Once Upon A Time – Fairy Tales and The Pre-Raphaelites with Kate Forsyth

Kate_ForsythIt is very rare that I get to meet my favourite authors, or in fact, any authors, even though we interact over social media, so when I heard that Kate Forsyth would be at an author event at Kincumber Library, I booked to go before the tickets were all gone. It was a lengthy month waiting to go, but finally the day came to go and listen to Kate talk about her writing and fairy tales – creating a very interesting evening for all. Last night, Tuesday the 4th of July, was a magical evening and it was one of the most enjoyable evenings I have had.

The night began with Kate telling us about her writing journey. Like me, she has always wanted to be a writer and has always loved reading, and at age 7, wrote her first novel, followed by her second and third at ages 9 and 11 – around the same ages I began writing and dreaming up stories, and at age sixteen, she sent off her first manuscript – something I would not have dreamed of doing at that age, as I had only just started thinking of writing novels then. But it has since been a goal of mine to achieve publication, and Kate had many words of encouragement about writing and publishing – to keep writing and trying, and rewriting and getting your work out there, so I am going to try entering a local short story competition, using her words as my inspiration and drive to do so.

IMG_0341At age 25, Kate’s boyfriend, and now husband, gave her five years to get published – five years, where she could polish her work and query it, and learn her craft through study and writing and rewriting. As Kate tells it, the story came, as several of her stories have, from a dream. Using this as a launchpad, she set out to write what would become her first book, with the contract signed two days before she turned thirty, and that book is turning twenty years old this year. I still have my original copy of this book that Kate signed for me after the talk on last night. This book was the beginning of a six-book saga that introduced me to the world of fantasy, and led me into reading Kate’s books for life. This book was Dragonclaw, first book in the Witches of Eileanan series, which is followed by the Rhiannon’s Ride Trilogy. Kate has written forty books, and has had them published into 17 languages across the world, and has cemented her as an extraordinary storyteller, with a broad audience across ages and genres, as evidenced by the gathering at the event at Kincumber Library.dragonclaw

Fun fact: Dragonclaw was published a month before Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in 1997, and both just turned twenty this year!

B_bitter-greensDragonclaw’s publication then led to Kate’s career as a full time writer, resulting in that series, and the trilogy that followed, her children’s books which include The Puzzle Ring in 2009, The Starthorn Tree, The Wildkin’s Curse and The Starkin Crown, as well as recent kids series The Impossible Quest and Chain of Charms, as well as picture books and the adult books: Bitter Greens, The Wild Girl, Dancing on Knives, The Beast’s Garden and Beauty in Thorns, all fairy tale infused historical fiction, apart from Dancing on Knives, which has a more contemporary setting – a distinction Kate and I discussed last night – that tell powerful stories of humanity and love against all odds and set against the back drops of very different time periods within each novel, resulting in powerful stories and characters that seep into your subconscious and dreams as you read.

Kate and her siblings have a literary lineage that can be traced back to at least colonial Australia, and Charlotte Waring-Atkinson, who wrote the first children’s book in BeautyinThorns_CoverAustralia: A Mother’s Offering to Her Children by A Lady Long Resident in New South Wales in 1841, the mother of four children, fighting to keep them safe, and loved in a harsh world that tried to separate them, and this book is a testament not only to the literary blood in Kate’s family but to the love, sacrifices, triumphs and moments of grief that Charlotte went through to keep her family safe.

KnivesHearing about Kate’s writing process and literary family was fascinating and she had the audience captured with her words, and very interested to hear about her writing journey, and the moments in her life that affected her and her writing, and introduced her to a love of fairy tales, a love that I share with her, just as we both enjoy reading and watching different fairy tale retellings to see how someone else interprets a fairy tale. The fascination of fairy tales has as much to do with their history and where they came from as what we know them as today – from the oral traditions to the many interpretations that have come about since they were first recorded the early 1800s by Jacob and Wihelm Grimm, whose stories mostly came from Dortchen Wild, their neighbour. During the talk, Kate recounted the childhood incident and subsequent hospital stays that had sparked her interest in fairy tales and desire to write, specifically the fairy tale of Rapunzel. puzzle_ring_med

Most people would associate Rapunzel with the version recorded by the Grimm Brothers, and this is the version Kate began focussing on in her Doctoral research. During this research, she found out more about the fairy tale, and that the first versions pre-dated the Grimm Brothers by about two hundred years, dating back to the 1600s and Giambiattista Basile, and soon came to the story of Charlotte Rose de la Force in the seventeenth century, and her imprisonment in a convent, while she was writing the story. There are three threads, the other two, the witch, and the third, Rapunzel’s perspective, and together, they form an intricate and surprising story, much like Kate’s other books.

