Sunday, March 6, 2011

Kate Forsyth - Author Interview Series

Kate Forsyth's latest book is The Wildkin’s Curse, a tale of high adventure and true love for readers aged 12+. It is the sequel to her award-winning novel The Starthorn Tree.

What authors/books did you read as a child? When did you first discover your love of books?

I could read before I went to school, and was already devouring books as fast as I could get my greedy little hands on them. I remember loving my first day of school because - as all the other kids began to be taught the alphabet - I got to curl up on a beanbag and read my way through the class library. They had to bring in another box for me, and I remember thinking, ‘Oh I love school! I get to read all day.’ Books have always been a source of enchantment and wonder to me. I spent a lot of time in hospital as a child, and books were my only escape from the pain and fever and loneliness. By the time I left primary school I had read every book in the library, and my local council library had issued me with special permission to read the books in the adult section as I’d read everything in the children’s!

When did you first realise you were a writer?

I don’t remember a time when I didn’t have a desperate longing to be a writer. It was my one ambition, all of my life, and at every crossroads I’ve always taken the road that would lead me towards that dream. It’s not always been easy, particularly when I was young and poor, but I feel justly rewarded now that I’m an established writer with a body of award-winning and internationally published work. I feel I’m living the life I always dreamed of, and that’s a joy all in itself.

What do you hope your readers will take away with them from reading your books?

I have such high ambitions of every book I write! I want my readers to be totally absorbed in the world I’ve created, as if they have stepped through a magical door into another land. I want them to laugh and gasp and cry and shiver. I want them to finish reading my book with that sting of tears in their eyes, that lump in the throat, that means they have been truly moved. I want them to look up from the book and see our own world with a clearer, brighter gaze, with a new sense of astonishment and awe. I want them to feel as if the boundaries of the known universe have been pushed out, and their own sense of the possible enlarged. I want them to think about my book in the days and weeks and years that follow, and go back to it and read it again with the feeling of meeting an old and trusted friend. I want them to push a copy into the hands of everyone they meet and say, ‘you must read this! It’s wonderful!’ I want them to treasure my book, and give it to their own children and grandchildren, and forever after list it as one of their all-time favourite books. I want them to divide the world into people who love it, and so are clearly kindred spirits, and people who don’t, who are obviously lacking some kind of magic in their soul. Sigh! Wouldn’t all that be heavenly?

Do you find it difficult to read purely for pleasure? Does everything you read come under your ‘writer’ microscope?

No, I read for pleasure all the time. It’s one of the great sources of joy in my life. I do find that my reading is shaped and affected by what I’m writing – for example, when I was working on The Gypsy Crown I was utterly obsessed with the English Civil War and Oliver Cromwell and the history and culture of the Romanys, and so I found it very hard to read anything outside that area of interest. As soon as I finish writing a book, I start catching up on all the books I wasn’t able to read during the writing process. I’ll have books stockpiled, sometimes for years, waiting for me to read without any underlying purpose. I always read with a critical eye – a sign of a good book to me is one that works so beautifully that I relax into it and just enjoy it.

Do you have to avoid reading certain types of fiction while writing your own? Does what you read while writing have an effect on what you write? In what way?

I always read a lot, but the books I choose to read are always determined by what I’m writing. For example, I’m working on a historical novel now which entwines the fairytale of Rapunzel with the true life story of one of its earliest tellers, the French writer Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de la Force. So I’m reading a lot of fairytale retellings, and a lot of books set in, or about, 17th century France, and a lot of novels that parallel two different historical periods, or two different narratives. My reading is ranging from popular biographies, like Antonia Fraser’s book on Louis the Fourteenth and the women in his life; to serious scholarship, books with titles like The Devotees: Women and Church in Seventeenth Century France; to The Empress of Icecream by Anthony Capella, a recent novel about a confectioner at the court of Louis XIV who falls in love with Louise de Keroualle, who was sent to England to try and seduce Charles II, while spying for the French king. I’ll also read a lot of murder mysteries and romances and memoirs set in France; anything that helps me imagine a place and a time and a culture. I also belong to two Book Clubs and so need to read books for those – I do find it hard, though, if I’m in the midst of an obsession about 17th century France and have to read a book set in contemporary Australia!

Name five authors or books that have influenced or inspired your own writing in some way?

