One of the most exciting aspects of being a book blogger is the opportunity I have to interview an author I’ve recently read who wrote such a stirring breadth of narrative prose! Although I entered Bitter Greens without the benefit of knowing anything about the original or variant stories of Rapunzel itself, what drew me into the world Forsyth stitched together for us to find is the sheer volume of historical narrative that emerged and flowed throughout the entire story itself! I held such a close attention to key characters throughout the journey through where this enchanting story-teller was taking us, that I can honestly say that a second reading is necessary in order to fully grasp all the elements that she gave to Bitter Greens!
Especially in my case, where a previous novel circumvented the Rapunzel angle of the story for me, and had my heart settling on the secondary thread of the story itself! I, say ‘secondary’ as I believe first and foremost this was a story of who Rapunzel was and who she ultimately became. However, I was hugged closer into the mind of Charlotte-Rose, who simply leapt of the page and demanded my utmost focus of attention!
Today I am especially thankful to bring to you a conversation between the writer and myself, hoping that you will appreciate learning a bit more about Ms. Forsyth as much as I did! Enjoy! Be merry!
The amazing power and truth of the Rapunzel fairy tale comes alive for the first time in this breathtaking tale of desire, black magic and the redemptive power of love.
French novelist 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. At the convent, 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 parsley from the walled garden of the courtesan Selena Leonelli, he is threatened with having both hands cut off, unless he and his wife relinquish their precious 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. She is at the center of Renaissance life in Venice, a world of beauty and danger, seduction and betrayal, love and superstition.
Locked away in a tower, Margherita sings in the hope that someone will hear her. One day, a young man does.
Award-winning author Kate Forsyth braids together the stories of Margherita, Selena, and Charlotte-Rose, the woman who penned Rapunzel as we now know it, to create what is a sumptuous historical novel, an enchanting fairy tale retelling, and a loving tribute to the imagination of one remarkable woman.
What do you feel is the hardest part about writing convicting historical fiction whose heart of story is rooted in a remembered part of our combined past? Especially whilst tackling a re-known and beloved fairy tale and etching in your own spirit of creativity into the story-line?
Forsyth responds: The most challenging part of re-writing a well-known tale is that everyone knows (or thinks they know) the story … and so it is hard to build suspense or to surprise the reader. I think suspense and surprise are the two magical ingredients of any story, the thing that keeps readers turning the pages, and so I had to think of other ways to make the book compelling and surprising. I did this in a number of ways – by drawing on older versions of the tale, by finding new and unexpected explanations for well-known plot motifs or events, and by foregrounding the villain of the tale, the witch who locks away the maiden in the tower.
What has led you to soak into the historical fiction genre to such a passionate level and know that it is a niche you want to explore further!?
Forsyth responds: I have always loved historical fiction, ever since I was a kid and read Rosemary Sutcliff and Geoffrey Trease. It’s still my favourite genre of fiction and I have always drawn upon history in my novels in one way or another.
I positively loved your response to the Question pitched to you on behalf of why fairy tales are still breathing a lifeblood of interest in the literary realms (from the Sunday Life Magazine interview). I have noted that there is an equal attraction to ‘re-tellings’ and what I find most curious is how well knitted the stories are inside them. What do you think will be the capstone of your own works, as you continuously find new threads of narrative to explore in this exciting sub-genre?
Forsyth responds: I’m glad that my thoughts on fairy tales touched you! I have always been drawn to fairy tales and fairy tale re-tellings myself, and it was natural to me to want to write my own. Apart from BITTER GREENS – my retelling of Rapunzel interwoven with the true life story of the woman who wrote the tale – I have written THE WILD GIRL, which tells the story of the young woman who told the Grimm Brothers many of their most famous fairy tales, and am now working on a retelling of the Grimm version of Beauty and the Beast, set in Nazi Germany. I hope I will continue to weave together tales of history, mystery, romance and magic for as long as I live!
You have a beautiful way of converging philosophical insight with the subtlety of symbolism as you describe where your own heart lies in the craft of story as much as the interconnected weaving of all story-tellers across the ages. Did you have other early influences of fairy tales outside of the Brothers Grimm to chart your course towards infusing inspiration with your stories?
Forsyth responds: I was always interested in myth and superstition as well as fairy tales, and I tend to draw upon these in my writing as well as the better known stories. I also love Celtic myth, and have drawn upon Scottish and Welsh fairy tales and folklore a lot as well. I’ve also used Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid in one of my novels (DANCING ON KNIVES, which can only be ordered from Australia).