Moving on from Bitter Greens, Kate discussed her latest novel, Beauty in Thorns and the Pre-Raphaelites. Beauty in Thorns, and Kate’s journey in writing it, had been the first time I had heard about the Pre-Raphaelites talked about collectively. The art and poetry of the Pre-Raphaelites was inspired by myth and fairy tale, and a longing to be awakened from the dreariness of accepted art in Victorian times, to bring colour back into the world.

Before Beauty in Thorns and Kate Forsyth’s talk, I had heard the wild girlof individual names such as William Morris and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and had read some poetry by Dante’s sister, Christina – my favourite of hers was Goblin Market and re-reading it, I wondered if the characters of Lizzie and Laura in her poem had been inspired by Sleeping Beauty as well, and those in the Pre-Raphaelite circles, though perhaps not as obsessively as the series of paintings of her done by Dante Gabriel had been – an obsession that led him to running back to her after affairs, and burying his only copy of his poetry with her, and seven years later, digging her up to retrieve his poetry. Beauty in Thorns tells the stories of Lizzie Siddal, Georgie MacDonald, who married Edward Burne-Jones and Janey Burden, and the various affairs and love triangles that happened with each other and the models that the men longed to paint. But the main story became the story of Margot Burne-Jones, daughter of Georgie and Edward, whose father longed to keep her from growing up and falling in love an experiencing the pain of adult life, and the contrast in her longing to be awakened like Sleeping Beauty, an obsession that Edward had had for many years, since childhood. Together with Georgie’s story of being the faithful wife, Margot’s story shows how obsessions ate away at these artists, and what their passions did to their families and their great loves, how their obsessions became what finally consumed them in the end. Kate said she structured this story along the lines of Sleeping Beauty, with Margot representing Sleeping Beauty, and Georgie as the Queen, and the paintings were Edward’s way of awakening the world, as the Pre-Raphaelites were trying to do through their involvement in the suffrage movement, for example. I was lucky enough to be an early reader and reviewer for Beauty in Thorns, and it was full of hope, love, tragedy and despair, and everything else that makes Kate’s novels so good. Like her written word, Kate’s spoken word is powerful and weaves a spell on her audience, capturing their attention wholly and completely across the room, not even a gasp at times flying forth from the crowd. And like her books, the talk was over all too soon. It was a lovely evening for all, and Kate was so generous with her time afterwards as well.


After the talk, she signed books for us all, and spent time answering our questions, and when I approached the signing table, she gave me a huge hug, and we talked about her books, the book launch I had just attended, and my reviewing. Hearing how supportive she was, and getting advice on writing and reading and reviewing – to only review what I like, and not to worry about not reading something I get sent that isn’t my thing, so I am going to try this method, as well as being more honest i my reviews about things I don’t like or am unsure about. I appreciated this talk with Kate, and all the interaction she has with me and her other fans on social media, and hope to attend more events with her soon.

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The Jane Austen Writer’s Club by Rebecca Smith

Title: The Jane Austen Writer’s Club

Author: Rebecca Smithjane-aausten-writers

Genre: Non-fiction/writing advice

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Published: 1st October, 2016

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 352

Price: $36.00

Synopsis: Pretty much anything anyone needs to know about writing can be learned from Jane Austen. While creative writing manuals tend to use examples from twentieth- and twenty-first-century writers, The Jane Austen Writers’ Club is the first to look at the methods and devices used by the world’s most beloved novelist. Austen was a creator of immortal characters and a pioneer in her use of language and point of view; her advice continues to be relevant two centuries after her death.

Here Rebecca Smith examines the major aspects of writing fiction–plotting, characterization, openings and endings, dialogue, settings, and writing methods–sharing the advice Austen gave in letters to her aspiring novelist nieces and nephew, and providing many and varied exercises for writers to try, using examples from Austen’s work.

Exercises include:

*Show your character doing the thing he or she most loves doing. In the opening scene of Persuasion, Sir Walter Elliot looks himself up in the Baronetage, which is the Regency equivalent of Googling oneself. That single scene gives us a clear understanding of the kind of man he is and sets up the plot.

* Use Jane Austen’s first attempts at stories to get yourself started. Write a very short story inspired by “The Beautifull Cassandra,” a work of eighteenth-century flash fiction.

The Jane Austen Writers’ Club is a fresh primer on writing that features utterly timeless advice.