Only five? There are so many wonderful writers! A few favourites from different stages of my reading life:

C.S. Lewis and the Narnia books – these books were among the first I ever read all on my own and the very word ‘Narnia’ has the power to make me shiver with delight.
Enid Blyton and the Famous Five – how I longed for adventure when I was a child! I still wish I lived in a house with a secret passage, that led somewhere mysterious and exciting.
The Bronte sisters - I loved the whole story of the girls sitting and scribbling by candlelight and creating these astonishing books and poems. I like to re-read their books every few years.
Tad Williams and his fantasy series Memory, Sorrow & Thorn – I had not read any fantasy since I was a child and these books led me back to tales of magic and adventure and danger, which encouraged me to write my own fantasy, Dragonclaw, which was my first published book. Tracey Chevalier – she is one of my absolute favourite writers. I love the perfect balance of plot, character and place, and I love the way she brings history to life.

If you were travelling and were told you could only take one book with you, what book would it be and why?

I could never do that! I’m so afraid of being stuck in an airport or a foreign hotel without a book to read that I always take about 5 or 6. And I then read them all in the first few days and have to go & buy a whole pile of new ones. And since I can never get rid of a book I’ve loved, I post them all home to myself, spending hundreds on postage. Plus I get very sore shoulders from heaving them all around with me. I’m travelling to France and Italy next year to research the book I’m writing at the moment, and I plan to buy an e-book reader and download a hundred books on to it before I go!

What makes a book ‘too good to put down’?

A fascinating plot full of suspense and surprise, compelling writing, characters that you really care about, a world that has been so beautifully crafted it feels real. Easy!

What makes you put down a book without finishing it?

A boring plot, bland writing, flat characters, a beige setting.

Do you have a favourite author? Who is it and what is it about their writing that draws you to them? If you had to list them, what would be your ‘top ten’ reads of all time (excluding the classics) and why?

I have so many favourite writers! I actually have a list of them on my website at Here are my ABSOLUTE top ten favourite contemporary writers – Geraldine Brooks, Tracey Chevalier, Sarah Dunant, Joanne Harris, Kim Wilkins, Kate Morton, Susan Vreeland, Lian Hearn, Cornelia Funke, and Eva Ibbotson. The reason why they are my favourites is because they have never let me down – each and every book they write is wonderful, surprising, and compelling. I will rush to the bookshop to buy one of their books and then I will curl up with it with an immense sense of anticipation and I will read every word with pleasure. Joanne Harris is the only one that this is not completely true about – her last two books have not made my heart sing – but she deserves her place in my list because of Chocolat and Five Quarters of the Orange which I just adore. Their books have everything I want in a book – history, art, suspense, mystery, magic, romance, heartbreak.

What was your 2010 ‘best read’? What was it that made it number one?

The best book of 2010 for me was The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. It was absolutely stupendous. The only reason he’s not on my list of Top 10 favourite Writers of all time is that I haven’t yet read any of his other books yet. I’ve bought them and I plan to read them just as soon as I can. Other stand-outs for me, in adult fiction, were The Distant Hours by Kate Morton and The Rose of Sebastopol by Katharine McMahon. Best crime novel was Heartstone by C.J. Sansom, and The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag by Alan Bradley. Best children’s book was absolutely Dark Angels by Katherine Langrish, though I also enjoyed A Curse as Dark as Gold by Elisabeth C. Bunce.

What do you think of the non-traditional publishing methods – eBooks etc? Do you think the new technology will encourage more people to read? Do you think there’s a future for print books?

I think e-books are a wonderful innovation that will open up reading to many people who might otherwise find books heavy, inconvenient, expensive, or just too daunting. There’s no doubt it will change the way many people read – but so too did the printing press. I think books published in the traditional way will become collector’s items, sought out because of their beauty and rarity. I think signed books will become a lot more valuable, and that publishers will begin to do limited editions of certain books remarkable for their packaging and presentation. In other words, start collecting first edition, signed copies of books now!

Kate Forsyth is the internationally bestselling author of more than twenty books for children and adults, including The Puzzle Ring, The Gypsy Crown, The Starthorn Tree, and the bestselling fantasy series ‘The Witches of Eileanan’ and ‘Rhiannon’s Ride’. Since her first novel was named a Best First Novel of 1998 by Locus Magazine, she has been shortlisted for numerous awards, including a CYBIL Award in the US and the Surrey Book of the Year award in Canada. In 2007, Kate became the first author to win five Aurealis awards in a single year when Books 2-6 in the Chain of Charms series were jointly awarded the 2007 Aurealis Award for Children’s Fiction. Book 5: The Lightning Bolt was also named a Notable Book for 2007 by the Children’s Book Council of Australia. Her books have been published in 13 countries around the world.

You can read more about her at

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