Pondering with Kate Forsyth
Pondering with Kate Forsyth
Internationally bestselling and award-winning author of more than thirty books, Kate Forsyth ponders with us about her childhood, lifelong love of fairy-tales and her new book The Blue Rose.
Cubby House or Tree House?
Biggest literary inspiration?
Probably the Bronte sisters.
On my website, I have a list of the 50 books that changed me. I’ve chosen ten books for each decade of my life, that have most inspired me. My favorite childhood book would be The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe.
How did that book shape you?
It made me long for magical worlds; it chimed very much with the child that I was. Very imaginative and day-dreamy. I still read it every few years.
I read that when you were in hospital as a child, stories were a form of escapism, how does it feel knowing that your books provide that kind of refuge to more than a million others?
It’s part of the magic of stories. A large part of my motivation for writing stories is the idea of giving this gift to people who are in need.
Creating something out of our mind and spirit, and the enormous challenges that come with writing long-form fiction in that time dominates you for years. So, the great reward is knowing that we’ve moved and helped others.
You wrote your first novel at age seven, did you always know you would be a writer?
Oh, yes, always. I was writing stories from the time I could hold a pencil, so I was writing poems by the age of four and five. It’s always been a burning ambition; a vocation, rather than a job.
What is it about fairy-tales that captivate you?
When I was a little girl, I was quite sick. My tear ducts had been destroyed by a savage attack by a dog when I was a baby. I spent a lot of time in the hospital. I’d be rushed there in the middle of the night, and my mother had to leave me there. It was very frightening and lonely. I was hooked up to all these machines, and they’d bring up the sides of the bed, so it’s like you’re in a little prison. My mother gave me Grimm fairy-tales to read. So even though my body was imprisoned, both literally and metaphorically, when I opened the pages of that book, I could escape into the gateway of fairy-tales. At the time, I didn’t know why they meant so much to me. I just knew that they enchanted me. But as an adult, interrogating my enchantment with these old tales, what I came to realize is that they offer hope.
What is your favorite fairy-tale?
I don’t like to answer that question because my relationship with fairy-tales is far more profound than having a favorite. But Rapunzel is the tale that speaks to me most powerfully because it was about a girl that was in prison just like I was. My tower was an illness and a hospital bed. It wasn’t a real tower, but the effects on me were the same. I was constrained; I was shackled. I was held, impotent and powerless. In the story of Rapunzel, the prince is flung down from a tower height, and he’s blinded, so he cannot see. Rapunzel finds him, and she weeps, and her tears fall upon his eyes, and he’s healed. Which makes Rapunzel an extraordinarily, powerful agent of healing and redemption. Well, I was in the hospital because of my inability to control my tears. And so, without a tear duct, my eye wept constantly. So, I was constantly sick, in pain, and made ill by my own tears. Rapunzel gave me hope that I would escape my tower one day, and I would be healed one day. And that’s a powerful message to a sick and frightened little girl. Fairy tales carry messages of hope that you can change your world.
Also, Sleeping Beauty because it’s the story of a young woman woken from a form of death. As a child, I awoke from a six or seven-week coma, which is not something that many people can say.
Have any of your stories characters been autobiographical?
Frederic Fellini, a famous Italian film-maker, says all art is autobiographical. You could also argue that no art is auto-biographical because what happens is a creative artist takes their own life. They transform it in the crucible of the imagination, into something very different, and so all art arises out of us but is transformed into something else.
You recently published ‘The Blue Rose’, set during the French Revolution, what inspired the premise of the book?
I’ve wanted to write a book set in the French Revolution since I was a teenager. There’s something poignant about love during a time of such bloody turmoil and violence. Also, roses are my favorite flower. Reading about their symbology, I discovered that in 1792 a fabled, blood-red rose was smuggled out of China and brought to Europe, and it was the ancestor of all the blood-red roses that we have today. 1792 was right at the beginning of the French revolution. I was fascinated by the fact that this rose was smuggled out of China by an Englishman but was hybridized in France, even though England and France were at war with each other and China, at this time, was closed to the western world. So, my two interests, France during the French revolution and the history and meaning of the rose, struck sparks off each other. And that’s how things work for me. I have an idea, but I need another idea that somehow has a charge of electricity between them. It’s a true, old-fashioned love story. I felt like the world needed a grand romance at the moment.
I mean, all the best romances have arisen from the darkest times, right?
I think so. One of the things I was grappling with is this idea that romance, which foregrounds and long-sustains human happiness should be something to aspire to. It has become something to be sneered at. To long for love is seen somehow as being weak, childish and unsophisticated. I think that the longing for love is makes us human. And I do believe in its redemptive power. I made the deliberate decision to write a book about the longing for love; the need to fight, work and suffer for it. Not this easy kind of idea that love can come and go.
Is there anything you can tell me about the book you just finished?
Yes, so I’m the direct descendant of the woman who wrote the first children’s book published in Australia. Her name was Charlotte Waring, so the book I’ve just finished writing with my sister is a combined biography of our ancestor with a memoir. A memoir of our search for the truth. Because we were brought up on all these old stories, you never knew if they were real. It’s a memoir of what it’s like to grow up in a writing family. It’s the most astonishing story of grief and struggle and violence, and triumph over absolutely overwhelming odds. My sister and I have been working on this book all year. It’s to be published in late 2021, which is the 188th anniversary of my great-great-great-great grandmother’s books publication.