As a writer aiming for publication, books about writing and writing processes are both a source of interest but also something met with a little hesitation: if it relies too much on saying a certain way of writing is the best way, or that writers must always use certain processes, or ignores that each writer has their own way of working through a plot, I’m instantly put off. Some books will tell you to start in the middle and attempt to discourage the novice writer from starting at the beginning – as Dame Julie Andrews sang, a very good place to start. Whereas the writing books that simply encourage thinking about writing, that give exercises, advice, tools and don’t try and imply that starting at the beginning is just as useful as starting anywhere, and encourage the writer to do what works for them, are the ones I am drawn to. Rebecca Smith’s The Jane Austen Writer’s Club falls into the category of encouraging and helpful writing aids. Having the book divided into chapters for planning a novel, character, setting, point of view, dialogue, secrets and suspense, techniques used by Jane Austen, journeys, food, and finally, the life of a writer, allows for linear reading but also dipping in and out of specific chapters. Each chapter has excerpts from the canon of Jane Austen’s work, accompanied by discussion of the basic concepts, what Jane did and finally, a variety of exercises.

After reading the book, I attempted the arrival exercise – I was unsure of where to start and end, and may revisit it, but I know they are doable. There are a few exercises that might be best left until the story or novel you are working on are completed, at least, I think I will find these sorts of exercises most useful at this stage, but the others I can come back to when I am stuck, or wondering what comes next. Of course, it is likely that some exercises will lend themselves to some stories more than others, or maybe I can just write anything in them when I need to work something out. At any rate, these exercises and the tone of this book are much more accessible and useful than ones that appear to have disdain for people starting at the beginning, or for people who get to a point where they feel like they need to step away. Some writing advice ignores the need to take a break at times, to live life. Rebecca Smith acknowledges that there will be times when a writer needs a break, or when life gets in the way and writing time must be sacrificed for family or illness. Her encouraging words to find time, find a space but also to respect the balance between writing and the rest of your life are what worked for me. And this is the best way to approach a writing help book: to acknowledge everyone has a different process and not everyone can just block out the world and write.

A very useful guide for writers, students, teachers or just fans of Jane Austen who are interested in her process – and who knows, these words and exercises might just inspire someone who has never written a story to give it a go.

A Good Yarn: Australian Stories, Australian Voices


Imagine you have written and published a book, and you are starting to make a living from the royalties from this book, a goal you have been working towards for years. Now, imagine you’ve been told that not only will books published overseas take priority over Australian content, but that in fifteen years, you and all other Australian authors will lose not only their copyright, but right to royalties because the government deems fifteen years enough to make a living from your hard work, and that fair use, that is, someone’s right to use your words, your work in any way that they see fit – is more important than you and your family being able to live.

This is the reality that will face any Australian author if the government decides to repeal Parallel Import Restrictions, (PIRs) as recommended by the Productivity Commission. It would mean greater risk to Australian publishers, and greater risk at taking on Australian voices and authors – there would be no incentive for Australian authors to be promoted because the claims are, imported, foreign stories would make books cheaper and more accessible; when in fact, books in Australia are cheaper already.

Books Create is a driving force in trying to prevent this from happening, and have presented some facts about the book industry in Australia:

  • With 7,000 new titles published annually, this creates $2 billion in revenue;
  • When a publisher invests directly in an Australian author for non-educational purposes, this results in $120 million per annum, including promotion;
  • 1,000 businesses engage in the publishing industry, employing over 4,000 people. These jobs could be at risk if PIRs are introduced, and this should be a concern to those who say we need to create more jobs;
  • Book sellers and printers, and other book-related jobs employ a further 20,000 people;
  • Australia has the 14th largest publishing industry in the world – just because we do not make the top ten should not mean our stories don’t get published;
  • 300,000 Australians visit 100 literary festivals per year – this suggests that the desire for Australian authors and stories is high;
  • Australia has the largest English-language independent bookseller market – again, more jobs that could potentially be lost;
  • Average author income is $13,000 a year – not enough to live on;
  • Unlike other industries, the publishing industry does not use government subsidies, nor is it protected by government tariffs; and
  • EBooks only take up 20% of the market.

The arguments for these measures are purely economic, and based on the benefit of the many – being able to use an author’s work in any way someone desires, rather than someone being able to support themselves and not having to rely on other people or giving up on their dream and taking a job they don’t enjoy, or even taking their chances with an overseas publisher who may strip away the very essence of an Australian voice. It does not take into account the cultural implications either – where Australians – any Australians – white, Indigenous, immigrant or refugee – have their voices silenced in favour of foreign voices. I do not like the idea of not being able to read my favourite Pantera Press authors, or not being able to see if I can find an Indigenous story to read, or even just reading any book by any Australian author, even if it is set in a fantasy world or another time and place. It is still an Australian voice that deserves to be heard.

