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.

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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.

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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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2017 Sydney Writer’s Festival

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The Sydney Writer’s Festival is held annually across various precincts of Sydney, with many ticketed and free events across the five days of the festival. This year, the dates are the 22nd to the 28th of May.

Each year, the Sydney Writer’s Festival presents over 300 events, with audiences of over 100,000 people over the week travelling to the harbourside events and many other precincts that host the festival. Whilst the hear of the festival is at heritage wharves in Walsh Bay, there are also events at the Sydney Opera House, Sydney Town Hall, the suburbs of Sydney and the Blue Mountains. The spread of these events means many can participate, but planning a day or days will need to be done carefully, to ensure getting to and from venues that aren’t that close.

One such event this year is the Keeping Company: Characters Across A Series, where Lynette Noni (Medoran Chronciles, Pantera Press) will be appearing and talking about writing characters in a series, as the title suggests. Other YA authors including Garth Nix will be in attendance. This could be a very interesting panel, but all of them sound good, and it is very hard to choose which ones to attend and which locations to focus on when booking and choosing.

The list of authors is diverse, from well-known authors to ones that might not be well-known but are just as good.

The Sydney Writer’s Festival unites writers from various forms of writing and backgrounds, including the best contemporary novelists, screenwriters, musicians and writers of non-fiction – some of the world’s leading public intellectuals, scientists and journalists. The finest writing and story telling are at the core of the Sydney Writer’s Festival; the programming is diverse and is driven by ideas and issues that animate a broad spectrum of literature.

The program is live, and you are able to purchase tickets and book events, as well as exploring the program to see what events will be the best options for you to attend.

There are many wonderful authors appearing at the festival this year, including S.D. Gentill, author of the Hero Trilogy, published by Pantera Press, who is hosting a Mining Mythology event on the Tuesday. Her trilogy delves into Greek Mythology and the idea of heroes and betrayal. Other events and authors will cover specific books, or genres of writing, and even hot button topics that can have an impact on what and sometimes how we write.

This is a festival that I hope to be able to go to, if I can decide on the events I would like to attend, as there are a few that interest me.

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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.

Richell Prize Shortlist and Emerging Writer’s Festival

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The Richell Prize shortlist, and The Emerging Writer’s Festival

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Literary prizes and festivals help new and emerging, as well as established writers earn money and get publicity and exposure. They allow writers to interact with each other, with readers, with publishers. Festivals across Australia and the world, such as the Emerging Writer’s Festival, The Sydney Writer’s Festival and The Edinburgh International Book Festival all promote a wonderful world of literature that cannot be replaced by anything, and show that people value the written word.

 

In 2014, Matt Richell, CEO of Hachette, died suddenly, and a literary prize for has been named in his honour. Matt Richell believed in investment and support for new writers, and believed investment in new writers was vital for the future. The prize is in place to encourage and nurture emerging writers in Australia. It is open to unpublished adult fiction and non-fiction. In 2016, Michaela Maguire, the director of The Emerging Writer’s Festival, Hannah Richell, author and reviewer, Karen Ferris, a bookseller at Harry Hartog, Lucy Clark, Senior Editor at The Guardian, Australia and Vanessa Radnidge, a Hachette Australia Publisher, are the judges for the Richell Prize. The five books on the short list for this year’s prize are:

 

The Illusion of Islands by Andrea Baldwin

Dark Tides by Emma Doolan

The Clinking by Susie Greenhill

The Rabbits by Sophie Overett

Gardens of Stone by Susie Thatcher

 

The applicants submitted the first three chapters of their work, and a synopsis, and the winner receives $10,000, and a mentorship with a Hachette publisher. Hachette will work with the winning writer to develop their novel and be the first to consider the work for publication. I am eager to see who wins this prize, as it would be a great achievement for them and their career, and also, for Australian literature.

 

The winner will be announced in an awards ceremony on the 28th of September 2016. I hope to be able to post something on this blog about the recipient and review their book when it comes out.

 

The Richell Prize is organised by The Emerging Writer’s Festival, Hachette Australia, The Guardian Australia and Simpson Solicitors. Most literary prizes are aimed at already published books, but prizes like this that give encouragement and mentorship to emerging writers are wonderful to have in the literary world.

