berkelouw Books at Balgowlah, in Sydney, and they have very sadly closed down for the moment. However, The Constant Reader at Mosman are struggling on, having click-and-collect services available – no browsing in the shop allowed but they have a great website (and all of my books are available!)
LORENA: We have a fabulous bookshop in Castlemaine (Victoria), Stoneman’s Bookroom. The staff there are extraordinarily supports of local authors and illustrators. They are taking order for pick-up at the moment, and I hope it’s enough to get them through. I can’t answer this question without also giving a massive shout-out to Blarney Books in Port Fairy. Jo is brilliantly engaged with the Australian book and art community, and works passionately to promote their work. She’s extraordinary.
- Favourite author, series or genre to read?
KATE: My favourites genres are historical fiction, crime, fantasy, memoir and – of course! – fairy tale retellings. I have a page on my website that I call ‘Kate’s Favourite Writers’ – I think there’s more than 110 there! https://kateforsyth.com.au/favourite-writers-adult
Lorena: I can’t resist an Australian-written YA or middle grade book. I’m currently reading Alison Croggon’s The Threads of Magic, and loving it. I also have a soft spot for literary fiction by women, classic crime novels, artist memoirs, and historical fiction. I prefer historical novels that deal with the every day, rather than big war adventures. Kate’s Beauty in Thorns and Hannah Kent’s The Good People are two of my favourites from the past couple years.
- Best writing companion – cat, dog or both?
KATE: My beautiful dog spends most of the day curled on a chair in my study. My cat wanders home when it gets dark, eats, then wanders off again!
LORENA: I love this question! Once upon a time I would have said cat (warm lap, comforting purrs) but I’m afraid I’ve been converted into a dog person. And there’s nothing like a dog to remind you to get away from the desk for an hour to walk in the fresh air, which is vital to work like ours!
- Kate – do you prefer writing by hand, or on the computer, or a combination of both?
I write in my diary every morning long-hand – and scribble down ideas and inspirations long-hand – and write poetry long-hand – and sometimes I do writing sprints long-hand. Everything else I write via my computer. Unless I’m stuck. Then I’ll try writing long-hand to see if it unsticks me.
- Lorena – is there a medium you love when it comes to illustrating that you haven’t used in a long time?
LORENA: I still miss the darkroom… And every now and then I like to pick up a pencil and remind my hand how to make marks on a page. Lately I’ve been playing with cyanotypes again and using them to teach illustration workshops. It’s a fantastic way of combining photography, montage and painting. You paint a light sensitive solution onto paper, in any shape you like, lay objects over the top to create a silhouette, and expose it in the sun. You then rinse it to set the solution. It’s (relatively) safe to use, and great fun for students. I’ve even started incorporating it into my work, with a board cover design for a novel coming out through Swan River Press in Ireland, where I combined cyanotype and photography in a digital montage.
- What new releases are you both looking forward to in the next six to twelve months?
KATE: Oh my gosh, so many! On my to-be-read shelf I have new releases from Natasha Lester, Kelly Rimmer, Dervla McTiernan, Kayte Nunn, Julia Baird, Alexandra Joel, Melissa Ashley, JoJo Moyes, and Michelle Paver – I want to read them all. So many books, so little time.
LORENA: I recently received a review copy of Shakespeare and the Folktale, edited by Charlotte Artese. I haven’t had the chance to read it yet, but it looks like a fascinating exploration of the tales that inspired some of his plays. I’m also looking forward to Flyaway by Kathleen Jennings, Hollowpox, the third Nevermoor book by Jessica Townsend, A Beautiful Foolish Endeavor by Hank Green, and Vesper Flights by Helen McDonald.
- Finally, are there any stories you’d both like to explore in future works?
KATE: I’d like to retell ‘Katie Crackernuts’ and the Psyche myth in novel form. And Lorena and I are toying with the idea of doing a collection of transformation tales next, which means I could do the Welsh tale of Blodeuwedd which has long haunted my imagination.
LORENA: I’m very much looking forward to the transformation tales! I also love the idea of exploring some strange and interesting folktales – it would be fun to make some ghosts and monsters.
KATE: The theme of ‘Snow White, Rose Red & Other Tales of Kind Young Women’ is, of course, kindness. We chose it because we think kindness is the most crucial of all human actions. We are living through dark and difficult times. These stories can help us and inspire us to be more compassionate, more loving, more understanding, more kind. We hope you all read them and are inspired.
Thank you both for appearing here! I can’t wait to read Snow White and Rose Red!