The fair use issue could be resolved by allowing educational institutions to use books for educational purposes. Fair use should not mean a free for all, where anyone can use and plagiarise an author’s work in any way they see fit. Fair use should mean that people can use the work for educational purposes but that the author must also have a say in any alterations or adaptations, especially if done during their life time. To take advantage of the hard work someone else has put into something and say “Sorry, I get to use your work any way I see fit to make money off and you can’t do anything about it,” is wrong. As an aspiring author, I have spent many years working on my writing. My fear with an open, free-for-all attitude to fair use and undermining copyright is not people studying the texts or wishing to be inspired by them or approaching me to make a film; it is the people who would try and profit off my hard work, or the hard work of any author via plagiarism and the original creator being unable to do anything to defend their work and livelihood.

On the issue of reducing copyright from seventy years after an author’s death to fifteen to twenty five years after publication, would you be happy to go up to someone who has built a house, is taking care of it, raising a family, and say to them: “You have had this house for fifteen years, your time is up. Another family needs this house, you need to move out?” No, because we recognise a house is a necessity. Similarly, the income an author receives from their books and backlists are necessary for them to live their lives without worrying if they can afford to eat that week.

There are many more issues that are involved with this and can be found at the Books Create website, or by doing a Google search of the issues and seeing what comes up from the Australian Society of Authors, or the Australian Publishing Association, or even the following blog posts by Alison Green, CEO of Pantera Press. We need to protect Australian stories and voices, and this cannot be done if we let the government silence us in the name of economics and fair use.

Below are some websites and links that expand on these ideas and help to explain them:



Books Create Australia: http://bookscreateaustralia.com.au #bookscreate

Australian Society of Authors: https://www.asauthors.org

Alison Green: https://www.panterapress.com.au/news-and-events/6071/ and https://www.panterapress.com.au/news-and-events/6081/

Four hundred years of William Shakespeare

Four hundred years of William Shakespeare

2016 marks 400 years since William Shakespeare died and left the world with the legacy of his plays: the tragedies, the comedies and the histories. It has been 452 years since he was born. Living in the Elizabethan era, and for the last years of his life during the reign of King James the VI and I, and was born, and raised in Stratford-upon-Avon.
Shakespeare is best known for his plays, and my first introduction to them was in year nine English with Much Ado About Nothing. From there, I studied Romeo and Juliet in year ten, Othello in year eleven and Antony and Cleopatra in year twelve. At that stage, it was my least favourite of all the ones I had studied, with my favourite at the time being the comedic Much Ado About Nothing.
From there, I studied Henry the Vi, parts one and two in university courses, as well as The Tempest and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which became another favourite with it’s mythic and fairy tale elements within the story.
Perhaps what makes Shakespeare so interesting and timeless is the way his stories can echo issues of today, and the many retellings of his plays in various formats show how pervasive his work is, even if the audience does not realise at the time that they are watching an adaptation of a play.
Today, Statford-upon-Avon plays host to tourists looking to get a glimpse into how Shakespeare lived, through the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, running tours of the five Shakespeare houses: Shakespeare’s Birthplace, Mary Arden’s Farm, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage and Gardens, and Harvard House. The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust (http://www.shakespeare.org.uk/home.html) maintains these homes and conducts tours for visitors, where one can step back in time and experience the life that the Bard would have lived.
It is hard to imagine the world without the plays and sonnets of Shakespeare, without the words he created that we still use today. The reception his work has received has not ended and I wonder how future generations will view him.

Shoes, Pirates and Unicorns

My writing as taken me to many places and on many journeys, not only through the act of piecing together my stories and works, but through the research I undertake to give a touch of authenticity to my work. Amongst the projects I am working on, I have just had pirates murder a mermaid and am pondering how the not-so-powerful leader of my nation is going to interfere and what he will do next, and have just had a pair of magical shoes made for a sceptic who has just been attacked by Red Caps and still refuses to believe in the existence of magic and magical creatures. I’m hoping the unicorn will change his mind.