What were your early influences and wanderings in literature!? Which authors spoke to you as far as a style of story-telling endeared itself to you ahead of creating your own stories? Are there any titles you could share which are still brought forward to mind in fond affection? (outside the realms of fairy tales)
Forsyth responds: I’ve always been a voracious reader – I spent my childhood with my nose in a book. Favourite writers include C.S. Lewis, Enid Blyton, Eleanor Farjeon, Nicholas Stuart Grey, Elizabeth Goudge, Susan Cooper, Lloyd Alexander, Joan Aiken, Diana Wynne Jones … as I grew up, I loved the work of Mary Stewart, Mary Webb, Georgette Heyer, Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters. As an adult, my favourite authors include Tracy Chevalier, Joanne Harris, Sarah Dunant, Geraldine Brooks, Kate Morton, C. J. Sansom, Marcus Zusak … oh, far too many to list!
The best gift you are giving to your readers is the balance between light and darkness, of which you’ve readily spoken about in other interviews. I always appreciate this focus myself, as I appreciate a character journey through the darkness which leads them back round into the Light. Which contemporary writers do you feel are emerging forward like you are to give the reader a hearty read whilst keeping this traditional arc intact?
Forsyth responds: I do think that books which draw upon mythic structures in their books are ones which feel much more perfect and powerful than others. Books by contemporary authors that I think are very beautiful and moving are The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafron, and The Ocean at the end of the Lane by Neil Gaiman.
By giving your story a grounding in historical fiction, you were able to breathe more more breadth into the story as it evolved forward – if you were ever to take up the notion to write outside your preferred genre, where do you think your imagination would alight?
Forsyth responds: I have always written across genres, which can sometimes make my writing hard to classify. Some people call me a historical fiction writer, some people call me a fantasy writer, some call me romance. I don’t really mind. I just write the books I want to write, putting into them all the things I love best about books – a compelling story that keeps you reading long after you should have been in bed, a twist of suspense, a dash of romance, a splash of magic…
As you bring Charlotte-Rose into the background of “Bitter Greens” do you feel that having a biographical fiction element not only enhanced the novel, but allowed for there to be a splilt between the fantastical elements and the reality of the time in which it was set, but to provide a prospective of a writer who was crafting stories to both haunt and educate their readers? Why do you think psychological suspense and Gothic Literature has always taken a fireblood of attraction to readers of all ages?
Forsyth responds: I chose to entwine my fairy tale retelling with a narrative inspired by the true life story of the woman who first wrote the tale for a number of different reasons. I very much wanted the story to feel real, as if it had really happened, and so I wanted a strong historical setting for the book. I’m also very interested in who tells stories, and why, and this gave me an opportunity to explore that through a story of my own. I was also wanting to do something totally unexpected, that would allow me to surprise the reader and destabilise their expectations.
What was the impetus which gravitated you into writing? And, when did this occur? Who was your best cheerleader?
Forsyth responds: I’ve always wanted to to be a writer. My mother says I began writing poems and stories as soon as I could hold a pencil. I wrote my first novel when I was seven, and I’ve never stopped since. I think it was born in me – there was no eureka moment, no flash of realisation. I had my heart set on it right from the very beginning, and I’ve worked all of my life to make it happen. I have an incredibly supportive family – my mother, my sister and brother, my husband, my children. I’m very lucky.
What are your favourite tools to use whilst writing? And, where do you write to gain the most inspiration?
Forsyth responds: I buy a notebook for each new book and that gives me a lot of pleasure – I try and choose one carefully. I write all my flashes of inspirations, all my ideas, all my questions down in my notebook, but I compose straight on to the computer. My favourite place to write is my study as it is all set up just the way I like it. It has all my research books to hand, plus I have a gorgeous view out over my garden, across the harbour to the ocean.
What is your favourite part of being a wordsmith who spins tales out a palette of words which convey a visceral journey for the readers who find your novels?
Forsyth responds: Everything! I love the first flashes of inspiration, I love the daydreaming phase and the research, I love the actual writing and I’m one of those rare writers that loves to edit too.
Outside the realm of writing and research, what enriches your spirit the most? Where do you find your serenity?
Forsyth responds: In my garden, swimming in the ocean or in our pool under the starlit sky, walking through nature, and cooking something for my family. I love to listen to music too!