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The Emerging Writer’s Festival is an organisation based on supporting emerging writers in Australia. They nurture new voices and talent and encourage diversity in the stories. In the current climate and uncertainty of the fate of the Australian publishing industry in light of the Productivity Commission, organisations like this, which is non-profit, are beneficial to new and emerging writers.

The Rebirth of Rapunzel by Kate Forsyth

Fairy tales have a long and varied history, from their beginnings in an oral format, to fairy tale collectors such as The Brothers Grimm, and creators such as Hans Christian Andersen, Oscar Wilde and Charlotte-Rose de la Force, author of Persinette. Various authors and collectors have different versions of these tales stemming from different traditions that journeyed across Europe and the world. Today, the best-known fairy tales are from Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Charles Perrault and Hans Christian Andersen. Little is known about female authors such as Charlotte-Rose and their contributions to the fairy tale tradition.
In The Rebirth of Rapunzel: A Mythic Biography of the Maiden in the Tower, and the novel Bitter Greens, Kate Forsyth brings Charlotte-Rose to life and explores how her tale of Persinette evolved into the story of Rapunzel that we know today, and the various incarnations and retellings of the tale, culminating in Disney’s Tangled.
Unlike the fairy tales collected by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, de la Force’s fairy tale is a literary fairy tale. The distinction being, that even though it was inspired by other sources, de la Force created it herself.
The Rebirth of Rapunzel is a well-written, intelligent collection of non-fiction writing exploring the evolution of the tale of Rapunzel. It presents the history of the tale to the reader in an effective manner, and will be of great interest to anybody who has studied or is studying fairy tales and their history. Kate’s distinctive writing style shines through, making reading this offering as enjoyable as her novels, and is an engaging read for anyone interested in the subject matter.
The book includes a doctorate on the Rapunzel fairy tale, and at the end, other pieces of Kate’s writing on Rapunzel and fairy tales, which, when read with Bitter Greens in mind, gives a greater understanding to the fairy tale of Rapunzel, in an accessible way for many readers.

The Mapmaker Chronicles #1 By A.L. Tait

Title: Race to the End of the Earth (The Mapmaker Chronicles #1)
Author: A.L. Tait
Genre: Fantasy, Children
Publisher: Hachette Children’s
Published: 14/10/2014
Synopsis: A map of the world? Why did the King want that? Everyone knew if you went too far in either direction you’d fall off the edge, into the jaws of Genesi, the fire-breathing dragon.

A reluctant adventurer.

A ship captained by a slave.

A mysterious sea monster.

And a race to the end of the world.

The first thrilling book in The Mapmaker Chronicles.

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Young Quinn is living a quiet life on his family farm in Verdania when he receives a visit from a Deslonder, Master Blau, requesting him to attend schooling and eventually a quest as the mapmaker aboard a ship, trying to make a map of their world. Quinn’s uncanny ability to memorise anything is seen as a useful skill in this quest.
Along the way, Quinn and his travelling companions must encounter hostile people and lands, sea monsters and the competing teams who will stop at nothing to quash Quinn, his friend Ash and their captain, Zain. The other teams in the race to discover and map the rest of the world are amongst their biggest threats, the apprentices, such as Ajax and his leader, Odilon. The attempts of these other teams to thwart Quinn and Zain underestimate the photographic memory that Quinn possesses, which should give him an advantage over the other mapmakers.
Like many adventure fantasy stories aimed at children aged nine years and over, The Mapmaker Chronicles: Race to the End of the World takes children and those who are kids at heart, on an adventure through a new world, one of magic and monsters. A world where they can imagine themselves as the hero, and take on monsters and enemies, and conquer their fears through the actions and the eyes of Quinn and Ash, whose perilous journey in the first book is just the beginning of what is to come.
As a first book for a series, it is well written, and full of adventure for both boys and girls. It can be enjoyed by any child, and is a quick, easy read, and one that can hopefully persuade a reluctant reader to peruse and open them up to a new world of books and words.

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.