What inspired these? With the unicorn, I love Scotland and unicorns, and felt a desire and pull to write something using them, leading to many orders of books on Scotland and the Victorian era, to get as many details as possible right. It is always the details, I find, that make the story full-bodied along with the plot and characters. The sceptic and pirates are proving quite fun to write. In exploring these characters and stories, I am able to give commentary and explore how these different people might see the world, even though it is in a somewhat humorous light to fit in with the themes of my story – an aim to perhaps prove to the sceptic that he shouldn’t just dismiss something because he has never seen it in the way human beings can do that occasionally with many things in our world. We do not always need proof. Just belief. For some, belief is enough, and for others, they need proof. I have a character straddling these two worlds in that she has belief in the unicorn but doesn’t need to see it to know it is there, and also, having proof of history and social causes is more important to ensuring something can be done rather than just a philosophical belief. I perhaps have been a little nasty to my pirates and made them ugly, rude and stupid enough to believe that mermaids don’t age, or because he gets attacked by Red Caps and still refuses to believe in the existence of magical creatures in the case of the sceptic but all in good time, all in good time. I have many more shocks to give to these characters.

Crafting magical shoes and deciding on a price is hard work, but it’s done and he is wearing them. Whether they will speak or not, I haven’t decided but they could present some interesting scenes. Of course, I am taking part in Camp NaNoWriMo, so anything goes and can be changed – this will be left to the very end when all is written, the curse is lifted and the unicorn has brought up a great revolution that shall be felt the world over.

Threads and Words

NB: I was hoping for this to be longer and more eloquent but sadly it is not…I will try again.

The threads of each story I write weave together to create worlds beyond my imagination populated by pirates and fairy tale characters, humans and beasts, sometimes half-human, half-animal creatures that like bacon and licking themselves – if you are a NaNo Participant following me, you will get that reference. But sometimes, the threads go off on tangents I don’t expect, and that’s when pirates who had an affair with a wench and then threw her overboard, and then twenty years later, discovers she turned into a mermaid and has a daughter who is also a mermaid, and he is the father, happen. Confused? So am I, and it’s my story. But what does this have to do with threads and words? Well…the thread within the words is a story about the pirate and his family and a legend that is proven to be true. All words have threads and all threads have words. Writers weave the threads of letters into words, the threads of a word into a sentence and the threads of the sentences into paragraphs, chapters and novels. Bear with me; this is a practice run for an assignment, or at least part of an assignment, I hope.

IMG_0066 My first cross stitch project, an owl. This started my love of owls.

By weaving my threads of words into a story, I am creating not only a new world, but an image, one that I craft just as carefully as I might with needle and thread, whether it is cross stitch or a quilt or a cushion, each tells a story. My writing tells a story.


With this in mind, story tellers weave stories, so then do crafters and quilters and sewers tell their own stories through what they create with their hands? I think so, and with any luck, this will be much more eloquent, and minus the pirates with an eye patch, in my assignment.

IMG_1500Plot bunny!

Pirates, and wenches and magic

I said I was going to post these every week but last week got busy with university and other disruptions, so here we go.

I’m about 20,000 words in, and, am actually jumping between a couple of projects, adding in new words here and there. My cast of characters in my fairy tale murder mystery is quite interesting, from Wolf N Lupus, the wolf/human hybrid detective who sniffs fine arses, to a dwarf police officer with attitude, a talking elephant and a police dog named Seamus pup, willing victims…err…inspirations of some NaNoWriMo friends. The talking elephant, Joshua, is yet to thud, and the pirates just showed up not long before my second body drop. So things are going well. The ninjas have kindly stayed away, and so far, most characters are behaving themselves. Most of the time. At the same time, Princey has shown up as Hermes Charming, the misogynistic prince who gives his hair pep talks. As much as I love Disney, and Once Upon A Time, I was starting to get annoyed with the perfect prince Charming. I gave him flaws, a broken heart and murderous mind. The pirates were unexpected but First Mate Snagglebeard might just be heading the right way for a severe keelhauling. What’s NaNo without a little torture as a side dish to go with the death?
Of course, a lot of time is spent in research and procrastination, referring to my fairy tale books to discover the little bits of information that I need to link everything together. Using the juicy, original tales is much more interesting than the Disney ones: I think Snow White could die in red hot iron shoes. That would make things interesting, and give me a chance to write a red hot murder scene. Why all the death and torture? Why the pirates? NaNo is about getting out a first draft or story: edits can be done later, and as long as things don’t get too ridiculous, with any luck, the story will work with a tweak, tweak here and a tweak, tweak there.
Classic signs of NaNo are the wonderful typos made: lovely young womb instead of lovely young woman, posting like mad about things happening on the Facebook page. Strange Google searches, like, What is the favourite rum of pirates, or How can I kill someone and leave no trace? All things necessary for novel writing, depending on the genre – in fantasy, things get even more interesting with mapmaking – my cartography skills are terrible.
And with that, the pirates are heralding their arrival. I must go and rein them in.